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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
May 26, 2011

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.


Bridesmaids, MJ's, Season Enders, Bad Lyrics

Hidden inside the movie Bridesmaids is a funny story of two bridesmaids -- one a lifelong friend, the other rich -- who become rivals for the affection and attention of the bride.

Along the way, the lifelong friend has a really funny encounter with a cop who falls in love with her, but she blows him off on the assumption that, loser that she is, he is the same kind of jerk she always falls for. But he was the real thing, and it's the rich rival bridesmaid who arranges for them to get back together. And the wedding works out OK.

Isn't that a nice movie? And then imagine that it was written by some brilliantly funny writers -- Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo -- who write absolutely killer dialogue and situations gags. Like the lunch that makes all the bridesmaids sick as dogs while trying on incredibly expensive dresses. And the scene where the bridegroom's feisty sister comes and beats up on the depressed maid of honor to get her out of her funk.

So now it's beyond nice -- now it's funny and smart and memorable.

The trouble is, the writers had another agenda. Apparently writing a hilarious, truthful comedy about women wasn't enough. No, they aspired to something much, much lower: They wanted to create a comedy as raunchy and repulsive as the Hangover movies, which in their turn were determined to outraunch There's Something About Mary and every other gross, filthy immature-male comedy created since then.

These are farces so low that Plautus would have walked out. But they made a lot of money, because you can't go broke underestimating the taste of the American people.

So these extremely talented writers, while not quite losing track of their wonderful battling-bridesmaids comedy, aimed at proving that they could pack as much filth into a couple of hours as any male "comedy" writers. Not only that, because they were women, they could make their female characters use the c-word repeatedly.

Apparently, like the n-word, the c-word can be used by the group purportedly the most offended by it. But in the process, they make it far easier for people not in that group to use it. Having heard it over and over, a person is far more likely to have that word come to mind.

And I, for one, really hate having that word come to mind. It's degrading to my wife, my daughters, my mother, and every other woman I love and respect -- or even like, or have a nodding acquaintance with.

But the words aren't the half of it. My wife and I went to Bridesmaids because I would rather slap myself in the head with a brick than see another Pirates of the Caribbean movie, so while our daughter went with her cousins to watch Jack Sparrow cavort with mermaids, we decided to see the top-grossing comedy of the week.

We knew what kind of movie it was going to be. But we had no idea how far down the road this kind of movie has already gone. If our daughter had been with us, we wouldn't have lasted ten seconds into the film. It opens with a nude sex scene that is unnecessary to the storyline -- all that actually matters comes after.

What bothered me most was not the nudity or the sex, but rather the attitude toward sex. Even in the sweet romantic comedy, the best thing that can be said about the casual sex is "it was fun."

Fun? That is such an adolescent-boy attitude toward sex that it just made me sad. It's as if these characters have closed themselves off from any kind of intimacy in the act of sex. What sad, empty relationships these are; what lonely people, who think that sex is about amusement and nothing more. Just another activity on a date.

You don't marry a roller-coaster, you marry a person. Presumably, what you want in that relationship is more than thrills. Presumably, you want to build something. But this movie remains determinedly stupid about love.

Fair enough: This movie is supposed to emulate the stupidity of immature men.

But wouldn't it have been more clever, funny, and worthwhile to tell the truth about women -- that, with rare and sad exceptions, they are not out to have nothing more than fun in bed?

So this is another step along the road of Sex and the City, in which women act less and less like women, and try harder and harder to have the casual attitude toward sex that the most pathetic sort of men have.

It reminds me of the sad goal of feminism in our time -- to get women away from home and children and out into the workplace beside the men. Then the women were shocked and disappointed to discover that no matter how boring it is to deal with barbarian toddlers and rude preadolescents, it's nowhere near as boring as going to the office and dealing with bureaucrats and climbers and backstabbers for hours every day. Not to mention the commute.

So women, whom evolution has shaped to be far better at genuine bonding than men are (in general), now aspire to become as selfish and pleasure-seeking as the worst and weakest kind of male.

My wife and I found no character to like and nothing much to laugh at until more than halfway into the movie. We almost left during the stupidest scene in the movie, when the two rival bridesmaids go through a duel of one-upmanship toasts that would never, never, never go so far in the real world.

We stayed only so that I could write this review. And we liked, not the characters, but some of the performers: Kristen Wiig as Annie, the lifelong friend; Rose Byrne, as the rich rival; Chris O'Dowd, as the delightful cop; and Melissa McCarthy, as the groom's pugnacious sister.

Oddly enough, when handling all the poo-and-puke jokes surrounding the food poisoning episode, they made sure never to show a glimpse of actual poo. All was done by implication. If they had shown as much circumspection about the sex, it would have been a better, funnier movie.

I believe I have given you sufficient warning. If you go to this movie, it won't be because you lacked information about just how offensive it all is. Language, nudity, sex -- it's all there, and with such bad taste that it's quite possible to overlook just how excellent the writing and acting are.

As William Goldman said in his great novel Boys and Girls Together: "Wash garbage, it's still garbage." The corollary to this is: Smear filth on beauty, and it all pretty much becomes filth. Garbage trumps grace, especially when garbage was the artistic goal.

*

Friends steered us to MJ's Steak and Seafood, located in a fine old mansion at 620 Dolley Madison, just south of Friendly (336-852-4887). With the closing of Mark's on Westover and 223 Elm, we had been close to despair; but now, between MJ's and 1618 West Seafood Grille, our restaurant rotation is up to snuff again.

First-rate restaurants are not baffled by odd requests; nor do they get snooty about preferences and allergies. They are eager to please, and MJ's is well within this fine-dining tradition.

But the test of a restaurant is the quality of the food when it's prepared as they have planned, and on this score (as on all others) MJ's is simply superb. The service is attentive without ever being intrusive; the food is perfectly prepared and arrives at the right temperature, with a lovely presentation.

Yet the dining areas are intimate enough that you can have a quiet conversation with your companions and never have to raise your voice.

Don't get me wrong -- I still miss the astonishing salads at 223 Elm, just as I miss the specialties at Mark's on Westover and its predecessor in the same space, Le Rendezvous. I miss Revival Grill. I miss the spring rolls at Park Place. It's sad when wonderful restaurants close, and new ones don't really take their place.

Instead, the great new restaurants make their own place, and MJ's is well on the way to becoming one of our favorites. Can't wait to go back. I'll see you there!

*

Speaking of fondly remembering things that have gone away, I must bid farewell to one of the greatest television shows ever: Lie to Me. Everyone in the regular cast was brilliant -- Tim Roth, Kelli Williams, Brendan Hines, Monica Raymund, Hayley McFarland. Has there ever been a better group of actors assembled for a single TV series?

But what made the show so wonderful was, as usual with television, the writing. Samuel Baum, the series creator and show runner, made the characters fascinating, the relationships rich and complicated -- yet never let the community of regulars overshadow the powerful individual episodes.

I will, of course, buy the entire series (three seasons, amounting to 48 episodes) and will rewatch them, as I do periodically with Firefly. But it makes me sad that there will be no more new ones.

A series that was not so much brilliant as great fun was The Defenders -- gone, now, as well. It only had one season, but each episode was a jewel, funny and smart, and James Belushi and Jerry O'Connell made a great team.

But what can I do about it? Some of my other favorites became hits -- The Good Wife, Castle, The Mentalist. Who knows why some series catch on with enough millions of people that they last a long time, while others just as good (or better) never manage to build that kind of support?

For that matter, why are there series that other people love, which leave me cold? That's just the way it is. I never found anything to enjoy in Ugly Betty; I stopped watching Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory at the point where it was clear Chuck Lorre had run out of ideas and was resorting to cheap sex jokes to keep the thing going. Anybody can write that stuff, so why bother? Yet my absence from the audience didn't seem to have any effect on the ratings.

Speaking of The Mentalist, the season ender was excellent.

Beware -- if you have it on DVR and haven't watched it yet, I'm going to give away a big one.

You were warned.

I've long been sick of "Red John" the way I was sick of Sylar in Heroes. The first season of Heroes ended with Sylar's seeming death -- but then we looked again, and his body was gone, with a bloody trail leading to a manhole. I turned to my wife and said, "I'm never watching this again."

Why? Because I don't tune in to watch or think about the same repulsive villain, week after week. I tune in to watch intriguing and enjoyable heroes; I expect to be rid of the villains so I don't have to keep inviting them into my home.

Ditto with Prison Break -- I stopped watching after the first season, when they made it clear I would have to spend even more time with Theodore Bagwell. I was done with him. I stopped watching the show after that season, when they didn't dump him.

Writers get fearful and lazy. This villain has been working so far, they think -- what if I can never invent as good a villain again? They forget that heroes drive the series, not villains.

The Mentalist was walking a dangerous road with Red John. His crimes were so vile and his effect on Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) so profound that he dominated too many episodes. He was also made too powerful, with tentacles reaching everywhere, so that we began to wonder why he didn't just kill everybody who opposed him and become king.

I told my wife, as we headed into the season-ending episode, "I hope they kill off Red John, because I'm done with him." They already had a much more compelling antagonist in LaRoche (the inimitable Pruitt Taylor Vince), a complicated man who is not all-powerful.

And guess what? I got my wish. It was a wonderfully written scene between Jane and Red John, and the way it ended was perfect for both characters.

Not only that, but when the camera pulled away, the guy was still there. Still dead in the food court.

Now, this doesn't mean the writers can't pull a nasty little fast one, and tell us that the guy who died wasn't "really" Red John. Ooooh, Red John is still alive! Oh, wait, this seeming Red John crime was just a copycat! Aaah, but the real Red John hates the copycat so he kills him before the cops get there and ... you know the drill. Total cliche. It's how you spin out a series when you have no ideas.

I can only hope that the writers know that killing off Red John was like losing Diane from Cheers and replacing her with Kirstie Alley's character -- far from a loss, it was a breath of fresh air. Writers, trust yourselves! Don't bring back Red John. Don't even pretend to bring back Red John. We've spent three years with him. That relationship is over. Move on.

Castle's season ender, on the other hand, was fine -- but next year, I hope they find a way to end a season without seeming to kill Kate Beckett (Stana Katic). We know you're not really going to kill her, O ye writers, because the relationship between Castle and Beckett is the series. It's a buddy movie, and they're the buddies.

Wouldn't it be nice if Castle and Beckett could admit they love each other -- but not sleep together? Sleeping together is Hollywood's way of showing "love" without the writers actually having to understand or show what love really is.

Both these characters are supposed to be grownups. Grownups can have relationships for extended periods of time without jumping in the sack. I know I'm shouting into the wind, but what I'm saying is true. Sexual relationships have not gotten any smarter or truer just because they're more common. In fact, they're cheaper -- and therefore far less powerful in fiction.

Wouldn't it be cool to see an actual friendship? One that is not based on the hope of "getting some"?

I know, I'm in the minority. But it's my column, and it's my opinion, so there.

*

I'm writing this before the American Idol finale. I just want you to know that while the best singers -- Casey, James, Haley -- have already been bumped, I'm unconcerned.

The voting is partly about talent, and partly about love, and it's no surprise that more people loved Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina. Country music has a huge following, and these are such adorable young people, besides their wonderful talent, that either one would be a credible winner.

As Daughtry proved a few years ago, getting bumped before the finale is not the end of the line. James Durbin will get a recording contract and his first album will be wonderful and sell millions. Casey Abrams and Haley Reinhart will also do albums, but because they lean toward a jazz and alternative sensibility, the sales may not set records. But I'll buy them, and I expect I'll love them, and hope all of these kids will have long and outstanding careers.

Besides, I love good country music. Lauren and Scotty are both readier for a pro career than Carrie Underwood was. I'll be buying their albums, too.

Nobody loses.

*

The book is called Crap Lyrics: A Celebration of the Very Worst Pop Lyrics of All Time ... Ever. Author Johnny Sharp is as opinionated as I am, but unlike me, he's not always right. So some of the lyrics he mocks are actually pretty good, if you look at them the right way.

But most of what he ridicules is, in fact, ridiculous. And his snotty remarks about them are usually quite fun. For instance, it's not that the lyrics to "In the Year 2525" are actually bad -- they just paint a picture of the future that's kind of repulsive, and he says so.

And back when Jethro Tull was new, I listened to their songs with my friends and we thought they were really cool. But I never actually processed the lyrics. Sharp makes a strong case that Ian Anderson's lyrics to "Aqualung" are celebrating a pedophile in such creepy detail that it makes you wonder about Anderson's predilections.

Sharp skewers intellectual pretensions and pokes at utter nonsense ("someone left the cake out in the rain" -- really?).

And someone really wrote and recorded the words "I'm serious as cancer when I say rhythm is a dancer." Really? Was the songwriter that desperate for a rhyme?

But Crap Lyrics is full of examples of such desperation, and while there are a lot of nasty words in the lyrics Sharp jabs at, so some people will hate reading the book for that reason alone, it's funny and it suggests that there really are standards in writing pop songs, and a lot of songs don't measure up. That's a good thing to remember, and Sharp reminds us.


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