Aug 25

“Ingrid Goes West”: Social Media Obsession to Extreme

The drama, directed by Matt Spicer, is the latest entry in the picturesque-mental-illness genre. Richard Brody, New Yorker, reviewing Ingrid Goes West

Ingrid Goes West as described on Rotten Tomatoes:

Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) is an unhinged social media stalker with a history of confusing ‘likes’ for meaningful relationships. Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) is an Instagram-famous ‘influencer’ whose perfectly curated, boho-chic lifestyle becomes Ingrid’s latest obsession. When Ingrid moves to LA and manages to insinuate herself into the social media star’s life, their relationship quickly goes from #BFF to #WTF. Built around a brilliantly disarming performance from Aubrey Plaza, Ingrid Goes West (winner of the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance) is a savagely hilarious dark comedy that satirizes the modern world of social media and proves that being #perfect isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

In the trailer alone, Ingrid’s mental health is called into question several times:

More About Ingrid

Sheila O’Malley, rogerebert.com:

When we first meet Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza), she is in the process of crashing a wedding and spraying Mace in the bride’s face as retaliation for not being invited. A little bit later we learn that the two women weren’t even friends. Ingrid was just obsessed with this woman’s Instagram feed, and felt they had a personal connection. A short time in a psych ward follows. Upon Ingrid’s release, she falls back into the old pattern. Life is not worth living without an object of desire.

Sandy Cohen, Associated Press

Plaza disappears into the unhinged Ingrid, a character exciting in her sheer unlikeability. She lies and steals to get what she wants. She exploits trust and kindness. But she brims with a deep human fear of inadequacy, one she hopes internet popularity might remedy. Plaza brings a vulnerability and desperation to Ingrid that makes her relatable. She’s obsessive and unstable, but she just wants to be liked, online or anywhere.

Social Media Obsession Theme

Sheila O’Malley, rogerebert.com:

‘Ingrid Goes West’ is a biting expose on How We Live Now: sitting on our phones, rote scrolling through someone else’s online life, clicking ‘Hearts’ without even taking a moment to absorb the image. The film lampoons stuff that didn’t even exist 10 years ago but has now become such a part of our everyday lives that no one takes a second to consider the potential negative effects. If everything is public, then where is the Self? Is turning yourself into a ‘brand’ really a good idea? If you don’t take a picture of it and – crucially – share it with the world, did it really happen?

Selected Reviews

Jen Yamato, Los Angeles Times: “This is the real ‘Emoji Movie,’ a true horror story for our digital times. In the most acutely relatable ways and built around deft turns by Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen, it skewers how we live and lurk these days in timelines fraught with angled sunlit selfies, artisanal avocado toasts and the FOMO-frothing torment of scrolling compulsively through other people’s bliss.”

Leslie Felperin, Hollywood Reporter: “…(E)ven though this feature debut for director Matt Spicer, who co-wrote the script with David Branson Smith, is sort of all over the place, it’s still often sharply amusing, crisply assembled and features game, broad-brushstroke performances from leads Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen, vaguely recreating Single White Female for the smartphone generation.”

Leah Greenblatt, ew.com:

…The lemur-eyed Plaza vibrates with manic intensity, and Olsen is a brilliantly hollow foil. Though strangely, it’s the men who feel most real: Ingrid’s stoner landlord-cum-boyfriend (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Taylor’s shaggy husband (Wyatt Russell), and Billy Magnussen as the ruthless party-boy brother who sees right through his sister’s new BFF. It’s too bad that in the end West doesn’t fully trust its own ugly truths, settling instead for a postscript so glibly, brightly #blessed.

Jul 26

“Stick With It”: Persistence and Perseverance Pay Off

If you’re looking to make big personal changes, one new resource is Sean D. Young‘s Stick With It: A Scientifically Proven Process for Changing Your Life–for Good. 

About a decade ago James O. ProchaskaJohn Norcross, and Carlo DiClemente also had strong ideas on this topic when they published a similar-sounding title, Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward. 

The Stages of Change Model developed in the 1970’s and 80’s by Prochaska and DiClemente began with studying smokers’ attempts to give up their habit. The end result was the development of a tool to assess one’s readiness to work on change of any kind as well as one’s readiness to stick with it, or to persevere.

It’s one thing, that is, to decide to go for behavior change, another to hang in there—perseverance is key. Some quotes from other noteworthy authors and individuals to help you not only try for change but also stick with it:

Angela Duckworth, Grit: Passion, Perseverance, and the Science of Success (2016):

…(G)rit grows as we figure out our life philosophy, learn to dust ourselves off after rejection and disappointment, and learn to tell the difference between low-level goals that should be abandoned quickly and higher-level goals that demand more tenacity. The maturation story is that we develop the capacity for long-term passion and perseverance as we get older.

Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could have done but didn’t.

Gretchen Rubin, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives (2015):

The desire to start something at the “right” time is usually just a justification for delay. In almost every case, the best time to start is now.

The most important step is the first step. All those old sayings are really true. Well begun is half done. Don’t get it perfect, get it going. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Nothing is more exhausting than the task that’s never started, and strangely, starting is often far harder than continuing.

Albert EinsteinIt’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.

Maya Angelou: You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.

Martin Luther King, Jr.: If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.

Hillary ClintonYou know, everybody has setbacks in their life, and everybody falls short of whatever goals they might set for themselves. That’s part of living and coming to terms with who you are as a person.

Barack Obama: Making your mark on the world is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. But it’s not. It takes patience, it takes commitment, and it comes with plenty of failure along the way. The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. It’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.

Mar 15

“Irresistible”: Adam Alter Says We’re Hooked On the Tech Stuff

The environment and circumstance of the digital age are far more conducive to addiction than anything humans have experienced in our history. Adam Alter, Irresistible

Although I usually save the book reviews for last, in this case I believe they can serve as apt descriptions of what psychology and marketing expert Adam Alter is trying to convey in Irresistible:The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked (2017).

In reviewing Irresistible author Daniel H. Pink notes that Alter is focusing here on behavioral addiction, “a hidden danger in our lives.” Examples of tech-related addictions include “tracking social media ‘likes’ to counting our steps,” he reports. Alter concludes “our actions are being guided less by our own volition than by the architecture of the technologies we use.”

David Epstein: “In Irresistible, Adam Alter illuminates the surprising, fascinating, and frightening biological and psychological connections between a toddler hitting every button in an elevator, a surgical patient asking for painkillers, and the millions of people hooked on Facebook. No one who has ever seen an advertisement, checked their email on a smartphone, or used the Internet will come away quite the same.”

What are the actual numbers? According to Alter’s research, use of cellphones is up to three hours a day for many, video games can be weeks on end for some adolescent boys, and Snapchat users often open up their apps over 18 times a day.

Furthermore, “In one survey, 60 percent of the adults said they keep their cellphones next to them when they sleep. In another survey, half the respondents claimed they check their emails during the night.”

And that’s not all. Regarding the general incidence of behavioral addictions? “A 2011 study suggested that 41 percent of us have at least one. That number is sure to have risen with the adoption of newer more addictive social networking platforms, tablets and smartphones.”

(Stats from the last three paragraphs are from Alter’s interview with Claudia Dreifus, New York Times).

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: “[Alter] also illustrates the stakes: that these technologies are preventing us from forming meaningful relationships, raising empathetic children, and separating work from sleep and play.”

An appropriate conclusion from another cultural authority, Malcolm Gladwell: “As if to prove his point, Adam Alter has written a truly addictive book about the rise of addiction. Irresistible is a fascinating and much needed exploration of one of the most troubling phenomena of modern times.”

How can these types of addiction be managed by overusers? Dreifus asked Alter to comment:

I’d suggest that they be more mindful about how they are allowing tech to invade their life. Next, they should cordon it off. I like the idea, for instance, of not answering email after six at night.

In general, I’d say find more time to be in natural environments, to sit face to face with someone in a long conversation without any technology in the room. There should be times of the day where it looks like the 1950s or where you are sitting in a room and you can’t tell what era you are in. You shouldn’t always be looking at screens.

Dec 21

Addiction Recovery: Three Timely Books

Although substance abuse issues are always relevant, the holidays tend to bring out a heightened need for support and encouragement among those who are struggling. Following are three addiction recovery books to consider.

I. Stanton Peele and Ilse Thompson, Recover!: Stop Thinking Like an Addict and Reclaim Your Life with The PERFECT Program (2014)

In Recover! Dr. Peele’s PERFECT Program takes you through the key concepts of mindfulness–that is, your ability to detach from your addictive experience and to see that it is not who you are–combined with the Buddhist idea of loving kindness, or self-acceptance…

What does PERFECT stand for? I couldn’t find the whole breakdown, but “P” is for  “Pause” (vs. powerlessness), “E” for “Embrace” (of self and others), “R” for “Rediscover.”

Peele notes (Reason) that he and Thompson believe “sobriety is best built on having a purpose in life. Recovery means that you embrace a life of engagement and meaning; that you overcome your addiction in the service of your values, plans, and life goals. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you never take a sip of alcohol or any consciousness-altering substance again, ever.”

In Peele and Thompson’s world, addiction is not a disease, and 12-step programs don’t necessarily help toward addiction recovery. From a Psychology Today post by Peele, “AA can provide good support for people, or it can undermine them. You’ll have to be the judge of that for yourself. But these steps don’t represent a Buddhist path. They are rather a Western religious tradition of guilt, self-blame, and shame that we feel is a prod to addiction, and not a remedy.”

On identity: “You are not your addiction; you are a valuable human being whose qualities endure and exceed your addiction…It’s impossible to expect a person to achieve wellness by focusing on his or her faults and mistakes. Perhaps this is why conventional recovery asserts that people must remain ‘in recovery’ forever and continue to identify themselves as addicts, no matter how long they are sober.”

II. Erica Spiegelman, Rewired: A Bold New Approach To Addiction and Recovery (2015)

As stated on therapist Spiegelman‘s website:

With this plan, you won’t need any special knowledge or time in therapy to complete the process. There is no discussion of willpower or ‘my way or the highway’ directives.

Centered around the concept of self-actualization, Rewired presents a simple and common-sense recovery plan that is designed, tailored, and fitted to the uniqueness of every individual, regardless of his or her beliefs, background, or specific addiction.

Spiegelman describes (MariaShriver.com) the addiction recovery process as “a whole-soul makeover” involving six “brain-training principles”: authenticity, honesty, time management, self-care, healthy relationships, and gratitude. Practicing these will lead to “your brain [beginning] to create healthy pathways.”

III. Neil Steinberg and Sara Bader, Out of the Wreck I Rise: A Literary Companion To Recovery (2016)

Just what it says it is, this book presents quotes about addiction recovery from such writers as Ernest Hemingway, Patti Smith, Raymond Carver, Jack London, Anais Nin, Stephen King, and Walt Whitman. Sources include fiction, letters, diaries and journals, notebooks, speeches, Twitter, and more.

Co-author Steinberg himself has read the book “50 times,” he told Mark Konkol, DNAInfo.com. “I know I wrote it, but I find comfort in it all the time.”

Meg Nola, Foreword Reviews: “For Steinberg, crawling from the wreckage is personal. His recovery from alcoholism began over a decade ago. Such experience with and true knowledge of the lure of spirits lend depth to each chapter. Excuses, denials, relapses, and fear of an emotional and chemical dependency that can’t be overcome—these are classic patterns of addiction, just as seeking help and finding inner strength are patterns of recovery.”

“The advice,” states Nola, “is not sugar-coated—rehab is tough, and life after rehab can be tougher–but beyond the battle, promises the work, is a reclaimed world.”

Jul 15

“The Confirmation”: If You Liked “Nebraska”…

Writer/director Bob Nelson‘s comedy/drama The Confirmation, difficult to find in theaters this year but now on DVD, has been described as “understated” by critics. Its lead characters are Walt as an “alcoholic deadbeat dad” and his young son Anthony, who’s sweetly dad-adoring though worried about him.

According to various reviewers, if you’ve seen Nelson’s previous screenplay, Nebraska, you’ll recognize some similarity in style and theme.

Andy Webster, New York Times, briefly summarizes the plot of The Confirmation, which “is seemingly simple: A handyman, Walt (Clive Owen), whose drinking cost him his marriage, has a weekend with his 8-year-old son, Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher), while his ex (Maria Bello) is on a church-sponsored couples retreat with her new man (Matthew Modine).”

Walt’s gotten himself a needed job, but his tools have been stolen. Rex Reed, New York Observer, taking it from there:

For the next two days, he tries to find the thief, get his toolbox back, and stay sober long enough to be a real father to the boy who loves him unconditionally. The weekend turns into something of a nightmare as Dad, struggling to be responsible, and his son, trying to be helpful, embark on a series of adventures both dangerous and funny. Not to mention contrived.

Mark Dujsik, rogerebert.com:

They encounter a collection of oddballs and, if looking at it from a moral perspective, sinners. There’s Vaughn (Tim Blake Nelson), a reformed thief who ‘found Jesus’ but still beats his young son Allen (Spencer Drever). That lead brings the pair to a comic interlude involving Drake (Patton Oswalt), another thief, whose claim to know everyone in town becomes doubtful. The only, clearly decent man of the bunch is Walt’s long-time friend Otto (Robert Forster), who comes at a moment’s notice to help Anthony with his father and to explain the effects of alcohol withdrawal to the boy.

Tom Long, Detroit News: “The quest, of course, is a rich bonding experience for father and son. Anthony sees a bigger world, and Walt at his most vulnerable and Walt realizes Anthony’s resourcefulness and surprising gumption.”

Adam Nayman, AV Club, explains the title as well as key plot development: “…The Confirmation opens with 8-year-old Anthony…reluctantly taking confession with his local priest; the joke is that, when pressed, an innocent pre-teen boy can’t really think of anything he’s done wrong. By the end of the film, Anthony will have amassed a (modest) list of sins, but more importantly, he’ll have a much better understanding of the idea of forgiveness…”

In the end Walt will have been partly responsible for this lesson, states Soren Andersen (Seattle Times), for “giving [Anthony] sound advice on how to understand religion and, more broadly, how to successfully navigate in the world: ‘Listen to what they say, then decide for yourself what you think is right’.”

The trailer for The Confirmation follows:

Selected Reviews

Tirdad Derakhshani, Philly.com: “A sparse, minimalist story set in a Raymond Carveresque world of boozy tragedy, it evokes the experience of spiritual awakening quietly, with sly subtlety and an outstanding sense of irony.”

Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice: “The movie’s not just good but moving, funny, and true to the way people actually live in hard-times America.”

Mark Dujsik, rogerebert.com: “This is a smart, effective coming-of-age tale about a boy figuring out that there are gray areas to life’s moral choices.”