A Voice of A Generation

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In the very first episode of Girls Lena Dunham’s clueless Hannah tells her parents that she thinks she might be the voice of her generation.

The joke here obviously is that Hannah is in no way shape or form capable of such of thing. Nor is it possible to judge such a thing while it’s happening. But I was twenty four, I watched that pilot not long after running out of money and time, and moving from a windowless bedroom in a shared Brooklyn apartment back to the large, beautiful house that my parents built while I was in college. And something about the show felt vibrant and real, and close to who I was in that moment.

Girls taught me a lot over the past six years. Reading about and disecting it taught me even more. But the main lesson I got from the show, was that “representation matters.”

Now I’m not talking about the fact that Girls is problematic in it’s general diversity, I’m not talking about the fact that Dunham herself is a difficult personality to push past, because both of those things are true, I’m talking about the fact that I’d never seen something hit what my friends and I were going through in a specific moment so squarely as season 1 (and to a smaller degree season 3) of Girls did.

I am a rich white girl with artistic aspirations. (Though every character on this show refusing to get a day job always drove me absolutely bonkers) (Except Shosh. I mean obviously.) Girls is literally about people like me, and I’d never seen anything that was literally about people like me before. I’d related to characters and stories, but never had anything so specifically fitting my profile hit before.

Which brings me to representation. I never knew that I was missing representation until I saw that representation. And I want everyone to have that moment of recognition. To hear a character say something, even if that something is perverse and obtuse and disconnected from most of reality, that hits your reality so fricking perfectly that you will love that film, TV show, piece of music forever.

Cross identification in fiction is wonderful. It builds empathy and understanding and expands minds. I wouldn’t be the person I am, if I didn’t see parts of myself in characters that were nothing like me. But the sheer power of seeing someone so close to myself, even in four parts, as I did when I watched Girls is so overwhelming, so beautiful, such a call in the dark that “you are not alone,” that I want everyone to get that. Which is why I want to hear stories from all kinds of creators, and why I’ve been making a concerted effort to search out those stories in my life for the few years.

But I want to state for the record that Girls was what opened that window for me. I’d heard pleas for diversity before it, and understood, because I like stories from people who aren’t like me, but didn’t understand this need to see yourself on screen and in stories. Until I did, and it felt like magic. It felt like Lena Dunham, with her writing, and acting, as well as the acting of Allison Williams & Zosia Mament, (and to a lesser extent Jemima Kirke, because I don’t see a lot of myself in Jessa. Though I do see several of my friends) saw my heart, and suddenly the world was brighter.

Everyone should get that feeling, and Girls gave me that feeling, and I will miss it terribly now that it’s over. I’ll miss it the same way I miss the friends I had when the show started. A lot of those people are not in my life anymore, because adulthood is complicated.

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I Didn’t Ask To Be A Half-Blood

LightningThiefPlay-300x300In case you’re new, you may not know that I have a few what I call “baseline” obsessions. They’re not the fundamentals of nerdiness, as deep in my bones as Star Wars, Harry Potter or Les Mis. But they’re things I come back to over and over, with love and joy and excitement, but I can detach myself enough to view them critically. Batman, The Collective Television Work of Aaron Sorkin, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel, Game of Thrones. 

A big one, a big big one is the connected mythological work of Rick Riordan. Percy Jackson And The Olympians, The Heroes of Olympus, The Kane Chronicles, Magnus Chase And The Gods of Asgard, and The Trials of Apollo, are semi-annual joys to visit. (One book generally comes out in the spring, another in the fall…) They’re also, one of the earliest bits of nerd bonding that Aless and I came to. (The summer we became besties Sea Of Monsters, the movie, came out. We moaned over it’s disappointments together.) So, when we learned the there was going to be a musical of The Lighting Thief, we got tickets as soon as possible for the first Saturday night performance.  I also reread all of the Greek/Roman books.

The show itself is really great, capturing the sort of cheeky, totally epic fun of the books, and giving fans a lot to grab on to, especially given the various characters on display. At Camp Halfblood, necessary for the plot characters Percy, Annabeth, Grover and Luke are joined by Clarisse LaRue, Silena Beuaregard and Katie Gardner, with a brief mention of Charles Beckindorf. (Though it’s that he’s cheating on Silena, something he would NEVER DO. HE DIED LOVING HER SO MUCH THAT HE WAITED TO ENTER ELYSIUM FOR HER!) Grover sings a whole song about Thalia’s sacrifice, and there’s even a cameo in the Lotus Hotel and Casino of a girl who’s been there since May of 1939. (Yes, demigods, we see, though only for a moment, Bianca DiAngelo! She also mentions her brother. Aless and I spazzed accordingly)

As a musical it’s entertaining, with a few truly good songs, though the theater lover in me, did have to roll my eyes at a few elements. “We get it, you love Rent!” I mumbled at one point, while Chris McCarrell as Percy raged against his bad luck to a pounding drum beat while jumping around a set constructed mostly of scaffolding. But McCarrell really did well with a character I have a great deal of affection towards and said song, “Good Kid,” has been stuck in my head since leaving the theater. I was equally impressed with Kristen Stokes as Annabeth, particularly her big solo song, but my favorite cast member was James Hayden Rodriguez, who played Luke Castellan as well as Ares and a couple of other parts. (Most of the cast doubled or tripled roles.) Luke is definitely in my top 3 favorite Riordan characters (Number 1 is Leo Valdez and the 2 spot rotates between Luke and Rachel Elizabeth Dare, depending on my mood.) And this performance really got what I liked about Luke, the charm, the anger, the sheer heartbreaking grief when this guy you can’t help but like stabs you in the back.

I was really happy with the show and even happier to see it with my best friend. (I came cosplayed as Annabeth, and Aless provided us some blue food.) We then proceeded to drink approximately all of the Tequila in The Village, but overall we had a great night, and now I’m just waiting on the cast album.

And the possibility of a sequel? Maybe? While the escalating weirdness and ballooning cast of Percy Jackson might make for a tough fit on stage, I’d still love to see this group give it a shot.

Ever Just The Same, Ever A Surprise

Beauty And The Beast

Beauty And The Beast is not my favorite Disney movie. I love it a lot, and I still think it’s one of the greatest examples of a film musical. (Right behind Singin In The Rain and The Sound Of Music.)  So I had similar if not the same expectations as everyone going into the movie last weekend.

I wasn’t disappointed. Baffled, unsure, and impressed, for sure, but never disappointed.

The basics of Beauty And The Beast remain as they always have been, but the new film manages to add wrinkles and twists to the story you know that are surprising enough to make watching the film engrossing. The characters we know and love are given turns in their paths and depths revealed in their wake.

If I sound a little too poetic I’m sorry, but I was very happy with this movie. I’m obsessed with this cast, with the decision made in it’s screen play, and I could babble on for days about the visual, but I guess I have to focus on one thing at a time.

Let’s start with the cast. Emma Watson is delightful as Belle. There’s none of Hermione’s intensity or bossiness in her quiet thoughtful French village girl, and that’s something of a relief. Watson’s voice is noticeably autotuned in spots, but when it isn’t has a lovely sing song quality that I think suits the piece quite well. Dan Stevens brings a mournful heartbreak to the Beast and “For Evermore” is an excellent addition to the canon of Howard Ashman penned Disney songs. These two were also wonderful together. Kevin Kline. I wish Kevin Kline were in more movies. The only reason I can think that he isn’t is that he is not inclined to be, because he’s ALWAYS SO GOOD! Ian McKellan is wonderful if underused. There’s a lot of comedy to Cogsworth that I think got lost in the more serious tone taken on the overall film, but both he and Emma Thomspson do exceedingly well with their limited scope. I would watch Audra McDonald read the phone book as long as she got to hit a few above the staff notes and the movie grants her that and then some. Ewan McGregor acquits himself well with Lumiere, the one of the servants who I think gets to maintain their original charm. This is probably because Lumiere is the most *ahem* flamboyant, (pun  not intended) his light (Damn, keep walking into those) is harder to dampen.

Luke Evans and Josh Gad are flawless and I want more of them doing musical theater. I hope this movie shows the mainstream what theater people have known about Gad for a long time. There’s more to him than Olaf, not that mainstream comedy has the kind of roles that really suit Gad, but he’s really great here, and Evans makes Gaston’s particular brand of masculine menace chilling.

The screenplays new wrinkles would constitute spoilers if I talked about them too deeply, but I will talk about the deepening characterizations, starting with Gaston and LeFou! The codifying of LeFou’s queerness is interesting, especially as it dawns on him that his adoration of Gaston is both troubling and misplaced, giving a comic sidekick an actual arc is something that I always support and it’s executed well here. Gaston is shown here as a soldier and returning golden boy who finds the provincial town dull after the horror and glory of war. Which is way more interesting than a blustering hunter and a good deal more frightening. He’s enamored of Belle not just because she’s beautiful (though that helps) but because she’s, well, disinterested. There’s an undercurrent of “yes, you and I are above this place” to his attempts to woo her, and that’s fascinating to me.

Maurice also gets a makeover, made less of a buffoon and more of an eccentric and it works. Belle and The Beast, both become wounded motherless children, searching for a connection anywhere they can find it, and it makes their romance deeper, sweeter and sadder all at once.

I didn’t love all of the changes. It seemed strange to turn the village from a quiet, sleepy, slightly backward hamlet to some kind of patriarchal hellscape a la The Republic of Gilead where women aren’t allowed to learn to read and if they’re unmarried or without a father’s protection they’re thrown out into the streets to beg. This seems extreme for a fairytale that’s about seeing past first impressions and I did feel the loss of some of the comedy.

But there’s something deeply instinctual about fairy tales, and Disney’s take on these stories that have been with us forever is so deep in the company’s roots, I’m not surprised that they’re able to execute things well.