Tuesday, February 28, 2012

We're Funny Because We're Flawed..Stupid!

It's the Thursday after the Oscars and I am only, just now, wiping the crust out of my eyes from staying up past ten on a school night. Why, Universe, does that telecast have to be broadcast on a Sunday? Saturday, please. Then I can sleep off my hangover without guilt. Thanks.

I normally don't participate in the Monday night quarterbacking that happens the days after the Oscar telecast because the focus is largely on the fashions and I, quite frankly, couldn't care less about who wore what. I did, however, catch a wrap-up show on a cable channel where they were discussing the merits of the film Bridesmaids and I stopped the clicker long enough to hear a critic I quite respect describe the film's two Oscar nominations as "undeserving" and referred to its critical reception as "overblown". The reason: women pooped in a sink and it was "unbecoming".

Now, I will agree, I find it tiresome that the popular focus for the movie is based, primarily, on the dress-fitting scene and the gross out that inevitably happens in the bathroom of that pristine-no-longer shop (and make no mistake, though the scene is not for everyone, there can be no dispute: it was hilarious). But, really? That was all the movie was about for you?

Hollywood has frequently felt that a woman's place in comedy was largely suppose to be in pursuit of a wedding ring which is why I almost didn't go and see this movie and why haven't watch a single Kate Hudson film since Almost Famous. I am simply not down with devoting two hours of my life to watching a starlet lasso Matthew McConaghey into marriage, all whilst balancing herself on 5-inch high heels. But, Bridesmaids isn't a movie about weddings, people. It's about the way women talk to each other. There just happens to be a wedding in it. And some women pooping in a sink. What Kristen Wiig and her co-writer, Annie Mumolo, have managed to traffic in here is a sort of social realism that outside of a Mike Leigh Film, very rarely gets mined in a film. They have tried to capture the strength that certain woman need to carry on in the face of common societal pressures. Friendship, love, courtship, marriage and the promise it holds of life-ever-after are all held up to scrutiny here and what they reveal is that they are not quite what they are cracked up to be.

Maid of Honor Annie and her motley crew of bridesmaids know this only too well. There is the gentle, almost childlike bridesmaid who confesses her discontent with never having sex. The bridesmaid mom who confesses her horror at sharing the house with three lively teenage sons ("There's semen everywhere. One blanket actually cracked") and at her husband's banal, insatiable conjugal needs: ("I just want to watch the Daily Show once, without him entering me"). Annie's own sense of failure is only amplified and accelerated by the intolerable social and financial humiliation of being a bridesmaid and it threatens to poison everything, including a promising new relationship with a nice cop. But it is Helen - sweet, sweet, passive-agressive Helen!- whose uber-competitiveness in taking over her role as Lillian BFF that lurches Annie into existential overload. It isn't enough that Annie continues to share an apartment with a sibling duo, works a menial job and is struggling to pay rent. Now she has to endure the indignity of attending a Helen-curated party for which she had been mastermind. And say nothing.


And then throw on top of this Melissa McCarthy, whose character, early on, seems like a caricature. Overweight and unfiltered in the early scenes, by film's end, she has slowly subverted these impressions, and gains depth as the most selfless member of the bridesmaids, understanding that you don’t receive your own happiness as much as you make it. Find me another movie where a woman over 150 pounds was the moral center? Or who turns out to have the most self-actualized and fulfilling sex life ?

Good comedy should mine human foibles for comic effect and, sometimes, writers and actors need to exaggerate character flaws to make their point (and get the laughs). Sink-pooping aside, Bridesmaids worked as well as it did because the writing and the feelings behind it resonated and rang true. Sure, few of us have gone to a bridal shower and destroyed a cheesy decoration in a fit of frustration with the unreality of it all. But who among us hasn't wanted to? Am I surprised that a certain portion of the population has missed the point there? No. Am I thankful that someone had the audacity to write about it. Hell, yeah.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


In 1958, Virginia residents Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving were married in Washington, DC and returned to the state to live together. Mrs. Jeter was black and Mr. Jeter was white. Shortly after their wedding day they were charged with violating Virginia's law against inter-racial marriage and were sentenced to one year in jail. The sentence was suspended provided they move out of the Virginia and not return for at least 25 years. From their new home in Washington, they struggled to appeal their case, which was eventually brought before the Supreme Court. The law was overturned in 1967.

This, my friends, is what most of us now see as progress.

Almost 30 years to the day of that ruling, my husband and I got married in the same state, in a town a mere 45 miles from the one were Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving first met. We booked the wedding on Monday and were married the following Thursday, in a musty anti-chamber room of the Albermarle County Courthouse. No muss, no fuss, in a state where, 30 years previous, it was illegal for a black and white person to to play checkers together on the same porch.


With Valentine's Day just around the corner, I was thinking of this room when I stumbled across an incident that happened just before Christmas in the City Council chamber for the City of Troy in Michigan. If you’re looking for light in the middle of February, this room would probably be the last place you’d look but for one day this past December, a ray shone in that chamber that gave a glimpse of hope to those who believe in - you, guessed it! - progress.

The week before, Mayor Janice Daniels of Troy, Michigan, was publicly admonished at a City Council meeting for her use of an anti-gay slur on her Facebook account. It was discovered that Mayor Daniels wrote a Facebook status update in June using the word “queers” when referring to lesbian and gay people, and saying that she would be throwing away her ‘I Love New York’ carrying bag now that marriage equality has passed in New York state. Widespread upset over Mayor Daniels’ comment ensued, with many residents calling for her resignation. Which is why, at a City Council meeting a few weeks ago, 80 people lined up during the public comment portion to address Mayor Daniels directly and highlight the issues with her inappropriate statement.

It was getting pretty ugly for the mayor, as you might imagine until a woman named Amy approached the Council with her wife, Tina, and their two children. Amy spoke about the love in her own family, and the values that she and Tina have instilled in their daughters. “We talk every day about different families, and different types of people, and teaching respect and kindness. And that is the heart that beats in our home – it’s about being kind, about choosing love over everything.” She then presented the mayor with a gift: two drawings that her daughters had made. The goal was for the mayor to carry the picture with her and to remember to keep thoughts of kindness and love in her heart whenever she looked at them. In her parting thoughts, Amy encouraged Mayor Daniels to see this situation as an opportunity to step up in support of all Michigan residents, including lesbian and gay people.

Stories like these are gifts. Not only do they remind us how damaging anti-gay messages send to individuals and families but, more importantly, they show us that true kindness is loving people despite the differences you might have for them. Loving them regardless of who they do, or don’t, like. Like Amy, I prefer to see challenges as opportunities to grow and change and I felt different after reading about what she did in that dingy council chamber in Troy. Hopeful, even, that there are people out there who have the courage to lead by example. Amy and her family, like Mildred and Richard Loving three decades before, performed a miracle of sorts: they turned a worn out city council chamber into a school room where I learned a lesson in, love, courage and - you guessed it! - progress.

But I know rooms like that. I got married in one.

Happy Valentine's Day.