Archive | Movies

Tips for Adulthood: Five Reasons to Watch Normal People

first love

first loveOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

It’s rarely the case that I prefer a film adaptation to the actual book.  But when I recently watched the BBC/Hulu mini-series, Normal People, I found myself revising that opinion.

Don’t get me wrong. I really liked Sally Rooney’s book on which the series is based. It’s about two Irish teenagers, Connell and Marianne, who meet in High School and carry on an on-again, off-again romance throughout university. Rooney’s a young, super-talented author who is only heading upwards. But I don’t remember loving the book.

I did love the mini-series. I’m not alone. Since first airing on the BBC iplayer, the series has shattered BBC 3’s record for downloads, more than doubling its previous record (which was for the not-too-shabby Killing Eve).

I *do* recommend that you read the book first. It’s actually fairly different in tone to the series. (New York Times book critic Dwight Garner aptly likened the book’s feel to Rachel Cusk’s sparse style, whereas the TV show has a dreamier quality). But as soon as you’ve finished reading, I suggest that you drop everything else you’re doing and get thee to this TV series.

Here’s why:

a.  First love.  I can’t remember the last time I saw something that so perfectly captured the feel of first love. The tentativeness. The desire. The shifting power imbalances. The uncertainty. The delight. We never really recover from the scars of falling in love the first time, or from its exploratory feel. The first few episodes of this show will bring you straight back to that moment in your life and cause you to re-live it all over again.

b.  Melancholy.  When I was growing up, we had a pillow on our sofa with a quote from the Irish poet William Butler Yeats. It read “Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy which sustained him through occasional periods of joy.” This series is so terribly Irish. Even the happier moments are laced with an undercurrent of melancholy. And some of the plot is downright dark. I think the only time the sun shines throughout the entire 12 episodes is during a brief scene in Italy one summer.  That worked for me; I like that feel-bad feeling. It’s more realistic.

c.  Sex.  Much has been of the explicit nature of this series. And there is a lot of sex. But it is beautifully rendered and an integral part of what draws the two central characters – both misfits, in their own ways – towards one another. One critic wrote that “the series is very conscious of sex as an expression of character, so it never felt like sex for sex’ sake.” That’s exactly right. The sex scenes don’t feel exploitative. You almost feel protective of the space, because you know that it’s one of the few places these two lonely young people get to be 100% themselves.

d.  Family.  A friend once observed that when you enter into a serious relationship, “You’re basically just waiting to find out what’s hanging on a hook in a refrigerator in the other person’s basement.” That may be a tad extreme, but my friend was onto something. Connell has a loving and devoted single mother. But you can’t help but wonder about the absent father and how far that goes towards explaining Connor’s underlying insecurity and depression. And although the darkness surrounding Marianne is never fully explained, a lot of it stems from a family marked by rage, fear and unspeakable sadness. While I couldn’t relate to Marianne’s desire to experience physical pain, I could relate to the ways in which family culture shapes our approach to everything we do. In some ways, the book is about how falling in love can help heal the wounds of childhood, and that really resonated for me.

e.  Acting.  The two young lovers are played by Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal. And they are absolutely fantastic. I recently learned that a chain Connell wears around his neck in the show has its own Instagram account, replete with its own “Hashflag” on (Google it!) on Twitter. Personally, I think Marianne’s ring deserves equal love, but that hasn’t gotten much play so far.

Did you ever find yourself enjoying a film adaptation more than the book? Share in the comments.

Image: First love via

Why I Hate Sundays

Mamma Mia

Mamma MiaI saw Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again recently with my 14-year-old daughter. I need to get that out of the way up front in case there are any ABBA haters out there. Yes, the film is cheesy as all get out. And yes, Cher makes an appearance in a platinum blonde wig towards the end, improbably cast as Meryl Streep’s mother and Andy Garcia’s long-lost lover.

My daughter kept asking me who “Cher” was.

“Be quiet!” I hissed, brooking no distractions as I drank in Cher’s velvety rendition of Fernando.

Sunday Dread

I saw the film on a Sunday. Watching Mamma Mia was probably the best anti-depressant I could have hoped for. I hate Sundays. I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who could enjoy them as much as I enjoy Saturdays. I desperately want to experience it as just another day of rest a day when – as The Lord’s Prayer so aptly puts it – you can “protect yourself from all anxiety,” kick back with a craft beer and read The New Yorker.

But it’s never been like that for me. Invariably, I wake up early, even though it’s the only day of the week that I don’t set an alarm. I always feel like I’m right on the edge of a tidal wave of despair, but that if I swim fast enough, I can just escape being swallowed up. So I douse any lingering anguish with a double espresso, and hope for the best.

I call this feeling “Sunday dread.” I used to think that it all stemmed from an underlying fear of Mondays and the resumption of normal activity. But I’ve been in a career transition for the past year, so I don’t have that excuse anymore. Monday can be whatever I want it to be. And still the Sunday dread arrives.

I’ve tried to flee this awful feeling at various points in my life with all manner of activities: swimming lessons, phone calls to old friends, elaborate brunches where I experimented with the kinds of foods I imagined people in Southern California to be eating: kale burritos or banana chip loaf. You know, relaxed people.

But it’s to no avail. I can’t escape the underlying anguish. It’s sort of like having a hangover, except that I don’t really get drunk anymore. Still, there is that vague undercurrent of nausea and fatigue, exacerbated by too much caffeine. Over the course of the day, what might have been depression morphs into a prickly disquietude. As with a hangover, I know I just need to ride it out until it passes. And eventually, it does.

Childhood Sundays

I blame my father for my hatred of Sundays. As a child, he forced all four of us kids to go to church on Sunday mornings. He was a devout, if deeply conflicted, Catholic. My mother had left Catholicism when I was born, refusing to carry on submitting to a religion that obliged her to keep having children. I was never quite sure what to make of the fact that my birth simultaneously prompted my mother to abandon religion and my father to quit drinking.

But the upshot was that she stayed home and slept while the rest of us trudged off to Mass. So, church was never a neutral experience for me. It was always entangled in some sort of deep, unspoken conflict between the two of them, glimpses of which would occasionally bubble to the surface and then recede.

In the late afternoons, we’d drive down to visit my Grandmother on the outskirts of Newark, NJ, where my father had grown up. Our family had long since “graduated” from this part of Jersey. My Dad became a successful lawyer and escaped to a big house in a good school district further North in the state. But Sundays meant revisiting the bleakness of East Orange – a town name that still rings with the false promise of a Fitzgerald novel. To my seven-year-old eyes, it was nothing but a string of shuttered factories and faded corner stores with chipped paint, all surrounded by shady looking men drinking out of paper bags.

The Warmth of New Possibility

I live in London now. This means that if I’m up before 9 a.m. on Sunday – as I was the day I watched Mamma Mia – I can listen to the “Sunday worship” program on the BBC (a live broadcast of an Anglican service), while I empty the dishwasher. There’s no separation of Church and State in the U.K. So you often get this weird (to an American ear, anyway) co-mingling of the religious with the secular. Still, I find it soothing to listen to the rote mumblings of the Episcopalian service, which is so similar to a Catholic mass…and yet, distinct.

Yesterday, the weather here conspired to make me feel even worse than usual. London is experiencing its first proper heat wave since 1976. This is not a country that’s set up for this much heat, and I don’t just mean the lack of air conditioning. The baseline mood of your average Brit hovers somewhere between dour and nonplussed. So, when it gets above 80 degrees Fahrenheit – as it has on several occasions in the past six weeks – people lose it. They just don’t know how to operate with this much…bright light.

For me, however, the sun has been an unexpected blessing. In a summer where I’ve been trying to land an agent for a book I’ve written and launch a new business, the weather has lifted my mood. Every day has felt full of possibility. Like it was all within my reach. And work might finally be, I don’t know…fun?

Until yesterday. For the first time in over 45 days, it was windy and rainy, and we reverted to the London of Charles Dickens and Graham Greene.

Which brings us back to Mamma Mia. Cher sang: “There was something in the air last night, the stars were bright, Fernando.”

And for two hours, I could breathe. When I stepped out of the cinema into the light rain, I felt hopeful again.

Image: Mamma Mia by Nick Grabowski via Flickr

Important announcement! If you like my Friday Pix feature, I will shortly be launching a newsletter which offers a round-up of these “good reads” on a monthly basis, in place of this occasional column. The newsletter will also include lots of other juicy bits for those of us interested in the eternal journey of adulthood, including an update on books and films I’ve liked, the latest research on aging, and a few guaranteed giggles. If you’d like to get these “Good reads for grown-ups” delivered directly to your inbox, please subscribe to my monthly newsletter by clicking on the “Subscribe to my Newsletter” button on the homepage of this blog.

Tips For Adulthood: Five Oscar-Worthy 2017 Films


OscarsI’ve fessed up before on this blog to being a huge Oscars fan. But this year I’ve actually gotten out to see more movies than I’ve been able to manage in past years.

Truth in advertising: I’m a “feel-bad” film fan. Which means that I don’t typically enjoy blockbusters or, indeed, any film that is overly sunny or has a happy ending.

With that caveat in mind, here are five films that I think are Oscar-worthy from 2017:

a. Phantom Thread: I’ve always loved Daniel Day Lewis, but his performance in Phantom Thread is truly breathtaking. While the character he plays is repellent – as are the relationships he gets mired in with women (albeit utterly relevant for this #metoo moment) – the vulnerability he manages to evince even while playing a narcissistic perfectionist is totally compelling. I know that Gary Oldman is tipped to win for Darkest Hour. I like Oldman as an actor and I’m sure that he’s great in this film. (I didn’t see it as I have an allergy to anyone attempting to impersonate Winston Churchill…). But given that Day Lewis is retiring from the acting craft this year, what better send-off than to give him one last Oscar to savor?

b. Loveless:  I really liked Director André Zvyagnitzev’s 2014 feature, Leviathan. If you’re looking for a bleak depiction of a soulless, corrupt, autocratic modern Russia, it’s hard to beat. But Loveless is even better. It’s also a bleak depiction of a soulless, corrupt, autocratic modern Russia…but told through the lens of a bitter divorce. (Hey, what’s not to love?) If you’ve ever wanted to feel completely defeated by – everything – go see this film. (And yes, that is an endorsement, coming from me…)

c. The Florida Project: Loveless makes The Florida Project look like a Rom-Com. Seriously. But this low-budget film depicting the life of  barely-scraping-by Americans living in a motel outside of Disneyland and featuring a completely unknown cast (save Willem Dafoe) is a treasure: inspirational and defeating in equal measure. It reminded me of a similarly low-budget, no-star (save Michael Fassbender) British film with a similarly gritty, realistic feel called Fish Tank.

d. Call Me By Your Name: This is an absolutely beautiful film, both in terms of the cinematography – it is set entirely in a small town in Italy – and in terms of its subject matter. It is a story of young love – and all of the headiness and pain and that go with it. Love, love, love Timothée Chalomet, whom I’d suggest for Best Actor, except that he has many years ahead of him to win it.

e. Films You Can Stream or Rent: Don’t hate me as I liked both of the following films. But I simply didn’t feel that they quite lived up to their hype: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (over-written) and  The Post (too predictable).

Two movies I’ve not mentioned – but will be seeing this weekend before the Oscars ceremony Sunday night – are I, Tonya and Lady Bird. Based on the previews and what I’ve read so far, I suspect at least one of them would have made it onto this list (and that one is probably I, Tonya.) I’ll let you know what I think.

How about you? Which 2017 film did you love and why? Please feel free to disagree with my assessments! I welcome your input and suggestions…

Image: Oscars by Kalhh via Pixabay

Suffragette: Why All Girls Should See This Film


Votes-for-Women_pin-2LONDON – In the full flurry of mid-life  –  between the job and the kids and the husband and the commute – I’m one of those people who rarely ventures out to the movies anymore. But I’ve got a recommendation for all you parents of tween and teenaged girls: take your daughters to see Suffragette.

This is not a brilliant film by any stretch. It’s got some fantastic actors – including Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, and Anne Marie Duff. But there are a few too many heart string moments in the life of one protagonist for my taste. And as someone whose predilections tend to run to films about the Holocaust, family dysfunction or – ideally – both, I tend to be very wary of anything that smacks of Inspiration (capital I).

But Suffragette still merits a viewing, and ideally on the big screen. Here’s why:

Read the rest of this post over on The Broad Side


Image: Nawsa Suffrage Votes for Women via

Getting Married? See ‘Amour’ First

If you’re already married, contemplating marriage or in a long-term, committed relationship and planning to remain there, I have one word for you during this Film Awards season: Amour.

Amour – nominated last week for a Best Picture Oscar – is a movie about an elderly, long-married couple in which the wife is dying. That’s not a spoiler; it’s the film’s premise. And it cuts right to the chase about what it’s like to grow old with someone.

Suffice it to say that if you thought On Golden Pond was depressing, fasten your seat belts. This is a refreshingly honest, unvarnished and difficult-to-watch film about love and aging.

There aren’t enough about those, if you ask me. Away From Her – a bittersweet 2006 meditation on a man losing his wife (played by an utterly ethereal Julie Christie) to Alzheimer’s Disease – certainly counts. As does – in my book at least – last year’s vastly under-appreciated Iron Lady, in which Meryl Streep depicts Margaret Thatcher in her twilight years not as ruthless and unstinting but as frightened, uncertain, and nostalgic for her dead husband.

In general, however, when we think about films that present us with the dark underbelly of marriage, we conjure up things like Judd Apatow’s new auto-biographic comedy, This is Forty. I haven’t seen that film yet, but I already know that when I do, I’ll be going primarily to share a laugh with my husband (and all of us who’ve grown up in the Age of Apatow) over what it’s like to be married and middle-aged.

Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People blog…


Image: Old Couple…in Amsterdam Tram by basheem via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Roman Polanski’s Victim Finally Speaks; I Wish She Wouldn’t

Every few years, it seems, we are collectively forced to revisit the cultural maelstrom that is Roman Polanski.

Sometimes it’s because a new film by the European director has come out. Sometimes it’s because Polanski is (once again) fleeing arrest somewhere. And sometimes it’s because we all need to pause and revisit the term rape.

This time, however, our cultural re-connection with Monsieur Polanski comes in the form of news that the then-13-year-old girl whom he drugged and raped in Jack Nicholson’s home all those years ago is publishing a memoir to tell her side of the story.

Samantha Geimer – yes, she has a name – has penned a memoir entitled “The Girl: Emerging From the Shadow of Roman Polanski.” In her own words, “I am more than Sex Victim Girl, a tag the media pinned on me. I offer my story now without rage, but with purpose — to share a tale that in its detail will reclaim my identity…I am not a stick figure. I know what it is like to be a woman and a victim in the realest possible way.”

Read the rest of this post on The Washington Post’s She The People blog


Image: 65th Festival de Cannes by PanARMENIAN photo via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Using The Seven Up! Series To Teach Kids About Adulthood

As a parent, it’s sometimes difficult to know which of life’s hard knocks are appropriate for children to know about and when it’s time to introduce them.

I myself came under considerable criticism a few years back when I spoke to my then five year-old daughter about the Holocaust. And I’ve raised more than a few eyebrows (including two of my own) for letting my son read the entire Game of Thrones series when he was ten. (If you want a quick primer on sex, violence and everything short of videotape, do give those books a go…)

But one decision I have not regretted was encouraging our children – now 8 and 11 respectively – to watch the Seven Up! Series with me and my husband.

If you’ve never seen Seven Up!, drop whatever you’re doing right now and go rent it at the library/netflix/love film. You will not be disappointed. Seven Up! began as a documentary about childhood in the class-torn Britain of the 1960s, centered around the famous Jesuit aphorism: “Give me the child until he is seven and I will show you the man .” The Director, Michael Apted (an assistant on the first film), interviewed 14 seven year-olds from strikingly different backgrounds in England and traced their evolution, the hypothesis being that knowing them at seven would give us insight into the “man” (woman) in adulthood. He then went on to make a new film every seven years, the most recent installment  being 56 up!

Across the films you are privy to the remarkable dreams of childhood, the dashed hopes of adulthood, along with the inevitable personal crises, marital difficulties, and economic challenges that invariably accompany the process of growing up.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Sure, there are some pretty depressing stories in here – including one bright-eyed youngster who proudly announces that he’d like to grow up to become an astronaut but ends up homeless and mentally unstable. But there are also real rays of hope: kids who look like they’ll fall into drugs and crime but don’t, tough women who really enjoy their lives despite not having a lot of money, and poor little rich girls who look like they’re destined to remain lonely and miserable but somehow manage to pull it together and lead a happy family life.

My husband and I wanted our kids to see these films because as much as they shine a spot light on some of the gritty truths of adulthood, equally they teach kids that everything isn’t pre-determined at birth, that happiness isn’t just about having money, and perhaps most importantly of all, that life can be full of surprises-some awful and unfortunate, yes, but some exhilarating and inspiring.

Sure, I’d love to shield my kids from evil and sorrow. But they will confront them. And I want them to be ready.

How about you? What books/plays/music/films have you shown your kids that offered a glimpse into the realities of being a grown up?


Image: OB/FM 12 by Slinky789 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

‘Rebekah Brooks: The Movie’: Can She Play Herself?

Britain’s phone hacking scandal truly is the gift that keeps on giving. On Sunday, news broke from the Cannes Film Festival that “Rebekah Brooks: The Movie”will be coming soon to a theater near you.

Most people know Rebekah Brooks as Rupert Murdoch’s erstwhile girl Friday in the British arm of his media empire, News Corp. Until July of last year, she served as chief executive at the London-based News International, before abruptly resigning over her alleged role in the phone-hacking scandal.

Brooks was charged last week on three separate counts of obstruction of justice, including conspiring to remove boxes of archive records from Murdoch’s London headquarters, concealing material from detectives, and hiding documents, computers and other electronic equipment from the police. The charge carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, although the average term served is 10 months.

There’s no question that Brooks is the perfect subject for a film. With her flowing, auburn ringlets and mysteriously cool — almost detached — demeanor, she looks like she stepped out of a Botticelli portrait.

Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People blog


Image: News International’s Rebekah Brooks Under Fire by ssoosay via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.


Tips For Adulthood: Five Oscar 2012 Moments Worth Remembering

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

We all have our guilty pleasures. Some of us read trashy novels. Others play children’s video games when no one’s looking. One of my friends still enjoys eating pop tarts as a grown up.

Me? I watch the Oscars. And when I saw watch, I mean consume, absorb and otherwise tune out the world.

So even when it’s a year – like this one when, let’s face it – the Academy Awards were kind of meh, I still derive tons of pleasure from watching them.

This year had its own collection of classic moments. And so if, like me, you couldn’t watch the Oscars live, here are five things worth remembering:

1.Unforgettable Past Oscar Moments. Before we even hit the red carpet on Sunday, my eyes were glued to this fabulous montage of Oscar Fails over on Slate V. Narrated by someone pretending to be that omniscient voice that tells you the winner’s past Oscar history as s/he approaches the stage, this clip includes some of the greatest Oscar moments of all time, including David Niven’s terrific ad lib all those years ago.

2. Sasha Baron Cohen Drops His Ashes.  And speaking of the red carpet, if you haven’t yet seen Sasha Baron Cohen’s hilarious Oscar stunt before the ceremony got underway, it’s a must-view. To me, what’s particularly noteworthy about this video is not Baron Cohen, who is always larger than life and outrageous. It’s the two incredibly dimwitted E! commentators reacting to Ryan Seacrest. It’s times like these that it really hurts to be an American.

3. Angelina’s right leg. Much has been made of Angelina Jolie’s right leg, which made a prominent appearance at the awards ceremony, jutting out as it did – in all its slenderness – from her Versace dress.  But did you know that this leg also inspired a Twitter account? Yes, that’s right. Tweets from @AngiesRightLeg soared on Sunday night, especially following this reaction to Jolie’s limb from the Oscar-winning writers from The Descendants.

4. JLo’s NipSlip. Not to be out done, Jennifer Lopez’ wardrobe malfunction also inspired its own Twitter feed, @jlosnipple. But I’m with Big Little Wolf on this one: whatever we saw, J Lo looked fantastic – full-bodied and owning it –  unlike Angelina who – once full-bodied herself – has gotten painfully thin.

5. Jimmy Kimmel’s Movie: The Movie. For the past few years, late night host Jimmy Kimmel has had a great time spoofing the Oscars. This year, he made an 8-minute long fake movie trailer for his forthcoming hit: Movie: The Movie, starring everyone from Meryl Streep to Tom Hanks to Samuel L. Jackson to Tom Hanks (as a robot). Laugh out loud funny. The joke is always on us.

What am I missing?


Image: Oscar by lincolnblues via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.


Why The Iron Lady Is Worth Seeing

Most of my British friends won’t see The Iron Lady on principle. “Her again?” is their feeling — not about its star, Meryl Streep, but its title character, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

As middle-aged, generally left-leaning types who came of age in the 1980s, when Thatcher ruled supreme, they loathe “Maggie” and everything she stood for. In their minds, she ruined the British public education system, decimated trade unions and privatized the nation.

I myself nearly gave the movie a pass, though not for political reasons. Other than Streep – whom everyone agrees gives an amazing performance – most people, whether reviewers or friends – seemed to feel pretty “meh” about the film itself. So I figured that I could just wait and rent it once it came out on DVD.

It was my 80 year-old mother, herself a former actress, who set me straight and motivated me to go see “The Iron Lady” in a theatre. And I’m so glad that she did.


Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People blog


Image: Margaret Thatcher Waxwork by soulmate02 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license