JOYRIDE (TONIGHT I’M GONNA PARTY LIKE IT’S 2005)

The Truth About Hello Kitty | The New Yorker

I realized something crazy just now: If the movie review below were my progeny, it would be clutching its new driver’s license and begging to borrow the car!

So what is it doing here, sixteen years after the movie hit theaters? That’s a story for another day. Suffice to say, it was lost and is found, an odd and unexpected but nonetheless potent restoration to my heart and spirit, following the medical trauma of 2019. Perhaps a little wordy, but still relevant after all these years.

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Monster-in-Law

rated PG-13

If Hello, Kitty is the cute face of Japanese anger, then the Hollywood romantic comedy may be the cute face of American aggression. 

Monster-in-Law, the latest example of this, is a film about one-upmanship as practiced by women. Or rather, caricatures of women. They seek to out-dress one another, they sabotage each other’s dinner dates, and they call each other names, all in competition for male attention. (This is familiar territory. In the old days, the brandished insult was “hussy.”) In between, they smile and preen and bat their eyes.

That one of the two women at the center of this story is a jealous mother, rather than a sexual rival, doesn’t diminish the competition. In fact, it’s amplified, to the point where the genre’s usual pasted-on smiles begin to look deranged. 

Viola (Jane Fonda) is the titular monster. (She’s postmenopausal, after all, and thus automatically qualifies to be at least a crone.) A TV journalist, Viola finds out as the film begins that she’s being replaced by a mere babe and promptly expresses her outrage by pouncing, on-air, on a 17-year-old pop star interviewee. Her demotion and subsequent meltdown is the plot-crutch on which the rest of the film hobbles forward. We’re meant to understand that Viola is a respected personality who’s socialized with umpteen newsmakers; a prima donna prone to tantrums; the victim of two recent, public humiliations involving younger women; and a very rich single mother with too much time on her hands. For all of these reasons, it’s supposed to make sense when she imagines slamming her future daughter-in-law’s bright face, repeatedly, into her lunch. It’s supposed to be funny.

But is it funny? We’re expected to laugh along with fantasies of brutality, after also obligingly sighing when Kevin (the son, played by Michael Vartan) woos Charlie (Jennifer Lopez) on the beach. (He describes her eyes – after one prior, brief encounter and while she stands with her back to him – in studied detail: “But when you look into the sun, they’re almost green – that’s my favorite.”) We’re supposed to accept “What are you doing for the rest of your life?” and (from the doting mother of the man in love) “I could kill that slut.”

Charlie, for her part, turns out to be no angel, drugging Viola and leaving her to sleep facedown on a plate of tripe (again, the face and the plate – someone could write a dissertation on this) while she snuggles, self-satisfied, into luxuriant pillows. In a court of law, would this be pardoned as self-defense against cackling laughter? A person, it should be noted, could suffocate in tripe. 

The slugging, the slapping, the drugging – these are all supposed to sit easy with us because the two women kiss and make up in the end. What a sleazy shill, what a nonstop con. Hello, Kitty gets away with one thing: she has no mouth, and thus there’s no way to identify her expression; we see what we want to see. Hollywood “rom-com’s” get away with everything – pets flushed down toilets, sucker-punches by toddlers, sexual degradation – so long, of course, as there’s a happy ending. Happy endings are just so cute!

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This review originally appeared in a free weekly, now defunct. Text copyright held by me; image copyright most assuredly NOT held by me, or I’d be typing this postscript from a proper desk in a restored Victorian or Craftsman bungalow near the sea. Anyway: in a world overabundant with content, you landed here and read this far. Thank you. If you enjoyed this piece, please consider sharing it with anyone you feel might like it, too.

THE METAPHORS WE PAY FOR

The other night my car broke down in front of a butcher shop. It was a Sunday night in a sleepy town. My phone was nearly dead, and AAA’s system had apparently malfunctioned. I also had a migraine. I couldn’t read to while away the time, so for three hours I lay back with my seat reclined, willing my body into perfect stillness as my review mirror lit up periodically, reflecting the headlights of a slow, unaffiliated parade of sedans, wagons, jeeps, motorbikes. No tow truck–not for three hours. I had plenty of time to notice that migraines can make my teeth chatter, a strange and overwhelming sensation. Also in a slow parade, dog-walkers. Several brisk women, one shlubby barefoot older guy, another guy more kempt and alert to my propped-open hood. He eyed my car walking up the opposite side of the street, then paused walking down the sidewalk past my window, which was lowered for the fresh air in an interlude between days of torrential rains. He asked the basic questions, made friendly conversation. We must have talked a good 10, 15 minutes. His dog, meanwhile, had settled expectantly in front of the door of the darkened butcher shop. His haunches seemed to twitch like the legs of tennis players waiting for a serve; I wondered if he could somehow smell the meat through the door? “No,” said the man–“the owners of the shop give him treats.” I was nonetheless mystified–the lights were out; there was no one there. Surely that was apparent…? But the dog was fixed on waiting. He didn’t respond to his name, he didn’t respond to tugs on his leash. It was Sunday night, and the store would be empty till mid-morning on Wednesday. Yet there he sat, oblivious to everything except his memory of lights and people with treats. So deep and alive was his expectation that I believe he might have waited sixty hours if not bodily removed at last. That’s what it looks like, I thought. But what was “it”–was it beautiful, amazing, miraculous faith, or was it something more like a foolish consistency? I can’t decide in part because I lived it, and I saw how it could be equally one or the other. Incidentally, it was my starter that needed replacing. It cost $235. Expensive, but well spent.

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Text and image copyrights held by me. In a world overabundant with content, you landed here and read this far. Thank you. If you enjoyed this piece, please consider sharing it with anyone you feel might like it, too.

HIE THEE HOMEWARD

Walking home just now, I overheard two couples talking. I’m a brisk walker and was overtaking them. One was saying to the others, “They were very tender tonight.” Par for the course with me, I assumed they were talking about people. Tender people–it was such a warming thought. It turns out they were talking about scallops.

The environmentalist in me would like to send you directly to The New Yorker, the March 8 issue, to read about the disaster that is the worldwide fishing industry, devastating ecosystems and traditional fishing communities both. That’s not to mention the state of the waters themselves, the plastic, the chemicals. However, this bit of writing is about therapy.

A client’s boyfriend was depressed and using substances. She was afraid he might be suicidal, and his reassurance wasn’t much comfort–only because of her, he wouldn’t hurt himself. She asked him to see a therapist, and his response was that he didn’t want to pay someone to listen to him.

I feel sympathy for that sentiment. To me it says less about my profession than it does about the widespread and entirely comprehensible hunger people have for real intimacy and support. I do think there are some misconceptions in that statement, though, as well. Good therapy is about much more than just being “listened to” in some timed and compensated way. Among other things, it’s an opportunity to know and speak our truths more clearly, to shape our preferred narratives.

Many people in our lives–good, bad, or indifferent–lack the skills or insight to meet our needs, or their own needs conflict with ours in ways that don’t result in satisfactory compromise. We can walk through the world in a state of confusion, our powers of reason working overtime to sort through the cognitive dissonance: If we really deserved consideration, we would get it, so working backwards, the fact that we don’t get it must mean we don’t deserve it.

Good therapy holds open a sacred space, yes, but the goal is for clients ultimately not to need it because they’ve reached a point of getting what they need within their personal spheres–with family, with partners, at work, among friends. It’s a transformation I’ve been privileged to witness many times. I don’t mean that last statement to ring of false humility or passive enabling of change; I take an active role in my work. But transformation is something greater, irreducible to input and output, “evidence-based practices” notwithstanding.

I’m not talking about “evidence-based practices,” however well-studied they may be, however nicely their results can be graphed. I’m talking about corrective experiences, the back-filling of holes, the healing of wounds. I’m talking about tenderness, joy, logic, laughter. Present-moment learning. To quote Ted Lasso–any excuse!–“I’m talking about practice.”

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Text and image copyrights held by me. In a world overabundant with content, you landed here and read this far. Thank you. If you enjoyed this piece, please consider sharing it with anyone you feel might like it, too.