invasion of the paramount: day four

day four finds us wrung out after yesterday's emotional hurricane. for relief, we turn to brooklyn henson, the paramount's associate director of marketing and PR. will she provide it? well, don't put those hankies away just yet, gang. we start with herbert ross' steel magnolias (1989).

i guess i am the only person in the free world that hasn't seen this before today, but just in case there are others of you living in a magnolia-free bubble for the last two decades, let's synopsize: it is about the lives, loves and bonding experiences of a group of southern women in a time and place that could only ever be the late 1980s. using dolly parton's beauty shop as a sort of base of operations, they gather to exchange wisecracks, plan julia roberts' wedding, exchange wisecracks, ponder the impenetrable male psyche and then exchange wisecracks. not long after the wedding, julia announces that she is with child. it's a mixed blessing, though, as she is severely diabetic and her pregnancy could endanger her life. the baby arrives, and is healthy, but the stress on her body was too much, causing kidney failure. she receives a kidney transplant but it turns out to be a stopgap measure, at best. she collapses at home one afternoon, entering into a coma that she never comes out of. the family eventually removes her from life support and after her funeral, left finally in the company of her other friends, sally field, julia's mother, finally reaches her breaking point. the tight-knit group sees her through it and, as we head toward the credits, daryl hannah announces that she is pregnant and asks to name the baby after roberts' character. the cycle of southern life begins anew.

maybe i have had it wrong all along. maybe this is the old, weird america, this place where god and hairdos reign supreme. they live in a world where traditions are so firmly rooted that no one bothers to check if they even make sense anymore and "what will the neighbors say?" still carries some inexplicable significance. where am i in my life that david lynch's blue velvet (1986) presents a vision of america that is less foreign to me than this? i am at a severe disadvantage with this one. maybe i am just more in the minority than i realize. i would be interested in hearing if the majority of you have/have had this type of dynamic (3-5 same gender friends that you see near constantly) in your lives? if you don't, do you long for it? do you frequently denigrate your significant other for comic purposes? am i missing out on something important here? i frequently think when i watch these things that it must be more prevalent than i realize. why else would it turn up as a storytelling device so often unless it was a near-universal experience? is the lack of it in my life a chicken-or-the-egg thing? is there an absence of it in my life because i have surrounded myself with other people who feel similarly or do they just keep it out of my sphere because they know that i will not participate in it? as soon as i drive away is this what is happening in my friends' houses all over town? that's a lot of questions, i know. i really would be interested in your feedback. feel free to leave it in the comments section here or over at the facebook page. if you read my ramblings very often (or know me well) you know that i just simply refuse to buy into the gender generalizations that people often use to cut their lives into digestible chunks. personally, i know that i do or appreciate enough things typically designated as the province of women to make the designation pointless. if you think about it, i am sure the women in the audience have a similar inventory of things/behaviors commonly understood to be "guy things" that are a regular part of their routines. once you establish and understand that, it just demolishes all these silly notions of "you're one way, we're another". i know why people insist on perpetuating it - it's easy and doesn't require us to think of each other as individuals - but i will never know why they think that is better. when you spend 50% of the time cracking jokes at your opposite gender's expense how silly is it to spend the other 50% of that time wringing your hands over "why don't we get along?!"? with their preoccupations and restlessness, these women are kind of the mature female flip side to the lads in reprise (2006) from day two. all that being said, i would still rather spend time with these women than any number of post/suspended-adolescent bropacks. these women have the advantage of accumulated wisdom on their side. dolly parton is an angel and if you can't find a way to like her then you're just kind of a jerk, shirley maclaine and olympia dukakis have been around long enough to know when to fight and when to retreat and sally field's monologue where she angrily questions the sense of her daughter's death is right on the money. i just wish, and i am well aware that this will most likely never come true, that we could finally stop underlining women and men and just get on with the business of underlining people. maybe if the neighbors did it first...

from there we hit the road with todd phillips' due date (2010).

it's one of the more recent entries in the hollywood canon of films about unlikely traveling companions, a lineage that stretches back practically to the beginning of film itself. robert downey, jr. is a slightly tense architect trying to get home to california in time for the birth of his first child. zach galifianakis is the unsophisticated rube who is on his way to hollywood to follow his dream of being on the t.v., french bulldog and coffee can full of his dad's ashes in tow. the movie wastes no time and i certainly appreciate that about it. in the first few minutes our protagonists are introduced to one another via an accident that rips off one of their car doors and from there on they are inextricably linked, the film continually upping the ante, becoming more and more outrageous and destructive with each passing scene. we are treated to non-lethal projectiles, car crashes, masturbating zach, masturbating french bulldog, drinking a hot cup of zach's dad over breakfast, assault with a wheelchair and collapsible baton, near-lethal projectiles, broken bones and more as the two of them make their way west. of course, they overcome their differences to become friends. that was a given. we've seen it time and time again in variations both romantic, like it happened one night (1934), and platonic, as seen in planes, trains and automobiles (1987). well, platonic except for the pillows scene. we knew the end before it even started. what matters is the getting there. the getting there was interesting to me this time more in terms of how it reflected the journey that american comedy is on. not to say it wasn't funny. it has its moments, though there should be more of them, considering the skill and charm of galifianakis and downey. it made me think a lot about how few places there are left to take this comedy of discomfort that is so prevalent these days. every journey has a terminal point. how soon until we reach it with this style? phiilips' output alone is responsible for taking a branch of comedy that was silly and sophomoric, but mostly good-natured, just a few years ago and raising the edgy awkwardness stakes until it is nearly unrecognizable to its antecedents. one thing downey said keeps ringing in my head while i mull this over. early in the film he is attempting to get galifianakis to improvise a scene as a coach whose job is on the line that needs to inspire his players to a big win. zach tells him it's a stupid idea, that it would never be in a movie. downey replies, "it's in a movie every two years". precisely. this is in a movie every two years. it makes me curious to see what will come in the two years that things can't be taken any further, profitably, and what the american comedic landscape will look like while we are watching the waters of unease recede for a while. i suppose we shall see. for now, we just keep driving. so quit kicking the back of my seat, brooklyn, and stop bugging your brother. i will pull this queue over if i have to.

in all seriousness brooklyn, thanks for those selections. they gave me some laughs and, more importantly, they raised some questions for me that i didn't expect and i always appreciate that.

tomorrow we reach the halfway point in our little experiment.

to celebrate maybe i'll let you guys be my regular saturday night thing.

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