The Junk Food of Writing

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

This could be the start of something good.

The start of originality, however, is questionable. I have no idea where I heard the titular phrase which is bolded above, but it seemed particularly apt. Sure, it sounds terribly trite (perhaps it is just some horrible pop lyrics) , but it's appropriate nonetheless. No, I am not always this derivative, but when I speak about beginning a 'blog,' I doubt you can expect me to be accepted as original. I could argue, however, that anyone who truly thinks they are "original" just is not knowldgeable enough to know that he is not. Why did we have to be born so late in civilization? All the completely inventive ideas have been discovered. Regardless -- Yes, I have finally joined to this vortex of techonological hell which I have observed, but not particpited in, for quite some time. I ultimately conformed because I felt as if I had no organized, aethetically pleasing database to preserve my film reviews and fleeting thoughts. Yeah, this blog is essential -- as if I do not have enough distractions in my life.

In case you are not familiar with my temperament, you will soon discover that I like to do three things the most: complain, talk about film, and complain about film. I rant and rave, yet do much more of the former than the latter. To begin on the proverbial "right foot" (the left one is so neglected), I have decided to praise two of my favorite films of 2005 so far. Yes, stubbornly critical Nick will disappear momentarily, as will the Nick who types in third person (although he will hopefully abscond forever). Bleeech, sorry.

Upon giddy reflection of the recent 2005 Independent Spirit nominations (announced this morning, I believe -- Link here: 'Squid' leads indie-film contenders), I have decided to write an in-depth recommendation on two films which received a few nominations. Hopefully, I will be able to persuade the indecisive, yet open-minded viewer to seek out these films.

While I do not wish to condemn all of 2005's cinematic offerings, I cannot help but note the lack of superlative filmmaking. Such "prestige" pictures as Good Night, and Good Luck, Capote, Jarhead and A History of Violence have all been slightly unsatisfying, despite their share of technical merits. Most recently, the only film that has been able to satiate my cineaste's palate is The Squid and the Whale. Not only is it a resonant portrayal of divorce, it also proves that a film does not need to be an epic length to be fulfilling. In the age of bloated blockbusters, this is a breath of fresh, intelligent air. The Squid and the Whale manages to be an emotional and intellectual powerhouse in its brief 81 minutes.

The Squid and the Whale, Noah Baumbach's autobiographical film, is a nuanced and acute depiction of family turmoil amid divorce, and the affect a couple's separation has on their two sons. Each character is distinctly drawn out and well-represented by the fantastic cast, which includes Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jessie Eisenberg and Owen Kline. It is an honestly bittersweet gem; many moments which are devastating on the surface are pregnant with comedic flair. This underlying, subtle humor is never detrimental to the dramatic effect -- in fact, it only makes the film a more bitingly sharp and realistic production. In drama there is comedy, and in comedy there is drama. Although the film takes many risks, the only unconvincing part is when the snobby, intellectual patriarch (a brilliantly selfish Jeff Daniels) watches Three's Company. Even though the film directly focuses on the divorce's effect on each member of the family, it also exposes universal truths in the most ordinary situations with precision, wit and grace. This compliment can also be extended to another commendable treasure, which shares a similarly cumbersome title and pithy running time: Me and You and Everyone We Know,which is now available on DVD.

Fortunately, I attended a screening this past April with Miranda July, the director of Me and You and Everyone We Know. Ms. July was just as insecurely charming as her observant feature film. This piquant American indie explores the difficulty many individuals face when attempting to communicate with others in our strange, technologically advanced society. The genuine characters, which range from eccentric adults to precocious children, are injected with heart and quirk, making them uncannily identifiable. Even in the most vulgar moments, July is able to find sincerity. Her unique view of humanity is something to cherish.

Both The Squid and the Whale and Me and You and Everyone We Know share the subject matter of complex individuals struggling to connect with others. Although The Squid and the Whale is set in 1986 and Me and You and Everyone We Know relishes in its new-millennium modernity, the relevant themes transcend time periods. The Squid and the Whale and Me and You and Everyone We Know are refreshing character studies which exude independent spirit in the face of major studio productions. Both films contain some caustic moments, but there is a tender poignancy throughout. These films have what most current, insipid films lack: personality. They are handled with care, yet they never feel too precious. For these reasons, The Squid and the Whale and Me and You and Everyone We Know reinstate my faith in contemporary cinema.


  • Aha! I see I'm not the only one who is underwhelmed by the RT blog format. Glad you decided to start one - now don't you feel better?

    I really like your thoughts on "The Squid and the Whale", especially how Baumbach keeps a consistent, complex tonality ("In drama there is comedy, and in comedy ther is drama"). You're right, the humour only enhances the film's raw and bittersweet elements. Very good review.

    As for "Me and You...", I have to buy the DVD soon. I seem to have forgotten a lot of what transpired in the film.

    By Blogger Ali, at 5:32 PM  

  • You're right about these journals being more aesthetically pleasing; now my journal does not have to resemble some sort of vomit.

    And no, I do not feel better; I spent an hour typing away and completely neglected my copious amounts of homework. So, basically, everything has stayed the same.

    By Blogger Nick M., at 5:52 PM  

  • The Squid and the Whale is my favorite movie of the year as well.

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