Jamie Travis, For a Good Time, Call..., 2012, color film in 35 mm, 86 minutes. Lauren and Katie (Lauren Anne Miller and Ari Graynor). Photo: Ryder Sloane / Focus Features.
WITH THE IMPRESSIVE box office generated last year by Bridesmaids—fueled in part by women filmgoers grateful for a pungent distaff-centered comedy free of both Katherine Heigl and the worldview that being a single female (or, more generally, having two X chromosomes) is a pathological condition—Hollywood studios and private investors are hoping that nothing succeeds like success. A post-Bridesmaids trendlet is borne out in the near-simultaneous release of Bachelorette and For a Good Time, Call..., both of which premiered at Sundance in January. The two newer films are smothered in more raunch than their standard-bearing predecessor, but here the similarities end.
Mundane vulgarity, such as mountains of snorted cocaine and a lengthy disquisition on blowies, is the only distinguishing feature of Bachelorette, written and directed by Leslye Headland, adapting her 2010 Off-Broadway play of the same name. (Focusing on gluttony, this is the second in her stage series based on the seven deadly sins.) Three high-school friends (class of ’99) reunite in New York for the wedding of the fourth member of their school-days clique, Becky (Rebel Wilson, who played Kristen Wiig’s bloodily tattooed roommate in Bridesmaids). Aghast that Becky’s sky-high BMI hasn’t precluded her from landing a loving, kind, handsome, wealthy groom, this trio of single, slender, backstabbing Millennials—led by Regan (Kirsten Dunst, usually a boon to any film but here miscast), who corrals the substance-abusing Gena (Lizzy Caplan) and Katie (Isla Fisher)—not-so-subtly try to sabotage their pal’s big day. The female frenemy passive-aggression; the tonally schizoid, late-act PSA about bulimia; and the name-checking of Gen Y cultural touchstones are grating enough. But the worst offense is Bachelorette’s determination to remind viewers of its “transgressions.” After prodigious tooting, Gena and/or Katie begin every third sentence with “I know I’m high” or “I know I’m on drugs,” typical of the film’s desperation to appear scandalous and its enervating redundancy.
Less overbearing and more enjoyable if still flawed is For a Good Time, Call..., directed by Jamie Travis, here making his feature-film debut, and written by Katie Anne Naylon and Lauren Anne Miller, who also stars. Miller plays dutiful Lauren, who, after losing her dull boyfriend and publishing job, reluctantly moves into the palatial Gramercy Park apartment that once belonged to the granny of Katie (Ari Graynor), the jumpsuit-wearing sexerciser toiling at a variety of part-time jobs, including freelance, at-home phone-sex work. The new roomies, at first unwilling to drop the grudge stemming from a decade-old college incident involving a pee-filled Big Gulp, quickly warm to each other: Practical Lauren convinces Katie to start her own XXX chat line, becoming first her business manager and then a professional dirty talker in her own right. The delights of the film, particularly the frequent hilarity of the smutty scenarios and the easy chemistry between Miller and Graynor, are undermined by the puzzling faux-lezziness that defines Lauren and Katie’s strictly platonic bond. Feeble double entendres and semi-awkward declarations of “I love you” aren’t so much bold gambits about its two leads slip-sliding on the Kinsey scale as throwaway titillation—which I hope doesn’t lead to a new genre of comedy: homance.
For a Good Time, Call opens in select cities on August 31 before expanding September 7; Bachelorette, currently available on VOD, will be released theatrically September 7.
OH MY GOD, I’m having a quarter-life crisis. Should I quit my job to join the rank of interns at SoHo’s infamous Eli Klein Fine Art? Sigh.
It might be a recession, but a girl can dream and drain her trust fund.
Who doesn’t have a plan? A business plan? A life plan? A night plan? Or, God forbid, a day plan? The only decisive statement in the first two episodes of Gallery Girls comes from Chantal, co-owner of End of Century, a boutique/gallery on the Lower East Side. She knows that she’ll go to yoga in the morning, and then maybe show up to her “job” two hours late. Live free or die trying.
Welcome to the fantasy world cooked up by Bravo TV, a behind-the-scenes look at one of New York’s most specialized and last unregulated markets: the art world. Step into the lives of seven would-be art doyennes as they navigate the subtleties of one very insider-y industry. Watch each girl bad-mouth the other as they vie for something, although we (and they) can’t quite locate what that something actually is, because, as much as any producer disguises it, the end goal is for the series to be over so that these girls can do something—anything—else.
Each character projects a different socioeconomic status. Amy (Upper East Side), Liz (Gramercy), and Maggie (Murray Hill) are pitted against their poorer, but business-minded, do-it-yourself Brooklynites: Angela, Chantal, and Claudia. We don’t yet know which neighborhoods the latter are from. Williamsburg, perhaps? Now that Lena Dunham and Lana Del Rey have put Greenpoint on the map, will Bravo jump to catch up? We only know that this contingent dresses in black and that red lipstick permanently clings to their teeth. Consistently smiling Kerri (West Village via Long Island) slides easily among the castes. Just in case you can’t determine these demographics in gridded New York, the producers flash a map between each scene.
Sporting various zip codes, heels, and hemlines, each girl harbors (largely unarticulated) dreams that are not dissimilar from the next. The only consistent thread running through the greater allegory is the incessant hum of a solipsist’s narcissistic chatter. “Do you see how my face lights up when we talk about me?” Angela asks from behind the retina screen. Surprise! Not one fleshed-out thought falls from the lipsticked mouths of these caricature ladies. Though there are some fun tautologies: “How’s work?” asks Angela, pulling up with the girls at yet another steampunk watering hole. “Good!” says Chantal. “It’s just a lot of work.”
“Work” for these girls consists of folding dog-poop bags for lecherous dealers (Maggie), losing a top for “fashion photographers” (Angela), downing one too many at an opening dinner (Amy), ferrying Murray’s bagels to private jets at Teterboro (Kerri), or asking their boss to run for a caramel macchiatto (Liz). As a preamble to a small-beans day sale at Phillips de Pury, Amy (Upper East Side) spews: “Auctions have so much energy and they’re so fun. Everyone’s coming to see and be seen. And we’re all dying to see what goes for what price. It’s the biggest thing, and there’s always cute boys there!” Maybe Amy and I frequent different houses?
Gallery Girls offers up a devastating model for future generations: the Stepford gallerist. These young, nakedly ambitious women get marinated, grilled, and served up to the hungry public. Their “struggle” to find a fledgling voice is broadcast to the masses. But these aren’t the Paula Coopers, Barbara Gladstones, or Florence Bonnefous of the art world—women whose acumen and sensibilities built institutions. These are the reality girls, whose career aims boil down to not doing this. Again.
In the “real” world there’s a real archetype for gallerinas: Thinking girl served with a side of style and helping of brains, their workplaces offer a commons, albeit trendy, to propel dialogue before museums do. In Bravo’s version, the “girls” are siteless players unequivocally aware of sexuality as capital, cognizant of whom they’re servicing but unsure as how to monetize their faux-business relationships (except for that fee they’re paid for being picked up by the show to do nothing, really, except be who they are). One of them puts it best: “You work for free, until someone, someday, says that they’ll give you a shot.” Bravo is not accepting applications. Don’t call them, they’ll e-mail you.
THERE ARE MANY REASONS why Joseph Despins and William Dumaresq’s cerebral head jerker Duffer had only been screened publicly in the UK twice since its release in 1971 until Little Joe, a magazine about queers and cinema, mostly (the project’s own words), selected it for the independent Portobello Pop-Up Cinema’s London Lo-Fi Cinema Season. By all standards, it is extreme. There is sex! Sodomy! Mental instability! Misogyny! Simulated male pregnancy! Possibly infanticide! Presenting the film in London’s only semi-outdoor movie theater built under a motorway bridge and entirely out of scrap material (including two shipping crates that act as storage space and projection room respectively)indeed, in the very neighborhood in which the film was madeLittle Joe deputy editor Michael Pierce warned the audience: “This film is odd. I mean . . . it’s a bit much.”
But all sensationalism aside, this is a tender rumination on pleasure—seeking it, feeling it, and giving it—a story that charts the intense stirrings for something one doesn’t quite know or understand. When we meet the eponymous narrator, a teenage, orphaned expat living in down-and-out West London, he’s sitting under Hammersmith Bridge at the river’s edge gazing into the water. Duffer is caught between a kindly hooker—Her Gracie, with a body like strawberry jelly—who resides in a fluffy, marshmallow world, and Louis Jack, a dark, misogynistic sadist whose visceral hatred for “womanimal” is equaled only by a passion for torture. The story moves between these two archetypes—man and woman—mediated through Duffer’s perspective. A certain dissociative action is underscored by dubbed voices that do not correspond to moving lips, as if dialogue were in fact a production of the storyteller’s mind and nothing more.
Duffer believes Her Gracie can restore his masculinity, while knowing at base he belongs to Louis Jack for reasons that escape him. He’s certain (so he thinks) of only one thing: that it would be wrong to deny people like Louis Jack pleasure in this unhappy world, even if this results in his own physical discomfort. The winning score, composed by Galt MacDermot (of Hair fame), tracks Duffer’s mood throughout, and at the Portobello screening the music was punctuated by the rumblings of traffic passing the theater overhead at intervals that felt perfectly timed—a strange audio synergy between West London now and then. With these present-day sounds seeping into the narrative, there was something rather timeless about watching Duffer wrestle (sometimes literally) with this inherent, often illogical, drive for something as painful and joyful as it is selfish and selfless. It is a feeling never named, but expressed in ways that are both incorrigible and sublime; recognizable in that it rumbles deep within us all one way or another, whether we acknowledge it or not.
Chantal Akerman, Almayer's Folly, 2011, color film in 35 mm, 127 minutes.
CHANTAL AKERMAN’S ALMAYER’S FOLLY opens with a deep night image of the sea, the beacons of barely visible boats playing across the water. That the image is very, very dark and accompanied by the yearning yet ominous prelude to Tristan and Isolde suggests that it should be read metaphorically. It is as much an expression of the surging energy of the unconscious as it is a first glimpse of the actual location of most of the filma remote riverfront trading outpost in a Southeast Asian country. But practically speaking, this nightscape, barely decipherable on the French DVD (there is no subtitled DVD available), makes it imperative to see the film projected on 35 mm, as it is currently being shown at Anthology Film Archives through August 16.
Akerman’s last major fiction film, La Captive (2000), concludes with a similarly nearly blacked-out image of water. The two films have other elements in common. Both are modernized and very free adaptations of novels. La Captive is derived from the Albertine sections of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, Almayer’s Folly from Joseph Conrad’s debut novel of the same name. The films share a lead actor, Stanislas Merhar, who, in both, plays a man obsessed to no avail with a dark-haired, enigmatic young woman. What makes Almayer’s Folly different from any other Akerman film, however, is that it is set in the natural world, indeed, in a jungle resistant to human intervention, especially by colonizing white men.
After the somber opening image, we are abruptly placed in a garishly lit beachfront karaoke cluball hot pink neon and powder-blue decor. On stage, a man is miming Dean Martin’s cheesy, catchy cover of “Sway,” his movements and those of the female chorus line behind him a grotesque, erotic parody of the barely perceptible undulating currents of the water in the opening shot. Almost before we can grasp what is happening, a man leaps from the audience onto the stage and twists a knife into the singer’s heart. The dancers scatter, except for one, who, as if in a trance, continues her slow rhumba until she hears someone call from offstage, “Nina, Dain is dead,” whereupon she steps toward the camera and sings in a raw but nearly pitch-perfect voice Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus” in its entirety.
The worlds of Akerman’s films, including the musicals, have been distinguished by their detailed, nearly ethnographic realism. La Captive moved toward expressionisma darker, more fevered depiction of subjectivity. Almayer’s Folly goes even further in this direction. It is basically a narrative about overwhelming depression and loss of self culminating in madness. All but stranded in the Malaysian jungle, Almayer (Merhar) waits for his partner Lingard (Marc Barbe) to return with the buried treasure he has been promised as payment for marrying Lingard’s adopted Malaysian daughter. In time, Almayer and his wife have a daughter, Nina (Aurora Marion), whom he loves as much as he hates her mother. Lingard, still promising riches, separates Nina from Almayer, insisting that she go to a European school in the city. But Lingard dies, and with no one to pay her tuition, Nina returns to Almayer, though not, however, for long. Her ticket back to the city is Dain (Zac Andriansolo), an insurgent wanted by the police, whom Almayer hires in another futile attempt to find the gold. Instead Dain takes off with Nina, leaving Almayer to die alone. The fate of Nina and Dain has already been foretold in the opening scene.
If the story sounds overwrought, the film is not. Akerman’s control of the expressive elements, particularly the performances, which are at once subdued and theatrical, and the choreography of the long takes, in which actors move through the encroaching jungle, are exceptional, and all the more so for having been achieved on what was clearly a small budget. The film was shot in Cambodia standing in for Malaysia, which caused a few critics, when Almayer’s Folly premiered last year in Venice, to get overly picky about the supposed Malaysians speaking Khmer and Khmer-accented French. Akerman explained that what some saw as the carelessness of a European filmmaker (i.e., a colonialist) was a way of reinforcing the concept that everyone in the film is uprooted and from elsewhere (in other words, making the best of production limitation). She will be on hand at Anthology at the 6:30 PM screening on Thursday to discuss these and other more interesting issues, such as how this film not only elaborates on her recent documentaries about diaspora and displacement, but also points toward a more expressionist mode of fiction film.
Almayer’s Folly runs through Thursday, August 16 at Anthology Film Archives in New York.
REGGAE’S STEREOTYPE as the breezy sound track of good moods may have enabled its pop-cultural integration, but something was also lost in that assimilation. Its relationship to the Rasta movement that produced the music’s most famed musicians (Bob Marley, Horace Andy, Gregory Isaacs) is often—when not cartooned—opaque.
BAMcinématek’s fourteen-film “Do the Reggae” program (August 2–6) is a multifaceted contextualization of Jamaican music history during reggae’s golden age: the mid-1960s through the early ’80s. The popularization of Jamaican music coincided with reggae’s distinct turn to Rasta culture in the early ’70s (the resultant music is usually termed “roots reggae”); unsurprisingly, most “reggae films” were made during the decade when the genre’s popularity was soaring. The essential films are all here, as are some winking references that reggae-heads seem to find irresistible, like a screening of the 1972 Sidney Poitier–directed western Buck and the Preacher, about which the great toaster I-Roy titled and wrote one of his most infectious fast-talking scats.
Roots Rock Reggae (1977), Heartland Reggae (1980), and Deep Roots Music (1983) are all fascinating, but Rockers (1978) and Land of Look Behind (1982) are the signature films—touchstones for any history of the complex connection between Rasta culture and music in the ’70s. Rockers is the best-known reggae film, and though it isn’t a documentary, it often feels like one, and was originally intended as such. A scrawny session musician (Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace, drummer on many classic Studio One records) wants to supplement his income by selling records. Needing stylish transportation, he buys an expensive motorbike. The bike is stolen by a kind of Kingston mafia, and Horsemouth plots revenge with his crew of musician friends (Burning Spear, Gregory Isaacs, Dirty Harry, Jacob Miller, and several others, some playing themselves). Rockers is a morality tale, and many of its impenetrably slangy—and mercifully subtitled—conversations concern selflessness and the preservation of the Rasta culture, in large part through reggae. The scene where Horsemouth and Dirty Harry “change the mood” in a nightclub by forcibly ejecting the disco DJ/capitalist lackey and launching into a sublime version of Ranking Trevor and the Jays’ “Queen Majesty” is a definitive moment of on-screen reggae.
Land of Look Behind, a stream-of-consciousness documentary loosely centered around Bob Marley’s 1982 funeral, spotlights Rasta culture more specifically, focusing on individuals in rural Jamaica. What emerges is a portrait of Rasta’s (and reggae’s, for the two are close to inseparable until the early ’80s) philosophical structure.
Both films show Jamaican music during its golden age as a profoundly moral music, in some ways the antithesis to the straight-ahead anti-moralism of so much of the rock and soul that early Jamaican rocksteady was modeled on. As one particularly verbose attendee of Marley’s funeral says to the camera in Land of Look Behind, reggae, “isn’t just a rocky-rocky thing. It’s a message to teach mankind to unite.”
“Do the Reggae” runs August 2–6 at the BAMcinématek in Brooklyn, New York.