High School English with a Twist

The musings of Susan E dot Cohen

Month: December, 2012

For Royal & Kardashian Watchers

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On the eve of this new year, word has spread that Kim Kardashian and Kanye West  are expecting. The news follows the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s announcement of a Royal baby on the way.

I have previously shared that I am intrigued by the personal evolution of the Duchess and Kim. Personal evolution is difficult, let alone personal evolution with the world watching. Each in her own right, the Duchess and Kim have evolved and learned to carry themselves with the grace and poise appropriate of their respective roles. To quote my own piece:

“The process of evolution is powerful. Maybe that is the power that intrigues me. The power to evolve and change oneself. Evolution is a chance to decide who you want to be and how you want to get there. Kate has decided what kind of Royal she wants to be through her wardrobe that ranges from Top Shop to Alexander McQueen as well as her charity work. Kim had the chance to rebrand herself as a calmer, more interesting Kardashian after her split from Kris.” (Cohen, July 13, 2012)

The Duchess and Kim are evolving again as they prepare to step into their new roles as mothers. The former will be the mother of the future Head of the Commonwealth and the latter will be a mother to tabloid and television Royalty. I am sure E! will be spending New Years Eve inking away deals with grandmother Kris Jenner. Perhaps I am naive to think Ryan Seacrest was not already in full KimYe baby preparation mode.

As much as E! will prepare, the network has nothing on Buckingham Palace and St James’s Palace, which are prepping for the most important production of them all – a heir/heiress to the monarchy. The royal baby preparation marks the third consecutive year of major Royal events – Wedding in 2011, Diamond Jubilee in 2012, and a Royal baby in 2013. Add in the London Olympics, and the Royal staff has been quite busy.

I will have much to keep up with in the coming year as I await the arrivals of the Royal baby and baby KimYe. I especially look forward to the evolution of the Duchess and Kim into powerful nurturers. 2013 is looking very exciting for this Royal Watcher who spends her Sunday evenings Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

This is 40: A Film I am Unsure About

A few weeks ago, I attended an event at MoMA in which Judd Apatow interviewed Mike Nichols. During the event, Mr. Apatow generously shared a number of scenes from his new film, This is 40. The clips looked promising and I selected the film as my Christmas movie. After seeing the film, I was unsure what to make of it. Three days later, I am still unsure, but have a few thoughts about why I did not totally like the film.

Before I saw This is 40, a friend of mine – who also attended the event – described the film as having good scenes, but not being a good film as a whole. Her description was spot on. This is 40 has a few good  scenes. Some of these scenes are funny, some are sweet, and some are very honest. As good as these scenes are, they cannot make up for the inherent weaknesses in the film.

The weaknesses are numerous starting with the main characters Pete and Debbie. Pete is played by Paul Rudd and Debbie by Leslie Mann (Mr. Apatow’s wife). I enjoyed Pete and Debbie in Knocked Up, the film in which America was first introduced to this dysfunctional, humorous couple. They have a specific purpose in that film. However, making a film centered around Pete and Debbie and carrying that film  solely on their marital problems is complicated. I understand that in a way they represent a stereotypical couple in LA. Their thoughts, feelings, and fights are symbolic of thoughts, feelings, and fights that take place beyond a movie screen. The film is semi-realistic and that is something that can be appreciated.

At the same time, to base a film on them is difficult because they are shallow characters – both as “people” and in terms of character development. Mr. Apatow cannot turn them into something they are not without harming the integrity of the characters. Pete and Debbie have to be Pete and Debbie, but that also means they are static characters throughout the film. Even when they are “growing,” they do not really change. The film has a great deal of repetition. To make up for some of the weaknesses in Pete and Debbie, Mr. Apatow brought in other characters to bolster the film. The introduction of some of these characters work, some semi-work, and some do not work.

I agree with including Pete and Debbie’s father’s, but I disagree with elements of Pete’s father, who is played by Albert Brooks. The character is weak, which I understand is intended. However, a portion of his weakness comes from what I consider to be stereotypical, unfunny Jewish humor. Mr. Apatow’s decision to rely on Jewish jokes to develop Pete’s father is a problem. Jewish jokes are offensive to Jews. Beyond being offensive, the use of such jokes signals that Mr. Apatow did not fully develop an actual character. I feel that Debbie’s father was better developed and actually added a great deal to the film. John Lithgow was the right choice and the character provided  just the right amount of honesty into a film that was intended to be honest. 

The characters who do not work, do not work because of how their humor is constructed. To demonstrate this problem, let us look at Debbie’s trainer. Jason Segal plays Debbie’s trainer Jason. Segal also played a Jason in Knocked Up. The two Jason’s are different, but are interconnected. Like the Jason in Knocked Up, Apatow uses the Jason in This is 40 for comic relief. The problem with creating a Jason character in This is 40 and casting Jason Segal is that Mr. Apatow ends up relying on Knocked Up‘s Jason to make This is 40‘s Jason funny. In technical terms, he is relying on the notion of dialogicity. Dialogicity is the idea that an instance of dialogue in a genre is in a relationship with other instances of dialogue in the same genre. The dialogue in Knocked Up was stronger (in my opinion) and therefore, Jason the trainer is pulling on Jason from Knocked Up, in order to be funny.

Mr. Apatow relies on same dialogic relationships with Melissa McCarthy, who plays Catherine, a mom at Pete and Debbie’s children’s school. Mr. Apatow wants you to think back to Bridesmaids, which he produced, and how funny McCarthy was in that film to make Catherine funny. The same can be said for Chris O’Dowd, who like McCarthy, is in both films. His current character Ronnie is in dialogue with his Bridesmaid’s character Officer Rhodes. The inclusion of Lena Dunham is also a dialogic relationship with her character Hannah in Girls, a show where Mr. Apatow serves as a producer.

There is nothing wrong with using dialogicity. Dialogic relationships are everywhere. The problem is that the film cannot be bolstered by them. The film needed to come from Pete and Debbie and it does not. Maybe the film needed to be more insular and just stick to family members. Maybe the film should have had flashbacks to when Pete and Debbie first met and earlier on in their marriage. I cannot pinpoint what needed to be different, but something needed to be different. Without that ingredient, the film is as my friend described it – a film with good scenes, but not good as a whole.