Pride and Prejudice. It’s one of the most beloved and widely read novels in the English language. Everyone knows Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth and their love overcoming all odds. Everyone loves to adapt it. You sometimes get the impression that whenever writers have no clue what to do next, they say, “let’s just adapt Pride and Prejudice!”
And this text is so well known that straight adaptations are no longer necessary. You can have Pride and Prejudice in another time and place, from India to Utah. You can have time-travelling Pride and Prejudice; you can have Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
And then, apparently, you can adapt that into a film. And they have. It comes out today, in fact. Stay tuned for my thoughts on it. But in order to prepare for what I’m sure will be a great intellectual challenge, I made the rather rash decision to provide the world with a definitive guide to all the adaptations of this novel made in English. (This means I won’t be watching the K-Drama. Sorry.)
These adaptations have come early and often since the invention of film, though many of the earlier examples are impossible to find, if they survive at all. There have also been quite a few works that were clearly very directly inspired by the novel even if there’s no Hertfordshire.
All you need to two hot people and a swooning romance, right?
Except no. Jane Austen didn’t write a swooning romance. Jane Austen wrote a morality story about what she felt was the ideal marriage: an arrangement arrived at by two rational people based on the intersection of affection, practicality, spiritually duty, and compatibility.
Pride and Prejudice (P&P), an understanding of this theme is what I look for most. There are six “touchstones,” as I call them, that help focus this. How these elements are adapted makes the difference between a good adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, and a generic romance movie.
- Elizabeth – This young woman is intelligent, opinionated, independently minded, and yeah, kind of proud. However, she is also a product of her time. She doesn’t think she’ll ever marry because she knows few men are really her intellectual or moral superior. And a husband must always be his wife’s superior.
- Darcy – Dude, your privilege is showing. Fitzwilliam Darcy is a hot brooding guy, and that makes him super sexy, but it’s because he’s an entitled snob. He suffers when Elizabeth rejects him, but make no mistake, he went in there with no doubt that she would accept him because, you know, he’s Mr. Darcy. He’s essentially a good person, which is why he’s able to learn to be less of a jerk by the end, but he was simply not the aggrieved party here.
- Mr. Wickham and Lydia – This one is tricky. Because in today’s world, when a man in his late twenties runs off with a sixteen-year-old our first thought usually isn’t “oh no! her reputation!” But we’re supposed to feel sorry for Lydia, because she wasn’t raised right, but also think that she’s damn lucky Mr. Darcy got that sweet deal for her so that she wouldn’t have to be a street walker. Wickham is the cautionary tale that all the young female readers should watch out for.
- Charlotte Lucas – She is meant to be the opposite of Lydia. Marrying for purely pragmatic reasons is just as bad as marrying because you can’t keep it in your pants.
- Mary – Back in the early nineteenth century, a woman trying to be an intellectual was seen as, like, funny. I don’t think we’re supposed to be all “yay, go book snob!” This often ends up in a narrative that is rather cruel to poor Mary, but that’s what the text is. Her complete rejection of social interactions in favour of “contemplation and reflection” is not praiseworthy, it’s ridiculous.
- Mr. and Mrs. Bennet – Mrs. Bennet is really dumb and shallow, but Mr. Bennet is a complete jerk. His duty is to provide for his family, to make sure his daughters are taken care of, but he doesn’t. He just locks himself up in his room and laughs at them, and encourages Elizabeth to do the same. He’s redeemable because he’s clearly loves Elizabeth, but he is not an unproblematic fave.
This not to say that a film that is a “poor” adaptation of the novel is necessarily a bad movie, or that a good adaptation is necessarily an excellent television show, but adaptations are kinda my thing, so that’s the angle that I’ll be taking.
Pride and Prejudice (1940)
So one of the maxims of adaptation, as articulated by David Selznick, is to not presume to “fix” what you see as structural flaws in the source material. Wouldn’t it be better if Darcy was actually a great guy who made, like, one rude comment once but was otherwise perfectly nice? Wouldn’t it be nice if Elizabeth immediately fell in love with him after hearing his sob story because… um, pity? He’s so Nice™? Wouldn’t it make more sense if Lady Catherine gave her blessing in the end?
No, it wouldn’t.
I feel bad being hard on this movie, since it’s so old. But there’s something about it that’s so pandering to sentiment. Like, everyone’s exaggerated curtseying when they danced. And there’s the “funny” little moments where the Bennet sisters were literally indistinguishable from a flock of noisy hens. Maybe it’s just a product of its age, but in that case, it aged very badly.
Elizabeth seems more rude than anything. This is mostly a consequence of the Tyrion-esque whitewashing of Darcy. He made one rude comment, then immediately tried to make up for it by asking her to dance, and she was all “nope!” then went to dance with someone else. After that, he was nothing but trying to be pleasant for the rest of the movie, while she was just constantly telling everyone how much he sucks and being passive agressive. We’re told that he’s proud, but he hardly acts like it. This is a story about how Elizabeth was an idiot and a bad judge of character.
Lydia and Wickham were okay, I guess. It was mostly used to make jokes about how they have to move or something. Charlotte’s marriage was glossed over, and so was Mr. Bennet. He complained about noise once. Mary, was Mary-like, I suppose.
It feels rather like this is only incidentally Pride and Prejudice; like someone wanted to make a silly romance film rather than an adaptation. I can’t really recommend it as either.
Pride and Prejudice (2005)
This movie is a really good movie. Even if Jane Austen were never born, I would recommend everyone see this movie. The camera work was just… those tracking shots… The direction in general is exceptional. And Keira Knightley deserved that Oscar.
As an adaptation, I find this movie rather difficult to discuss, because it got many things quite wrong—significant things—but it is Pride and Prejudice, in its essence. Though I have trouble explaining how. So, even though most of the things I will discuss are rather negative, it’s still a good adaptation. Especially considering this movie is barely two hours long. They did read their Selznick.
As I’ve already mentioned, Keira Knightley’s performance deserves all the praise. She’s almost always the smartest person in the room, but she’s not a jerk about that. There’s nothing particularly Darcy-esque about Darcy though. He’s not enough of a jerk to really justify Elizabeth’s dislike. So the story becomes more about her learning how awesome he is, rather than him learning not to be a jerk and her learning that people are complicated.
This was rather aggressively brought home in the last few minutes of the movie when Elizabeth states “He’s not proud. I was wrong, entirely wrong about him.” No, she wasn’t. He was proud. And also prejudiced. And so was she. But this Mr. Darcy wouldn’t let that happen.
And in general, their relationship was rather over-romanticized. This is exemplified by Darcy’s flowery pronouncement of love towards the end. I was not of fan of this.
Much of the Wickham and Lydia material is fairly glossed over, but considering the length of the movie, I won’t fault them for that. The essentials were there. Mary was wonderful. She didn’t have much in common with Mary, but Talulah Riley stole every scene she was in with her background eye rolling. I think Mary was drunk at the ball in the beginning? Charlotte Lucas’s content is all there, and in-tact. My complaint is that it’s all rather spoonfed. We didn’t need to be told so explicitly about her motives for marrying Mr. Collins.
Mr. Bennet is more or less completely white-washed. Apart from one passing comment about how he puts “peace and quiet” above everything, he’s a really nice guy. And a good husband and father. And he’s really concerned with porcine husbandry.
And yeah, the pig balls.
I think the production design was going for a “gritty and realistic” look, so there’s mud everywhere and people have messy hair sometimes. This is fine in principle, but it leads to two things. Firstly, it makes the Bennets seem a lot less well off then they clearly are in the text, and secondly, it leads to behaviour that seems rather anachronistic. Like Elizabeth walking from Pemberley to the inn. In the dark. It’s a little distracting.
There are a few other little things, like the random line assignments that always drive me nuts, but I think the merits of this film as a film allow me to overlook a great deal.
Pride and Prejudice: The Lost Series (1952, 1958, 1967)
All Doctor Who fans can understand the pain of wanting to see an old piece of television and not being able to find it, possibly because it no longer exists. I’m not sure if these three series have gone the way of The Power of the Daleks, or if they’re just sitting somewhere waiting to be released one day, but I was unable to find any of them.
There is a very low quality copy of one half-hour episode of the 1967 series on YouTube that suggests that it’s watchable, if oddly paced, and some stills that can give you a very rough idea of the others.
It is really too bad, because the idea of Grand Moff Tarkin as Mr. Darcy is a very exciting one to me.
Pride and Prejudice (1980)
There’s a point where funny things aren’t funny because they’re actually humorous, but because they’re so camp.The distinction is sometimes a little ineffable, but I think in this case, the campiness of this particular five-part miniseries can be put down to a lack of naturalism.
This series is a successful adaptation; you can tell it gets to source material, but it’s not nearly as enjoyable to watch as some other versions. Not that it’s bad exactly…
The acting in this work is rather distracting. It’s got this exaggerated quality that never lets you forget for one second that you’re watching people act instead of real people. And the scripting was perhaps not the best. There was a determination to stick in as many bits from the novel’s narration into the dialogue as possible. Unfortunately, many of those lines are narration rather than dialogue for a reason. And characters randomly get each other’s lines. That’s not necessarily bad, but it’s quite distracting when you know a text as well as I know Pride and Prejudice.
The characters were sometimes more like caricatures. The one that stands out the most in this regard is Lady Catherine DeBourgh, whose fondness for giving unsolicited advice now extends to actually going to the butcher and changing people’s orders. And an inflatable top-hat. (No, really.)
Elizabeth is quite good. Darcy is a little too stiff throughout. I’m still not sure why she would be into him by the end. Lydia’s post-marriage silliness is very silly, but it’s meant to be.
Then there is Mary. I’m not sure what they were going for with her. She has the inept attempts at booksmarts, but also an obsession with gossip that rivals Lydia. I think maybe she’s supposed to be a hypocrite? In any case she’s more a clown than a buttmonkey.
Mr. Bennet is not at all white-washed. I would consider this a good thing. He is often downright cruel to Mrs. Bennet and the younger daughters. He literally hides in the library. The only complaint I have about it is that it may be a caricature as well, and a tad spoonfed. But this is a general problem with the fact that there is use of inner-monologue voiceover to express Elizabeth’s feelings about things. And inner-monologue voiceover is always a mistake.
I’m making this series sound worse than it was; it had a lot going for it. It didn’t try to “improve” the source material to be more in keeping with contemporary sensibilities, which is good. Most of the performances are fine. And there’s little details that amuse me. Like, how derpy the dancing is. They obviously didn’t spend hours rehearsing, which is a nice realistic touch, even if that sounds strange when juxtaposed with the performances. And all the women are constantly sewing, which was a thing in the days when all clothes were made by hand.
Pride and Prejudice (1995)
It will probably not shock anyone that this is by far my favourite adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. In fact, it may be one of my favourite adaptation of anything, as well as one of my favourite pieces of television.
This production had a lot of things stacked in its favour: excellent casting, the budget for meticulously accurate costumes and sets, access to perfect locations. But it’s the writing that makes it so wonderful.
Yes, it’s more or less a dramatic reading of the book, and a television mini-series lets you do that in ways a movie does not, but that’s not as easy as it looks. Books and tv shows have different beats they have to hit; TV has episodes that also need to have beginnings, middles, and ends. But this is also good TV. It’s just good.
As for the touchstones, this version is also the best. The patriarchal view of marriage is a tad deemphasized. Mr. Bennet’s comment about how Elizabeth could only marry a man who is her superior is one of the few bits of interaction between them that’s entirely omitted. In general, however, the moderation in Elizabeth’s character (“I deserve neither such praise nor such censure. I am not a great reader, and take pleasure in many things.”) is very well portrayed.
Colin Firth’s Darcy has become a sex-symbol, though your fave is problematic, ladies and gentleman. But he’s also quite likable by the end and his contrition and rather desperate attempts to please Elizabeth when she shows up at Pemberly are adorable. I approve.
Charlotte is perfect, and the additional material with Lydia and Wickham, where she’s giddy about having sex before any of her sisters, is very appropriate and effective. Mary ends up being a buttmonkey, but like I say, this is not inappropriate from an adaptational perspective; her performance of being an “intellectual” is supposed to be laughed at. The added bits about her fruitless attempts to get Mr. Collins’s attention seem very natural. Fans have been saying for two hundred years how those two are perfect for each other.
Mr. Bennet is the best, though. It’s very hard for us to really understand how few options “respectable” women had outside of marriage in this period. And for women like the Bennet sisters who have no money of their own (a circumstance that’s entirely Mr. Bennet’s fault. He never bothered to save anything for them.) Mr. Bennet’s refusal to play the marriage-hunt game is neglect. Pure and simple. Dude locks himself in his library and laughs at everyone when he’s supposed to be worrying about the future. This adaptation makes that clear, without spoonfeeding it in the manner of the 1980 version.
Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
Now that I’ve seen this movie again, (I haven’t seen it in many years) I’m a little confused as to why it’s on this list, even as a “loose” adaptation. Apart from the obvious conscious references to Pride and Prejudice, I don’t see what it and Bridget Jones’s Diary particularly have in common.
Really, I’m only including it because people will yell at me if I don’t. Character is the most important element when making an adaptation, especially with an “alternative universe” adaptation, and since that’s entirely absent, there’s very little to talk about.
Bridget and Elizabeth are both English and cis-women but other than that… Elizabeth has a self-confidence in herself and her values that Bridget simply doesn’t. Bridget is just a desperately unhappy person who seems to really hate herself and everything about her life. I don’t get why anyone would like her, let alone why a sexy human-rights lawyer would fall in love with her.
I’m not saying that shallow, unpleasant people with limited intelligence don’t deserve to find love and be happy, but how many movies do I have to watch about it?
Bad first impressions and the two bottom points of a love triangle having a past are necessary elements of P&P, but they are hardly sufficient.
As for this film as a film… Wasn’t this super popular when it came out? Did it just age very badly? I mean, this is about a woman who seems financially independent, has supportive friends, a BMI in the healthy range, and a career that finally is going somewhere. But she is miserable because she ain’t got no man.
Oh, and the amount of sexual harassment and casual homophobia is a tad shocking.
Is Bridget supposed to be a villain protagonist? Are single women in their thirties supposed to be able to relate to her?
In any case, I’ll pass.
Pride & Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy (2003)
Modern AU fan fiction is a thing, and someone decided to make a movie out of it. And make it Mormon?
This is a strange movie, and it might be more constructive to see it as a low-budget independent comedy from a subsection of religious cinema than an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, but they gave it the name they did, so here we are.
In an odd way, the LDS (Latter-Day Saints, or Mormons) elements only help this movie. It’s a good way to explain why all these young twenty-somethings are all looking for spouses instead of just humping like bunnies. But there was this whole idea throughout that women can be trusted with their own chastity, which I think Austen would appreciate.
Most of the things that seem uncomfortably sexist were not strictly necessary from an adaptational perspective, like Caroline Bingley and her last minute cat-fight and marriage to a septuagenarian. (She was forced to have his babies! Ha!) And let’s not discuss how Jane is now a sexy (for a Mormon) Latina and Flamenco music plays whenever she and Bingley make eye-contact.
Elizabeth is as Elizabeth-like as anyone in a Modern AU can be, I think. She’s independently minded and opinionated, but her values are, at heart, quite traditional. But she has this one moment of supreme immaturity that really rubbed me the wrong way. If you watch the film, you will probably know what moment I mean immediately.
Darcy, is not Darcy in any way, except that he was rude at a party once. He’s really more of a generic Rom-Com guy. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are omitted, and Charlotte is a cameo by an American Idol contestant. Oh, and Mary is a super religious frumpy girl who ends up with Mr. Collins. Once she gets a makeover. Very Empowering.
The Lydia/Wickham thing gets something done with it, even though you would think it would be the hardest thing to adapt. Lydia herself was brought forward in an odd way. She reads a self-help book about dating.
In summary, not a good movie, but a decent adaptation, given what it had to work with. The LDS elements allowed the themes of the source material to actually be present. Sort of. If you squint.
Bride and Prejudice (2004)
Bollywood Pride and Prejudice? I know how it sounds, but hear me out.
This movie just fills me with nothing but positive emotions. It’s so obviously made with the best intentions, and everyone involved is clearly having fun. Like, I challenge anyone to watch this and not grin like an idiot.
As an adaptation, there are some problems, but considering the fact that this movie is under two hours, and how well they translated the major characters and themes, I just can’t help but forgive everything.
Lalita is very Elizabeth-like: she knows what she wants out of life and she’s not going to compromise on it. She not afraid to express her opinion, but she clearly belongs to her time and place. Darcy’s classism is translated more into an imperialist chauvinism but, again, it works. And I liked Maya’s Cobra Dance.
The whole thing with Lakhi and Wickham was less successful. It was rushed and, like, had no consequences whatsoever. I’m quite sure someone actually says, “It’s fine, she’s back now.” It was a flaw. A rather glaring one, but it didn’t break the movie. Mrs. Bakshi is… well, she’s Mrs. Bennet with an account on an online matchmaking service.
This film also makes liberal use of Selznick’s third maxim by rearranging the order of events, and compressing some things. But the resulting story is coherent and easy enough to follow, so again, it’s not a really a “problem”.
And yes, I do know this is technically not Bollywood, just “Bollywood Style.” I still like it. If your mood ever needs a boost you should check this movie out.
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (2012–2013)
So, a lot had changed in the last two hundred years. The expectations women have for ourselves and our lives are just unrecognizable. The way we see romantic relationships is just night and day.
For that reason, I really have no idea why anyone would want to do a “Modern AU” of Pride and Prejudice, but, if you must, this is how you should. I guess.
Lizzie isn’t THE Elizabeth Bennet. How could she be? As we discussed, Elizabeth was a product of her time, but I can believe that Elizabeth would be like this if she lived in Southern California in 2012. She craves independence, is committed to her family, sometimes gets a little too caught up in her own cleverness, and can be judgemental. Darcy is Darcy in the same way. As much as the character can exist in this setting, he does.
The more I think about it, the more I like what they did with Lydia. The character was unbearably annoying for most of the series, but I ended up feeling a great deal of sympathy for her. Obviously, the circumstances and outcome of her sexual indiscretions are very different, and she’s “redeemed” in a way the Lydia of P&P never could be, but given the setting, they could hardly have played it straight.
The solution they came up with to adapt Charlotte was also rather clever. (Mr. Collins is this idiot who owns a New Media start-up. He offers Lizzie a job, which she refuses. Then Charlotte snaps it up.) Though Mary was a little whatever. The anachronism of Mrs. Bennet’s obsession with her daughters’ marital status is repeatedly lampshaded. Mr. Bennet is, however, portrayed in a very positive light, even if his financial ineptitude is mentioned more than once.
I had serious complaints when I started to watch the series about some sexism, like Lizzie calling Lydia “a whorey slut” or telling Bing (Bing Lee, clever!) that they’ll revoke his “man-card” if he buys a chick flick for Jane. But either the people behind the show responded to criticism and corrected this as the show went on, or Lizzie’s shedding of these attitudes was always supposed to be part of her development. Either way, I can only approve.
The acting can be a little cheesy, the tone a little dramatic, and the editing a little annoying in its attempts to be “cute”, but all-in-all I think this was well done, both as an adaptation, and a web series.
Some readers may raise their eyebrows at the term “fan fiction” to describe these derivative works, but face it, that is what they are. The writers of these works are fans who wrote original material about the characters and world that Jane Austen created.
Lost in Austen (2008)
I’m apparently making a career out of talking about how things are stupid, so when I say that something is stupid you can probably trust me.
This is stupid.
This is the worst kind of pandering to the worst kind of stereotype of a Jane Austen fan. You know, the kind that claims to be so into it, but then you get to talking to them and you suspect they really knows nothing about her or her work, and are really more a fan of Colin Firth in a wet linen shirt.
This will be a familiar refrain to those of you who have been reading me for a while, but this mini-series is a gilded turd. The production values are exceptional, (someone involved knows about the Regency…) and the acting is good to excellent (Alex Kingston is a Mrs. Bennet I can get behind). But the problem is, wait for it, the writing.
The Protagonist is a complete moron. The plot could not have happened but for her overwhelming imbecility and lack of thought. And I don’t like to throw the term “Mary Sue” around, but four men fall in love with her. And everyone else puts up with her bullshit for no reason at all. The contrivances are so extraordinary that they beggar belief, and the lack of understanding of the characters and themes of the source material is just…. putting Wickham in leather pants? Really? This along with the casual use of homosexuality as a punchline honestly made me recheck to see who the writers on this thing were.
So avoid this work. It’s not good as an adaptation; it’s not good as TV.
Death Comes to Pemberley (2013)
If our previous selection is the worst Jane Austen fan fic has to offer, this is surely some of the best. This sequel to the novel could easily stand on its own as a decent historical murder mystery, but the addition of the beloved characters does add a good deal.
We see Elizabeth and Darcy several years into their marriage, and Lydia and Wickham several years into theirs. Elizabeth remains opinionated and independent, though more than capable of ordinary social interaction. Darcy remains a tad introverted, though his soft spot for his wife, and his respect for her advice are all very much in character.
What they did with Lydia and her marriage interested me. I seem to like it when something is done with this character. Wickham is certainly not whitewashed; his actions in this work are a good deal more dickish than anything he did in Pride and Prejudice, but he is humanized in a way that is very engaging.
There are some characterization decisions that are not the ones I would have made, Colonel Fitzwilliam rather gets the Ron the Death Eater treatment, but even these are handled quite well, and plausibly.
The casting and acting are all excellent, the production value is high, and the writing is more than up to the challenge. This one is recommended.
So there it is; the only guide to P&P on film you will ever need. I’m sure Pride & Prejudice & Zombies will do full credit to the source material and join this illustrious company with its head held high.
Netflix’s The Meyerowitz Stories Looks Deep Into Dysfunctional Artist Families
Review and Theme Analysis for The Meyerowitz Stories: New and Selected
“We all have this gap between who we are and who we think we are, between who we are and the dream of who we might be, who we want to be,” said Noah Baumbach concerning his new Netflix original film: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected). In it, Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, While We’re Young) explores the dysfunctions of an aging family unit as they try desperately to work through their grievances with the past, and with one another.
The setting, the story, even the title itself, which sounds like something off of a Sufjan Stevens record, is both swallowed up by and pays homage to its postmodern, “Art House” culture. The movie is as advertised: selected snippets of the Meyerowitz family and their dysfunctional relationships. It certainly doesn’t abide by any sort of Hero’s Journey formula, but make no mistake, these selected stories are not chosen at random with an attempt to pretentiously or absurdly confuse their audience. These stories, centered around the children of Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman), are all part of a single, congruent narrative that beautifully weaves together powerful themes of regret, bitterness, longing, and neglect.
Danny Meyerowitz Was Trying to Park
Newly separated from his wife, Danny Meyerowitz (played by Adam Sandler) is driving he and his daughter Eliza (Grace van Patten) to his father Harold’s house in Manhattan. (I’d call it an apartment personally, but then I’ve never owned a place in Manhattan, so…) They are having dinner as a family before Eliza heads off to Bard College as a freshman, where her grandfather taught art for more than thirty years.
The relationship between Danny and Eliza is some of the sweetest, most authentic father-daughter on-screen chemistry I’ve seen in a long time. Between their pithy banter while Sandler searches for parking, screaming at other New York drivers that dare get in his way, to their lovely harmonies when they sing together on the family piano, we are given a plethora of special moments between these two characters. The “conversations between generations” is something (I’m told) Baumbach excels at in his films, and though I’m not too familiar with his body of work, The Meyerowitz Stories is more than enough proof of his prowess.
The Meyerowitz family is very artistic. This tradition is carried on down the family. Harold had a successful career as a visual artist, but is hung up on the fact that his friend LJ (Judd Hirsch) has achieved far more fame and admiration that he ever could. Danny, on top of dealing with a fresh separation, turns out to have been an unemployed musician for quite some time. Apparently he never did anything with his talents except write a few charming songs to be played on the family piano. Eliza is now continuing the hereditary niche by way of directing and starring in overtly ridiculous, pornographic Art House films.
“Have you thought about getting a job?…I think you’d feel better about yourself. Have you thought about playing music again?”
Resentment and neglect start to rear their heads when they go to LJ’s showing, and Harold gets his face pressed up against the glass to the life he should have had. He’s snubbed by all the high-society folk as though he were a commoner! But seriously, being ignored amongst your peers is a very hurtful thing. Resentment from Danny for years and years of neglect also bubble to the surface and the night goes awry.
Danny: I’d like to come if that’s alright. It would be a real treat for me.
Harold: I think they’re filled up…L J’s getting me a special spot.
Though it’s like pulling emotionally distant teeth, Danny is eventually allowed to attend the fancy gala with his father. Even on such a celebratory occasion though—complete with a wonderful cameo of one of my favorite actresses—the Meyerowitz boys can’t seem to let their resentment toward life go, and the evening is ruined.
Matt’s Story: Go Forth and Multiply…
Harold is currently remarried to his fourth wife Maureen (Emma Thompson) who is a chronic drinker. And although she seems to share in a loving relationship with Harold, she feels understandably distant from the rest of the extended family, who we are then introduced to.
Enter Harold’s other son Matt (Ben Stiller) from his first marriage. Matt is a successful architect visiting from LA for some meetings, including a delightful luncheon segment with his stubbornly pretentious father to talk about selling his estate. As they wander around a New York City Neighborhood in search of a restaurant that’s ‘up to Harold’s standards,’ we start to see why Matt chose to live across the country.
“I’ll have the steak and the Market salad. We don’t have a ton of time so if you could bring everything at once…”
It’s hinted that Matt’s mother was the love of Harold’s life, and Matt, who is a symbol of that love, was showered with a lot of unwanted attention and pressure growing up. Apparently, even being the favorite child of a successful artist puts a lot on a kid. Nothing comes without cost.
“I got your focus and that fucked me up in a whole other way… It doesn’t matter that I make money, because you don’t respect what I do.”
Scenes between characters, whether it’s parents, siblings, half-siblings, step-parents, or a combination, all feel very scattered and emotionally vacant, but it’s by design. They only have distant memories and vague connections to one another as they must suddenly navigate their way through understanding that their father may not have long to live.
Artists and The Berkshires
Early in the film we are given some exposition. A: Harold is being asked to present art at Bard for a faculty alumni showing. B: Harold suffered a blow to the head on a trail in the Berkshires. Wouldn’t you know it, these two plots intersect when Harold is forced to miss his art showing after suffering severe head trauma from the injury. The aging patriarch is rushed to a hospital in Pittsfield (the very hospital I was born in, actually). It was admittedly challenging to be even slightly objective during this segment as the estranged half-siblings and step-mothers and granddaughters all frantically rush to their summer home in order to be with Harold. They all feared the worst.
I’ve resisted the urge for the most part in this review, but I’d like to delve into why this film struck such a chord with me. Half of it takes place in my home of the Berkshires, where artists have the potential to learn, grow, and thrive with their craft. It’s not filmed on location here or anything, which is actually fine for us Shirefolk because we don’t like our peace disturbed. But see, this film bothered to actually take the time to acknowledge the Berkshire’s contribution to the arts by bringing the characters there in a script all about the art world.
Now, speaking of the film’s theme of resentment, there happens to be an undercurrent of cultural unrest and resentment in the Berkshires. When wealthy New Yorkers buy up summer homes in prime locations up here, it throws the housing market out of whack (i.e., the Meyerowitz family). What used to be a thriving agricultural area and industrial center has now, in many places, either fallen into decline or become a seasonal getaway for exorbitantly wealthy New Yorkers. Putting it simply, it’s hard to have a house in the Berkshires if you work in the Berkshires. Cultural gentrification, if you will.
But on the other hand, many of these wealthy people are generous donors to the arts, which I am heavily involved in. They stimulate local businesses, keep theaters alive with their patronage, and have a general love and appreciation for conserving the culture and natural beauty of the region. To me, (and others, I’d imagine) seeing aspects of your home depicted on film is very special when done well.
Normally I cringe when films try to namedrop my region in order to gain generic culture points, but Meyerowitz Stories does more than that. On a humanistic and personal level, it spoke volumes that it understood “City folk” aren’t just here to clog up our hiking trails. They come here to enjoy the pleasures of art, escape the grind, and sometimes, sadly, to say goodbye to their loved ones. The regional issues are of course more complex than I’m letting on and shouldn’t be simply dismissed because of an Art House film, but it was hard to ignore the sentiment of van Patten’s performance as she wept at her grandfather’s bedside.
Yes, there is also a third child. Jean is technically present throughout the entirety of the film, but she is purposefully sidelined for almost all of the dramatic moments, which parallels her struggle as the most neglected child. Soft-spoken and reserved, her story in the film comes towards the end of the second act.
When Harold’s friend Paul comes to visit him in the hospital, Jean bolts into the woods. She recalls a summer vacation when she was in an outdoor shower and this Paul character was watching her and masturbating. She told her father, but he was complacent. She describes the incident in the same monotone, nostalgic way that she remembers watching Three’s Company, taking a ferry to the house from the other side of the island (because nobody would pick her up), and swimming in the ocean. It’s quite tragic.
Her father’s neglect has probably thrown her into countless traumatic experiences, as well as given Jean the most reason to resent him, and resent the rest of the Meyerowitz clan for that matter. But she has chosen to be resilient and forgive rather than focus on all her painful memories.
“Because I’m a decent person. Even though he never took care of us, it’s what you do. Besides, I like hanging out with you guys.”
Her brothers, feeling very protective of their sister, consider the best course of action to take against an 80-year-old man who once exposed himself to their sister. The revenge, though farcical and fun to watch, is definitely considered an instance of “misplaced do-goodery.” Jean is not happy. Jean did not ask them to take vengeance on an old man with dementia who has come to say goodbye to an old friend.
The emotional abandonment of the siblings is paralleled in the hospital when every time they feel comfortable and trusting of a medical professional, that professional disappears. Pam the nurse was around when Harold seemed to be doing fine, then when his situation worsens, and a new male nurse takes over. He bares the brunt of their confusion and frustration as they’re handed pamphlets about grief. Likewise, when Dr. Soni carefully outlines the plan to induce Harold into a coma, which offers some measure of relief to the three children, Soni immediately tells them that she’s going to be in China for three weeks. Any chance of having stability during their time at the hospital will be slim to none, because, well, that’s how hospitals work.
Matthew: It doesn’t feel fair, Dr. Soni. That you can just live your life normally while our dad is lying here.
Dr. Soni: Maybe it isn’t.
I Love you, I Forgive You, Forgive Me, Thank You, Goodbye…
The film plays with this interesting cutting technique where various scenes reach a character’s moment of emotional explosion, and then they hard cut it to the next scene. It’s a subtle touch to let the audience know how typical it is for these characters to throw their inhibitions to the wind and scream out in frustration. After an explosive argument between Matt and Danny ends in violence (again the cut is made right as the scene reaches fisticuffs), Matt stands before the art patrons at his father’s showing with a bloody nose, ready to give a speech about his father’s accomplishments. But it turns into an emotionally charged farce as he starts to work out all of his childhood issues into the microphone. What he would give for a chance to make things right…
The last theme with Harold’s children, a theme that has been fomenting under the surface and is brought to the forefront by Jean, is forgiveness. It’s the thing that all three of them have been working towards their whole life. The thing they most struggle with. Baumbach has created a cast of raw, troubled, yet deeply sympathetic characters. The subtlety of the emotion behind dialogue combined with myriad amounts of little character quirks that each actor brings to each role is worth the watch on its own merit.
Overall, this is a brilliantly layered, touching family film. And not “family film” in the sense that you can put your kids in front of it and space out for a couple hours. But rather, that in that we all deal with our own versions of “fucked up family drama,” and it’s refreshing when artists hit that nail right on the head. I’m not as familiar with Baumbach’s other films, but I can safely say that he’s just found an unabashed fan in me. I look forward to diving deeper into his body of work.
Images courtesy of Netflix
Let’s Talk About Supergirl
Spoilers for Supergirl Season 3, including future episodes
But, well, it is still Supergirl, and it is still on The CW. So let’s talk about it: the good, the bad, and the potential.
Sanvers is the elephant in the room: after it was announced at the end of last season that Floriana Lima would be leaving the show to pursue other opportunities, the future of the much-lauded couple was uncertain at best.
And now we know: they are breaking up, separating because Alex wants children and Maggie does not. This was something that had been in the rumor-mill for some time.
disagreement over having kids
— Ken (@pursuit23) September 22, 2017
In a world that already pressures women to want children, and in a world that still very much considers the heteronormative nuclear family the norm, it is more than a little off-putting to insert that dynamic into what has otherwise been a very supportive, healthy relationship between two women. When Alex sees Ruby again in episode 3.02, she is obviously taken by the idea of having a child of her own; why, though, was this never discussed earlier?
Maggie and Alex’s relationship moved quickly, yes, but also successfully. Transitioning so abruptly from a place of deep mutual understanding to butting heads on such a fundamental part of a relationship feels unrealistic at best, and damaging to the wonderful relationship they had spent an entire season building at worst.
The U-Haul stereotype already exists; making it seem like moving quickly means not actually knowing your partner is an unnecessary step. And that is something worth recognizing, especially given how much praise and attention the writers give Sanvers. Just because they did well for a while does not mean they can never be criticized. In fact, they have set the bar high, and we should continue to push for healthy, good representation.
While Alex is struggling with her relationship, Kara is mourning her lack of one.
Only again, it’s not necessary. Season 3 takes place six months after Season 2, and Kara dated Mon-El for all of a couple of months. And for someone who has lost so much—an entire family, an entire planet—her insistence on letting go of Kara Danvers because of Mon-El just does not read as emotionally authentic.
That said, I am glad they are exploring her pain. I am glad she is allowed to cry, and yell, and break. Kara is so happy and upbeat, partially because it is the only way for her to survive. Once the darkness creeps in, it takes over. If Mon-El is the vehicle used to explore this side of her, then at least it is being explored, and at least she is being allowed to process and grow from her grief.
The first issue, of course, is that Mon-El is not gone forever. He will be returning, married. This show loves drama more than anything, and his eventual, dramatic return is rife with dramatic potential.
So why use him as a source of development if, in a matter of weeks, he will return to once again be a source of regression? It feels as though the answer is simply that the writers, showrunners, and network want Mon-El to remain a fundamental part of the show, despite his overwhelmingly negative critical reception.
In all, I want Kara to grow. I want her to confront her fears as she did in 3.02; I want her to cry. But she can do that without the constant weight of Mon-El hanging over her. Not on her own, necessarily: let her rely on Alex, as she has been. Let her confide in Lena, who obviously wants to be a part of Kara’s life. Let her move on.
Ah, Mon-El. To paraphrase some Terminator movie, “He’ll be back.” And so will Saturn Girl, who is rumored to be his wife.
back married to some chick. Saturn something or other
— Ken (@pursuit23) September 21, 2017
When he got sent off in his pod of destiny, we all knew—tragically—that he would return. But to have him return married is a move only The CW would make. We know little of how that storyline will play out: some think that his marriage to Saturn Girl is doomed, and he and Kara will end up together once more. Some think this is a gradual way of writing him off the show by drumming up excitement for a future Legion show.
Whatever the case may be, it is a symptom of a larger problem.
Every series regular is either in a relationship, has had relationship drama, or is currently being touted as one half of a new, potential relationship. And for what?
The Relationship Problem
There is nothing wrong with having strong friendships. There is nothing wrong with creating drama through inter-character tension outside of the confines of a traditional romantic relationship.
And if your first thought in response to that is “there’s nothing wrong with relationships either,” then I want you to think about why.
Because yes: on a surface level, you are more than correct. But Supergirl is no longer about Supergirl. Relationships should built up the characters in them. Instead, the relationships in Supergirl fill in for the lack of actual, well-crafted storylines.
There is a tendency in television to write relationships that have no justification. While friendships are built upon something, whether it be family or common interest, relationships, it seems, are built out of narrative closeness—that is, they are in a lot of scenes together, so maybe they should be together.
At the end of the day, relationships do not excuse otherwise bad writing. In fact, they often amplify it.
With Floriana leaving, it is more evident than ever that the Supergirl writers do not know how to handle healthy couples. With Mon-El returning and Kara remaining broken-hearted, it is clear that all drama must come back to romance eventually. And with every character being romantically involved or potentially romantically involved, they narrow their focus from a show about Kara Danvers, a woman who lost her world and still managed to stand tall and strong as an inspirational hero, to a show about a group of friends that cannot manage functional relationships.
That is not a good message to send, and it is not the show we signed up for.
All this is disappointing. When Supergirl moved to The CW, it fell quickly into the CW model of show: pair everyone up, split them up, re-pair, repeat.
But it is not the end of Supergirl, nor will it be the end of my connection with it. The past two episodes have already dived deeper into Kara and her connections with her friends than most of Season 2 did. With Sam and Ruby on the show and Lena involved with CatCo, the plot seems likely to be as female-centric as some of the best moments of Season 1.
And I have no doubt that the changes are in part due to the collective of voices speaking out against Season 2. I have no doubt that the opinions of critics and fans have prompted development, and I have no doubt that they can continue to do so.
In all, let’s talk about Supergirl, and let’s keep talking about it. Let’s make it clear that we love Kara, and Alex, and James. Let’s make it clear why we are here: for a superhero, and for her friends. Because that is the only way things can change.
Images courtesy of The CW.
Love Conquers All in Valerian
I was hesitant to talk about Valerian, really. I was hesitant because it is always hard to talk about things we love that others despise. Especially when those others are critics. But none the less I feel compelled to speak, because, well, I feel it is needed to discuss things I saw there.
Many people talk about how Valerian is high on visuals but low on everything else. My idea is, maybe this film, just as another good film generally despised by critics (The Last Action Hero), is misunderstood. It is judged not by those rules its creator followed. Like, when I read about how the film is unjust to its protagonist, or when it is judged as a part of a franchise.
Valerian, that Han Solo-esque James Bond-like comics hero with his sexy action girl sidekick, is just an excuse to talk about the real main character. The one we see from the very beginning.
Alpha — Humanity — is the Movie’s Protagonist
The movie starts with a documentary footage that almost seamlessly transforms into a surrealistic futurism fantasy. Fantasy, centered around the main theme of the film: love. It may sound tired and worn out, but it is not; we are accustomed to “love” meaning something that is between sexes, generally between different sexes. Luc Besson takes great labor to show us “love” is something between people — or peoples.
When we see Alpha’s creation, we see it created from tolerance, from desire to understand each other, from acceptance and good faith. In other words, Alpha is a love child — because what are those, if not facets of love? And we see humanity as the main creator of Alpha. Something like a heart of this space station. Because certainly the humanity expressed its best qualities during its creation.
But then… then something happens. Alpha’s heart is infected, we hear, but we don’t yet understand that it is just what happened. The heart, the humanity, was infected. It was poisoned. Which really needed investigation and needed a cure. Humanity needed to find its best again.
And Who Is Our Antagonist?
Well, if the humanity is the protagonist, then who is the antagonist? My answer may seem strange: humanity is, as well. It is not a conflict between species or a battle between nations. What the movie depicts is an inner conflict, where our hero has to fight itself to find out its true nature.
All those people — Lauraline, General Octo-bar, Commander Filitt, even Jolly the Pimp — represent different sides of humanity. In between them stands Valerian, that modern not very deep-thinking, not very far-seeing every man; a man chosen by chance rather than his glorious exploits.
He has to face a person he could have once become: Commander Filitt. This man is evil, yes, but he is a special kind of evil. He became such not as a result of his troubled past, nor out of some inborn sadistic predisposition. No. He became evil out of neglect and lack of will.
I frequently see that he is criticized as bland and not interesting antagonist, but I can’t really see why. He seems like a pretty new and interesting type of character to me. When did we ever see a person who committed a full-scale genocide as a side-effect of completely different war effort? Filitt doesn’t like to think much. He has a chance for success, which he takes it without any second thought. After all, dead aliens tell no tales, so why bother?
And then he has to face consequences of his actions. He has to face the fact that people he murdered were, well, just that: the people, who could think and could speak. The fact no one would overlook, and the fact that will cost humanity its honorable place between nations.
Actually, he has lots of ways to react. He could’ve stepped forward and taken full responsibility for his actions to absolve his nation of the accusation for the military crime it didn’t even know about in the first place. But that guy lacks will, and he just continues on his once chosen course: eliminate.
Why Do We Need Valerian?
And here our title hero enters the scene — our second title hero (the first being Alpha). One who has to grow up, to choose, and to learn separating good from evil. One who has to become something that is not another Filitt.
Valerian is prone to the same course of mind; he doesn’t like second thoughts, he doesn’t like responsibility, and he doesn’t like even making amends. He is a total dick towards his best friend/girlfriend and doesn’t even see and understand what he does wrong. Because he follows rules, doesn’t he?
He always follows those unwritten but well-known rules of conduct modern young men follow. He is entitled, because that’s fine in this list; he is not openly vile, because it’s not appropriate in this list. He acts instead of thinking. That’s why I believe him when he talks about his military decorations; he is a good soldier, a well-honed instrument, and nothing more.
I can’t pretend I was not wounded by the whole Bubble segment, mind you. Using female (and female-coded) characters to further male character arcs is intolerable, really. But still I can appreciate the moral and the meaning of that sequence. Our every man hero has to learn what it is to feel for someone.
I loved the Aesop of the Red Light District episode. That was a short parable about what is not love. Lewdness is not, and using other people is not. Forcing others to do anything is not. Valerian sees himself as a heroic liberator, but he, just like Filitt not long ago (though on a lesser scale) has to face consequences of his illusions.
Irreparable consequences. Like the death of a innocent person who has already suffered far too much.
Here, facing his utter defeat, he starts his way back to real manhood. Because he chooses to feel remorse and place the blame where it belongs: on himself.
The Pearls represent the ideal the humanity may aspire to, the ideal it once lost. Alpha was built on that ideal: learn from each race, join forces, create, and give something back for what you took. They are not (thankfully) any new rendition of the old noble savage trope. They may look like Na’vi, but they are totally different from them. Because the Na’vi are perfect as they are. They don’t need to change; all they need is to eliminate those close-minded humans from their natural paradise.
Pearls, on the other hand, were just a people, and not very advanced at that. They had their simple life on their home planet, and they had to learn for decades to become our ideal. The thing is, you need not to be perfect noble idyllic savage to deserve life. All you have to be is simply alive. That’s all. Genocide is a grave crime not because of special-ness of the victim; it is a great crime because that is in its nature. Murdering a person is a crime, regardless of that person’s morality, after all.
Pearls represent the ideal in other very important aspect: they can love. They can feel for others. They can forgive, even while they are not able to forget. And they can be grateful, even to those who represent the doom which once fell on them.
And To Conclude
In the end, mind you, we are left hanging. Yes, we are given a small Easter egg, sending us to the Fifth Element, but the humanity would still be banished from Alpha for Filitt’s crimes. And this is important, too. Because consequences, and because responsibility. And because the humanity has to learn much before it reaches again the heights of its morality — the love that gave life to Alpha.
I loved this movie, yet I cried in the end,because now we live in a world, where such a scenario (a genocide committed as a side-effect, and no one even noticing that side-effect) is no longer unbelievably fictitious. In a world where taking responsibility is out of fashion and feeling remorse is considered a bit odd.
“Love conquers all” may be outdated saying, but now that we float towards more and more grimdark, I think, it is worth remembering. As George Martin said when he visited St Petersburg, maybe the cyberpunk was more correct in predicting the future, but theirs is not a future one wants to visit or dream of.
Me, I don’t want to visit a future full of shit, too. But I can’t ignore the bad sides of our life. What Valerian gave me was both the hope those bad sides will be overcome as well as the acknowledgement they exist. A perfect mix, for me.