it happens every summer: day six

day six of the queue finds us navigating the perilous terrain of human connection. we start the day with miranda july's me and you and everyone we know (2005).

july's directorial debut charts the beginning of a relationship between artist christine, played by july herself, and recently separated shoe salesman, and father of two boys, richard, played by vitagraph favorite john hawkes. starting from them and spinning delicately outward we are introduced to a small community of people. there are his sons, whose online chat sessions illuminate a great deal that's both funny and disturbing about people's loneliness and the lengths they go to to alleviate that. there is a pair of teenage girls, classmates of his oldest son, who are precariously balanced at that point where sex is transforming from schoolyard rumor to real world practice. there is his coworker, who doesn't quite have the wherewithal to be a dirty old man and there is the curator of the museum where christine is attempting to have her work displayed who seems disconnected from every aspect of her life except when anonymously divulging her most secret desires to complete strangers. all of these characters go about their labors in one another's orbit, struggling, consciously or otherwise, to have one basic need fulfilled - to find just that one person that truly understands them. it's obviously central to christine and richard's budding romance but it's just as vital for the other characters as well, be they a six year-old boy or the elderly folks christine takes to run errands. there are going to be people that dismiss this as too precious, and there is a whimsical sensibility that dangerously skirts (socks would be a better article of clothing to use here but it doesn't function as a verb) that line a time or two, but what keeps it from tipping is july's unflagging sincerity. she stares straight at you with those perfect eyes and does not blink, much less wink. all the points at which the garden-variety manic pixie dream girl would have shown up and won the day are studiously inverted, exemplified best by the scene where she first talks her way into his car and he throws her out, responding at a gut level not to her whimsy but her borderline creepiness. it doesn't hurt when you have john hawkes on your side, either. the versatility he displays going from being the last hard man in winter's bone (2010) to the floundering, newly-single dad here is something most actors would give their eye teeth for. it's impressive and touching, watching him slowly stumble his way out of sadness to the point where he's willing to risk himself again. i wish this would have been programmed next to kicking and screaming (1995) earlier this week so noah baumbach could have looked over and seen how to use his keen powers of observation for good instead of evil. so he could see listening instead of talking, liking instead of self-loathing and trying instead of quitting. he makes me never want to talk again. miranda july makes me want to talk to everyone.

from there we hit the road with alfonso cuarón's y tu mamá también (2001).

diego luna and gael garcía bernal are a pair of friends from mexico who are in that pivotal summer between high school and the first year of university. their girlfriends are gone touring europe and they restlessly hit the road with maribel verdú, a spanish woman who is a few years older and has, for reasons of her own, decided to go along on this unlikely journey. once in the car, the conversation soon turns to the unavoidable - sex and death - and the conversation soon turns into the unavoidable sexual entanglements. she has sex with both boys and it threatens to undo their friendship as jealousy, desire, resentment and revelation propel them toward one last encounter which finds them in uncharted territory. the tone of the film is set from the very first frame, as it opens with both boys having a frantic farewell coupling with the aforementioned girlfriends. once you get to the airport a few minutes later and the boys see the girls off, only to immediately begin scheming ways they can play while the cat's away, you have all the major story elements here in these opening scenes - unflinching eroticism, immaturity, selfishness, clumsiness, sexual double standards and a lack of understanding just waiting to be cruelly ambushed by experience. it says quite a bit that cuarón can keep me this interested in the fate of these characters that i really don't like very much. they're dumb, average, horny stoner kids and the way they believe things work is informed mainly by their drive to get drunk, high or laid. this is the point that most all coming of age stories lose me. as i have said before, i just can't relate to how many people apparently find these silly, hollow experiences to be transformative. i know i can't have been the only kid out there wanting something substantial during those formative years but the overwhelming volume of these stories tells me i must have been in a distinct minority. i think they way he periodically brings in a narrator to offer social and historical context for their journey is brilliant and it definitely gives me something to hold on to, a way to see their trip as part of a much larger cultural tapestry. the complexity of maribel verdú's performance also offsets the one-dimensional annoyance of the boys and their inability to deal with everything from their betrayals of one another to their attraction to each other. she is as selfish as them in some ways, yes, but it is motivated by a sad knowledge rather than a blissful ignorance. she is simultaneously striving to satisfy her own desires, impart some wisdom and find a measure of peace. you are willing to follow the story to the end for her sake and it's good that you do. once you become attached to her and then are forced to let her go you are left with that fleeting feeling that is the essence of summertime. i was sad to see her go.

we end the day with emlie ardolino's surprise runaway hit and pop culture juggernaut, dirty dancing (1987).

a young girl and her family are on vacation at a resort in the catskills in 1963, in an america that, though no one knows it, is on the verge of coming apart. into this borscht belt enclave strolls dance instructor johnny castle, and baby, as the girl is affectionately/dismissively known, feels a stirring in her loins unlike anything she has noticed prior to now. being an outsider in her own peer group, she wanders over to the other side of the tracks, hobnobs with the staff and finds herself pressed into service as a dance partner when johnny's current partner has to miss a date because of a hastily arranged and, subsequently, poorly performed abortion. johnny and baby take their partnership beyond the dance floor and daddy's little girl isn't a girl anymore. daddy business and class warfare yet again, you ask? indeed, indeed. baby stands up for johnny when he is falsely accused of theft by a jealous former paramour and has to expose their affair to provide him an alibi. daddy is not pleased. johnny gets the axe and hits the road, but not before taking the stage at the season-ending talent show to tell everyone that baby is more than meets the eye with both a stirring speech and a dance routine. times of lives are had. i must give credit where credit is due. there are some surprising and refreshing elements here. it is nice to see a somewhat frank treatment of a young girl's sexual awakening in such a mainstream film. it's nice to see the girl be an equal participant in her love affair and be the hero. she is conscientious, loyal, loving and level-headed. and the inclusion of even a mention of the horrors women went through in the years prior to roe versus wade is a substantial issue for what is essentially a feel-good dance film to take on. so we take these small victories where we can find them. this doesn't, however, exempt the film from being completely predictable and, with an exception or two, very badly acted. i know that generations before and after have done the same thing, but there is no generation like eighties kids who so frequently, and incorrectly, substitute "this is good" (frequently "awesome") for "i like this, this means a lot to me". whether it's the goonies (1985), john hughes' garbage, back to the future (1985) or this, we shouldn't get the two confused. they are very different things. for example, real men (1987) came along at a time in my life when i found its absurdities hilarious and i still have a real soft spot for it but there is no way i am going to try to convince you it is a good movie. fish tank (2009) is a good film about a young girl's sexual awakening - powerful, not obvious and extremely well acted. so how can we use the same adjective to describe something which we know is clearly not those things? hostel (2005) and turistas (2006) are a valuable part of the conversation when considering how horror films are a century-long reflection of society's anxieties in general and specifically of how americans think about how the rest of the world perceives them post-bush administration but are they "good"? no. and if you're trying to convince me that the thoughtful elements of dirty dancing, and not simulated sex on the dance floor and patrick swayze's black tank top, are the main reason why the film has made over 200 million dollars then i am going to call you a liar right to your face. or at least deluded. still and all, i can't be mad at it. it tried, and succeeded, to go beyond the modest boundaries usually set for films like that. call it a draw.

well, that most bittersweet part of the queue has come again. the part where i can see the finish line, when things are drawing to a close. the end is nigh.

for all of us.


  1. I could probably write a book about Dirty Dancing but I do think you hit upon the major reasons why I like it and chose it, even while explaining your own reasons to feel rather neutral. I do think it's a feminist movie, made by women and with a respect for them that was more or less unheard of in mainstream cinema around this time. I do find it romantic, exactly because they Johnny and Baby were equals who were often relating on her terms. I actually didn't see DD when I was younger -- I think I watched it for the first time about six years ago, and I was SHOCKED by how much I enjoyed it and how progressive I thought it was. Maybe I do give it more credit because of what I'm comparing it to, but I defend it always. I think it's sad that this movie, of all movies, always gets brought up as the most vile 'chick flick,' because it is SO the opposite to me of what that sad excuse for a genre has become. I don't doubt, however, that you're right that the good things about it are probably not what made it so much movie. People are dumb.

    I feel like we are on totally different pages with Y Tu Mama Tambien. I guess the boys' characters are dumb stoners but I actually find both of those actors performances realistic, charismatic, and compelling. My attraction to that movie is about 80 percent how it looks -- from the three leads to the landscape, even the hurried, juvenile sex scenes -- beautiful!

    I saw Miranda July at the SXSW screening of The Future and I can say undoubtedly that she is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. I was so struck by her that I couldn't even speak.

  2. i agree. dirty dancing does not deserve its designation as "star wars for girls".

    we may not be as such different pages as you think about y tu. the performances are on the money. i was strictly talking about the nature of the characters themselves. as actors, i find their ability to put these characters across impressive. very realistic. it creates a strange tension in me to appreciate someone so thoroughly essaying a character i wouldn't have five words to say to were i to meet that character on the street.

    if miranda july put her face close to mine she could take everything i owned and i probably wouldn't even notice.