The existence of the romcom as a genre is often considered formulaic and vapid. Many people love to hate, and a trashy romcom is the supposedly lowest ranking of cinema. And yet, for others, the romcom is actually one of the most celebrated genres in cinema, where people live for the magical moments, the predictable tropes and the happy endings of it all. However, it is not what it is without its many critiques; whether it’s not diverse enough, or it’s too heteronormative, or it doesn’t cater to the reality of the world. In Todd Strauss-Schulson’s Isn’t it Romantic, the argument is laid out that anyone could have the life of a protagonist in a romantic comedy, no matter how silly or hopeless this actually looks like.
Some of life’s biggest questions can only be answered within yourself. Sometimes these questions are best left answered through a journey of self discovery that attempts to arrange the chaotic unknown. But, that journey is never easy, from struggles at home to alienating yourself from those that could offer help or support. Jeremiah Zagar’s directorial debut We the Animals offers us a comprehensive—sometimes exhaustive— window into a young boy’s own journey of self discovery, how he navigates these big questions, and how they inhabit his deepest sense of self.
The films opens on three brothers —Manny, Joel, Jonah— looking out their bedroom window. Their existence is the center of the film, captivating the audience with an unrelenting view of their reality. These brothers do everything together: they entertain each other, they look out for each other, they look for food in their house together, they steal food at the mini-market together. The film is initially an outlook of poverty, dysfunctional family, sexuality, and the way they all come together to influence one’s growth. Manny, Joel, and Jonah are the kids of Ma and Pa, played by Sheila Vand and Raúl Castillo, respectively. As we watch their parents unravel, the film shifts to the youngest brother, Jonah; he becomes the heart of We the Animals. In inhabiting Jonah’s perspective, we are able to gain a look into his world, his differences within his own family, and how those differences lead to alienation from his family.
The erraticism of Ma and Pa’s relationship is white noise for all the brothers, especially Jonah; it is a common, yet vicious, cycle where the parents quarrel and then Pa leaves. The constant turbulence between Ma and Pa reaches a point where it instead becomes foundational for the toxic masculinity of Jonah’s other two brothers, Manny and Joel. In a pivotal scene where Pa returns after a prolonged absence, the boy’s play turns violent as they hit and scream at their father. The two older boys have grown to possess a Herculean attitude of harshness and viciousness, much like their Pa. Whereas Jonah, who is the only one attentive to their Ma, is gifted her softness and meek demeanour, keeping his feelings to himself. These contrasting attitudes are shown when the family goes swimming in the lake. Jonah and Ma share the inability to swim, but they are still swayed into the lake by Pa. Despite trusting him, Pa lets them go and teaches them how to swim by leaving them in the middle of the lake. A lesson in survival, one would argue, but not for them. This scene is the culmination of Ma and Pa’s erratic relationship.
When your heart has been broken and betrayed, trust is no longer in your favour. Your world is now protected from the enriching experience of life, and the sadness that will definitely come from living one. Like living in a bubble; only its security would only make you isolate yourself and push people away slowly. This is the world that Been So Long is trying to unravel, the metamorphosis of gathering a piece of yourself in the midst of tests that life is throwing at you. Been So Long is a film directed by Tinge Krishnan and written by Ché Walker. Adapted from the musical of the same name, the film was picked up by Netflix in a multi-million dollar deal, believed to be Netflix’s biggest acquisition of a U.K. film in history.
I have always thought that adulthood would be about meeting someone, getting married, and eventually having some kids. It is the story that you hear time and time again throughout your life from countless other adults. But, they fail to mention the downsides that come with this dream scenario. What if it doesn’t work out? What if it doesn’t pay off? What if all that was done in vain? These are all the questions answered in Tamara Jenkins’ Private Life, a film containing a series of unfortunate events, of heartbreaking stories, of floating hope.
My first encounter with Jenkins was around 2013 or so. I used to have a habit of watching every film nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars. At that time, I wanted to go through all the films in the 2000s. When I got to the 2007 Best Actress lineup, I was stuck on Laura Linney in The Savages, and really the entire film itself. Dysfunctional family is a recurring theme in Jenkins’ work. She constructs a traditional family (husband and wife in Private Life, brother and sister in The Savages) then dissects each member of that family into a story with love and humor in the most unravelling manner.
In the world that Nicole Holofcener paints, women hold the power and the issues that power cause: conflicts, repercussions, and so forth. She doesn’t shy away from social friction in the daily life of womanhood. We see this in many of her films: Enough Said and the clumsiness in dating within your own circle of friends and acquaintances, the emotional endeavour that families go through in Lovely & Amazing, and of course Friends With Money and how the class difference in your surrounding causes insecurity and envy. This is one of Holofcener’s many qualities that she brings out into the world of American cinema. By mixing the comical aspect of surviving with the midlife crisis, she is able to pinpoint the deepest desires in every human being. She does it with an easiness and relatability that mirrors our luxurious aspiration in life.
In The Land of Steady Habits, she studies the life of a man in the midst of a crisis. Ben Mendelsohn stars as Anders, a middle-aged individual veering through the struggle of divorce, retirement, and losing the hegemony of parenting. Distancing himself from his ex-wife Helene (Edie Falco) and his son Preston (Thomas Mann) didn’t do much justice to his newfound freedom. The first shot of the film already captures the confusion of his life now, as he saunters through what looks like Bed, Bath, and Beyond on a shopping spree. Stacks of colorful towels intimidate him somehow. What he wants is to be in charge of the search for his own happiness, which is okay. But for him, this comes with consequences – emotional baggage, a fully realized sense of emptiness, and series of impotency. The tedious tasks of being a divorcee, like decorating his own place, now seems like a chore – a departure to what he thought he wanted, of what he dreamt of before.
In Desperately Seeking Susan, Madonna’s introduction comes in the first 3 minutes of the film; she is seen taking a selfie with a Polaroid, laying on the carpet of the hotel floor, surrounded by cards, while Urgent by Junior Walker is playing. The easiness of her charisma exudes throughout that scene. Until the film ends, all that I can think of is her, and how her presence is so palpable, you would feel the sharpness of what she is. That feeling tells me a lot, yet not so, about the woman I am about to see; be it in the film itself or in her consistent career.
First, a little background about Madonna. She used to be a dancer and even received a scholarship for it in Michigan, where she was born and raised. However, she decided to drop out of college and later moved to New York. Working as a waitress and dancing backup for Patrick Fernandez, however, didn’t feel right for her. She wanted to be more. So she decided to go on a solo act by the name given to her – Madonna.
Madonna is best described as an enigma. She is the ultimate icon, consists of all the great flairs of what makes a star, a star. She has that certain je ne sais quoi quality about her that makes her the epitome of the 1980s aesthetic that everyone strives for. Being the multifaceted woman that she is, we should all thank her for her role in the creation of the pop culture canon that we all know now. Dabbling in music, film, activism, lifestyle (Hard Candy Fitness or MDNA Skin anyone?), and anything else you could ever think of cannot be easy. If we set aside all the controversy that she is a master of, Madonna’s appeal as a star is broad, encompassing generation after generation, and leaving each of them a legacy of the Madonna of their own time.