Dec 30

“30 Rock” Therapy: Jack Role-Plays Tracy’s Shrink

Coworkers. Often they become kind of a second family—and sometimes they feel as or more important than your real one. If you’ve had some time off for the holidays, perhaps you’re missing them. If so, try the following episode of sitcom 30 Rock on for size.

On 30 Rock, which is about the production of a sketch comedy show similar to Saturday Night Live, Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) is often both troubled and troubling to those around him. But he still seems loved and appreciated for who he is.

In one particular 30 Rock episode from Season Two, several years ago, his boss, Jack (Alec Baldwin) brings in a therapist to offer some needed assistance to Tracy regarding his relationships with his (real) family. The shrink, however, clearly isn’t up to the formidable task that is Tracy. Nor does she know (how to handle) Jack.

From Wikipedia: “…Jack role-plays Tracy’s father, Tracy, and Tracy’s mom, among several other people from Tracy’s childhood, conveying the message that even though Tracy’s parents may have divorced, they still loved him. This comforts Tracy, and affirms that while he loves his family, they are crazy, and he needs to stay away from them. Tracy hugs Jack, and tells him that he is the only family he needs.”

Some Featured Favorite Quotes on IMDB

Tracy Jordan: I don’t need the therapy! I’m just mentally ill!

Tracy: [to his psychiatrist] Who’s crazier, me or Ann Curry?

Tracy’s Father: Tracy, don’t stare directly at the sun. It’ll make you crazy. Tracy Jordan: You’re not my dad!

Dec 29

“Easy A”: A User-Friendly Supportive Family On Film

Whereas the top critics on website Rotten Tomatoes gave the film Juno, the subject of yesterday’s post, a rare 100% rating, Easy A (2010) fared almost as well, with a 94%.

In Easy A Emma Stone plays teenager Olive, and Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson her parents, Dill and Rosemary “…who join Juno’s parents in the Pantheon of Parental Admirability.” (Yes, it’s another Roger Ebert quote!) (You wanna make something of it?)

From the film’s studio, Sony Pictures, we get a description of Olive’s parents as “hilariously idiosyncratic”—and here’s what’s said about the plot: “After a little white lie about losing her virginity gets out, a clean cut high school girl sees her life paralleling Hester Prynne’s in ‘The Scarlet Letter,’ which she is currently studying in school — until she decides to use the rumor mill to advance her social and financial standing.”

Like Juno for Ellen Page, Easy A seemed to launch the film career of its young lead. Tom Long, Detroit News, calls Easy A “an extremely witty, inventive, sweet and perceptive coming-out party for Emma Stone.” The movie’s trailer:

A cute scene between Olive, her little brother, and her parents that gives a good idea of how nicely they interact and mesh:

Fear not. Olive does find her way in the end—and in a way that can do her and her family proud. Andrew O’Hehir, Salon: “This is a breezily rebellious film that challenges all our oh-so-serious nostrums about teenagers and sex and family life, a bittersweet song of innocence and experience that’s often very funny and hardly ever cruel.”

Like Juno, a teen-oriented film even adults can appreciate.

Dec 28

“Juno”: Teen in Trouble Gets Love and Support from Her Family

The comedy/drama Juno (2007), starring Ellen Page, with J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney as her dad and stepmom, presents a pretty functional family, something we don’t often see in films. Watch the trailer below:

As you can see, then, there’s the issue of an unplanned pregnancy in adolescence. As is so often the case, the review by Roger Ebert is spot on:

Juno informs her parents in a scene that decisively establishes how original this film is going to be. It does that by giving us almost the only lovable parents in the history of teen comedies: Bren (Allison Janney) and Mac (J.K. Simmons). They’re older and wiser than most teen parents are ever allowed to be, and warmer and with better instincts and quicker senses of humor…How infinitely more human and civilized their response is than all the sad routine “humor” about parents who are enraged at boyfriends.

UPDATE, 8/22/12: The following two scenes are no longer available.

Here’s the scene in which the teenager announces her news:

Juno’s Confession

In the next clip, stepmom Bren and Juno’s friend Leah accompany her to her ultrasound:

Juno’s Ultrasound

As described by Andrew Sarris, New York Observer: “Juno’s dad, Mac MacGuff…and her stepmom, Bren…defy stereotypes by being neither gaga hysterical nor bitingly aloof. Instead, they maintain a level of intelligent concern that makes them helpful partners in Juno’s warmhearted but risky enterprise.”

Dec 27

“Everybody’s Fine” in the Family (Or Not) for the Holidays

Another movie for holiday viewing, Everybody’s Fine (2009), may have missed a larger audience due to less-than-great critical reviews. It actually fared much better with actual audiences and is worth seeing, in my opinion.

Robert De Niro leads the Everybody’s Fine cast as Frank Goode, a recent widower who’s retired from his factory job where he coated telephone wires; the chemicals involved contributed to the development of a chronic illness. His four adult kids live in various locations across the country. Although he’d been expecting them to visit him at the holiday, each cancels.

Despite his doctor’s advice against traveling, Frank then “…embarks on an impromptu road trip to reconnect with each of his grown children only to discover that their lives are far from picture perfect.” (Metacritic)

Critic Marshall Fine‘s review: “This is a film for adults, to be sure – adults dealing with older parents, adults dealing with adult children – families in general learning how to communicate when separated by time and distance, even in the age of being instantly in touch electronically.”

Watch the Everybody’s Fine trailer:

Frank’s first stop is New York City, where he expects to find his son the artist. But he’s nowhere to be found, and Frank has to move on. This mystery pervades the subsequent interactions with each of his other kids.

He finds out from his two daughters that one of the main gaps in the relationships between him and them had to do with his specific parental role when they were growing up. Some relevant quotes:

Amy (Kate Beckinsale) to Frank: I tell you the good news and spare you the bad. Isn’t that what mom used to do for you when we were kids?

………………………………………………………………

Rosie (Drew Barrymore): We could just talk to mom.

Frank: Oh, but you couldn’t just talk to me?

Rosie: Well she was a good listener, you were a good talker.

Frank: Well so that’s good, we made a good team.

Various other revelations emerge over the course of this movie, not all of them pleasant, but it’s interesting to see how they occur within the specific family dynamics. A few more reviews:

Adam R. Holz, PluggedIn: “Everybody’s Fine explores how two of Frank’s character traits—perfectionism and denial of difficult realities—have ultimately wrought havoc in his children’s lives. That Frank has caused such damage over the course of their lifetimes isn’t positive, of course. But the fact that he’s trying to face the truth for the first time in his life is.”

Joe NeumaierNew York Daily News: “…works because it has a feel for little things.”

 ***Ann HornadayWashington Post: “Everybody should see Everybody’s Fine. But one piece of advice: Phone home first.”

Dec 26

Kris Kringle: Delusions of Santahood in “Miracle on 34th Street”

Although there have been a couple remakes, the original Miracle on 34th Street (1947), in which Edmund Gwenn plays a department store Santa by the name of Kris Kringle, appears to be the all-time favorite.

Gwenn, furthermore, not only won an Oscar for this film but also is the only actor ever to win one for a portrayal of Santa.

And his Kris Kringle really is a joy to watch and know. As described by critic David Cornelius, Gwenn’s superbly acted Santa “…lives for the joy of helping others. He knows that goodness is a better remedy for the world, and he lives every minute with an aim to watch goodness spread.”

The film’s storyline, from website IMDB: “When a nice old man who claims to be Santa Claus is institutionalized as insane, a young lawyer decides to defend him by arguing in court that he is the real thing.” Although insanity in today’s world is generally legalese for the inability to tell right from wrong, for the movie’s purposes, “insane” is the equivalent of “crazy.”

One Macy’s employee, the head of the toy department, Julian Shellhammer (Philip Tonge), remarks, kind of in Kringle’s defense: “Maybe he’s only a little crazy like painters or artists or those men in Washington.”

Even if Kris Kringle is delusional, though, most people with delusions aren’t harmful to themselves or others. This is something that the cruelly incompetent “psychologist” Granville Sawyer (Porter Hall) doesn’t appear to know or care about.

Sawyer, unhappy with Kringle’s behavior, retaliates by finagling the involuntary commitment of Kringle to a mental hospital. The only way to get out of there? Kringle’s day in court.

Emanuel Levy, film critic, on the film as a whole: “Sharply written, the tale makes smart, even edgy observations about corrupt politics and cheap psychology…”

And David Cornelius summarizes the film aptly:

…the genius of the screenplay (written by George Seaton, who also directed) is that no one ever authoritatively declares Kris to be Santa, nor does it prove in any way that Santa even exists…Sure, the movie drops hints and suggestions in Kris’ favor…but nothing is ever solid. It’s up to us to believe, and believe we certainly do.

And yet the film refuses to get mushy on us. The sentiment is genuine, but never forced. Seaton’s script is quite sharp, deftly mixing sly comedy (it’s actually a very funny movie) and pointed commentary (the movie remains a memorable attack on the commercialism of Christmas) into its tender drama. This isn’t some cornball effort that uses the holiday backdrop as a way to cheaply jerk a tear. No sir, it’s just a simple story of how kindness and decency will win over even the most cynical hearts. Quite plainly, it’s the Christmas spirit put on film.