Apr 04

“Shrill”: TV Series from Lindy West’s Memoir

To be shrill is to reach above your station; to abandon your duty to soothe and please; in short, to be heard. Lindy West, Shrill

Hulu’s new series Shrill, which has been called “an excellent and surprising adaptation of feminist writer Lindy West’s 2016 memoir” (Chris Barton, Los Angeles Times), stars SNL cast member Aidy Bryant. In brief:

Bryant’s character, like West, is a plus-sized person reckoning with a body that doesn’t conform to cultural ideals, either in the real world or the wilds of Peak TV.

And while the series (executive produced by Lorne Michaels and Elizabeth Banks) deftly touches on the comic realities of figuring out who you are and what you want in sex, love and work, it’s Annie’s relationship with her body that remains at the center.

Below is a selection of quotes from the book about women’s issues, size issues, and coping with it all that are worth pondering:

Denying people access to value is an incredibly insidious form of emotional violence, one that our culture wields aggressively and liberally to keep marginalized groups small and quiet.

For me, the process of embodying confidence was less about convincing myself of my own worth and more about rejecting and unlearning what society had hammered into me.

Please don’t forget: I am my body. When my body gets smaller, it is still me. When my body gets bigger, it is still me. There is not a thin woman inside me, awaiting excavation. I am one piece.

I am profoundly grateful to say that I have never felt inherently worthless. Any self-esteem issues I’ve had were externally applied – people told me I was ugly, revolting, shameful, unacceptably large. The world around me simply insisted on it, no matter what my gut said. I used to describe it as ‘reverse body dysmorphia’: When I looked in the mirror, I could never understand what was supposedly so disgusting. I knew I was smart, funny, talented, social, kind – why wasn’t that enough? By all the metrics I cared about, I was a home run.

Like most fat people who’ve been lectured about diet and exercise since childhood, I actually know an inordinate amount about nutrition and fitness.

I sometimes think of people’s personalities as the negative space around their insecurities. Afraid of intimacy? Cultivate aloofness. Feel invisible? Laugh loud and often. Drink too much? Play the gregarious basket case. Hate your body? Slash and burn others so you can climb up the pile. We construct elaborate palaces to hide our vulnerabilities, often growing into caricatures of what we fear. The goal is to move through the world without anyone knowing quite where to dig a thumb. It’s a survival instinct. When people know how to hurt you, they know how to control you.

This is the only advice I can offer. Each time something like this happens, take a breath and ask yourself, honestly: Am I dead? Did I die? Is the world different? Has my soul splintered into a thousand shards and scattered to the winds? I think you’ll find, in nearly every case, that you are fine. Life rolls on. No one cares. Very few things—apart from death and crime—have real, irreversible stakes, and when something with real stakes happens, humiliation is the least of your worries.

Apr 20

“I Feel Pretty”: Female Movie Critics Dissect

Linda Holmes, NPR, regarding I Feel Pretty:

For some women, two lessons exist in constant tension: (1) You must be pretty to be valued, but (2) It’s really what’s on the inside that counts. This can — or so I may have hypothetically heard — set off a repeating loop that goes something like this:

I am not happy with my looks. —> I am not good. —> It’s really what’s on the inside that counts. —> This means my insides are not good either, or I would be good. And I am not good, because —> I am not happy with my looks.

Holmes sets up the plot of the not so prettily reviewed comedy I Feel Pretty, starring Amy Schumer:

I Feel Pretty, written and directed by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, is aptly named; it’s not about what it’s like to be pretty as much as what it’s like to feel pretty. It’s about the mythical power some women attach to being beautiful in those specific ways most commonly associated with social power: thin, smooth and unblemished skin, the ‘right’ bone structure, the ‘right’ kind of chin and nose and wide eyes, the thick and healthy hair of a shampoo model.

The key turning point explained by Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times:

Renee [Schumer], inspired by a viewing of ‘Big,’ wishes to be beautiful — and one day, after suffering a head injury at Soul Cycle, she wakes up believing it’s true. She looks exactly the same to the world — and to us — but she now sees herself to be stunning, and throws herself into her life with a new self-confidence, quickly acquiring a glamorous new job and a nice new boyfriend (Rory Scovel).

Sheri Linden, Hollywood Reporter: “But feeling beautiful also makes her condescending, presumptuous, vain and snobby.”

Anne Cohen, Refinery29: “Renee’s experience is definitely that of a white, privileged woman who has the time and resources to worry about how she looks on a minute level. The lack of diversity in the film makes it far less inclusive than it should be…”

Another common complaint: the lack of depth to the non-Renee characterizations. Sara Stewart, New York Post:

Michelle Williams shows up as another blonde with confidence problems: The granddaughter of the company’s founder, she’s got an unfortunately squeaky voice. Aidy Bryant and an oddly tan Busy Philipps play Schumer’s best friends, apparently a couple of 5s at best; we know this because they favor cardigans and pants. Model Emily Ratajkowski plays . . . a beautiful woman. Only Rory Scovel, as Renee’s adoring and Zumba-loving new boyfriend Ethan, comes off as a real, quirky person instead of a retro caricature. Kudos to him, but for a movie that’s purportedly about female empowerment, it’s not a great look.

An important point, however: “To the movie’s credit, it doesn’t pit women against each other but rather has them build one another up” (Aisha Harris, Slate).

Watch the trailer, then read on for further reflections:

Selected Conclusions

Anne Cohen, Refinery 29: “…It’s that inability to ever feel true satisfaction with oneself, to always strive for more attractive, more glamorous, more stylish, that I Feel Pretty seeks to make light of. And there, it does succeed.”

Inkoo Kang, The Wrap: “The movie that ‘I Feel Pretty’ should have been deserves to be made. This version, in which a narcissist learns to love herself as is, feels far less necessary.”

Mara Weinstein, Us Weekly: “…(I)t sticks to basic lessons, such as the revelation that beautiful women have boyfriend problems too!!”

Alissa Wilkinson, Vox: “There’s a potentially funny movie in here somewhere. But it lumbers along, wasting some of its greatest assets and, in the end, overstaying its welcome.”

Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service: “Renee works at a beauty company, but we never stop to examine into the industry’s practices of keeping women feeling bad so they continue spending money trying to feel pretty.”

Jul 07

“The Big Sick”: A Rom-Com with True Issues

The movie’s so good…in part because of the degree to which it considers marriage not just as a relationship between two people but between two families. Alison Willmore, Buzzfeed, regarding The Big Sick

Michael Showalter‘s The Big Sick is receiving some of the best movie reviews of the year—but first, what’s with that title? Anthony Lane, New Yorker, notes that it’s “both a turnoff and a spoiler”:

You know at once that someone’s health, in the course of the movie, is going to collapse. The someone turns out to be Emily (Zoe Kazan), a student who goes to the hospital with such a serious infection that she is put into an induced coma. Word of her suffering reaches her ex-boyfriend Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani), who hastens to visit her and, as the days crawl by, begins to reflect on how ex he wants to be.

Emily is studying psychology in graduate school when viewers first meet her, and the real-life Emily V. Gordon did become a therapist, eventually switching to writing. Another real-life thing: she winds up recovering from her health crisis and marrying comedian/actor/writer Kumail Nanjiani

And what about the illness Emily contracts in the film? Andrew Lapin, NPR: “…(T)he real Gordon has a rare autoimmune disorder called adult-onset Still’s disease (AOSD), a form of arthritis that can (and does) shut down major organs in the body…The Big Sick is the first ‘hospital film’ in a while that makes us feel the stakes of a vicious mystery disease in our guts.”

As rom-coms go, it’s not typical. David Sims, The Atlantic: “The Big Sick resembles three great, swoony sitcoms mashed together: It’s a typical meet-cute (between Kumail and Emily), a nuanced generation-gap story (between Kumail and his parents), and, well, an extremely atypical meet-cute (between Kumail and Emily’s parents).”

Christy Lemire, rogerebert.com, describes Kumail’s family: “…devout Muslims who insist on arranging a marriage for him. His older brother, Naveed (Adeel Akhtar), already has a wife and seems content. His parents (Bollywood legend Anupam Kher and theater veteran Zenobia Shroff, both lovely) just want him to be happy—as long as he carries on their cultural traditions. Caught between Pakistani and American identities, between Islam and agnosticism, Kumail is unsure of who he is—but he knows he can’t tell his family about the white woman who’s become so important to him.”

Adds Lemire about Emily’s parents, they’re “the nerdy, down-to-Earth Terry (Ray Romano) and the feisty, no-nonsense Beth (Holly Hunter).” Who are not quick to warm up to Kumail. “(T)he way Nanjiani, Romano and Hunter navigate their characters’ daily highs and lows—and dance around each other—is simultaneously pitch perfect and consistently surprising. Romano is great in an unusual dramatic role, but Hunter is just a fierce force of nature, finding both the anger and the pathos in this frustrated, frightened mom.”

Supporting roles include friends in Kumail’s comedy world—Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, and Kurt Braunohler.

You can watch the trailer below:

Selected Reviews

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: “Love means having to say you’re sorry — early and often. That’s one of the truisms in ‘The Big Sick,’ a joyous, generous-hearted romantic comedy that, even as it veers into difficult terrain, insists that we just need to keep on laughing.”

Emily Yoshida, Vulture: “And even if you are already aware that things end up fine…there’s still plenty of reason to keep watching. That’s the thing: Even if The Big Sick risks being too long, or too gently lovable, it’s certainly welcome counterprogramming for a clobbering summer.”