Sep 11

Unlikely Friendships (Animals Included)

In 2011 Jennifer Holland published the popular Unlikely Friendships, a book of (as the subtitle notes) 47 Stories from the Animal Kingdom. For a quick peek of some examples, see the photos collected on its associated Tumblr link.

A couple recent indie movies also celebrate unlikely friendships, but of the human kind. Both happen to involve teachers and adult students. Both also have been less successful with audiences than the non-human depictions noted above.

I. Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks

IMDB: “A retired woman hires a dance instructor to give her private dance lessons at her home…What begins as an antagonistic relationship turns into a close friendship as they dance together.”

Gena Rowlands is 75-year-old Lily, the lesson receiver; Cheyenne Jackson the young teacher.

Philip David Morton, Huffington Post: “The movie was adapted by Richard Alfieri, from his own play, and directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman who also directed the stage production first produced in 2001…The tight two-person story has achieved international success as a theatrical production…”

Unfortunately, Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks has felt about that long to some viewers. Maybe it didn’t translate that well from theater to film.

You can watch the trailer below, and if you’re interested, the film’s available on Amazon.

II. Learning to Drive

In the newer Learning to Drive, Wendy (Patricia Clarkson), a writer in Manhattan whose marriage is suddenly kaput, begins taking driving lessons from Darwan (Ben Kingsley), so she can visit her daughter (Grace Gummer) in upstate New York. Darwan, an immigrant who was a university professor in his homeland of India, happens to be on the brink of entering an arranged marriage.

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: “In the not-so-subtle hands of screenwriter Sarah Kernochen and director Isabel Coixet, the symbolism in ‘Learning to Drive’ is about as obvious as a flashing ‘Construction Ahead’ sign.”

The trailer:

What I’ve gleaned from the decidedly mixed reviews is that this one’s for those who particularly like unlikely friendships between mature people.

Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice: “There’s a hint of romance between Wendy and Darwan, but the film’s true interest is in cross-cultural exchange, in how much better we’d be if we’d listen to each other — as Darwan teaches Wendy to breathe and focus, to stop chatting with phantoms as she negotiates Manhattan traffic, so he must learn from her to let others into his heart.”

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, 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.

Roger Ebert, “There are so many ways ‘Lars and the Real Girl’ could have gone wrong that one of the film’s fascinations is how adroitly it sidesteps them. Its weapon is absolute sincerity. It is about who Lars is, and how he relates to this substitute for human friendship, and that is all it’s about.”