Sunday, June 24, 2012

In search of other Americas: or, forays into Isabel's Netflix queue

Because I have occasionally indicated general agreement here with various critiques of American art doesn't do enough to look at the lives of the not-spectacularly privileged, I feel honor bound to point to examples of pretty good art that doesn't fall into this trap. This weekend, Willow and I watched Winter's Bone,* a gritty independent film that looks at the adventures of a desperately poor teenager named Ree in the Ozarks. She's trying to find her father, who has skipped out on a hearing; he put up the family's house as bond, and they are in danger of losing it unless she can produce either her father or proof of his death. Ree's search leads her through the meth manufacturing underworld of her small Missouri town. Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic as Ree. For those of you who saw the Hunger Games movie, I note that Lawrence is basically playing Katniss Everdeen again here -- a tough mama bear who steps into her absentee parents' shoes in caring for her younger siblings -- except in a more or less real-world setting instead of a dystopian science fiction universe.

There is bascially zero racial diversity in this movie; if there were any non-white characters, they were featured so briefly that I missed them altogether. But it is a really compelling and deep dive into a world that is very different from the one that most viewers likely inhabit. I can't say how realistic it is, not having really ever inhabited this world myself, but I can say that it's an engrossing picture of its milieu and therefore highly recommended.

One tiny technical critique, though: the sound on the DVD is weirdly low. I found I had to turn my volume up all the way and still could barely hear some of the characters. I've noticed the same thing about other independent films, too. Why is this? Is there something about barely audible dialogue that is supposed to be uniquely profound or artistic?

Later in the weekend, Willow and I pulled out Whit Stillman's The Last Days of Disco, which is at this point the only movie in the Doomed Bourgeois in Love trilogy that I haven't seen. It is, once again, a deep dive into a particular milieu, and it is mostly a successful one. Honestly, it is probably my least favorite of all of the Stillman films I've seen so far.  Some of the signature witty and eccentric dialogue is there, and I found my share of lines to love. But Last Days of Disco is on balance preachier than the others. Of the two female characters at the center, Charlotte's(Kate Beckinsale)** more of a straight-up b*tch than an interesting and witty heroine. On the other hand, it's clear that we're meant to root for the sweet and virtuous Alice Kinnon (Chloe Sevigny), but she is so quiet and passive that I found it hard to like her or much care about her destiny. (Also, Kate Beckinsale's hair in this movie is distractingly gorgeous.)  I really Thankfully, the reverse is true of the more recent Damsels in Distress, in which the eccentric Violet leaps off the screen, and the more conventional villainness Lily is by contrast far less interesting.  Recommended, but please do see Metropolitan or Barcelona first if you can.

*I tried to convince Willow that it was actually a movie about a golden retriever named Winter and her adventures losing her bone. Willow gave me a distinctly skeptical look that said that she wasn't buying it for a second.

**Having a wild child named Charlotte also feels so wrong post-Sex in the City. Anyone who was in college from 2000 to 2004 reflexively associates the phrase "I'm a Charlotte" with "I'm an innocent type."

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