Friday, September 16, 2011

Gym Bo Ree

I'm not a gym bunny. Up until recently, my Lululemon sweats were my "eating ice cream and watching TV" outfits, not for yogic flying or striding around Yorkville wearing mirrored sunglasses and looking scrawny. My running shoes were pristine, practically out of the box, and my hand weights gathered dust next to my TV. I despaired, as the lazy often to, about my expanding waistline and inability to touch my toes, but did I do anything about this? I did not.

With my new two-week free membership to the West End YMCA, however, I've stepped on a new treadmill. As an added bonus, the gym is a great place to get over things like the desire, or even ability, to dress stylishly.

Work-out gear is not, by any definition, en vogue. It might be flattering, or comfortable, or stretchy. It might breathe well. It might have little pockets for earphones, or a built-in pedometer, but it is not designed to be worn outside the gym with any degree of style. All the companies that market fashionable gym wear are lying to you: no such thing exists. If you've spent enough time at the gym to confidently pour yourself into leggings, you are well aware that most people exercise in ratty tee-shirts with the necks stretched out, basketball shorts from 1996, and fleecy jackets. That's because most people at the gym, including myself, are shlubby messes who are just trying to look and feel a little better. The idea that everyone there is wearing sleek black Matrix-inspired getups while they sweatlessly tone is a lie perpetuated by prime-time dramedies. I myself wear electric-yellow running shorts.

There is "designer" gym clothes, but that costs hundreds of dollars and was never designed for actual movement in an actual gym. That was made for wearing with expensive complicated sneakers and sitting in uncomfortable chairs on small patios, drinking coffee out of comically small/large cups and talking about how training your dog is going. It's for wearing home from the Botox clinic. It's for day-walking through Machu Piccu on your 18th wedding anniversary trip. It's not for wearing while you slog on the treadmill for 35 minutes. It is for lattes and picking your stepkids up from circus camp. Do not be fooled. The women who wear these outfits are the same people who own driving shoes and expensive single-use detergent. Do not be like them.

Once we've dressed ourselves horribly and warmed up with some half-hearted stretching, we can enter the actual gym. Not being a person who wears running shoes every day, I always feel especially bouncy when I step into the exercise area, but that soon passes. I use my time on the machines to do the following: obsessively monitor my pulse for evidence that my heart is going to explode; stare vacantly at the name of the company that makes the machine ("Fitness Forever!"); count calories burned, strides, time, and distance traveled; and silently judge others based on clothes and hairdo.

Ladies who get really into the gym thing freak me out. I know they're getting older and maybe aren't as taut as they once were, but frankly, that's kind of a good thing. It's cool to gain some weight as you age. Not a ton - I'm not saying y'all should make friends with a bucket of fried chicken - but too-skinny is freaky on the young and unflattering on the old. But it is cool to be a gym lady. Get some muscles! Lift some weights! Get your stretch on! Understand that you will be wearing a technical fabric that will make you look like a background extra in a training montage! Accept your fate! Young women who use the gym awe me with their early-life dedication to health, plus they always seem to have voluptuous bodies and shiny hair. They're also likely to dress in black and wear eyeliner, which intimidates me and my yellow shorts and grade-school french braids.

The whole point of wearing the gym clothes, and putting yourself through the pain of the gym (and the hideousness of the outfits) is so that when you put on your civilian clothes, you feel and look better. Muscles are a great feeling, losing weight is a great feeling, setting goals and reaching them is a great feeling. The gym clothes aren't so much a great feeling, but, like with the exploding heart, they're a rung on the ladder to feeling good. So, in one way, my electric yellow shorts will never go out of style.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Issues With Friends With Kids

Friends With Kids! Oh my god! This movie has woken up a maelstrom of feelings I wasn't even aware human beings could feel! It was all rage-related Lamaze-breathing and flashbacks to Kissing Jessica Stein! Maya Rudolph was there! That was nice! And ever more ludicrously gorgeous and affordable Manhattan/Brooklyn apartments!

Okay, seriously: Friends With Kids. Can we please talk about this? It premiered at TIFF last week, but it hasn't been picked up yet, so let's just talk about vanity projects, thesis statements and hating on Brooklyn.

For the 95% of the population who is not aware of this movie, let me set up the conceit: a New York City social circle in their 30s starts hitting that life-cycle milestone, the child, with differing degrees of success. Maya Rudolph and Chris "The Irish cop from Bridesmaids" O'Dowd couple up and have some kids: she turns into a screaming, nagging shrew who publicly criticizes the me-time her hoodie-wearing husband takes on the john. Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig play a couple who are slowly driven apart by his half-hearted participation in parenting, and their joint affinity for red wine. And finally, Jennifer Westfeldt and Adam Scott play long-time friends who, after watching their friends' post-childbirth relationship with horror, decide to have a kid together, but without all that couple-y stuff. Their unusual set-up allows them to keep the focus on staying in the dating game and eventually landing their hotter life partners, and side-steps the degeneration of romance that their friends have suffered.

The concept is a little smug. But hey - we can live with smug! But as the film gets going, it becomes clear that Westfeldt, who does not have children, is convinced that two friends could baby-share. There's a rant by Jon Hamm that asks the questions the audience must have wondered: what do you a tell a kid who knows his parents were never in love? How can you have the hubris to think your parenting styles and needs will overlap without talking it out in advance? How do you justify gambling with someone's life, and their understanding of what it means to love and commit, when you demonstrate that having a child together takes a backseat to finding a super-hot sexual playmate?

The super-hot sexual playmate, played by Megan Fox, obviously doesn't want kids. Kids, she says, tie you down, make you slow and fat, and limit your ability to implausibly star in a Broadway musical. Fox's role in this movie is to play the hedonistic slut: she can put her legs behind her head! She's hot. But she she won't touch him when he's sprayed nostrils-to-nipples with baby diarrhea, all but strangles a toddler in a bistro, and Scott is duty-bound to break up with her. She's not The One after all. (But! Legs! Behind her head!) By assigning Fox the childless role, the choice to remain childless is dismissed by the film as an indulgence of selfish and young people, a decision that would be impossible to sustain into your thirties.

Despite their separate, rocky dating scenes, Westfeldt and Scott are totally united and on par in their parenting abilities. There's no resentment when she calls him at 3 AM to rock their colicky offspring. He's able to make the little bastard instantly stop crying after she's been dealing with the screaming for an hour, a move that would have me questioning my sanity. They agree to split everything, time included, down the middle, so they can keep dating and having their own, non-parenting lives. Obviously, this is insane, but Westfeldt is firm in her conviction that friends really would be better than couples at raising children. Her characters demonstrate an unworldly geniality to childrearing. Even the most mellow parents occasionally feel like they're going to freak out: these parents never do. The gender parity is taken for granted, despite the fact that in the other two couples - like most couples - the woman is charge of the screaming, the cleaning, the silent crying and the feedings.

The movie relies heavily on Westfeldt's talents: she wrote, produced, directed and starred in thie film, a power play that means her fingerprints are on every frame of the film. I'm not going to lie - I disliked her. Westfeldt is blonde, about 95 pounds, and talks in a breathy Minnie Mouse voice. The movie runs a little blue - the seduction line is "I'm going to fuck the shit out of you," (also said by: date rapists everywhere!), and it's jarring to hear her utter it in an oopsy-cutesy voice. Scott is slightly miscast - he looks like a grim Eagle Scout when he's mad, and Megan Fox is way out of his league. But Westfeldt is, by far, the biggest dud... but, you know, this was clearly designed to be a breakout role for her. It's her show.

The supporting cast is great: Hamm convincingly plays a louche dad and Wiig, his long-suffering wife. Despite their friction, the relationship between O'Dowd's and Rudolph's characters is solid and enviable, and O'Dowd is affable and charming - I would date that guy, for sure. When Jon Hamm has his drunken what-are-you-thinking rant, the characters all freeze in horror, but Rudolph and O'Dowd make sure they clutch hands first. I loved that. (Meanly, I would guess Westfeldt had nothing to do with that moment, either.) I feel like this movie was trying to teach me something about being a woman, or a mother, or a New Yorker, or something. Like, it's fine to be a mom, as long as you're hot? Or, like, your husband will grow to hate you, so you might as well fray his last nerve and be done with it? Kids are sweet? Romance is needed in childrearing? Love is extraneous? Baby poop will get on you? Brooklyn is a wasteland? WHAT IS IT?! Jon Hamm always plays a jerk? TELL ME! Because, while Maya Rudolph is my movie-star girlfriend right now, and New York is awesome, this movie is NOT GOOD in a way that I have very strong feelings about. Don't see it. Or do see it, once it's in wide release, and then we can talk about it in loud voices on the bus.