Tag Archives: Up In The Air

Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons Fish Tank Is For Grown Ups

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Here’s a suggestion for what you ought to do over the upcoming Memorial Day (U.S.)/Bank holiday weekend (U.K.): rent a little movie that came out last year called Fish Tank.

It’s often billed as the U.K.’s answer to Precious. Which is to say that both films treat the subject of poverty, sexuality, dysfunctional families and abuse within an urban setting. But the American film has more of an uplifting, Oprah-esque touch while the British film is raw and bleak. (A bit like the difference between the American and British versions of the television show, The Office.)

I haven’t seen Precious yet, so I can’t speak to the comparison. But I can say that as someone who likes her films sunny side down, Fish Tank really spoke to me and has stayed with me long after I finished watching it.

And I think – like Up In The Air, but for entirely different reasons – it’s also a film about adulthood. Here’s why:

1. It’s about toughness and vulnerability. Once you set eyes on the film’s protagonist – Mia- a scrappy 15-year-old whose life is upended when her mother’s new boyfriend moves in, you won’t take your eyes off of her. Part of this is the fresh, compelling performance by the young actress, Katie Jarvis. But what makes Mia so appealing is that she is in equal measure both tough (she punches a few faces along the way) and vulnerable. (Beneath the toughness we see how painful she finds her social isolation, her verbally abusive mother, and her sexual longing for someone out of her reach.) And that’s what growing up is all about, isn’t it? Learning how to live with disappointment and fear, but also how to protect ourselves from getting hurt.

2. You fall in love with the wrong people. Love Stinks, as the immortal J. Geils Band once told us. And it’s true. At some point in your life – and possible more than once – you inevitably fall in love with the wrong person. They’re too old. They’re too young. They’re married. They’re gay. They’re straight. They live in Timbuktu. It doesn’t matter why. It just can’t work out.  And when Mia looks at her lover who can’t remain her lover for all sorts of reasons, your heart will sink along with hers in recognition of this fundamental truth.

3. Alcohol heals and damages.  When you’re young, it’s liberating to finally sneak that first sip of alcohol. And let’s face it, as you get older, it’s fun to get drunk once in a while. And sometimes – when you’ve been dumped or fired or just had a really bad day – a drink can really help. But when Mia’s 9 or 10 year-old sister starts sipping from a beer can – and you’ve already seen what drinking has done to Mia and especially her mother – you recoil from the image. And you just want to rip the beer can out of her hand. It’s such a fine line, drinking. It’s fun and yet  it can so easily get the best of us. But it takes awhile to figure that out. Ditto sex. But I won’t spoil the movie.

4. Social Class matters. As I wrote in an earlier post about why The Elegance of the Hedgehog is for grown ups – social class is one of those concepts that you can only appreciate once you’re grown up. The idea that where you start often determines where you end up. The idea that if you have no role models they are difficult to invent. The fact that societies don’t often know what to do with the so-called “underclass” – even when it lives right down the road. All of these themes are explored in this film.

5. Having a passion helps. If there’s an uplifting note in this movie, it is Mia’s love of dance. Even though she usually dances alone – in an abandoned council flat (public housing apartment) while drinking beer – dancing brings her joy and may well be her emancipation if she can just figure out what to do with it. It is even one way she manages to connect with her mother. I’ve written before about how important it is to start with what you like and what you’re good at if you want to make a meaningful change in your life. You don’t have to be Baryshnikov. You just need to be passionate about something. Anything. And start there.


Image: Tiny Dancer by Tiziano Caviglia via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tips for Adulthood: Five Reasons The Elegance Of The Hedgehog Is For Grown Ups

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

This week I’d like to take a page from Gretchen Rubin, who blogs over on The Happiness Project. From time to time, Gretchen will identify a book or movie that she thinks encapsulates certain key ideas about happiness and blog about them. (Here’s one example:  a post about the movie Junebug.) I did this recently for adulthood and the film Up In The Air.

In that vein, I’ve just finished reading Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance Of The Hedgehog for my book club. This is a very small, intimate novel about an exceedingly well-educated concierge in a Paris apartment building and her relationships with its tenants. In addition to thoroughly enjoying it, here are five reasons I think that this book is essential reading for grown ups:

1. It’s about social class. Not a very American topic, I grant you. (Unless you bought into the whole John Edwards “Two Americas” thing- oh those were the days…). But boy, does it resonate over here in the U.K. right now, where social mobility is a major theme in the upcoming British elections. (Not to mention a time-honored theme in France, where the novel is set.) And to me, that’s a very grown-up topic for a novel.

2. It’s about the possibility of change. Which is – perhaps more than anything else – what defines adulthood, at least for me. Sure, all those personality tests I’ve taken basically confirm that I’m the same person I’ve always been. But growing up is about being open to change. It’s about knowing that  – however sure you are of yourself – there’s always a possibility that you’ll discover something new. Or find out that something you thought was closed off to you is actually within reach. Or just recognize when it’s time to make a bold move.

3. It’s about love. But not of the sappy, head-over-heels variety. Rather, it’s about the love of one’s friends. It’s about the love you can experience when you connect with strangers. And it’s about the possibility – but just that – of romantic love.

4. It has an appropriately bittersweet ending. Some will no doubt be disappointed by how this book ends. I won’t spoil it for you. But as a die-hard fan of feelbad movies, I loved reading a book where the ending was less than 100% hunky-dorey. That’s life, as they say.

5. It’s about Paris. And what – pray tell – is more grown up than that?

*****

Today I’m over on PoliticsDaily.com talking about the central role that women voters will play in the upcoming British General Election.

Image: Hedgehog skin by gari.baldi via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons Up In The Air Is For Grown Ups

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

My husband and I went to see Up In The Air last weekend, which has just been released in the U.K. We really liked it (even if one of us didn’t think Vera Farmiga was all that hot…ahem.) And yet, when we came home and talked about the film with our 17 year-old sitter, I didn’t advise her to go see it. In fact, I’m not sure I’d advise anyone under the age of 30 to see this movie.

Why is this, you ask? It’s not the sex (of which there’s none, and only one shot of nudity) or the violence (ditto). It’s just that for my mind, this is a really grown-up movie that can’t be well appreciated by someone who’s not…well…middle-aged.

So despite the PG-15 rating, here are five reasons why I think this is a movie for grown-ups (Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t yet seen the movie yet, this post contains some revealing information!):

1. It’s about the economy. As my former colleague Michelle Brafman notes, this is a movie where the recession plays a starring role. It’s a movie about downsizing, lay-offs and the way in which technological advances affect office life. I’m not saying that someone in their 20s can’t appreciate those things, but they won’t have quite the bite that they do for people who’ve lived through a few economic booms and busts. Evidence in support of this theory: the most moving parts of the film are all shots of real-life middle-aged or older people whose entire lives have been turned upside down by getting fired.

2. It’s about feminism. This is also a movie about feminism – as I define it – by which I mean women making independent – and sometimes shocking – choices about their lives. In this case, that amounts to having an affair (not so shocking) and not wanting to ditch everything for your apparent soul-mate, even if he’s George Clooney (a bit more  shocking). There’s a point in the film where the 20-something, tightly wound, overly professional and overly idealistic colleague of the Clooney character thanks Farmiga’s character for “all her generation has done for feminism.” We’re meant to laugh, because there’s only about 10 years between them. But later on in the film – when Farmiga tells Clooney that she’s a grown-up and that he should call her when he’s ready to play with the big kids (i.e. to accept a sexual friendship with no strings attached) –  we understand that the last laugh’s on us. This lady *is* liberated.

3. It’s about commitment. As many people have already observed, this is also a film about loyalty and commitment. In my own view – and as I’ve written in this space many times before – it’s incredibly hard to stay committed to the same person over the long haul. And that’s just not something young people worry about. They’re off experimenting and having fun and aren’t terribly bothered by what’s coming next or how long anything lasts. And that’s just as it should be.

4. The romantic leads are middle-aged. At one point in the movie, the script (foolishly, IMHO) suggests that Farmiga’s character is 34. She looks more like 38 or 40 but whatever. The point is that while she’s no Meryl Streep in It’s Complicated – (and despite what my husband thinks, Vera Farmiga *is* hot) – nor is she the young, naïve 23 year-old who also co-stars in this film. At one point, I thought they’d write the ending so that Clooney ends up with the younger woman. Thank goodness they didn’t. The whole point of this film is that it’s about what it’s like to fall in love – or “in like” as the case may be – when you’ve already been around the block a few times.

5. It doesn’t have a happy ending. I’ll fess up to having a preference for dark movies and sad endings. This film has neither. But – other than for the 23 year old – nor do things end on a particularly tidy note. Which is – dare I say it – a tad more realistic. And also comforting for those of us who’ve also been around the block.

*****

For those who are interested, please do have a look at my post in PoliticsDaily.com yesterday on whether universities breed terror.

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Middle Aged Desire: Two Scenes and a Moral

Over the weekend, I had two encounters which prompted me to think about desire in middle age. Borrowing a page from the wonderful Formerly Hot, I thought I’d share them with you:

SCENE ONE:

Setting: Grim public library in London on rainy, Saturday afternoon. DELIA stands hunched over computer, desperately searching for CD of first Pirates of the Caribbean movie for son before daughter’s ballet class finishes. She is clad in loose-fitting long, dark Eddie Bauer-style winter parka, which she hasn’t bothered to take off because she is in such a hurry. She looks vaguely like a parking lot attendant, save the over-stuffed cloth bag from Daunt Books, which hangs precariously over one shoulder.

MAN of unknown age, face and ethnicity approaches neighboring computer terminal and also begins typing.

MAN (clearing throat): Um…is this the library catalog?

DELIA (not looking up): Yes.

MAN (noticing her accent): Oh! Are you American?

DELIA (still typing): Yes.

MAN: How long are you visiting for?

DELIA (distracted): I live here.

MAN: With your husband?

DELIA: Yes.

MAN flees.

Analysis:

My First Thought: Yay! I’ve still got it!

My Second Thought: Wait a minute…he never saw my face, I’m wearing a tent, and he basically only approached me because…I’m female.

My Third Thought: Gross.

SCENE TWO:

Setting: Camden Town restaurant where two middle-aged couples pour over the film Up In The Air, which they’ve just seen.

HUSBAND: Call me crazy, but I just don’t think Vera Farmiga is all that hot.

Analysis:

My First Thought: What is he smoking?

My Second Thought: Yay! My husband finds me more attractive than Vera Farmiga.

My Third Thought: What am *I* smoking?
Moral of Both Stories: There’s no accounting for taste.

Stay tuned for my thoughts on why Up In The Air is a really grown-up movie…

Image: Untitled by Jfer via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Signposts of Adulthood: Finding Your "Forever House"

I got a one-line email from a friend the other day. It read: “We’ve found our forever house!” Attached was a photo of a large, stately English country home, with columned entrance and a wrap-around drive.

I was really happy for her. I knew that this was exactly what she wanted. She recently left London with her husband and three children in search of more space, better schools and a better quality of life.

But a tiny voice inside my head asked: “Where’s *my* forever house?”

The truth is, I don’t have one and I’m not sure that I ever will. Unlike most people, for whom home ownership remains a universal aspiration, I’ve never really fantasized about having a dream house.

A lot of that has to do with my own (admittedly odd) psyche. I’ve written before about how I find safety in movement. This means that I actually feel more secure when I know that change is on the horizon, or at least potentially so. It explains why I like to change careers and why I like to change continents (though fortunately – so far, at least – *not* why I like to change husbands.) So committing to anything beyond my family – and especially a place – makes me feel…anxious.

In the extreme, of course, this kind of rootlessness can induce a certain anomie and soullessness. Mike T has a thoughtful review of the new George Clooney movie – Up In The Air – over on his blog A Boat Against The Current. Mike points out that when such mobility becomes a national past time, you get a country full of people who are loyal to plastic (in the form of frequent flyer miles) rather than blood or community.

Quite possibly. In my own case, however,  I prefer to think that I just have a different definition of home than most people do. It’s one that – as Kristen put it so nicely on Motherese awhile back – is rooted more in a state of being than in a place on the map.

Or maybe I just haven’t grown up yet…Gosh, let’s hope not. What on Earth would I blog about?

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Image: Evanston Art Center by beautifulcataya via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.