Mar 15

“Pariah”: A Black Tomboy Lesbian Tries to Be Herself

Like the film Tomboy, another 2011 film, Pariah, features a young girl not easily accepted for who she is: a tomboy who’s a lesbian who’s black. The film’s tagline: Who do you become when you can’t be yourself? As stated by Adam Serwer in Mother Jones:

Alike is stuck being neither what other people want her to be nor who she wishes she was—which, in a broad sense, is exactly what adolescence is…Alike is not coming to terms with being a lesbian—the world is coming to terms with her being lesbian.

Writer-director Dee Rees based this story on her own experiences coming out as gay.

John AndersonNewsday: “The gay coming-of-age story’s been done, but ‘Pariah’ has something fresh to say, largely about the knotty complexities of love, and how they might keep someone in the closet: How badly do you need to be free, to hurt the people you love?”

Adepero Oduye portrays Alike (pronounced “ah-LEE-kay”), a 17-year-old living in Brooklyn who has conservative parents—a mom who’s devoutly Christian (Kim Wayans) and a dad (Charles Parnell) who’s a police detective.

As is often the case with tomboys, her parents have some issues about Alike’s presentation to the world, manifested in her choice of clothing, for example. Her mom argues with Alike about her choices; her dad is concerned with how she looks to his guy friends.

The struggles go deeper than this, of course. According to reviewer Gary Thompson, Philadelphia Inquirer:

Part of what makes ‘Pariah’ exceptional is its skill at mapping family dynamics. Alike knows her parents have a fraught marriage (there are hints that dad’s having an affair), and she knows her sexuality is one of several explosive situations that threaten family stability.

Oduye, actually 33 years old (!), told interviewer Judy Sloane ( how the cast prepared for portraying the family issues:

We didn’t have any rehearsals, but we did a mock therapy session. Dee brought in a therapist friend and we did an improv. That was the only thing we had in terms of rehearsal and I think that was the first day I met her. That mock therapy session informed us a lot because so much stuff came out. And we just threw ourselves into the world of our characters…

Below is the trailer:

Amy Biancolli, San Francisco Chronicle: “The film benefits most of all from Rees’ careful screenplay, which dances that shifting line between fear and emergent hope. One of Alike’s poems says it best: ‘Even breaking is opening. And I am broken. I am open.'”

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: “‘Pariah’ feels a lot like life, at its most confusing, contradictory and exhilarating.”

James Rocchi, MSN Movies: “‘Pariah’ plays like a longer, more complex addendum to the recent It Gets Better campaign aimed at sending messages of survival and strength to gay and lesbian teens: Yes, Rees and her cast say, it does get better, but not for a while, and not without cost.”

Mar 14

“Tomboy”: A 10-Year-Old Girl Not Committed to Her Birth Sex

In the French movie Tomboy (2011), directed by Céline Sciamma, a 10-year-old girl named Laure (Zoé Héran) moves into a new neighborhood one summer and, only among her peers, pretends to be a boy named Mikael.

Sciamma has said that she sees the film as portraying “a child’s first real life experiment with gender.” My source? Skip the Makeup, a blog that discusses transgender issues as portrayed in film and other media. The same post also states that Sciamma used the English term “tomboy” for the title because the French term would be “garçon manqué”—which interprets as “failed boy,” a meaning she didn’t want to convey.

Much of what we see in the film is the day-to-day life of Laure at home with her younger sister and her parents—a loving family—who don’t at first know about her other identity. This alternates with us seeing Mikael at play, trying to fit in with his new friends. Significant anxiety is generated in us as we watch—we’re afraid of various things that may go terribly wrong if/when he/she gets “caught” by the other kids.

You can view the trailer below:

Skip the Makeup describes what’s likely to be the developmental process of a kid like Laure/Mikael:

For most 10-year olds, it’s not an either/or situation (even if it is for many trans kids) and no matter what the identity is, it might be years before the parents will even permit them to go in any direction away from the mainstream. Mostly, I left the film with a profound sadness thinking about what the main character will go through when puberty starts next year. Not that it’s a carefree summer by a long shot but, basically, it’s all going to go downhill from here.

Here are a few of the reviews I appreciated reading after seeing this film:

Melissa AndersonVillage Voice:Tomboy astutely explores the freedom, however brief, of being untethered to the highly rule-bound world of gender codes.”

Roger Ebert:Tomboy is tender and affectionate. It shows us Laure/Mikael in an adventure that may be forgotten in adulthood or may form her adulthood. There is no conscious agenda in view. There is just a tomboy. Not everyone needs to be slammed into a category and locked there.”

Jennie PunterGlobe and Mail: “Tomboy reveals a side of pre-adolescence rarely (if ever) depicted on the big screen, yet it never feels like a curiosity piece, nor is Laure (Zoé Héran), the titular character, portrayed as an outsider from a troubled home.”

Find out if it’s playing in your area—it’s definitely worth seeing.

Mar 13

Kristen Johnston: New Memoir Must Have Taken “Guts”

Kristen Johnston is probably known best for her Emmy Award-winning comic acting in 3rd Rock From the Sun , a sitcom that aired from 1996-2001. Now that she’s penned a memoir, she’ll also be known for her recovery from substance abuse and depression.

Let’s start with the depression. It happened during the sitcom—after she’d already succeeded mightily on it. Says Johnston in an interview:

You can’t tell anybody, ‘I’m so bummed you gave me an Emmy.’ You can’t be sad when you’re being celebrated. So it was a big conflict and there’s no shrink that can understand it. You see it happen to every person, almost. There’s, like, a year when they become super famous that they either succeed and they move through it or they fail and became a drug addict or die or whatever. Or an a–hole! Somebody told me once that fame makes you more of what you already are and I think it’s true…

Then, in 2006, Kristen Johnston was performing in theater overseas. As a direct result of her steady Vicodin and wine habit, she experienced a life-threatening crisis when her “stomach exploded”—technically, acute peritonitis from an ulcer bursting. Following this episode, she worked on getting clean, but it took several relapses before she could commit more fully to sobriety. Now she’s got over five years of it.

Her book, Guts: The Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster, is described by Simon and Schuster, the publisher, as “… a surprisingly raw and triumphant memoir that is outrageous, moving, sweet, tragic, and heartbreakingly honest. GUTS is a true triumph—a memoir that manages to be as frank and revealing as Augusten Burroughs, yet as hilarious and witty as David Sedaris.”

Andy Cohen, VP of programming and host at Bravo: “GUTS is the opposite of the usual ‘celebrity tell-all’—It’s actually a captivating, laugh-out-loud, totally vulnerable and excellently crafted book.”

Kirkus Reviews: “…there is surprising emotional resonance under all the jokey self-deprecation.”

Joe Schrank, National Youth Recovery Foundation & co-creator of “Johnston tells her story with fearless, devastating honesty, laser precision humor, and a refreshing lack of self-pity. This book should be required reading for anyone who is an addict, or simply cares about one. Which means everyone on the planet.”

While Johnston continues to act, as well as teach at New York University, she is also supporting a charity called SLAM, which stands for Sobriety, Learning and Motivation. According to the Huffington Post, this organization is trying “to bring the first sober high school to New York. While there are currently over 30 sober high schools in the United States—four alone in Boston—none exist in New York where they are arguably needed most.”

Below is a clip of Kristen Johnston on Letterman answering questions about her recovery, including whether she used pharmacological assistance to aid in sobriety. She did, by the way—Suboxone. Website The Fix: Addiction and Recovery Straight Up calls this admission particularly “gutsy” in that no celeb, at least at the time this aired, had previously admitted this in such a public arena.

UPDATE, 12/7/12: The YouTube video is now marked “private” and thus no longer available. 

Mar 12

Sleep Issues: Daylight Saving Doesn’t Have to Be Such a Drag

Sleep issues are such a drag. Getting a good amount of sleep is not. As humorist Fran Lebowitz has stated:

I love sleep because it is both pleasant and safe to use. Pleasant because one is in the best possible company and safe because sleep is the consummate protection against the unseemliness that is the invariable consequence of being awake. What you don’t know won’t hurt you. Sleep is death without the responsibility.

Daylight saving time is here. Many of us lost an hour of sleep this past weekend. Not a real big deal unless you’re already sleep-deprived or have other sleep issues, but still, it does affect most of us on different levels. It’s not just about feeling sleepier than usual and having difficulty adjusting our rhythms. Some people get headaches; some have mood changes. And possibly there’s a higher risk of heart attacks as well as male suicides right after this particular time switch (and not after gaining an hour in fall). Other things happen too, like increased accidents, decreased work productivity.

I’ve done extensive research on how to handle this, and, frankly—it’s probably pretty much too late. It was last week that we were supposed to do things—things such as making mealtimes and bedtimes occur a tad earlier. And making changes regarding caffeine, alcohol, and exercise.

How many of you wish you’d known sooner? How many are relieved you didn’t?

So, all we’ve got is the present. Many experts advise we just stick as much as possible to our usual routines now, and, basically, suck it up. Our bodily systems should adapt by the end of the week. No biggie—just be careful.

And if Fran Lebowitz is right, a byproduct of all this adjusting is that maybe we’ll actually get a little more out of life than usual:

“Life is something that happens when you can’t get to sleep.”

While you’re up, here’s a little something else to read. I can’t vouch for the data given about sleep issues in the following graphic (for the source, scroll to the bottom), but isn’t it pretty?

16 Things You Didn’t Know About Sleep

Source: Psychology Degree website

Mar 09

“Lars and the Real Girl”: Real Romance, Unreal Partner

In the 2007 comedy/drama Lars and the Real Girl, sweet and shy Lars Lindstrom (Ryan Gosling) lives with his older brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and Gus’s wife, Karin (Emily Mortimer) in a small town. Whereas the couple has moved into the house left behind by Lars’s father, who has died recently, Lars lives in the garage.

Lars wants a meaningful romantic relationship. So one day he just up and finds one—with Bianca, an inflatable doll he’s ordered from the internet.

Gus and Karin consult Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson), a top physician in town who also serves as a “psychologist,” who says this about his “delusion”: “You know, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What we call mental illness isn’t always just an illness. It can be a communication; it can be a way to work something out.”

When neither of them can see themselves going along with this Bianca thing, which is what Dagmar wants them to do, she adds wisely, “Bianca’s in town for a reason.”

Some of this is conveyed in the Lars and the Real Girl trailer below:

Because Lars worries about Bianca’s health, he regularly takes her for medical visits, where it’s he who actually gets a chance to deal with some things with Dagmar. Meanwhile, the townspeople, including church members, join with the family to work on welcoming Bianca. Critic Andrew Sarris, New York Observer: “There is not a single crack of doubt or disbelief in the town’s massive wall of Biancatude.”

Dagmar turns out to be right—Lars is working something through. And he does eventually get to a better, realer place. I don’t want to say more about how this transpires. For that, I recommend you see this quirky little film.

Christy Lemire, Associated Press: Through small gestures and bold choices, [Gosling’s] created a character you begin feeling sorry for and end up rooting for and almost envying, simply because he’s found something (someone?) that makes him feel whole and alive.

Rick Groen, Globe and Mail: A sweet little fable about how a delusional man-child is helped by the loving ministrations of his family and community, the kind of throwback flick where human nature is seen as inherently good — a notion so quaint that it feels damn near buoyant.