Friday, February 11, 2011

OSCAR CATCH-UP, PART 2. The Kids Are All Right. Cholodenko's a weird one -- High Art and Laurel Canyon are like traditional Hollywood movies re-edited by someone with brain damage; all the right pieces are there, and sometimes beautiful, but they're stuck together in ways that vitiate rather than amplify their impact. (I really like High Art, especially when Patricia Clarkson's onscreen, but watching it is a frustrating experience.)

But The Kids Are All Right benefits from Cholodenko's discursive approach more than the others because it's unified by a conflict that is almost laughably formulaic: Daughter of uncooperative lesbian couple tracks down sperm-donor dad; hijinks and hetero adultery ensue! It's like someone smart and serious radically remixed I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. The plot is so strong that Cholodenko can mix and mash to her heart's content and never lose track of what's at stake.

Thus, we can have enjoy the bonding of the kids with the donor, and even have some fun with the (spoiler spoiler spoiler) affair between the donor and one of the lesbians, but the danger these developments present to everyone's happiness is never far from our minds. When the broken pieces are put together at the end, the resolution feels incomplete, not because the art has failed because it has succeeded -- she actually captured the messiness of life without making a mess.

There are plenty of good privileged moments in the movie, but I especially liked the scene in which the donor (the ultra-brilliant Mark Ruffalo, who reacts to the pain he's feeling with some petulance, as if it were something from which he thought he was exempt) explains to his usual fuck-buddy why he doesn't want to sleep with her. He wants to say what's in his heart without actually revealing anything -- the secret affair requires it, but we get the feeling this is not an uncommon mode for him. Finally he clumsily burbles about how at this stage of his life "I don't want to be that guy" who's still going around doing what... he obviously really still enjoys doing. The girl responds, with perfect appropriateness, "Fuck you." Life, ladies and gentlemen, captured on film.

The Social Network. A smart friend asked me: Why does anyone think this movie "defines a generation"? Oh, that's easy: Because they're old and The Social Network believably shows young shits acting like shits. Duh.

I'm old too, and a Leveller to boot, so my favorite part of the movie is the beginning, when the shittiness of Harvard shits is vividly revealed, and the Trent Reznor music has just started to kick in. Really, I loved it: For 20 minutes we're immersed in a milieu both dark-and-aged (kudos, DP Jeff Cronenweth) and totally frattish, and the kids are believably and expeditiously shown to be in equal parts callow and ambitious, and swimming in privilege. It's such a casually brutal portrayal that, at that stage, you might have convinced me that it defined something-or-other.

That doesn't last, but that's not so bad. Indeed, the ripping Alan Sorkin gabfest unto which we devolve is sort of the definition of not-bad. Sorkin's dialogue is always crisp, glib, and fun, and he's major enough that he can get top actors to supply the character attributes his writing by and large doesn't bother with.

In this regard he's extremely fortunate here, especially with Jesse Eisenberg. His Zuckerberg has been characterized as an Asperger's case, but the brilliance of the performance is that you can't write off his self-involvement that easily -- you can imagine all kinds of reasons for his behavior (parental coddling, youthful alienation, genius), and still be left wondering -- which, if I may say, is the kind of mysteriousness that distinguishes great acting, and probably why his narrow-band performance got an Oscar nomination.

But his singularity is something from which the other characters aren't exempt (except for his partner Saverin, very well played by Andrew Garfield). I still recall with a little shiver the shy arm-punch Zuckerberg gives Saverin when he arrives at his and Sean Parker's apartment, and it strikes me now that this is the reason: It's the most intimate gesture in the movie. Most of the characters are so absorbed in self-definition strategies that they can't bond. Maybe that's what really spurred the "defines a generation" idea -- unlike almost any other movie about young men (and it's almost exclusively about men) I can think of, The Social Network portrays a set of manhood rituals that drives them apart instead of bringing them together, and maybe people (and, who knows, maybe Sorkin) think that this is what the internet has done to them.

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