Friday, June 5, 2020

the party’s just starting

I have something to say about Campus Man still, but not so much that I will be watching it again today. As Dragent begins, I will say this:

Aside from the novelty of male bodies, something Campus Man has going for it is that while it could lean into exploitation, instead it aims for something more personal. The relationship between Todd and Brett is at the heart of the film, and it is fairly easy to believe they are actually friends and that Brett would sign that Image contract to protect Todd’s life, and would also later threaten to kill Todd and it is believable. The movie is a little tedious, but still fairly easy to watch, and that their friendship feels genuine is something that helps a lot in that regard.

Dragnet offers up a bunch of shots of Los Angeles like The Secret of My Success offers shots of New York, but this feels (maybe because of the deadpan narration from Dan Aykroyd as Friday) like a more genuine sense of the city, and a sort of spirit that will matter as the film goes on... like there will not be a “police police police” montage to match that film’s “business business business” montage.

Plus this has some fantastic (and slightly stupid) comedy that lands well, like the announcer telling us this is based on a true story and names have been changed to protect the innocent (just like the old Dragnet tv show, and then adds, “For example, George Baker is now known as Sylvia Wiss.” Silly. Hilarious.

(Also, leaning slightly into 80s casual homophobia since the character of Sylvia Wiss is explicitly female, a former centerfold.)
Cold open with fire set on a load of Bait magazine by a guy who leaves a P.A.G.A.N business card behind.

And, I wanted to say something about 80s movies generally, how their shallowness is both horrifying and really comforting watching them today. I feel like a few entries ago I leaned into being political, and the last couple days with Campus Man we’d a distraction equal parts welcome and unwelcome. To me, I mean. Not that I don’t often get political in this blog, but it is usually a little subtle, covert, or only in passing. (Except for December 2015 when I went back and forth between, of all things, political-themed movies and werewolf-themed movies.) I wanted to start ranting about current events, pandemics, racism, protests, riots, etc. but I had a good day today and Dragnet is so very charming.
 
 
 
 
 
Like Friday’s deadpan, and obsessively detailed voiceover. It is awesome. Add his new partner Pep Streebeck’s (Tom Hanks) smartass jokes, and then pile on top of both of those a bit of satirical humor about pornography, religion, the police, and Los Angeles... and this is great. I may just sit here today and enjoy.
 
 
 
 
 
The one witness—Enid Borden (Kathleen Freeman)—has a wonderfully profane bit of dialogue, and I love it. Especially because it bothers Friday.
 
 
 
 
 
Car chase.

And in the middle of the car chase, one of many moments is a guy with a basketball about to get hit by the car. Before he dives out of the way, he makes a hook shot over the approaching limo, and there is absolutely no reason for that, and that just makes it funnier.
 
 
 
 
 
”Sit down, unless you’re growing.”
 
 
 
 
 
And then there’s comedic police brutality involving a drawer and a suspect’s balls, and I almost want to get into a rant...
 
 
 
 
 
”The virgin Connie Swail.”
 
 
 
 
 
”Ma’am.”
 
 
 
 
 
”And on a school night, too.”
 
 
 
 
 
”Detective Star Trek.”
 
 
 
 



”Granny, this is the virgin Connie Swail.”
 
 
 
 
 
“Thanks for trying to take us to dinner, Joe.”
 
 
 
 
 
“The Israelis?”
 
 
 
 
 
“I had a kitten once.”
 
 
 
 
 
”Don’t you mean ‘the virgin Connie Swail’?”

Thursday, June 4, 2020

everything about you is undesirable

Todd's business idea early in Campus Man is for people to be able to check their shoe size by putting their feet up to their tv screen and then the right size shoes will be mailed to them. Not horrible. But, not good. Worse is that he's walking around in public with his pants tucked into his socks. I mean, I had some pants with Velcro-closing cuffs about this time, and there were parachute pants... about (?) to become briefly popular, so tight around the ankle but somewhat baggy otherwise was a thing. But, Todd approximating it by tucking his pants into his socks is both kinda of awful and very much on the nose for his character--thinks he's got business savvy but fucks up his college tuition and goes to a loan shark when the bank won't front him $12,000 for a calendar.
(Which is specifically because it's a "pin-up calendar" not because it invokes men, so how did Todd fund the previous calendar?)
Somehow he got, I guess, a different loan for his previous female calendar. And, his money troubles don't include his loan payments, so I'm guessing he made good on that loan, so why is this one such a problem? The movie really wants us to buy into the novelty of putting men in a calendar is why. That's all. It being novel isn't even that important to the plot. Actually, this movie is full of very specific things that just don't matter. Like the guy at the party who walks around with his dog over his shoulder. No point to that. Todd not being under his blanket when Brett monologues, but still overhearing it. No point to that. Molly calling Todd's previous calendar pornography but selling out for $1000 to her choice of charity to help with his new one--that hypocrisy is unnecessary. There's no real conflict to it. It's a single conversation and she's in. It's rom com bullshit, basically. Molly and Todd are supposed to be together so they must have some clash of personalities, even though Todd seems perfectly fine to help with her charity stuff and other than pushing his pornography comically away she seems perfectly fine with him and what he does as a (allegedly) two-steps-ahead entrepreneur. Plus there's Dana who's got a thing for Brett because, duh, someone has to, even though it's ridiculous from the start that Todd doesn't see the inherent value in, to put it bluntly, the male flesh he sees on display all the time being best friends with Brett. Like a guy who will exploit unassuming college girls for money wouldn't be constantly thinking of other people and things to exploit.

But, that right there is what makes this so very 80s. Business guy has blinders because shallow cultural stuff. He risks his life with a loan shark for the startup cash but doesn't think far enough ahead to realize that there are limits to what college athletes are allowed to do. And of course Image Magazine swoops in because this absolutely novel calendar has to get attention, and it's very 80s for a corporation to exploit, as Todd already has done, college kids for money. An their exploitation means Todd's exploitation can't be that bad. And, he's a bad enough negotiator that Molly can name her price and not come down at all and he gives in in like ten seconds. Men and women use and abuse one another, or something like that, or maybe I'm channeling The Room, but the point is the same. The novelty of the movie is that it's male bodies being put on display. That's the only card it's got to play.


Of course, it's a good card to play. A card that needed playing in the 80s. I've said I don't think the calendar was a novelty, but putting that same thing on the big screen for a (potential) mainstream audience was novel at the time. The 80s were more about casually exploiting female flesh on the big screen.

I want to say that aiming for something new, exploiting something new, makes for a good movie. And, it's entertaining enough, even watching it now. But, Todd is an idiot, and I think we're not supposed to think that. Slightly misguided, maybe. But, not an idiot.

But, even that disparity is kind of an 80s thing. The movie just tells us he's good at business so we accept it. Movie tells us some character is an expert at something and we take it at face value. It's simple cinema. If a movie like this were made now, I'd like to think a screenwriter would do better than that.

But, I doubt it. We want shit spelled out for us. We want it easy.
 
 
 
 
 
Todd's not just an idiot but also kind of a dick. But, I've said many times in this blog, we love a main character who's an asshole.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

some kind of funny boy

Campus Man is rather immediately an 80s film. Guitar riff, camera comes down on a college campus. Titles are in a far too colorful font. Then there's a couple really brief bits with our lead and his business teacher because something something business business entrepreneur. But nevermind all that--

Titles continue over diving footage. A bit male gaze-y on the closeups except for one obvious thing: the bodies being ogled are male.

Not to distract from somehow our lead--I should figure out his name--Todd is supposedly advanced with business but he's also bad with money? On the one hand, that is stupid. On the other hand, that does feel very late 80s. He is the purveyor of calendars of campus women, but is in money trouble because "the scholarships didn't work and... the loan is a problem" which is vague bullshit terms for he needs to make money fast, get on with the plot.

The plot triggers when Todd's girlfriend compares diving to dancing and Todd just discovered that men are also attractive. (But he is hesitant at the bank when he mentions that men might buy his male calendar.)

This is Matt Dorff's first produced feature script (two others also get shared credit), and now I'm feeling like an asshole because I'm wondering if this is some gay fantasy posing as an 80s business fantasy.

Meeting in secret in a cemetery in the desert with a hypermasculine guy in a trench coat and cowboy boots is surely a fantasy for both men and women in the audience.
 
 
 
 
 
Casual nudity in the school showers in the 80s--perfectly normal. But, it's the men's locker room. This movie is trying for (and, as I remember it, kinda achieving) novelty, but within the film it is claiming far more novelty than I think a calendar with men in it would be in 1987. But, that isn't the point. What is novel is a movie aiming for the same demographic as so many 80s movies focusing on the objectification of the male form.


Speaking of which. While searching google for an image to include in the blog today, I noticed that all the images for this movie are one of three things: the poster, of course; behind-the-scenes black-and-white shots; or GIFs of, well, the diver, Brett on the diving board or pulling up his speedo in the dressing room, or another model (a swimmer, I suppose) being splashed with water). Very visually fixated.
 
 
 
 
 
Contemporary reviews of the film are hard to find online as well. Walter Goodman's review from The New York Times, has a pretty basic description of the film:

The look and sound of "Campus Man" ...marks it as a production done on the cheap, which is appropriate to this little anecdote about a business major at Arizona State who produces a jock calendar featuring his best friend, a champion diver, and so jeopardizes the friend's amateur standing.
Yep, that, plus a loan shark (the aforementioned trench-coated, cowboy-booted Cactus Jack) is all the important plot to the film.

But then I get distracted because the characters go to Steve's Ice Cream, which look s a lot like Cold Stone Creamery, and I'm looking up the history of cold Stone and learn that sure enough, it was founded in 1988 in Tempe, Arizona (this movie was filmed in Tempe in 1986, released April 1987), and the wiki entry for Cold Stone says outright, "The company has maintained the same concept created by Steve Herrell who founded Steve's Ice Cream."

See, I'm a mostly cis het, overweight male, who notices the ice cream more than the beefcake.

Actually, if Cactus Jack would grow out the facial hair just a little, I think he'd be as hot as I remember my sisters thinking he was in '87. (Instead, he shaves it off for the climax of the film.) And, Brett is a little too clean cut.
 
 
 
 
 
Throw in a convoluted climax that feels like a bigger production than Todd's calendar ever was, and 80s 80s 80s, everything turns out just fine, cue another diving montage.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

and nothing that you did mattered

Davies (1995) tells us that Groundhog Day "ignor[es] considerations of race and gender politics" (p. 215). But, in no uncertain terms, Davies is wrong. Well, somewhat wrong. Well, actually mostly right on the side of race. Gender is a different story. Take a "rom com" of any era and it will tell you something about gender politics at the time it was made. It's harder for the film to have anything to say about race when there are only two people in the cast who are not white and have lines. I argued in a media studies class once that Phil is effectively put in the position of the disenfranchised (as evidenced in his conversation with Ralph and Gus at the bowling alley bar) in that the regular rules of so-called civilized society do not apply to him anymore. Money has no value. His work has no value (though he does continue to work at least most days because Rubin wanted that check-in to sprinkle through the original script). Because this is a mainstream comedy from 1993, his white privilege may have value but no one is going to comment on it.

Take a break from me and go watch "Groundhog Day for a Black Man" on YouTube.


Then imagine this film in 2020, and I don't mean the Super Bowl commercial, I mean this story about an asshole white reporter on assignment who treats everyone like lessers and nobodies. But, he's gonna get his comeuppance, learn to care for women and children and, the horror, people who are not white, who are not like him, who don't have the comfort of making mistakes and then getting a do over.

And, my brain drifts into Bulworth territory, because that's a nice positive film on race relations... And I mean that (mostly) sarcastically. I mean, I rather like that film, but it's bordering on Soul Man in its tone-deafness about race and how to approach the subject of race relations.

Still, Bulworth's line:
The movies, the tabloids, TV and magazines,
They tell us what to think and do and all our hopes and dreams.
All this information makes America fat,
But if the company's out of the country, how American is that?
But, we got Americans with families can't even buy a meal.
Ask a brother who's been downsized if he's gettin' any deal.
Or a white boy bustin' ass till they put him in his grave.
He ain't gotta be a black boy to be livin' like a slave.
Rich people have always stayed on top, by dividing white people from colored people.
But white people got more in common with colored people than they do with rich people.
We just gotta eliminate 'em.

A bartender and a nurse, by the way--
the two black characters with lines.

There are a few other recurring extras who are not white,
But really, hardly anyone has lines in a movie like this.
Take it as the metaphor I was implying above:
White guy's privilege means he can screw up and he gets another chance.
Black guy
(or, taking the Bulworth line and setting ourselves up a nice Venn diagram, poor guy)
Messes up, the world... America anyway, takes advantage,
Stomps him down or pushes him back, and if he comes again, it's comical,
If he comes a third time,
Or comes by force,
Call in the National Guard if the cops didn't kill him first.

If you're reading this entry sometime in the future,
Check the date, check your history.
We've got a horrible pandemic raging across the country
And it disproportionately affects people of color and people without means,
And we also have COVID-19,
And if you don't get what the first one is, I'll spell it out for you because I'm feeling nice.
It's racism.
It's a country that built itself on the back of slaves
And then just never quite adjusted to those slaves not still being slaves,
Not being acquiescent and obedient, submissive and silent.

We're set in our ways as nation,
And we are just so fucking confident about all of it.
I mean, we were born as a bunch of religious folk
Who were fine with God telling them what to do but not European royals
So they ventured off to a New World,
Gradually killed off as many of the natives as they could,
Proclaimed the place their own,
And decided that this new country was the end all, be all of countries,
And the world was complete now that we were here.

America is like some inadequate adolescent or sad 20-something who thinks he's
(and I use the masculine pronoun here deliberately)
All that and with Great Britain backing us,
It's like Mommy England has been telling us
Every since we had that big fight and ran away from home
That we're really the greatest little country that ever lived,
And don't let anybody tell us differently,
Even our own inner voices
When we see the horrible shit that we get up to in backwater third world countries,
And domestic streets right here in our own cities,
Because might makes right and white has might
And everyone else need not apply.

Insurrection Act v Posse Comitatus Act
But the Supreme Court is stacked against our better angels
And the decision is coming down,
The jackboot is coming down,
The hammer is coming down,
And I feel like Danny Glover in Leathal Weapon:
"I'm too old for this shit"
When anyone who knows my writing history
Would know I side with destruction, uprising,
And violence is always an option,
Or so the history books would tell us,
Except when the Powers That Be can keep tweeting
Faster than the black man can take a beating
Faster than we can sit back eating
Postmates and watching the news,
Posting memes in between black squares of solidarity.

Just a bunch of armchair quarterbacks
Watching a nation self-destruct,
But there are plenty of commercials about pills we can take
For the impotence we feel when others die,
Others cry,
And smoke is in the air,
But, we're safe at home,
Because tomorrow is Groundhog Day,
We're white,
We get to do it again,
Just keep going,
Because failure is for animals and thugs,
Leeches and bugs.

The sun sets on another day of marching,
Nothing looks to be changing,
Though everyone's watching.
Same shit, different day,
Stomp down those who rise,
And, bring on more pepper spray.

Monday, June 1, 2020

he’s a suit

Day 1400 and I have just a couple things to say:

1) The messaging of The Secret of My Success is that a lone white male from bumfuck flyover Kansas is going to make it to big city and be such a hard worker because he grew up on a farm and is Grade-A middle American prime that he's not only going to kick the ass of his mailroom job but he will also successfully work a second (fake) job as an executive because bureaucracy is so stupid and complicated that he can game the system to invent a second name for himself, even though he's already called Brantley as if he was born and raised on Martha's Vineyard and not Foster Farms, and be better at all of this business stuff--and we will definitely, specifically, explicitly be shown this in a montage that let's us hear none of the dialogue and plays some crappy 80s song or another over it all and then the movie is going to take too fucking long to show how this one white kid is better than everybody else even though the fucking opening titles montage was a bunch of people of color and people of no means all turning their heads, but I guess them turning their heads was really them all taking notice because this kid was going to come to the city of hostile corporate takeovers and overcome all of that in the most American way possibly--by doing too much, working two jobs when he's getting paid for one (committing fraud along the way of course), and convincing a company to expand in the late 80s as if that's a novel concept; the novel concept is that out of all the corporations in New York, Brantley finds himself at two of the ones being hostilely taken over and of course, he is taken by surprise by the first one and he gets a nice meaningful moment in his tiny cockroach-infested apartment so that we feel for him and want him to succeed, but then he's off to succeed by a) nepotism when his uncle gives him a job, b) sleeping with both a higher up (at least she is later) and a fellow executive, c) lying about who he is, d) forging paperwork, and e) being a capitalist twat sonofabitch who we all find charming because he's a basically Alex P. Keaton coming from an even smaller town than he was in Family Ties and we want to believe that a small person from a small town can make big because, hey, then any one of us can, and that's the American Dream.

2) That messaging is stupid, and it's done poorly, and we only fall for it because the 80s were the land of the montage and if a montage happens, we believe that progress is taking place, like in Iron Eagle when they've got like two days to make their plans and commit their fraud and their theft to get a teenager on an international rescue mission but the montage might as well be covering 2 months as much as it is covering 2 days, because who fucking cares when it offers us the change to cheer on another white kid from some place in America, because oh my founding fathers, that could be up there in that fighter jet, that could be in the New York City corporation fighting off a hostile takeover and being a fucking hero to my parents back in bumfuck nowhere.
 
 
 
 
 

Bonus #3) It helps if you have your lead be a little creepy and act like a stalker in addition to all his other crimes, and if you also get Helen Slater to march toward the camera at some point so the audience can remember the far better Legend of Billie Jean, but even that movie had a dirty of white folks, so who fucking knows?

Sunday, May 31, 2020

he’s not a person

It occurred to me today that I have never seen a production of How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying and I am not even sure what it's about. This thought came to me when I realized I am not entirely sure I can remember the plot to today's movie: The Secret of My Success. I knew it involved Michael J. Fox, and I think there's a boss lady who wants to sleep with him, but I was also conflating the film with For the Love of Money and was excited to see a young Gabrielle Anwar because I had the biggest crush on her for a few years there... after this movie was in theaters, after this movie was something we had on VHS and we watched it more than a few times--
(But, if you're paying attention, you should know that the current theme in this blog is movies that were "fixtures" in my "childhood" but I'm 11 now in 1987, and in retrospect, things keep blurring into my teenage years, my 20s, my 30s, and the present, but who want's to talk about the present? Pandemic. Riots. Dictators. And, I've got a wish list on Amazon just for the coming apocalypse... Because I grew up in a cult bent on eschatology and the one thing I have always been at planning ahead for (at least in my head) is every fucking thing falling apart. Entropy, destruction, Armageddon, just the end of another day that went strange or went as you expected. As I expected. Same shit different day, or "anything different is good" and all that, as I'll be watching Groundhog Day again in a couple days, and I am kinda looking forward to it. 
Because, comfort? Maybe.
I mean, it's nice to know that something like a fixture still exists in my life--)
--and I can't even remember what this particular fixture--The Secret of My Success, that is--is even about. I am hoping it's about sexual harassment, but I think it's more comedic caught-between-two-women, but the woman on the non-boss side isn't going to be Gabrielle Anwar, so it won't be as good as the movie I was inventing in my head going into today's blog...

Which, I haven't even pressed play yet, because I wanted to get all that out there before I probably resort to random comments as the movie plays because, really, I do not remember any specifics except at one point a naked woman is covered only by a couple pillows, possibly in a poolhouse.

The description on HBO MAX says:
Goodbye, Kansas... Hello, New York! In this sharp and sassy comedy, Michael J. Fox plays a pint-sized charmer with big ambitions. Fresh off the farm, he comes to New York determined to climb to the top of the corporate ladder--any way he can.
I don't like the use of "sassy" in there. I am no longer looking forward to this.

I am pressing play.

The opening shots of main guy's parents are unnecessary, but fuck it, cut to 80s music no one remembers, and bus arrival in the big city. And, look, it's Alex P. Keaton and he's fucking quotes Dorothy Gale, because that's not obvious as fuck.

And then, I'm imagining covering this movie like I cover, say Annihilation on my podcast Annihilation, and all these random shots of city people under the opening credits would be a nightmare and a waste of time, because that shit (I assume) has nothing really to do with the plot to come.

As Alex P. Keaton interviews for job after job, I think I just remembered what is going to happen. Like riding a bike, The Secret of My Success returns to me. He is going to get like a mailroom job or some lowly shit, and then he switches outfits and pretend he has a better job than he actually has until people start believing it. I think this is that movie...

But then cops just shot up the phone booth where he's making a phone call because this movie is trying for satire I probably didn't get when I was 11 and saw this for the first time, and you know that bit where I said I was no longer looking forward to this? Yeah, fuck that. I'm in.

He lives in a tiny apartment with cockroaches, and we get a flashback to him telling his parents he's only ever going to return to Kansas in his own jet, and I'm reminded (not for the first time today, mind you) of my time in Tennessee (1 month) and Arkansas (3 months, but was supposed to be indefinite) and how moving off to some other state completely transforms your life. But, I did it (allegedly) for love, and whatever this guy's name is, Alex P. Marty McFly J. Fox, he did it for fucking capitalism, and I do not approve of this reasoning.

Wait, his name is Brantley? What the fuck kind of Kansas farm family names their kid Brantley? That should be is made up name when he pretends to be New York high society or whatever the fuck...

And, oh my god, this just turned into some really creepy fantasy sequence with Helen Slater drinking water in slow motion and then wearing a dress and marching in like she's Billie Jean again, but less rebel, and more awful fantasy that a guy like Alex Prantley Keaton would have at a fucking drinking fountain.

And then he's deconstructing the way Pemrose does business and casually staring at Slater's Christy from a distance... But then, he has to drive Vera somewhere for work and he isn't a trained driver so he makes conversation like this is fucking Uber and not a company car, and that freaking song from Ferris Bueller over extreme closeups of Ver putting on her lipstick (which is fine, because stalker boy Alex can see that, but then closeups on her legs, which he cannot see from the front seat, and I guess her took her home, but the only Litchfield in New York is 237 miles form New York City. Litchfield, Connecticut is only 108 miles. But, nevermind the distance and why random mailroom kid would get stuck with this job, no matter if his uncle owns the company and gave him the job, he's in the pool with Vera and she pulls off his shorts but the skintone trunks he's still got on under that are really obvious, which makes the moment quite horrible--this woman who is clearly above him at the company just talked him into a pool and then removed his clothes without consent, but Fox couldn't be bothered to actually get nude for the moment, so it barely matters... But then I wonder if the image was clear enough on VHS to notice that.


And then, it turns out that Vera is married to the boss--Brantley's uncle--and Brantley has to make a run for it, and before he gets chase off by a Doberman, there's that moment I remembered with the pillows, and dude just fucked his aunt, but CUT TO the city and we really get an 80s love song playing as Brantley fantasizes about taking over an empty office and I'm not sure I care. I mean, he works the mailroom--I've done that--he runs around with a cart of deliveries--one of my favorite jobs ever was doing just that but delivering and picking up books for the library at a law firm in downtown Los Angeles, and listening to talk radio all day in my earbuds, because I was constantly on the movie and entirely contained in my own little world at the very same time. And, I didn't need an office, though maybe that would have been nice, because I had the entire law library to myself most of the time. Had a great view from the tallest building in the city.

But, this movie is aiming for some weird romantic comedy twisted together with a gender-switched sleeping-with-the-boss plot, and really Brantley is going to get fired for not doing his regular job, while pretending to do another job, or maybe the satire's angle is that he can do both these jobs because offices are actually that inefficient. But, I'm just reminded of that "Double Date" episode of Family Ties in which Brantley P. Keaton has two prom dates and fucks it all up. And then I'm thinking about Working Girl because at least there she doesn't jut invent an entirely new person, right? And she doesn't come across as a creepy stalker every time she goes near Harrison Ford.

And then there's business business business, and I guess in 1987, we're just supposed to assume that Carlton Whitfield (née Brantley) knows what he's talking about, and of course the real bosses who want to make cuts are clearly evil because this is Reagan's America, and you have to build build build, or something.

And, he's conducting the sounds of sex from next door and I love that I saw this movie when I was 11 and my mother was probably embarrassed as all get out when he climaxes by opening his can of beer, because blatant sexual metaphors belong in mainstream comedies, and really, it's a little sad that this late in the 80s, we're not getting more casual nudity and sexual capers...

Cue, Auntie Vera arriving at Brantley's tiny apartment, and CUT TO Uncle Boss Man hitting on Billie Jean which is, you know, clearly morally wrong, even though we are not immediately as horrified by Auntie Vera coming to Brantley's, or maybe that's progressive for '87. By the time I'm writing about it, we're on to new scenes, and I'm marveling at Brantley's choice to not only switch outfits in the elevator but specifically to switch out his socks, because while the higher ups might notice white socks, the mailroom guys are not going to care if he wears black socks. Hell, he shouldn't even be changing his pants, and could probably get away with not changing his shirt... I write as he arrives with the wrong pants for a meeting and immediately gets noticed, so I guess they're saying that would matter, but I've been teaching in blue jeans and T-shirts for years because I don't much care for dress codes.
 
 
 
 
 
And, then the movie has like 30-40 minutes left and I get distracted because how does this thing have that much plot left?

Saturday, May 30, 2020

they are. i’m not.

To continue somewhere before I left off, I was not sent off to boarding school like Morgan. I just had private school, which meant very few friends in my neighborhood, and limited interaction with my friends outside of school, which limited my social life, I'm sure. Or maybe my introversion has other sources and it is just easy to blame the religious environment in which I grew up, and which isolated me from the larger world for a while. I definitely blame that upbringing for my attachment to film. I mean, why wouldn't I envelop myself in fiction as much as fucking possible when I'm being told on a regular basis that the world is ending?

But then, I'm trying to come up with a comedic way to talk about the differing politics of my parents and me, even my oldest siblings and me. But, there's a pandemic and rioting and I am inclined to get into a serious rant instead...

Or to focus entirely on the film today to avoid all that.

As if that's possible.


I mean, the whole prank setup early in the film is pointless, though it does set the stage for this brilliant bit: "We did it! We did it! We did it!" Beat, as they realize the headmaster is behind them. "We didn't do it." And, it makes for the strange twist of Morgan not being kicked out of school, rather he's just being called home to, as it turns out, give his senator father's reelection campaign a better family image. Because flying your helicopter to pick up the kid is fine but I guess having your kid at a great school is not... Anymore. For some reason. The premise doesn't quite work, but it allows for interesting interactions later that are nice...

But I'll get to that. I only just realized that Morgan's mom walks in on his roommate masturbating, and when she enters the locker room the guy brushing his teeth is apparently just standing there naked, and both of these things are strange.

But, it's also strange that boarding schools exist and there are families rich enough to send their kids to them...

I mean, the mother also takes the helicopter to the hairdresser and isn't that silly? Morgan doesn't even know where his family lives and he is left on the roof, alone. And, she expects him to just be the son she wants him to be? I know she says she doesn't subscribe to the buddy-buddy school of parenting, but seven years of neglect for Morgan and seven years of absence for her--unless she cares not a whit for her son, which maybe that's the problem--shouldn't be something where either of them think it can just become something comfortable with no transition time, no change, no negotiation.

That Morgan is brought home as a prop is one thing, but that somehow his parents still see him more as a prop--or a puppet--once he is home and in front of them, and they can see his quirks, and his personality, suggests that his parents are not just oblivious but are actively uncaring and cruel.

And, the film never fixes that. I mean, Morgan's conversation with his father at Arby's is kinda sweet. But then, the end of the film--as abrupt as it is--paints a simplistic picture of magic family repair triggered by Morgan saving his father from having to drop out of the campaign (which if you've not seen the film, is because his executive aide is blackmailing him), but the movie might actually play out more genuinely, when it comes to the family unit, if the senator is not reelected, and they have to actually get along as a family... Hell, there's a better premise--something like Schitt's Creek; having to drop out from the campaign, they can't afford boarding school anymore and have to bring their worldly son home and actually try to get along with him.

Except, they've created a son who is nothing like them. I mean, that is their fault.

Similarly, my own parents sending me to private school, taking me to church, positioning me in between constant messaging of a finite lifetime and access to movies and tv and fantasy books and toys and what do you expect is going to happen? Of course, I'm going to enjoy things like Choose Your Own Adventure books and the more RPG-style Lone Wolf books--which I won't tell the whole story again this time, but those books got me in trouble at the private school, got me sent to the office, got me a stern talking to at home, and got my collection of said books tossed in the trash not unlike Morgan's collection of horror film posters, but of course I was going to latch onto fantasy and stories and anything that offered me a larger world than reality was offering. And, in connecting with so many characters in so many stories, of course I would drift away from the black and white morality of my upbringing, and then the Cold War would end and suddenly, the world was open and I had no real idea what to do in it, so I went off to college I was unprepared for, got office jobs that anyone could do, and lived a socially isolated life still stuffed with movies and books and tv and comics and toys and whatever made the world bigger than my corner of it actually was... Safely. Because, I had no idea how to expand my social circles properly, because private school miles from home meant I never had consistent social circles. What few neighborhood friends I had were entirely separate from school friends, and none of either had staying power once I was first out of high school and then, second, we moved to a new house.

I don't imagine that Morgan will be comfortable with his parents... Maybe ever. His father will continue to be a senator, his mother will continue to be controlling and dismissive. And, Morgan has interests that--nevermind the abrupt voiceover at the end of the film--will never jibe with his parents' lives.

He should trade places with Emily's little brother, really. Let the irritating snitch live with the rich folks, while Morgan and Emily enjoy watching horror films alongside her parents.

Because sometimes a kid needs space. Or a parent needs space. Rather than trying to force the other to fit into the niche you think they should. You know, let people be who they are...

Which sounds easy. Sounds cheesy. Sounds like simplistic bullshit, really. Sometimes trite is easier than the real things you want to say. And, it's easier to pretend that we should let everyone be who they want to be, nevermind that some people are just awful. Some people are too far gone already, too twisted by whatever upbringing and surroundings they had to mold them into the form they fill. And some people aren't even awful, they are just too stuck in their own selfish urges to notice that there are better options than the choices they make, the things they say. It's easier to pretend our differences are shallow than to necessarily fathom the actual divide between some of us.

Like Morgan's mom thinking getting rid of his posters and grounded him from leaving the house will change who he is.

It ain't that easy.