“You need to stop being such a pussy,” a prominent male TV writer tells Mindy Kaling’s hand-wringing newbie Molly Patel at a crucial moment in Late Night. “That was incredibly offensive,” Molly replies. “Well, it was also true,” he says.
This exchange got a big laugh from my preview audience, and although I didn’t find myself laughing along, I could see how every piece of the joke was carefully chosen to work: it points to the casual misogyny of the traditional writers’ room, prods at the easy-to-offend attitude of Molly and women like her, and settles on the idea that at the end of the day, they’re both probably a little bit “right.” Also, that “pussy” is a funny word.
Late Night is peppered with moments like this, moments where Molly tries to speak her mind, take up space, and go against the grain, but her male colleagues still get to land the punchline. They’re funny, and she’s pushy—probably because she was an amateur when hired, set up to fail. While I’d like to think this is entirely commentary on the existing dynamic in many writers’ rooms today (and certainly, this is the foremost “point” the movie tries to make—women don’t usually get a platform to be funny), I can’t shake the feeling that these jokes were written to please an audience that’s entirely comfortable with the status quo.
Lisa McGee’s Derry Girls does everything right by teenage girls. More importantly, it fills our screens with the sheer abundance of life itself – unbridled optimism, the courage to regret, all while cognisant of the violence which defined 1990s Ireland. Set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, Derry Girls focalises its evocative, and starkly honest portrayal of this era through the lives of five working class Catholic school girls (including James). Continue reading “Why Lisa McGee’s ‘Derry Girls’ Should Be Our State of Mind Too”→
Comedies about American teenagers are not all created equal, but they are certainly created similar. Timeless classics such as Clueless and poorly-aging hits like Easy A all share the same basic ingredients—outcasts, jocks, house parties, sex jokes, and One Last Night (or Day, or Week) to turn the tables and fight the powers that be. Yes, I just described genre as a whole—welcome to Much Ado’s Intro to Film, please have your books ready by Monday.
But like its title suggests, Booksmart already knows this history, and it won’t let that knowledge go to waste. By carefully choosing which tropes to play with and which to forgo, first-time feature director Olivia Wilde has accomplished the impossible: making the high school comedy fresh again. Funny, modern, and uniquely kind, Booksmart is a party film that, while not entirely free of formula, marks a new generation of movies about kids figuring out who they are and who they want to be—with the help of some drugs and a good time. Along with its inventive direction, pitch-perfect performances from Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever cement Booksmart as the movie of the summer, and cement the leads as comedy stars in the making.
A natural performer from the start, director Elaine May allegedly began her career in 1935 at the tender age of three, performing in her father’s Yiddish theater company (although she conceded in 2010 that this origin story isn’t “strictly accurate”). At age 16, she married a toy inventor, with whom she had a daughter, then divorced him a few years later. After holding a series of odd jobs, including as a private detective and a roofing salesman, she decided she’d like to enroll in college—the problem was, she lacked the high school diploma that California colleges required by law. With just $7 in her pocket, she hitchhiked to Chicago, where this rule didn’t exist, to pursue an education.
Here, she met future legendary director Mike Nichols through mutual friends. The pair bubbled with comedic chemistry, and in 1955, they joined the off-campus improv group, The Compass Players. Two years later, Nichols was asked to leave the team for being “too talented,” and May quit with him. Soon, they developed their own act, forming stand-up comedy duo, “Nichols and May.” Their undeniable talent eventually landed them their own Broadway show, and “An Evening With Mike Nichols and Elaine May” became a bonafide hit, performing for full house shows and even winning a Grammy for Best Comedy Performance. Sadly, Nichols and May disbanded in 1964, citing difficulties with keeping their act consistently fresh. Over the next several years, Nichols would go on to begin a wildly successful film directing career with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and May would try her hand at playwriting. She also acted in various screen roles, including an uncredited cameo in Nichols’ The Graduate, until she gained the experience to direct her first feature.
German sneak previews can be fun. You pay a fixed amount of money for a ticket and get to see a movie ahead of its official theatrical release. The actual gag of that concept is that you obviously never know which movie will play, and while it’s possible to narrow down the possibilities based on upcoming releases, there’ll still be a broad range of films that have a chance to be shown. In conclusion: It’s as likely for a studio comedy to screen as a Cannes competitor — quality, genre and degree of audience compatibility are completely variable factors. The only right way to play this game is to leave your expectations under the doormat. Additionally it doesn’t hurt to bring someone with you. Since the surprise and the challenge to keep an open mind is injected into the premise, it doesn’t even need to be someone who is much of a cinephile — either way, the event is even more fun in the presence of good company.
It happened to be that just a few days before Christmas, I found myself in one of these sneak previews. The German release of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Palme D’Or winner Shoplifters was imminent, so a sweet tingle of hopeful delusions swelled right before the screening and was restlessly shattered as it became clear, that the movie shown was going to be Instant Family, a Mark Wahlberg/Rose Byrne-led comedy about an American middle-class couple adopting three children after finding their lives in a dry spell. On first glance, it sounds like an appalling, class-insensitive expression of a white-savior narrative, one that is still so widely accepted that it would hardly come as a shock if the film turned out to be exactly that. The actual shock came gradually with the realization that the film doesn’t only possess truly effective comedy in realms of absurdity I had never expected, but also manages to pull off a surprisingly sensitive dig at its narrative, which never goes the route of the melodramatic and offensive hell I feared.