In less than one month, I will be 23--and it terrifies me. Terrifies me because I know my day will not be the stuff John Hughes movies are made of. Terrifies me because I worry like crazy that I've come this far and I'm still light years away from being a truly functional adult. Terrifies me because I know that on July 17th, I will be one year closer to being 30. And it all scares the shit out of me.
But even as I fear my birthday coming closer, the prospect of a clean future does sound more promising than the recent past I'm leaving behind, however. This includes a massive car repair bill, car noises not related to that massive bill, rejection by a trailer company (crazy, right?), my Cal Grant renewal being denied, finding mold growing in my room and thus forcing me to find a new place to live, a health issue which combined with a romantic/sexual rejection I know will cause me to slowly drift into Repulsion territory, and having a dollar in my bank account for about every blow Antoine Doinel has taken. I'm 5 foot 7, I weigh 135 pounds. My body is not built for this weight.
I can't stop being angry at the world, or a friend who I didn't know how to ask for support from, and then was furious when he didn't supply it. I can't stop imagining pulling a Jack Nicholson or John Goodman and just hitting things with a golf club while screaming, "You see what happens when you FIND A STRANGER IN THE ALPS?!" Every night for the last two weeks I have begun to sob with a Pavlovian impulse whenever I climb into my empty bed. I don't know how to put a lid the part of me that thinks my anger is absolutely justified because for the greater part of my life I felt like a doormat, and now this is my time to be speak my mind. Is this because I'm in my 20s? Is this exasperated by coming of age in a time when it's become easier to send an angry text message than to verbally explain to someone what I'm going through? Or is it completely my own doing by being a person who (over)reacts first and asks questions later?
It's a hard world, and it changes every day. We are born, we grow up. We fight, we fuck, we fall in love. We watch trees grow and civilizations crumble. We pay taxes. We laugh, we cry. We move on. We will die. The one constant is art, always patiently waiting like our own personal Penelope, from the Van Goghs in museums to the Wong Kar Wai DVDs in our cabinets. That's the thing I like about movies: I get older, and they stay the same.
So I am going to take a breather from my venting my stress into the very public abyss of the internet and do the one thing I can do best: Learn from the movies. Here are my favorite things to watch when I'm quietly waiting for the catastrophe of my personality to seem beautiful again:
Two Lovers (2009, James Gray). This movie silently came and went in theatres back in early 2009, despite at the time being labeled as the last film Joaquin Phoenix would ever make (time has proven that label false). And it's a real shame, not just because it's exceedingly rare to find a romantic drama not Twilight-related or a Nicholas Sparks adaptation, let alone an intelligent one: it's because Gray's direction shows a keen eye for the way people watch those they love, whether it's deeply-rooted family love or an obsessive new passion, and maybe the vicious circle of how we seek out what we know is already damaged. The best description of what makes the movie so special can be summed up by Owen Gleiberman's Entertainment Weekly review: "I tend to bristle whenever a new film gets compared to ''a '70s movie,'' as if an era defined by its rambling unpredictability of form can now be reduced to a mere genre. But James Gray's Two Lovers really is a '70s movie, in the mode of such raw, unfiltered character studies as The Panic in Needle Park, Wanda, and Fat City. You have to watch it with different brain muscles than you’re used to using, because the film has no frills or hooks, no visible ''arcs,'' nothing to grab on to but the fragile humanity of the people on screen." And indeed, the fragile humanity of the people in the audience such as myself.
Five Easy Pieces (1970, Bob Rafelson). Speaking of golf clubs to a car windshield...no, seriously; Rafelson's family drama perfectly encapsulates the volatile emotions of being a young, angry person, and in that sense is the quintissential 70s film. There's never a scene that directly explains why Robert Dupea is so damaged, or why he hasn't spoken to his father in years. The only scene that nearly explains it is a totally dialogue-free scene, in which Bobby plays the piano for his love interest Catherine, and the camera pans from Bobby's face to his fingers playing the piano, finally over the wall of family photographs, until it comes full-circle back to Catherine. This is Bobby journeying back into the past, revealing his once promising talent as a pianist and reconciling it with his family. It's at this moment that you realize this is really the only true moment you'll understand Bobby, and the moment that still explains nothing at all--not the anger, not the distance, not the fact that he can't stay in one place or with one person. Five Easy Pieces doesn't offer any solutions, and even alludes to the fact that Bobby still hasn't changed at the film's end. If only calming the inner beast really was as easy as the title so teasingly suggests.
Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962, Agnes Varda). My father's best piece of advice to me, as well as proof of his ability to significantly lower his standards, is that the first and best thing a person can do to succeed is get up, get dressed and get out the door. Agnes Varda's marvelous breakthrough is that lesson incarnated, in which a pop singer awaiting the test results to determine if she has stomach cancer wallows in self-pity and hides from the world until she triumphantly takes off her wig (Pedro Almodovar must've loved this movie), puts on her sunglasses and walks out into the streets of Paris. And with this exodus she experiences all the pains and pleasures of living: death (in the form of a man devouring live frogs), cinema (with splendid cameos by Anna Karina and Jean-Luc Godard doing his best Harold Loyd impersonation), and the possibility of love when a soldier on leave decides to accompany her to the hospital. The message is simple: Once you step outside your comfort zone, you'll realize that the world is a big place filled with endless possibilities. But Varda, a former photographer, infuses her story with both a visually electric style and a big heart for her protagonist's journey, it's impossible to call Cleo anything but wonderful.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, Wes Anderson). When I'm in a down-trodden state, I don't like to watch comedies, because being around someone who's in the exact opposite mood as I am doesn't make me wanna perk myself up, it makes me feel more alone. So I watch dramas in order to feel like my mood is not an isolated incident. But Wes Anderson's movies always make me laugh even when I feel like crying, because though his movies are a fusion of melancholy and deadpan comedy. It's often hard to remember that underneath those bright color schemes and 70s soundtrack, all his characters are undeniably screwed up and in a crisis. The Royal Tenenbaums is my favorite, and it's a whallop of screwed-up adults, least of which is the weasely patriarch: Margot Tenenbaum has felt isolated from her family since her father made it clear she was adopted; Richie is in love with Margot and has let his depression ruin his tennis career. Chas' wife died in a plane crash, and as a result has adopted such a rigid hold over his two sons, one imagines Finding Nemo's Marlin telling him to go easy on them. Somehow, seeing adults as complicated, even neurotic people makes me feel less insecure, and makes me feel better, and it's a real triumph to Anderson that he never condescends his characters to make them cute or cardboard cut-outs, and also that he squeezed out Gene Hackman's finest performance ever.
Click here for Jon Hamm's recitation of "Mayakovsky," where this blog post got its title from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dPPhd4elT5o
"Mad Men" (2007-present; created by Matthew Weiner). This is crazy, but for the majority of times "Mad Men" has been in my possession on DVD, I've been going through a crisis of sorts. It's true: I watched the last half of Season 1 as I was coping with my first boyfriend telling me he wanted to take a break. Three months later, I received the entirety of Season 2 a few days after being fired from a job I was loving. I breezed through it in probably a 48-hour period. A year later, Season 3 went by even more quickly was with me as I coped with said boyfriend coming back into my life before I was ready. Season 4 was the only time I was truly happy watching it, but this year the bulk of my financial, car, emotional, health and other problems began on March 25th--the day the fifth season finally premiered. But it's not without a hint of irony that the very thing that is close to me in an emergency is also great medicine for it.
I mentioned earlier how seeing seemingly functioning adults portrayed as complex and cracking makes me feel better. Well, every character in Mad Men is struggling to reconcile their choices, their own image of themselves, their true identity. Some of them, like Peggy, come to terms with their past and move on, but I get the feeling that if Don Draper ever found true happiness, the show wouldn't have a purpose anymore. This quiet discontent has poisoned his marriage with his first wife, then his singular healthy relationship with a psychologist Faye who might've helped him reconcile Dick Whitman with Don Draper. But as Rachel Menken smartly realized, "You don't want to run away with me, you just want to run away." 5 seasons in, even though his new marriage to the young, pretty Megan is seemingly working out, Don Draper is no closer to realizing exactly who he is. We know he aspires to be a good husband and father, but even that dream is a far away place; he'd have better luck selling that kind of happiness to a client than believing it himself.