Thursday, June 10, 2010

Let Them Watch Cake

Remember a few years ago, when everyone was all OMG, it's Sophia Coppola? She was married to Spike Jonze (aiee!), the face of Marc Jacobs, friends with the Chemical Brothers, director of nouveau classics like Lost in Translation? She was the large-nosed hipster girl, the jolie laide alternative to the bleached and the primped, the creator of a whole alt-girl scene that utilized Kirsten Dunst as its erstwhile muse and the unlikely duo of Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray as its sigh-eliciting leading men. She was raucous, getting all fancy with the Academy and adapting much-loved indie bookstore favourites into critically lauded films.

Except, and no one seemed to notice this, but her movies were a total snore. The Virgin Suicides, upon re-watching, is draggy and vacuous. The book that inspired it was not especially thrilling. I mean that in that way that Jerry Bruckheimer movies are thrilling, not that TVS was a lousy read; there are some exceptionally sexy moments in the front seat of a car in that book, moments that might have totally subbed in for more explicit erotica in a desperate summer a few years back. But in the movie, it's just Dunst and Josh Hartnett writhing around in the dark. This pair does not inspire any erotic feelings. They're sort of like an erotic antidote, one that you might apply to romance that's gotten out of hand and is threatening your smaller and more vulnerable houseplants.

I've been in a bad mood for a couple days now, and while there are many contributing factors (including and not limited to: the cats shedding all over my clothes; a fight with my sister; an endless trip to the craft store to pick out picture matting and which required much debate over colour; and the growing suspicion that I should have just stayed in Toronto for the summer), the starting point for this black-soul mood can be traced back to Coppola, Dunst and 18th century France.

Marie Antoinette. Feh. In its meager defense, I can honestly say the movie is gorgeous. Versailles, while not my cup of decorative tea, is beautiful in a way that simply isn't seen any more. The fashion isn't to produce these insane interiours and ornate gardens. Our world has been radically streamlined since then, and in some ways, it's sad that Versailles is a unique place.

On the other hand, any movie needs to be more than its set decorator, and Marie Antoinette totally wets the bed. The dialogue is ridiculous - Marie and Louis say "yeah," for Christ's sake - there's zero humour, and a full third of the movie is obsessed with the failure of the young lovers to actually have any sex. I was irrationally bothered by the sound mixing (and I rarely notice those kinds of things, so it must have been wretched), and the soundtrack, which included Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy," was implausible.

I'm not hating on the mix of old and new. I was thirteen when Baz Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet was in theatres, and to this day, I fully love it. I was fascinated by that movie. It's sexy! It's funny! It's violent! It's way, way overproduced, with crash zooms and M. Emmett Walsh and helicopter chases. It's fun to watch. I still throw it on every now and then, half a lifetime later, because it's still a good movie. The Shakespearean dialogue and the rock 'em-sock 'em visuals actually worked, because at its heart, Shakespeare is all bombastic and crazy and over the top.

But with Marie Antoinette, the subject matter isn't that interesting. Or maybe it is - Coppola's movie features extramarital affairs, civil war, gambling, midnight parties, shopping sprees and child brides - but the way it's presented to the audience is detached. Austere. Coppola's style is often subdued to the point of catatonia, and generally needs a little shot in the arm to keep it from going to sleep. In Lost In Translation, she takes the pachinko machines of future-modern Tokyo, plus a fast-and-loose Bill Murray, and applies her signature still-waters-run-deep aesthetic. It works because the movie's quiet moments actually feel like respite from the frenetic background.

Marie Antoinette, on the other hand, moves at a much statelier pace. Compounded with the foreign subject matter and the lavish production values, it feels like Coppola is invites us to a meal, but never really passes us anything substantial to eat. It's hard to care about Marie Antoinette, because she doesn't really care about anything except herself. This movie would be vastly improved with a little humour, a little self-deprecation, a knowing wink to the absurdity of the glamour. But, unfortunately, the vulnerability that humour might bring is intead showcased in Dunst's physical fragility. I never feel for Marie, or Dunst's portrayal of her, because she never shows the audience anything really remarkable. She is ultimately forgettable, like this movie, because I - and I know I'm not alone in this - am disinterested in folks whose greatest tragedies are the fact that they never learn to care about other people.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Cap and Gown

There's an debate in my house right now. My dad, who paid for a lot of my university experience, is really gunning for me to attend my convocation ceremony, while I would rather set myself on fire than go to this particular milestone.

It's not that I'm not glad to be done, or in some ways, kind of sad. There's a mix of emotions about this transition period, and I agree with my parents' position that having a marker - something - is a good idea. Buy me a car, buy me a school ring, buy me dinner. Throw me a party. Give me flowers. Whatever. Mark it, dude. It doesn't have to be some some material thing. I am slightly princess-y, but I'm not a jerk. A mix CD? A letter?

I understand the importance of milestone-marking. People the world over have their growing-up rituals; we in North America are no different. We have quinceanera, sweet sixteens, high school graduations, getting hammered on your 18th/19th/21st birthday, buying your first legal lottery ticket/porn/cigarettes/goldschlager, champagne birthdays, wedding receptions, christenings, retirement parties, book launches, Irish wakes, and yes, convocations. I'm sure there are others; hippie communities in Portland probably have some dance party when their younger members start their monthlies. While I am not nearly weird enough to start a wymyn's collective (at this point - ask me in ten years), I can respect the urge to put an exclamation point after a period.

I'm skeptical of the more lavish productions. The buy-me-things spirit of a sweet sixteen, for instance, leaves me cold. Maybe it's the gross consumerism of shows like MTV's My Super Sweet Sixteen, which showcases spoiled teenagers in all their Daddy-I-want-a-pony glory. That show makes me tired. And, while I realize that weddings run the gamut from highly produced events with cakes made of virgin's tears and veils tatted by Rhodesian nuns, to low-key affairs that serve Kraft Singles and potato salad from a bucket, I'm not on board with the kind of bride that demands a $10,000 setup for her dancefloor lighting. I will admit to being amused by the overblown fanciness that celebrities often design (see: Dion, Celine), but would scoff until I died if someone I actually knew pulled that kind of tabloidy bullshit.

Convocations are a different kettle of fish than a birthday or wedding. I'm generally a pretty awesome girlfriend when I'm all girlfriended up; weddings make sense, because they celebrate love and successful relationships. Good begets good. If I had been an attentive student with a rich on-campus life, maybe I would feel differently about my graduation. I barely spent any time on campus while I was a student; why would I go there to mark my departure from school? In this case, indifference begets indifference.

My father is convinced that years from now, I'm going to lurch awake and feel a deep melancholy that I missed this moment in my life. I doubt it. I went to my high school graduation, and I'm glad I did; then again, I knew the people I was graduating with, and I got to wear jeans. University grads are forced to wear those hideous polyester garbage bags - sorry, gowns - and brush their hair. That sounds boring. I just don't think, after eight years of the slow crawl towards the degree, the way I want to celebrate actually getting it is sitting alone in a crowd of twenty-two year olds in a rented dress.

I'm interested in alternative methods of marking the occasion. Instead of walking under a red-streamered trellis (hello, and welcome to shark week!), maybe I'll get one festooned with the various accoutrements of post-student life: an alarm clock, a driver's license, a snappy pantsuit, a fax machine, a second alarm clock because I slept through the first one, a pair of bags under my eyes. And my degree, which I picked up a week after the ceremony and proudly hung at the center of it all. Just because I don't want to go to the event doesn't mean I'm not damn proud of the achievement.