Jul 18

“Maggie’s Plan”? Or Be More Direct?

The richest idea in “Maggie’s Plan” is that a woman who’s so taxed by a demanding mate that she comes to feel increasingly undefined can create an ingenious scenario for freeing herself. You watch Maggie work and think, OK, it’s a plan. David Edelstein, NPR, regarding film Maggie’s Plan

Hypothetical situation (for you, but part of the setup of film Maggie’s Plan): You are a single adult female and want a child, so you try inseminating sperm from an acquaintance. Around the same time you fall in love with a married man. He leaves his wife and has a child with you. After a few years you’re not happy. Do you:

A) Tell him you are not happy and process this together.

B) Consider marriage counseling.

C) Consider a separation or divorce.

D) Reach out to his ex-wife and see if she’ll take him back.

In Rebecca Miller‘s charming Maggie’s Plan, it’s the latter. Maggie (Greta Gerwig), considered by some a “control freak,” marries John (Ethan Hawke), who’d been with Georgette (Julianne Moore) when they met. Friends of Maggie include couple Tony and Felicia (Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph).

The trailer:

Although my non-therapist self went along for the ride and enjoyed it, my therapist self reserves the right to suggest that in real life the A, B, or C responses above might constitute a better plan. On the other hand, my therapist self also knows these same responses are not the road always taken. Not only that, B and C can’t be effectively performed without a well-honed A skill, often lacking.

A: Being Direct

Veering away from directness is a common tendency in emotionally fraught situations. Therapist Joyce Marter (Huffington Post) on the healthier way to go:

Being direct and assertive involves being honest and genuine while remaining appropriate, diplomatic and respectful of yourself and others. It is not passive (being a doormat or a wimp), passive-aggressive (indirect communication, like not returning calls or emails hoping somebody gets the hint) or aggressive (being hostile and rude.)

Reasons to learn how to be more direct include, she says, valuing honesty, integrity, and respect for self and others; it “saves yourself and others time, energy and money”; and it enhances or increases intimacy.

How to be more direct (taken verbatim from Marter’s post):

  • Scan your body and check in with the feelings you are holding inside. Make sure they are congruent with what you are saying. If your feelings are too intense to speak diplomatically, give yourself a “time out” to surf the waves of your feelings before opening your mouth.
  • Before speaking, take Shirdi Sai Baba’s advice and ask yourself first, “Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it true?” This will help you keep your ego in check and stop you from saying destructive things out of anger.
  • Keep it simple. Concise, clear, and brief is always better.
  • Speak in terms of “I” rather than “you” (“I need more physical affection” rather than “You don’t show me enough affection.”)
  • Focus on the behavior, rather than the person (“I need you to let me know when you’re running late because I worry” rather than “You are an insensitive ass.”)
  • Avoid “always” and “never” as they often are embellishments and will weaken your point.
  • Avoid triangulation and becoming triangulated by speaking directly to the source and not putting somebody else or yourself in the middle.
  • Choose to love yourself by saying, “no” as needed. Don’t over promise or over extend.

B: Marriage Counseling

In order to go this route, it has to be suggested by one partner first, of course, which requires direct communication. A couple key things one might strive to get across are ways your relationship could benefit and willingness to do your own changing.

C: Separation Or Divorce

If marriage counseling either doesn’t happen or doesn’t work, one or both partners might want to consider these options, in which case individual therapy can be helpful toward processing this possibility and/or figuring out how to take the needed steps.

Oct 09

“Freeheld”: A Slice of Recent-Ish Lesbian Domestic Partner History

Now showing in larger markets and coming soon to others, Peter Sollett‘s Freeheld is based on the real lives of workplace-closeted Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore), a New Jersey police lieutenant, and her domestic partner, Stacie Andree (Ellen Page). When Hester was diagnosed with terminal cancer, they fought (over 10 years ago) for Andree’s right to Hester’s pension benefits. Prevented from achieving this were the county officials known as the “Freeholders.”

This true story, by the way, was previously featured in Cynthia Wade‘s 2007 award-winning documentary of the same title.

Although generally lacking in rave reviews, Rex Reed, New York Observer, is wholeheartedly behind the new film. “It’s a poignant, relevant and beautifully made film that must not be missed by anyone with a heart and a social conscience.”

Representing the other side, Manohla Dargis, New York Times, says it’s “a television movie of the week gone uninterestingly wrong.”

So, which extreme is it? Probably neither.

As Reed and others have emphasized, this is the role that prompted actor Page to come publicly and poignantly out of her own real-life closet. But with all the recent changes in LGBT rights in this country, how relevant is Freeheld today? Two more opinions that differ widely:

Steve Pond, The Wrap: “…(T)he recent Supreme Court decision didn’t make the film feel like a musty period piece — instead, it seemed to add resonance and immediacy, turning a small victory in one community into the harbinger of greater things to come.”

Justin Chang, Variety: “…(A)t times plays like a period piece, populated by cardboard bigots, flamboyant gay crusaders and other hoary relics of a less enlightened past. That may be cause for celebration, but it’s hardly a compliment….(A)n oppressively worthy and self-satisfied inspirational vehicle that views its story primarily as a series of teachable moments, all but congratulating viewers for their moral and ideological superiority to roughly half the people onscreen.”

The politics involved, per Odie Henderson, rogerebert.com:

In 2005, when ‘Freeheld’ takes place, New Jersey law allowed people in domestic partnerships to pass on their pensions to their significant others. The law also allowed counties to opt out of such activities. It’s unclear whether the politicians object to Hester because of ‘the sanctity of marriage’ or some compulsive need to not only demand a unanimous vote, but to never reverse any prior vote’s outcome. This latter point is repeated enough times to muddy the waters, especially when one freeholder wants to side with Hester, but doesn’t so as not to break the streak of unanimous votes.

Although Hester isn’t actually an activist for the broader issue of gay marriage, her case is taken up by Steven Goldstein (Steve Carell), who is. His performance is widely perceived as “over-the-top” (both The Wrap and Variety and probably others) and “stereotypical gay comic relief” (Hollywood Reporter).

Other noteworthy supporting characters include Michael Shannon as Hester’s sympathetic cop partner and Josh Charles as the only dissenting Freeholder.

The trailer sets up the basics:

Selected Reviews of Freeheld

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter: “Affecting work from Julianne Moore and Ellen Page in those lead roles provides some emotional juice, but the most compelling performance comes from Michael Shannon in a key supporting part. Elsewhere, this is a film that adheres to expectations every step of the way.”

Ed Gonzalez, Slant: “A film about the victimhood of the closet becomes a cringingly stilted montage reel about the freeholders and Laurel’s fellow police officers being, like all the Kim Davises of the world, on the wrong side of history. By the end, you may still cry over Laurel’s death and the victory she secured for her lover, but your tears may also be for how this glorified PSA embraces the smugness that Moore and Page’s performances pointedly shun throughout.”

Leah Greenblatt, EW.com: “Nuance is especially hard to find among the blustering bad guys (homophobic cops, crude townies, clueless councilmen) and in Steve Carell’s camp portrayal…Still, for all its clumsiness, the story resonates—and the photos that run over the final credits are a poignant reminder of the real life, not just the political legacy, that Laurel left behind.”

Mar 13

“Maps to the Stars”: A Wacky Therapist and More Dysfunction

Most critics agree: fans of Julianne Moore will like her performance as actress Havana Segrand in the new film Maps to the Stars, directed by David Cronenberg.

Other tidbits about Maps that have gotten my attention? In addition to loads of family dysfunctional issues, there’s also John Cusack as a wacky therapist. From Focus Features:

Meet the Weiss family, who are making their way in Hollywood rife with money, fame, envy, and relentless hauntings. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack) is a famed TV self-help therapist with an A-list celebrity clientele. Meanwhile, Cristina Weiss (Olivia Williams) has her work cut out managing the career of their disaffected child-star son, Benjie (Evan Bird), a fresh graduate of rehab at age 13. Yet unbeknownst to them, another member of the Weiss family has arrived in town – mysteriously scarred and tormented Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), just released from a psych ward and ready to start again. She soon works her way into a friendship with a limo driver (Robert Pattinson) and becomes personal assistant to unraveling actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), who is beset by the ghost of her legendary mother, Clarice (Sarah Gadon). But Agatha is on a quest for redemption – and even in this realm of the artificial, and the unearthly, she’s determined to find it, no matter what it takes.

And, a critic’s view from Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian:

“…a macabre ensemble comedy of cruelty, insecurity and self-hate…a satire of contemporary Hollywood, with echoes of Sunset Boulevard and Postcards from the Edge, depicting a communal nervous breakdown in a town so enclosed and incestuous that everyone is part of the same symbolic sibling-hood of fear. This is one, big, unhappy dysfunctional family, in which guilty souls are afraid of failure and haunted by the return of the repressed. Every surface has a sickly sheen of anxiety; every face is a mask of suppressed pain.

You can see the trailer below:

Havana Segrand and Her “Therapy”

A.O. Scott, New York Times: Described both as “…an actress perpetually on the verge of coming apart” and “a Santa Ana wind of need, neurosis and solipsism,” Havana uses several types of therapy: “a combination of massage, est and California Freudianism — with Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), a self-help guru who happens to be Benjie and Agatha’s father.”

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian: “Taking her self-esteem to a new low, she is auditioning for a remake of a 50s melodrama starring her late movie-star mother Clarice – whom she now believes abused her, thanks to sessions with creepy new-age therapist Stafford…”

Matt Zoller Seitz, rogerebert.com: “Havana’s regular therapist/masseuse/TV psychologist…presents himself as selfless and caring, but seems determined to crack open repressed minds mainly so he can root around and provoke extreme reactions. (When Stafford manipulates Havana’s body on a yoga mat, Cronenberg’s staging suggests sex, sometimes rape.)”

Various Themes

Stephanie Zacharek, Village Voice: “…clearly intended as a sharp satire of Hollywood ambition, vanity, avarice, and emptiness…”

Peter Debruge, Variety: “…[Bruce] Wagner’s script is content to go after easy targets: child actors, Scientology, revolving-door rehab programs, New Age-y pseudo-spiritualism. With all due respect to the fine work they do, acting is a line of work that tends to attract broken people: those who thrive under false identities, forever seeking public reinforcement.”

(The Mixed) Overall Reviews

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “With its muddled plot twists, ridiculous dialogue (by Bruce Wagner), easy targets (Scientology is always good) and preposterous view of La La Land, Maps to the Stars is part satire, part soap opera, part ghost story, and totally moronic.”

Peter Debruge, Variety: “…Part showbiz sendup, part ghost story, part dysfunctional-family drama, the movie instead comes across as so much jaded mumbo-jumbo.”

Dave Calhoun, Time Out: “Some of this creepy portrait of Beverly Hills screw-ups is deeply silly – here’s looking at you, John Cusack as a self-help guru with a nasty past – but it has just enough venomous bite to leave you feeling poisoned simply from being in the company of these gargoyles for two hours.”

Jon Frosch, The Atlantic: “…Maps to the Stars is so crisply directed, furiously paced and gleefully performed, that you go along for the ride.”

Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press: “‘Maps to the Stars’ is a strange, sometimes intoxicating mix of satire, ghost story and family melodrama, with a plot and point that remain hazy to the end.”

Jan 16

“Still Alice”: Julianne Moore with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s

Alice is too young to assume that a momentary lapse might be an early sign of dementia. And then, over the length of a single devastating close-up, Alice learns that the rest of her life will be devoted to what she later refers to as ‘the art of losing.” David Ehrlich, Time Out, about Still Alice

Last Sunday Julianne Moore won a Golden Globe for her lead performance in Still Alice, the new film based on neuroscientist Lisa Genova‘s 2009 novel about a 50-year-old married professor who finds out she has early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease.

Co-written and co-directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, Still Alice opens nationwide today.

The trailer below opens with Alice having confusing memory lapses; she later starts to come to terms with what’s actually happening to her and her family, which includes her husband (Alec Baldwin) and three adult kids (Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, and Hunter Parrish).

ALICE

Deborah Young, Hollywood Reporter: “Rather than focus on the destructive effect of the disease on relationships, the drama dives deep into how one woman experiences her own deteriorating condition, placing all the emphasis on Moore’s face and reactions, her vulnerability seesawing with her strength.”

Christy Lemire, rogerebert.com: “’Still Alice’ is about how she reacts to her own deterioration–how she constantly reassesses it and figures out how to cope. She doesn’t always do it with quiet dignity, which is refreshing; sometimes she even uses the disease to manipulate those around her or get out of a social occasion she’d rather avoid.”

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: “Moore is especially good at the wordless elements of this transformation, allowing us to see through the changing contours of her face what it is like when your mind empties out. When Alice says at one point ‘I feel like I can’t find myself,’ it is all the more upsetting because we’ve already watched it happen.”

THE DIAGNOSIS AND PROGRESSION OF THE DISEASE

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “Determined to continue her research and lifestyle uninterrupted, with the full support of her husband (Alec Baldwin, in one of his more sensitive and totally natural performances) and family, Alice eschews the terror of what lies ahead and embraces logic and common sense.”

Peter Debruge, Variety: “It’s not until Alice learns that the disease is hereditary that the severity of her situation sets in: As if it weren’t bad enough that she will eventually cease to recognize her own children, Alice may also be responsible for passing the condition along to them.”

A.O. Scott, New York Times: “With what seems like shocking rapidity — the film’s chronology is appropriately fuzzy — Alice slides from a witty, intelligent, capable adult into a fragile and confused shadow of her former self.”

ALICE’S FAMILY

David Ehrlich, Time Out: “Perhaps owing to the fact that Glatzer and Westmoreland know a thing or two about living with a debilitating disease (the former has ALS), the movie always evinces an acute understanding of how pity can be the most painful thing to feel for someone you love.”

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times:”…(I)f it wasn’t for costar Kristen Stewart, who plays Alice’s daughter Lydia, ‘Still Alice’ wouldn’t be nearly as emotionally effective as it is. Moore and Stewart have been off-screen friends for more than a decade, and that bond only enhances the work they do here.”

OVERALL REVIEWS

Dana Stevens, Slate: “Glatzer and Westmoreland don’t need to stack the emotional deck on Alice’s behalf…They just leave the camera on Moore’s beautiful but increasingly faraway face, and our tears come on their own.”

A.O. Scott, New York Times: “It surrounds Alice and her family with the signifiers of a perfect, privileged life: impressive jobs, well-raised children, a Manhattan brownstone and a lovely beach house, neither one too showy. But all of this feels like a too tidy garden that has been planted for the sole purpose of introducing a blight and observing its ravages. The story is sad and sincerely told, but it is too removed from life to carry the full measure of pain that Alice deserves.”

David Ehrlich, Time Out: “As tough as it is to watch (I think I cried more during these 99 minutes than I ever have in my life—cumulatively), Still Alice resolves as a beautiful illustration of why the art of losing should never be taken for granted.”

Christy Lemirerogerebert.com: “Co-directors and writers Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland don’t shy away from the steady and terrifying way the disease can take hold of a person and strip away her ability to communicate and connect with the outside world. But they also don’t tell this story with much nuance or artistry in adapting Lisa Genova’s novel.”

Claudia Puig, USA Today: “While other Alzheimer’s-related films, including Amour, Iris and Away from Her, delved more deeply into the subject, Alice is understated yet still moving.”

Oct 07

“Don Jon”: Addictions Include Internet Porn and Romance

“Sure, sex is fun, but not nearly as satisfying as porn, Jon explains in the film’s flashy opening voiceover, articulating a troubling value shift few have had the courage to raise…” (Peter Debruge, Variety, about Don Jon)

Don Jon is a new comedy that’s essentially about certain addictions. Internet porn is one, the other is romance. Each is shown to have the potential to set up unrealistic expectations. Each can thus block one’s ability to achieve genuine closeness with another person.

The official movie description:

Jon Martello (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a strong, handsome, good old fashioned guy. His buddies call him Don Jon due to his ability to ‘pull’ a different woman every weekend, but even the finest fling doesn’t compare to the bliss he finds alone in front of the computer watching pornography. Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson) is a bright, beautiful, good old fashioned girl. Raised on romantic Hollywood movies, she’s determined to find her Prince Charming and ride off into the sunset. Wrestling with good old fashioned expectations of the opposite sex, Jon and Barbara struggle against a media culture full of false fantasies to try and find true intimacy in this unexpected comedy written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Rounding out the main cast of characters are a few others. Jon’s seen at family dinners with his “caricatured macho dad (Tony Danza) and hysterical mom (Glenne Headly)” (David DenbyThe New Yorker). And an older woman played by Julianne Moore eventually enters the picture and apparently serves as some sort of guide to him.

Watch the trailer below:

What’s Don Jon Being Compared To?

Peter Debruge, Variety: “Where Steve McQueen’s ‘Shame’ took the more obtuse art film approach to this sex-obsessed phenom, Gordon-Levitt weaves the topic into a broadly accessible romantic comedy, one that ultimately uses its in-your face style to sneak a few old-fashioned insights about how self-centered guys can learn to respect their partners.”

Jake Coyle, The Huffington Post: “There’s a growing output of movies to take up sex addiction and its digital stimulation, including Steve McQueen’s grim but remarkable ‘Shame’ and the recent, uneven ‘Thanks for Sharing.’ ‘Don Jon’ is a lark, but an enjoyable one with a full-hearted finale, and it further reveals the considerable talents of Gordon-Levitt.”

What Do We Learn About Porn Addiction?

For someone who gets continual gratification from porn, dating before sex is deemed the “long game.”

Robert Weiss, LCSW, Director of the Sexual Recovery Institute (The Huffington Post):

Even the way that Gordon-Levitt treats pornographic imagery in the film–as a rapid-fired succession of different, astoundingly attractive women– mirrors the way that porn addicts report behaving, in that they are always switching from one video to another, always searching for something newer, better and more exciting. For a porn addict, each hot new image hits home like a blast of crack cocaine. Each new image is a fix, and the more you fix, the better you feel.

What Do We Learn About Addiction to Romance?

Weiss (The Huffington Post) has this observation:

Barbara’s obsession is as potentially real as Jon’s, even if it’s portrayed in comic fashion, as we have long known that women tend to value an emotional connection more than sexual body parts. Thus, Barbara objectifies romantic relationships in much the same way that Don Jon objectifies breasts and buttocks, and with the same basic results, too, in that no one in the real world can live up to the unrealistic fantasies.

Any Other Implications?

Peter Debruge, Variety: “…(T)he pic implicates everything from body-baring advertisements to hand-me-down machismo (Danza, perfectly cast as Jon’s caveman dad, compliments his onscreen son on his new ‘piece of ass’).”

David Edelstein, New York Magazine, finds Don Jon to be “brilliantly subversive on Catholicism.”

Jon rattles off his Hail Marys while pumping iron—it’s a narcissistic ritual. Every Sunday, he goes to Mass with his family and takes confession, tidily absolved for wanking and sex out of wedlock. But autopilot absolution gives him no impetus to change, and when he does, his God (via his priest) is indifferent. In Don Jon, religion doesn’t simply allow you to function with your eyes and heart closed—it benefits from tunnel vision. It’s another form of masturbation.

Some Overall Reviews

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon: “’Don Jon’ is medium-weight satire rather than social commentary, but the thread of faint but persistent unhappiness that runs through Jon’s placid existence is highly convincing.”

Peter Debruge, Variety: “…an endearingly masturbatory look at how a culture of objectification erodes our capacity for intimacy.”

Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter:

The ending suggests some possible serious impulses behind Gordon-Levitt’s intentions for this material, but while it’s true that you can’t really show the cure without exploring the sickness that necessitated it, the fact remains that the director positively luxuriates in his character’s addiction. There’s a heavy testosterone-driven pushiness — rather than a deeply felt sex drive as an elemental force of nature that’s crucial to this man’s self-expressiveness — that soon becomes obnoxious, and a lack of self-reflection that leaves Jon, and the film with him, frustratingly one-dimensional.