Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Little girl lost

Other evening, I was browsing through the stacks, looking for something to watch that night and ideas for movies to put in the old Netflix queue. Picked up and considered the following.

Game 6. Michael Keaton. Screenplay by Don Delillo. Two pluses right off the bat. Robert Downey Jr. Another plus. Bebe Neuwirth, possibly getting naked. Hard to tell from reading the box. But even if she keeps her clothes on, Bebe's a definite plus. Game six of the the 1986 World Series featuring as the McGuffin that drives the plot. Ok, it's rented already. Clincher. Keaton's character's a playwright living in terror of a vicious drama critic. The world I left behind.

Wodehouse: Has anybody ever seen a drama critic in the daytime? Of course not. They come out after dark, up to no good.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Robert Downey Jr again. Val Kilmer doing comedy. Real possibilities. Had mixed reviews. Into the queue.

Proof. Gwyneth. Hopkins. Enough said.

Syriana. No brainer. Surprised at myself for not having it in my queue already.

While I'm working my way along the stacks, the monitors in the stores are showing trailers for a hundred movies there's no way I'm going to see unless I'm forced at gunpoint onto an airplane and one of them's the in-flight film and I forgot a book and can't borrow a magazine and I can't get drunk fast enough on those tiny little liquor bottles to make myself pass out.

So I'm not paying the least bit of attention, until I hear...

Her voice.

Zooey Deschanel.

I snap to attention, find the closest monitor, and look and find I'm watching the trailer for Failure to Launch.

Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew McConaughey in a movie that answers the burning question, Just how cute and adorable can Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew McConaughey be together?

There's a long tradition of movies that are about nothing except how cute and adorable the two stars are and won't it be just thrilling when they smooch?

I give most of these the skip. Half the time they don't even register. Failure to Launch came and went at the cineplexes without my noticing. If I had been aware of it, I wouldn't have gone, and I wouldn't be giving it a thought now except for Zooey Deschanel's being in it, because I want to know:

Who makes a movie and casts Zooey Deschanel as second banana to the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker?

(Failure to Launch also looks as though it's another movie pushing LOVE as the solution to everything that's wrong with you and your life, which means it's mush.)

While I was watching the trailer, which went on forever, as too many trailers do---I don't need to see the movie now, probably---I had another question.

Just how much longer can fortysomething Sarah Jessica Parker go on playing twenty-two?

This is not an age-ist attack on her looks or her being a fortysomething romantic lead. She looks great, except for being like just about every movie actress these days too thin, and she can play early to mid-thirtysomething with a minimum of soft focus and flattering lighting, which is what I think she's supposed to be playing in Failure to Launch.

But what the script calls for and what the director and she are doing with the character appear to be different things.

Parker's a terrific physical comedian, and cute as a bug, but isn't it time she put her talents to work playing an actual grown-up?

From what I saw, Parker was doing her little girl lost act once again, the same act that began to wear so terribly towards the end of Sex and the City.

The premise of Sex and the City was, in the first couple of seasons, that life in New York for the young and beautiful and single is a wonderful adventure. But under the frothy surface there was a darker theme swimming along like a shark ready to rise.

All four of the leading characters were not that young. Carrie, Miranda, and Charlotte were in their early thirties. Samantha was pushing forty. Yet they were all still living their lives exactly as they might have been when they were in their 20s or even, if they'd gone to college in New York, in their late teens.

While the lives of their married and settled contemporaries were usually portrayed as living nightmares to be avoided at all costs, whenever they came in contact with twentysomethings whose lives paralleled their own, they recoiled with another kind of horror. There was a shock of recognition. The places in time and space they were occupying and desperately trying to hold onto belonged to other, much younger women---to girls.

None of the characters admitted it out loud, but they were all conscious that there was a competition going on that they were bound to lose, and if they didn't change their lives themselves, find a new space to occupy, a new role in life to play, when they did lose, when they were pushed out by the younger women, by the girls, there would be nowhere for them to go, except into caricature, self-parody, and absurdity.

They were always on the verge of becoming jokes to themselves.

What all of them---except Carrie---were hunting for was not a man to save them, but a path to a more grown up way of living their lives.

By the final season, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha had all completed their individual progresses towards real adulthood. There was some criticism of the last episodes that the show had gone soft and consigned all the leads to lives of happily ever aftering in the arms of their men. But that misses the more important changes in Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte.

All three were forced by painful circumstances into giving up their illusions about themselves.

This was most obvious in Samantha's case. She had to admit more than just that she was not going to be young and beautiful forever. She had to admit that she was going to die.

At the end it looks as though Sam's rewarded with the enternal love of her young god, Smith, but Sam knows. At some point, sooner or later, she will have to give him up. This bout of cancer hadn't killed her, but that doesn't mean there won't be another that will, and even if she's lucky, time catches up with all of us and we are forced to let go.

Samantha, who wanted it all and thought she had it, finishes by accepting that life isn't a matter of getting and having, it's all about what you have to give up.

Miranda has to admit that she is not a lone wolf and that she cannot continue to live as though she has no responsibilities to anyone else and no one is responsible for her. What I really liked about the way the writers handled this was that Miranda never does go soft. She doesn't like having to give up her independence, and when she finishes up chasing after Steve's mother through the streets and bringing her home and cleaning her up, you can see, thanks to Cynthia Nixon's brilliance, that Miranda is not happy and knows she is not going to be happy that this is the path her life is going to take, but she also knows that this is what she wants anyway.

What a terrible and terribly grown up idea. That what makes us happy can also make us miserable and that sticking with it is the right thing to do despite its making us miserable, because giving it up would make us even more miserable.

Charlotte gets off lightest. Her illusion was that she was born to be a princess but had somehow been evicted from the castle. But because she was always the most good-hearted of the four, the producers decided to reward her without making her learn the hard lessons Sam and Miranda had to learn. When Charlotte gives up the idea that she is meant to be a princess, that she will ever have her dreams come true, her dreams come true. She doesn't learn the lesson consciously, she just lives it---it turns out that she has always been a real princess.

Still, in having to give up her illusions, to let go some of her dreams, to realize that she can't have everything she wants just because she wants it (and even deserves it), she becomes a real grown-up.

The actresses who played them, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon, and Kristin Davis, recognized what was happening to their characters and they not only played them accordingly, they let themselves start to show their age.

This didn't mean they let themselves appear less beautiful. If anything, they all grew more beautiful, especially Nixon, who up until the last season seemed sometimes to go out of her way to make herself the plainest Jane of the four.

But they let themselves look tired. They let themselves look weathered, so to speak, lined, careworn, too busy or frazzled or demoralized to care how they looked, resigned to the fact that they were not as young and glamorous as they were when the show started.

They stopped playing their parts as girls. They started to act middle-aged.

Sarah Jessica Parker went the other way.

By they end she was visibly desperate to pass as twenty-two. She wasn't simply trying to look twenty-two. She was acting even harder to move and react as if she was still twenty-two.

Carrie was the one who had the fewest illusions about herself. What she had instead was a single dream.

That dream was for a man to come along and gather her up and take care of her.

It was a little girl's dream.

In the end, the dream comes true.

Big comes back and gathers her up---he picks her up off the floor---and he's clearly going to take care of her forever.

The other three's happy endings all require them to become grown-ups. For Charlotte and Miranda this is made manifest in their becoming mothers and in having familes to take care of. For Samantha's it's realized her in imminent death.

There's also a sense in which Sam becomes responsible for Smith as if he's not just her family, but her child, and I think it was implicit at the end that Samantha knew there was going to come a time when like a mother she was going to have to push Smith out of the nest. Someday, even if she didn't die, she would have to give him up. Another woman, one his own age with whom he could have a family, would appear and Samantha seemed to know that it would be up to her to make sure Smith did not miss his chance to become a grown-up.

However it would come about, loss and responsibility for another person were going to be defining facts of her future.

But Carrie doesn't have to give up anything or accept responsibility for anybody or anything.

She's going to go on and on and on as Big's little girl.

She would have him all to herself, and he would devote himself entirely to her.

She would never have to grow up.

Which was fine for the show, I guess.

But I wish Sarah Jessica Parker didn't seem intent on a career of keeping Carrie Bradshaw a little girl forever.


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