Sunday, November 30, 2014

can i be serious with you for a minute?

Let me just say, for the record, Groundhog Day has nothing to do with Thanksgiving. I mean, the usual (if you can call 2 or 3 times “usual”) thing is to come back to this movie and tie it in to whatever the month has been. The first batch of horror films, the romantic comedies, slasher films (though I had already explained how Groundhog Day was a slasher film. Now, Thanksgiving movies, except Thanksgiving movies are not about Thanksgiving. They are about a quest for family, a quest for a past that we know is better than the present. A movie about a holiday like Thanksgiving (or as we will see in the next month, Christmas)—

NEW THING ALERT: The movie already uses Mother-in-law’s tongue in the Tip Top Cafe... Mother-in-law’s Tongue is a plant. Anyway, the production already uses that plant in the Tip Top Cafe set, but as I was distracted from my mention of Christmas to just how Christmasy the decor in the Cherry Street Inn’s dining room was, I noticed something new. And, after somewhere around 400 screenings of this movie, not counting all the times I searched through it for certain moments and images, it is always an exciting thing to notice something new. It is not a huge thing about content this time, but still...

Where was I?

A movie about a holiday like Thanksgiving (or Christmas) is about family, is about society, about being a part of humanity. Thanksgiving movies focus in on the family aspect, but Christmas movies might expand a bit more into caring about your fellow man. Well, Planes, Trains & Automobiles and Dutch both deal in that realm, actually; 1) Neal is stuck in his own little bubble at the start of Planes, Trains & Automobiles but has to emerge from it to not only depend on Del, but to ultimately care about Del. Del may be a specific person, but the implicit story here is about Neal learning to care about anyone at all outside of his bubble. Del is not the kind of guy Neal would normally deal with; he is a bit too working class, which brings me to 2) Dutch, in which Doyle is effectively forced into a place (the shelter) where he has no choice but to first notice and second care about his fellow man. Prior to this, anyone beneath his class would be beneath his attention. But, the journey home, with a strange surrogate father accompanying him brings him outside of his bubble. It is a little more arbitrary compared to Neal’s connection with Del, but it still does not come across particularly forced, and we want Doyle to be better, just like we want Neal to be better, just like we want Phil to be better when he is stuck in Punxsutawney. Essentially, Neal being stuck on the road with Del and Doyle being stuck on the road with Dutch and then specifically in that shelter serves the same purpose as Phil being stuck in Punxsutawney.

I argued a long while ago—so long ago, I am not sure if I can find the exact entry [edit: found it]—that, really, Phil Connors was not stuck... Actually, I think I used the word trapped. Phil Connors was not trapped in Punxsutawney, he was trapped in Pittsburgh. That was the place where he was stuck in his day-to-day routine, doing the weather reports and not appreciating the effect he can have on other people’s lives, hitting on (and presumably sleeping with) all the interns at the station—though, to be fair, the dialogue establishing this detail did not make it to the final film—and having nothing meaningful in his life. Pittsburgh was the place where he had assumed a role—sarcastic weatherman by day, ladies’ man by night—and had nothing to show for it. There is a reason there is light in his eyes when he first sees Rita, standing there in front of the blue screen, and it is not because he has fallen in love with her... yet. It is because, in her he can see a sense of wonder that he has left behind and replaced with cynicism.

I get that.

It occurs to me, actually, that that may have been a bit of the reason I was attracted to one of my fellow grad students last year (and I will spare you a link back to when I wrote about that before, this time)—because being a bit younger than I am, she was not as jaded about life even though she had just enough cynicism to be snarky and sarcastic about the state of things in the world. Hell, it is no surprise to me that anyone is attracted to younger potential partners from time to time, for the same reason we can appreciate the journey home to spend with family and almost be a kid again. It is not just rose-colored glasses; life was better before. Facts are irrelevant to this point. Life is not built on facts but feelings. And, it is like a drug; once upon a time, it was amazing, everything was new, everything was bright and we just did not know enough about the world to realize that so many corners of it were awful places. And, we keep wanting to find that feeling again. Maybe we use literal drugs, maybe we find relationships to have, kids, jobs, hobbies... Life is a constant effort to go backward by going forward.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that we will forever fail at this effort. I think that there are plenty of moments where we achieve something great, some awesome feeling that demonstrates the why of life. Why do we do all of this? Because of that first kiss, because of that first time our child smiles at us, because of the applause, the good grade, that amazing pizza, that quiet reality-blurring moment on the beach, that perfect blissful moment in a field, the fun of a roller coaster, the joy of belting out a song like we really do not care who hears us, a good movie, an enthralling tv show, a transcendent book, or a remarkably mundane one, a hug from a loved one, a compliment from a stranger, the pride of our parents, a plan executed better than expected, a plane gone awry with hilarious results, ice cream, games, a nice drive... anything and everything. The right moment can lift us out of the forward or the backward to something... else. Time does not matter when the right moment comes along. Cynicism and hope both get set aside. The trap may still be present but we see it...

One of my novels ends with one of the main characters running through the woods. Tragedy has struck, her life is in upheaval, but she has this epiphany in which she sees what her life is, what it has been, what it can be. And, the point is not that her life will head down the best route in the future, or that it has even been going down a bad route so far, but that the routes are something she can see and evaluate and understand and appreciate, good or bad. Yesterday, I said, “Time is the enemy of familiarity and family,” but really, when life is going good, there is no enemy, not even time.

Which brings us right back around to Phil Connors, currently stealing a bag of money (yes, I am only 42 minutes into the movie with over 1300 words to this entry... apparently, Groundhog Day gets me in a rambling mood) because he has (he thinks) mastered time. He has yet to master himself, but that is a separate issue.

My point... or the point I was making before I rambled to a different point is, Groundhog Day is very much like Planes, Trains & Automobiles and Dutch and Pieces of April and Home for the Holidays in that it is built around community, belonging. Whether it is one’s biological family, one’s surrogate father, one’s apartment building neighbors, one’s travel buddy, or everyone in Punxsutawney—that sense of belonging is necessary, and when we do not feel it, we seek it. And, sometimes, like Neal, like Doyle, like Phil, we do not even realize that we want it until it forces itself upon us. I find myself returning to Paul Hannam’s (2008) The Magic of Groundhog Day and what he calls the Groundhog Day Effect: “the daily grind of endlessly repetitive tasks, mind-numbing encounters with the same people, and meaningless activities and conversations” (p. xix). You know, life. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. The reason Planes, Trains & Automobiles works (I mean, aside from being entertaining and funny), and the reason Dutch works (despite some horrible details within) is that the main characters are not living their usual day-to-day. They are outside the norm. So, really, is April in Pieces of April. Outside the boundaries of the Groundhog Day Effect, and able to see life from a new angle, to find something in it and about it that is fresh and new. We do not quite get to see what April gets out of her Thanksgiving travails, but we can imagine. Similarly, we do not see quite where Claudia’s life will go, or just how well she has seen it for what it is, but at the end of Home for the Holidays we are left with a bit of hope. Leo says it well when Claudia asks what the point is: “Well, there is no point except, you know, if we get hit by a bus someday, at least we’ll know we had those two hours together.” The point is here and now. Those two hours, or Phil’s perfect day with Rita... the little moments that make all the rest worth it.

And, I finish this entry as Phil recites his speech to Rita as she sleeps. For a while, back when I first began this blog, this moment got to me more than it probably should have. It is a Hollywood construct, but it works. It is one of those moments. Manufactured but still somehow real. And, it does get to me.

Now, the rest of the movie. Like sitting down for a conversation with an old friend.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

i wish i had it all on tape

I wish I had more home movies. I have a few, but the video camera I had when my kids were small was broken and its battery would never work; it only ever worked when plugged into an outlet. So, it was not very mobile. There are plenty of photos, but I can imagine being Henry Larson sitting in the den (not that I have a den now or expect to have one when I am an old man) watching old home movies.

Someone posted an updated version of Frans Hofmeester’s video of his daughter Lotte on Facebook earlier today. He filmed her every day for 14 years now (the previous version going around was 12 years, and it was in a cellphone commercial so it got a lot of visibility), and it is a remarkable pseudo-time lapse of growing up.

Here is the video. (Embedding videos in this blog just does not work anymore, and I do not know why.)

I think the reason Home for the Holidays works so well is that it provides a rather universal snapshot of an American family celebrating Thanksgiving. The personality types fit probably most any family. The conversation ranging from inappropriately personal anecdotes to out-of-place political discussion exemplifies the conversation around the dinnertable here as well. Hell, regardless of the specific occasion and that brief-as-could-be focus on giving thanks, the family archetypes and the conversation probably fits something much bigger than the American family. I am sure every family has that fussy, controlling, sibling who takes everything a little too seriously. He/she is a bit high-strung. Maybe a bit of a martyr complex. And/or a savior complex. (Are those two different things?) Then, there is a different kind of high-strung, like Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tommy. Downey, Jr. was high on heroin while filming, but that general energy level, a bit manic, a bit too quick to smart-ass comments and put-downs—your family has probably got one of those as well. Big enough family, you might have more than one.

The snapshot thing, though—we get (for the most part) a single day in these characters’ lives just like a family gathering like Thanksgiving might give us a single day with some family members we do not see much. Cousins, in-laws, nephews, nieces... if we have moved far from home, maybe we do not see our parents or siblings much. Me—I only live a few cities away from my parents and a couple of my sisters. Two more sisters live a bit father but drivable. Actually, one of those is moving even farther away this weekend, probably will not see her or her kids very often. So, the snapshot thing will definitely start happening. Nieces and nephews grow up just in fits and spurts as we just do not see the gradual changes anymore. The lives of others in occasional glimpses. It is no wonder that those different personality types may get a) more entrenched in who and what they are and b) separated from everyone else a little more in the process. Like evolution, each branch of the family its own Galapagos island with different schools, different jobs, different cities pushing them in different directions until they become something like foreigners when they return home.

Backtracking a bit, home movies trap us in a specific time and place. They take us back to more familiar surroundings. Rose-colored glasses to remember gatherings past, siblings and nieces and nephews and cousins when they were younger, when we were younger. As Henry just said in his blessing, “everything’s changing too damn fast.” It does not matter how great the past actually was or was not. What matters is that the past is something we know. The future is unknown and the present is much too close to the edge of that unknown, so the past is a comfortable place. Problem with a family gathering like Thanksgiving dinner is that we want it to be something like the past but instead it shoves us right into the present, the brink over which we can quite easily slip into the unknown, catching up with people we used to see every day like we barely know them at all... because, really, we probably do only barely know them anymore.

Time is the enemy of familiarity and family.

Friday, November 28, 2014

shoveling the turkey and stuffing the snow

As Home for the Holidays begins for the penultimate time... and I imagine every time I finish with one of these movies for seven days that I will never see it again, this is it. It is probably not true for some of them, but it is an interesting way to think about it. Anyway, as Home for the Holidays begins for the second-to-last time, as this month of Thanksgiving-related films comes to an end, it occurs to me that I have not spent much time on the literal aspects of the holiday. I have talked about meaning, I have compared our animosity-laden relationship with our family members to the same between colonists and natives in the pre-United States America. I have talked about family gathering in general and holiday traditions in the abstract. But never the concrete.

(And this, the day after the holiday.)

The turkey, the mashed potatoes, the cranberry sauce, and whatever else crowds the table. Writing for Science News Letter back in 1951, Watson Davis explains, “Even today when all the foods of the world are available to enrich our daily diet, the Thanksgiving menu of the average household is still predominantly American in origin and production” (p. 314). Cranberries are American. Potatoes also come from the Americas, specifically Peru, but, like that parenthetical bit just now about turkeys, they made their way to Europe and then back again. Corn as well hails from the Americas. Turkeys are American (though domestic turkeys may be indirectly also non-American because some were taken to Europe and then later brought back to America). Hell, Benjamin Franklin wanted the national bird of the United States to be the turkey, not the eagle. Well, that is not true. It’s a popular version of the story but, it just is not quite accurate.

The thing is, there is no particular evidence that Franklin promoted the turkey as the national bird in any official capacity. He was on an early committee regarding the national emblem but suggested a biblical scene involving Moses. A couple committees (which he was not on) later, we had the national seal with the eagle on it. Franklin did write about the eagle and the turkey in a letter to his daughter in 1784, though he was specifically writing about the badge of the Society of Cincinnati not the national emblem. He called the bald eagle “a Bird of bad moral character.” He explained:

He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

Later in the same letter, he calls the turkey “in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America.” I suppose if the national bird had been the turkey, then we would have eagle farmers and we would eat eagle at Thanksgiving dinner.

The original Thanksgiving feast, with the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag probably took place earlier in the year, celebrating the Pilgrim’s first harvest in America, not late November. The fourth Thursday in November became a thing in 1941 due to President Roosevelt, though Thanksgiving had been a national holiday since 1863 (and was a thing in New York, apparently, as early as 1817) and congress has made Thanksgiving decrees as far back as 1777 (according to Amanda Foreman, writing for the Wall Street Journal, 26 November 2014). The menu was never a set part of the holiday—that original Thanksgiving probably had venison as the main protein, not turkey—but somewhere along the line it became tradition. Foreman (2014) writes:

During the 19th century, the turkey’s usefulness as a cheap source of meat for a large crowd made it increasingly popular. By 1869, the writer Harriet Beecher Stowe recalled in “Old Town Folks” the Thanksgivings of the past, “the turkey, and chickens…with all that endless variety of vegetables which the American soil and climate have contributed to the table.”

The native menu had already normalized and would continue.

Airing the family’s dirty laundry—that may have been added later, or it may have always been a thing.

time doesn't matter

(A note from my sister Bobbie before we get going: Dana in Ghostbusters II has apparently—I did not check, so I can neither confirm nor deny this—not failed at being a cellist but simply took the museum job while Oscar was an infant and plans to get back to the cello when he is older.)

From Kit’s “Remember the fish” in the first ten minutes of the movie to Henry’s bit about watching old movies and looking at old photographs in the last ten minutes of the film, there are a lot of references to the past in Home for the Holidays.

As I have pointed out the last couple entries (and probably all month in some way or another), there is a lot of ritual and tradition involved in Thanksgiving. This holiday—and any, potentially—becomes timeless in the repetition. Every other day may be a piece of life moving forward, but today... today is endless (and beginning-less). Today is not just this Thanksgiving but also last Thanksgiving, and the Thanksgiving before and the Thanksgiving before and the Thanksgiving before, etcetera... going back to childhood and before it, to Thanksgiving Days in which we (I) were (was) not even alive.

What else is the point to having a parade like they do in this movie?

Thirteen minutes in, Henry reminisces about a dentist visit... and the scene ends with Adele telling Claudia that she can see her roots. She is referring to Claudia’s hair, of course, but maybe that is the line that tells us what the movie is about—Dyer (2010) calls this a “statement of theme” (though, this line comes a little late for Dyer’s version; he says it should come in the first few pages (i.e. minutes) of the script). But, the movie—and Thanksgiving—is about roots, about what has come before, about the past that ties us together. And, about the branches too, the future that pulls us apart, our kids heading off into different directions, our own lives and jobs and hobbies pulling us away from where we have been, who we have been...

Claudia’s father, after he has been watching old home movies, tells Claudia:

I always settled for less... I let stuff get in my way. I did it with my work. I did it with my pleasure... All of a sudden, one day, you’re sitting in a cellar looking at pictures on the wall and you think: That wasn’t me at all. That was some other guy. Some other guy with a smaller waistline dancing with Adele. And the way we fit together...

He then reminds her of a time they stood on the tarmac by the runway. He calls it one of the best moments of his life, and it was just ten minutes long. Whatever the moment, whatever the hour, whatever the day, whatever the year—we all have those moments. Moments that stick with us forever (until we die, anyway). And, looking back at some of those moments, inevitably we might wonder who we were that we were there in that situation. I know I have mine. Moments I regret, but also good moments that happened not because because of who I am but who I was.

Reviewing the film for Variety, Levy (1995) says that writer Richter “vividly captures the paradoxes of family life, its push-and-pull forces, the eternally conflicted feelings of dread and excitement that going home for the holidays invokes.” I would argue that a big part of that push and pull is that family demands we remain who we are, forever and always. I am my parents’ son, my sisters’ brother. I remain as much even having moved out, grown up, gotten married, had kids. I have gone to college, dropped out of college, returned to college, graduated college and now I am in grad school and teaching, and I remain “Little Robert” to my mother because my father is also Robert. I live here many (but not too many) miles away with my three kids (and three cats) and I have been so busy lately that I have not made it over to see much of my family in recent weeks, but I am over there today and we interact as if no time has passed. There was food, there were games, and there was plenty of talk of movies, as there is wont to be anywhere my sisters and I get together. It was every Thanksgiving, and it was this Thanksgiving.

Time stands still on such occasions. We all catch up on changes since the last time, but we also do what we can—not entirely with purpose, but also not entirely without purpose—

(Seeming mistake caught: Tommy, as they are setting the table, says it is not too late for Jack in the Box. Thing is, there is no Jack in the Box anywhere near the Baltimore location, nor Tommy’s home in Boston. Hell, in 1995, I am not sure if Jack in the Box was on the east coast at all. Would have made more sense if he had suggested a chain that exists in all 50 states... I wonder if screenwriter Richter lived in California when he wrote this.

Speaking of... I remember when I drove home to California after living in Arkansas for three months in 2001 eagerly picking up dinner at the first Jack in the Box I saw in Arizona. Had not had Jack in the Box, had not even seen one, in months.)

Where was I? Oh, we do what we can to turn our siblings and our children and our parents and our cousins and our friends—whoever is a regular in our lives—into who we expect them to be. We prefer any change in them to be minimal. Sure, we want our kids or our younger relatives to grow up, want them to go to college and/or to get jobs and lives. But, we also want them to remain young forever. For if they change, then we are getting older. And then we have to weigh our own lives, where we have taken them, who we have managed to become... figure out if it is going okay.

Near the end of the film, Claudia asks Leo, “When you go home, do you look around and wonder, who are these people? Where did I even come from? I mean you look at them all sitting there, you know—they look familiar but who the hell are they?”

Reviewing the film for SF Gate, LaSalle (1996) suggests that the film relates Claudia’s and Leo’s growing attraction “to the whole cycle of family life.” He explains: “This is the irrational impulse at the root of all families, the movie suggests.” We like each other, we want to be together, we want each other to grow and change for the better. But, we also want everything to work exactly as it has always worked. New is scary.

That is why Thanksgiving is always the same. It brings us together and while it reminds us of how much we have changed, it also shows us what has not.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

isn't it just too perfect, what i did?

I feel like talking about the script. I mean, Home for the Holidays hardly has a plot. Not an obvious one. There are subplots all over the place, but really, it is almost like a stream of consciousness kind of storytelling. Stuff just happens. There is only an obvious throughline because we are stuck with Claudia for nearly the entire film; seriously, there are only a couple shots that do not include her. I will try to note those as I go.

In the meantime, going back to Dyer and Marshall (both of which I have cited more than once, but especially when I broke down the script of Groundhog Day over one two three days a while back… but Marshall’s piece doesn’t seem to exist online anymore). I remember I was sick when I started that breakdown, writing my handwritten notes when I could barely breathe. I am reminded of the sick thing because of Claudia’s “24-hour bug” here.

Anyway, Home for the Holidays is over 100 minute with its end credits, and just under, without. So, when Dyer says the first 10% of the script should be setup, it is roughly ten minutes of this film that should be setup. In those first 10 minutes, Claudia is fired, learns her daughter is going to spend Thanksgiving with (and have sex with) her boyfriend. Her coat is lost, setting up the ridiculous pink coat she will wear through most of the film. Claudia is established as sick, capable of rash, and stupid, decisions like making out with her boss (who has just fired her), and is impulsive enough to explain the horribleness in detail over the skyphone to her brother while sitting next to Mrs. Lancaster on the plane.

Actually, at 10 minutes even, Claudia is calling her brother, which would be Dyer’s small catalyst or Marshall’s inciting incident. If Claudia does not call Tommy, then Tommy would not come for Thanksgiving, and many of the events we see would simply not happen. Plus, this being Hollywood, we need Leo to be there for the romantic plotline, and he only comes because of Tommy... Of course, he could have been a friend of the family, or someone Claudia’s mom tried to fix her up with. But, then maybe Claudia would have more actively not gotten together with him, much as she simply has a conversation with “Sad Sack” Terziak and lets him be on his way. The confusion with Leo possibly being Tommy’s new boyfriend both creates a delay for the Leo-Claudia relationship and diverts away from the Tommy-Jack marriage revelation to come. Joanne’s disgust with Tommy and his public displays of homosexuality stand out even more because we are given the impression (like Claudia is) that Tommy is having trouble with his longtime relationship with Jack.

The 17-minute mark—Dyer’s large catalyst, Marshall’s (or that of anyone studying screenplay structure, really) Page 17—comes right after the revelation that Joanne is bringing her own turkey for her side of the family, right after the realization that Claudia used to paint, and there is a phone ringing to draw attention to this moment, in which Claudia’s mother figures out she was fired. I am not familiar enough with this film at this point to spot the exact line here that would be the key detail, but Claudia claiming she can take care of herself versus her mother’s offer of help might be it.

It is important to note, much like in yesterday‘s entry, that real life just does not have all this structure. In retrospect, we could probably boil down the various subplots of our lives to find the inciting incidents that led to them, but the timing is probably not so regular. Some pieces of our lives take years of setup, and some arise almost out of the blue.

Dyer tells us that 25 minutes in we should have plot point one. By this point in Home for the Holidays, Tommy and Leo have arrived. Dyer tells us that at this point, “the protagonist must begin the pursuit of his external goal.” Except, Claudia really does not have an external goal. Not yet. Hell, even if Leo is her external goal later, he is not now, plus Claudia does not then achieve said goal. She lets him get away only to have him make the effort to return. At 25 minutes in, Leo has been introduced. In a way, the external goal here is ours, the audience’s. We might immediately see the connection between Leo and Claudia. His potential homosexuality might get in the way for a while, but we can see it. We can want it, even if Claudia does not.

(Nice timing—and I am not sure how I did not catch it before—with Claudia saying she was “fragile” when she left the phone message for Tommy and Leo dropping an egg on the floor.)

Effectively, since Claudia spends most of the movie at her parents’ house, it makes sense that the division between Act One and Act Two does not come from her arrival but Tommy’s (and Leo’s).

And, I have left out Script Lab’s sequences. By this point, as the second act is getting underway, we are through sequence one and sequence two (the predicament and lock-in. The central predicament should be clear by now, or at least retroactively obvious when we have watched the rest of the film. Claudia needs to be locked in to her story.

We come upon Dyer’s pinch one (which should be 37.5% of the way through the movie) after Aunt Glady has been introduced. It is not the Relatives segment that produces the pinch (nor is it late enough to be in the More Relatives segment). Dyer calls this “a major plot event... that complicates the protagonist’s pursuit of his external goal.” By Dyer’s structure breakdown, the presence of, and then conversation with, “Sad Sack” Terziak is the pinch. For Script Lab, sequence three is supposed to raise the stakes for the protagonist. Tommy has several times now implied that Leo likes Claudia, but she is too preoccupied with her own impression of the situation to notice. Meanwhile, here she is talking to “Sad Sack,” making polite conversation when she clearly is not interested. The useful thing with “Sad Sack” is that he just does not seem to notice (or necessarily care).

Sequence four involves rising action to get us to the midpoint, what Script Lab calls the first culmination. After the “Sad Sack” incident, we get More Relatives—the arrival of Joanne, her husband, and their two children. The Thanksgiving dinner is coming. The heart of the movie. The Birds.

The 50-minute mark (what should roughly the midpoint) arrives at the dinner table. Since there is not an obvious plot to Home for the Holidays, it is hard to judge exactly what the midpoint should be. Script Lab tells us that the first culmination should be a low point for a protagonist who loses in the end, a small victory for a protagonist who wins in the end. There is no clear win or loss in the end of this film, and the midpoint comes at the end of Aunt Glady’s story. So, whose midpoint is it? Not Claudia’s, necessarily, except inasmuch as Aunt Glady’s “one special moment” with Henry perhaps previews what is to come between Leo and Claudia. In fact, the exact 50-minute mark seems to come right as we get a reaction shot from Leo, clearly appreciating Aunt Glady’s story. Script Lab says the first culmination should parallel the resolution to come. So, if this film is not about family but relationships of various types, then Aunt Glady’s story does prefigure the relationship budding between Claudia and Leo later. And, we can hope their thing lasts longer than Aunt Glady’s “one special moment.”

Sequence five risks a lull in the action, but Home for the Holidays has plenty of energy here with the back and forth around the table. Within this sequence should be Dyer’s pinch two which should push the protagonist in a new direction. Joanne revealing Tommy’s marriage, which means Leo is available for Claudia, is just this push. The Thanksgiving gathering is the setting, but the plot, if there is one, is Claudia and Leo. The realization that Leo is not only not homosexual but also available, comes about 57 minutes in; Dyer’s pinch two should be 62.5% of the way in (but I am still not sure if Dyer includes or excludes the credits in the runtime. At 62.5 minutes, Tommy has just said a great line—which I have already quoted—”You’re a pain in the ass, you’ve got bad hair, but I like you a lot.” The exact moment falls between Tommy’s (and Claudia’s) mother saying she cannot change and Tommy responding that he cannot either. This is not really pinch two but it is an important moment in the breakdown of the film. This is family. This is life. Sometimes, we cannot change who we are, but we are stuck with certain people in our lives anyway. So, we have to learn to live with them because we cannot get rid of them.

Tommy and Claudia sit down at the kitchen table, away from the main dinner table, and they hug, to reinforce the whole family thing. You hug who you can hug to survive those you cannot (or are unwilling to).

There is an echo of Claudia’s phone message to Tommy earlier on the plane in her conversation with her daughter from inside the kitchen pantry. Within the context of the film, Kitt is relieving some pressure from her mother (with the revelation that she is not, in fact, losing her virginity to her boyfriend today), and she is reminding her mother to “float.” A useful reminder for everyone most any day, but especially around family, especially tomorrow—Thanksgiving her in the States.

Joanne and her family are gone at 28 minutes in. They are barely present, only about 20 minutes at the center of the film (and a few minutes later), but they make a memorable impact.

Then Henry congratulates Jack on his marriage to Tommy—a nice moment.

Plot point two is supposed to come 75% of the way through the film. At 1 hour 15 minutes, Leo and Claudia have taken Aunt Glady home and they are at the White Tower getting coffee. In fact, Leo has just told the kid working there that he is on a “date.”

It has been a slow build, but the plot has emerged finally with the main culmination here.

Act Three, Script Lab tells us, begins with sequence seven, in which there is a new tension, maybe a twist. The tension is obvious—Claudia and Leo have kissed, but she has to deal with her sister. And, you get one of the most remarkably (and regrettably) honest lines in the movie, Joanne’s “If I just met you on the street, if you gave me your number, I’d throw it away.” Claudia’s response: “Well, we don’t have to like each other, Jo. We’re family.”

The twist comes when Claudia makes the choice to let Leo go. At 1 hour 24 minutes, Claudia goes to her room. Leo follows, but she does not let him in. He heads downstairs a couple minutes later.

And we get to The Point. The film’s subtitled division comes right in line with sequence eight, the resolution. Claudia talks her her father, settling right in as if she does this every day, before she heads home. And, we get the introduction of the home movies—more on that (and their conversation) tomorrow. Then, Claudia leaves. Dyer tells us, “The protagonist returns to his ordinary world at this point, but he should now be so changed by everything that he has gone through that he can no longer be satisfied living the way he did before.” We do not get to know just what will come of Claudia’s life after. But then again, we did not really know much about her life before. We came into her story (or her into ours) just as one chapter was coming to an end. She is in a transitional, liminal stage. And, as she heads for the airport (where the movie is right now on my TV), she is without plot. Thanksgiving dinner has come and gone. There is no job waiting for her back in Chicago. There is a daughter and a life but there details are vague.

Enter: Leo. On the plane. Script Lab tells us clarity is important at this point. We want to know how it ends. We want to know where it is going. Home for the Holidays is not all that nice when it comes to clarity... unless the home movies tie it all together. After all of these words today, that will have to wait.

clown family

At least Claudia restores paintings because she is a failed artist unlike, say, Dana in Ghostbusters II who gets to that job after failing at cello... which I do not understand, actually. But, this is not about Ghosbusters II but Home for the Holidays. Holly Hunter’s Claudia is...


She is not having a great day. I will let her explain it to you (as she explains it to Tommy):

Hi. Hi little brother. It’s your big bad sister. Where are you? I’m on my way to Henry and Adele’s, which I know is the last place on Earth you want to drive a million miles in holiday traffic to be at, and I don’t blame you. Have Thanksgiving with your friends. I would, if I had any, which I don’t, ‘cause then I’d have to send ‘em all birthday cards, which is a lie of course, because you know I’m only looking for pity. Jesus, my my my.


I really wish you were gonna be there, kiddo, because... because I am sick as a dog, and I made out with my boss, and Kitt’s gonna have sex with a teenager. And then, I got fired. Or the other way around. Whatever. Oh my God. I cannot believe I have said all this to a machine. I hate machines. Please, get rid of this tape. It’s nothing. It’s absolutely no big deal. I’m fine. I just... I just miss you guys. Happy Thanksgiving. Give Jack a big big big big hug from me. That’s it. Love, Clyde.

Her whole life really is not going that well, actually. I think the movie never establishes what happened to Kitt’s father, though we do learn that he and Claudia were never married.

Mom and Dad

You know what I’m imagining now? Claudia and the passenger played by Angela Paton Mrs. Lancaster from Groundhog Day) getting stuck in the wrong city, then roadtripping it a la Planes, Trains & Automobiles. In my imagined version, she is Florence Lancaster, by the way, not just some random woman.

But, back to this movie. Parents... full of useless anecdotes about their lives and observations about yours that are either a bit too on-the-nose and blunt or oblique and maybe as pointless as the anecdotes. Maybe I have just known the wrong people, and their wrong parents, but I am not sure I have seen any couples in, you know, reality, that break into spontaneous dancing like Henry and Adele Larson. I think that behavior is just a cinematic conceit... nobody is that happy, or I am just too cynical.


But, I guess we want to imagine such people are real, we want to imagine our parents are that romantic, in between the moments we are disgusted that they ever had sex... I think that is a cinematic conceit as well, but it is not like that is a topic I discuss with people often. You know, how often do you think your parents have sex? Does it bother you to think about that?

And then, Tommy starts dancing with his mother. Why do we watch movies with dancing people? Is it a vicarious thing? Like, we wish our own lives involved some spontaneous dancing from time to time.


David Strathairn’s Russell “Sad Sack” Terziak is a pathetic counter to the happiness Tommy’s apparently got, and an extreme as to the negativity that Claudia’s life could be.

More Relatives

And chaos starts.

The Birds

Then the awesomeness. My family has only ever tried the sitting-down-at-one-big-table Thanksgiving like once that I can recall. Always too many people around to do that. Nine of us in the immediate family—my parents, six sisters and me—then another generation added on, and another in the works these days. Add a few friends, the occasional random coworker who has got nowhere else to go... I think we have at least one of those this year.

(I also think I have mentioned that already.)

There will be several folding tables outside, a lot of folding chairs, several tables probably with food and drinks. And more people than I will take the time to count. A crowd going in many directions. Good food, good drink, maybe a few games (there is usually at least one).


The bad does not get better sometimes; it just lingers, gets left aside as life goes on.

Now What

The structure thing, the subtitles—life would be easier to figure out with the likes of these. But, instead, the different pieces of our lives, and the intersecting moments with our relatives and our friends and even our... well, maybe we do not have enemies, but we have got something. And, those people, and the people we like, the people we are stuck with because of blood and the people we will never meet because they live on the other side of the planet or just in the next town—all of these pieces overlap and overlap and blur together sometimes, because life just is not neat. There are no subtitles.

“We don’t have to like each other, Jo; we’re family.” This line comes before...

The Point

...which is good. Except, that line kind of is the point. Home for the Holidays is about family, and not all the cheesy, happy, positive stuff. It is family, warts and all.

And, that is kind of the point to Thanksgiving as well, the way I see it. It is not really about that mythical story about how the Pilgrims broke bread with the natives when times got tough; it is about our own ability to break bread with people we might just have to kill someday because they annoy us too much finally, or take up too much of our space, or just know too much privileged information about us.

You know: family.

The End

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

i'm half crazy

The point is not that Claudia restores paintings. Not strictly speaking, anyway. What matters is that she restores paintings when she herself used to be a painter. She is a single mother who is unable to do (arguably) what she wants to do.

It is weird, but I am not sure if I can quite relate to that like I used to be able to. I probably would not mind writing again—fiction, I mean—but it does not get to me anymore that I do not have time to write. What I do have time to do these days, work-wise, is more fulfilling than work I used to do all the time—inane office jobs.

Dear Abby,

I think my mother is losing her grip on reality. All her life she’s been this outgoing, happy-go-lucky personality. She cried a lot in private but to strangers she was a barrel of laughs. Now, lately she’s gotten real bad. She wakes up every morning frightened. And she gets real worked up about war and crime and taxes, those terrorists, and she thinks the president secretly owns McDonald’s and the Home Shopping Channel. It’s not funny.

Signed, Distraught

This from the mother inexplicably undressing as she recites this letter from memory. It is a bizarre moment, but for this movie just another strange moment in the midst of many.

I would not say that every family has bizarre stuff going on when they get together, but maybe, in a way, the stuff that is going on just seems bizarre, because blood being thicker than water, is thick enough to go to your head and mess with your processing. We do not think straight around family. Or maybe we think a little too straight. Every new thing relating to family is painted by every past thing. The simplest action is complicated by every action that preceded it.

But, hell, that’s life all around, is it not? Just moreso with family.

A big family, like mine—we’ve got our crazy goings on certainly. Not every Thanksgiving, not every family gathering. But, we’ve got our moments.

No crazy Aunt Glady, though. Not yet anyway.

You’re the best thing on two legs, Henry Lawson...

And I knew it the very first second I ever laid my eyes on him, too. Thanksgiving Day, 1952, 2 o’clock in the afternoon. My sister brought that fella to our house for dinner after his own mother had stuffed him to the gills. And still he ate... like a horse in a uniform...

Oh, I couldn’t take my eyes off that dark blue uniform and those bright silver wings. And his big strong hands. And he had a little mustache..

I was eighteen years old and he was only twenty-one and we were both so nice looking and I can still taste the salt on his lips. Those soft, soft lips. And that tickly little... oh tickly, tickly little mustache. I could still feel it, forty-three years later, like a toothbrush.

He kissed me... one Christmas Eve. And, for one special moment, my own little life was as big as I could ever want it to be. To have someone so close to you, they’re inside you when you’re feeling small and scared and just so disappointed in yourself.

And, whenever I look at your father, I know how lucky my sister must be because he made all my dreams come true for her.

Aunt Glady, everybody.

And then she falls asleep after downing her wine and saying her piece.

Then the turkey mess, some homophobia or anti-gay prejudice, or whatever you want to call Joanne’s offense at the idea that her brother got married to another man, and kissed him, God forbid, in public. Of course it is 1995 when that was a little more acceptable.

Tommy’s line to his mother: “You’re a pain in my ass, you have bad hair, but I like you a lot.”

That sums up a lot of the whole family thing quite well. Don’t have to like someone to love him/her.

Monday, November 24, 2014

what life is all about

[For some reason, this particular blog entry is getting a lot of views lately, so I thought I would direct you all to a better entry, perhaps with a less interesting title: Day 486 - can i be serious with you for a minute? Now, back to the regular entry.]

I am sure I will be wondering why art restoration? by the end of the week, but for today, I will try to keep things simple. I am watching Home for the Holidays

And, there was just a presumably deliberate juxtaposition between Holly Hunter’s Claudia and Mary (the Biblical one)... then the sneeze and Claudia’s boss wants to talk to her. He is firing her—budget issues—and the sneezing is a thing.

Problem right away—and I do not mean a problem with this movie—Holly Hunter has probably displayed more character in the first few minutes of this movie than Patricia Clarkson did in all of Pieces of April yet the former was nominated for awards. I think it is the impression of a serious independent film versus the impression of a broader comedy. Home for the Holidays does play like it is supposed to be a broader company.

(Yay, it’s Mrs. Lancaster on the plane.)

I imagine a question about the subtitles sectioning the film later this week as well, but for now... Claudia’s parents are awesome characters, with their random anecdotes.

(Pieces of April should have been set in Chicago. I mean, Planes, Trains & Automobiles and Dutch were all about getting to Chicago for Thanksgiving and this movie started in Chicago—that is where Claudia lives.)

The play of Claudia’s mother reading the Dear Abby letter about a woman’s crazy mother as she undresses is hilarious.

Robert Downey, Jr. was on heroin while they were making this movie, which is unfortunate, but the energy level in that character... well, it is remarkable. And, his character is an ass, but oh so funny.

Had not watched this in a couple years, forgot how funny this movie was, is. A couple of my sisters watch this movie every year for Thanksgiving. I have not made a habit of it, but I think I can understand why one would.

Speaking of my sisters, I need to a) ask them if they want to write something this week for this blog and b) maybe get some permission to say some horrible things about a few of them.

Kidding, of course. All of my sisters are wonderful and could never do any wrong. If you can believe that.

On the other hand, they are all human, so mistakes are par for the course.

But anyway, Geraldine Chaplin’s Aunt Glady’s toast to Charles Durning’s Henry is amazing stuff.

This film captures some of the best and worst of family interactions.

Before I go, I must ask, somewhat rhetorically, should every movie have a section subtitled The Point? Or are we better off having to figure out what a movie is about? Hell, the The Point bit in this film does not spell everything out explicitly, but it does give us plenty to think about. Leo’s suggestion that “If we get hit by a bus someday, at least we’ll know we had those two hours together” captures something I love, but something I do not practice as often as I wish.

Sunday, November 23, 2014's one of my worst faults

(I wish I could title this entry, “don’t you just love every day” but I am not in that great a mood tonight.)

I think it is that I like April... or I can relate to her, at least. That feeling that you do not belong, that everything about you is just wrong... well, maybe not everything, but the feeling is just a different level of the same. The feeling that no matter how hard you try, it will not matter anyway. Or, if it would matter, you will just be too timid or too weak-minded to try.

My point is, however much this film may be flawed, I think I can relate to the character(s). For example, my family is doing a big Thanksgiving thing this year—just a handful of days from now—and there have been emails going back and forth about who is bringing what, and I have yet to respond because, well, I just have not had time to think about it. Between grad school work and teaching and, you know, life, if not for this blog and the theme I chose for this month, I would not really be thinking about Thanksgiving coming up at all. I will get to it, maybe try to make something Wednesday night or Thursday morning, but it will be a last minute choice as to what it is. In the meantime, life goes on. Got papers to grade, papers to write, and I worked on neither today because I was cleaning, doing laundry, ironing, running to the store, playing a game of X-Wing (first time my son beat me at that one), picking up dinner, then seeing Cal State LA’s production of Rent again. Closing night...

And, speaking of timidity, I actually scheduled an audition for this show a while back. I did not end up going because, you know, I was feeling a bit timid. Sure, there were some practical concerns as well, depending on how the rehearsal schedule might go with my grad school schedule if I actually got a part, but I think that practical concern was just an excuse so I did not have to get my shit together and try out.

(A strange aside: that moment where Evette laughs at the idea of April having problems and April looks up at her almost menacingly reminds me of why I almost wish I had more time with this movie. Not because I have got more to say about it, but because I really want to cut together a fake trailer for Pieces of April, the horror film. Use that shot with the laughter and April looking up all evil-like, use that shot of April shoving open Wayne’s door, yelling and running it at him, April throwing the salt and pepper shakers into the trash. Use the shot of Joy freaking out and kicking the dashboard. Use the shot of Evette laughing then Eugene laughs as well, humoring her—out of context, that would be creepy. And, the cranberry sauce slamming down into the bowl just now... maybe the Turkey falling onto the floor... there are a lot of shots in this movie that out of context would play very, very differently...

Joy telling Jim, “hup to.” The pan through the empty car to Grandma sitting alone. “Tick tock.” Joy and Jim yelling across the street about all the bad things April has done. Use as a voiceover Wayne,’s “You’re a bad girl. You’re a very bad girl.”)

But, where was I? Oh yeah, my inability to be... I guess it would be bold. I mean I auditioned for You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and sent a tape audition into some proof of concept movie thing during the summer—I do not even remember the title of that one offhand. In front of a crowd, I would probably be fine. It is one-on-one that gets to me. Wayne and April just had their spat as I am writing this—and my daughter and I just has a bit of one as well, in a pause from writing this... we are hardheaded when we are tired. I actually got a little more sleep than usual last night but it has still been a long day. I am tempted to reminisce about previous moments in which I was timid. In this blog, many months ago, I wrote about how I spent months debating whether or not to even tell a woman I was interested in her. It is a wonder that I was ever married. A wonder that I ever became a father.

Apparently, I am in a cynical and pessimistic mood tonight. It happens. Even though this blog is therapeutic—and I plan to argue as much in my thesis—that does not mean there are never any setbacks. But, thinking about it optimistically, at a least a moment of weakness means I am human...

Remarkably, just as I typed that, April was telling her Thanksgiving story to the Chinese family, the final version: “Once there was this one day where everybody seemed to know they needed each other. This one day when they knew for certain that they couldn’t do it alone.” I would be better off if I was not alone. I mean, usually I am not alone, not in a literal sense. I share an office, I have students and forensics team members, coworkers and colleagues, my kids at home, my family. It is like one of the many lessons Phil Connors learns in Groundhog Day, and maybe something April realizes in Pieces of April—being human is not really an individualistic thing; being human means being part of humanity. It means interacting and getting along. It means owning up to your faults, telling people what you think of them, even when it might be scary. And, if you are too scared, that is human, too.

If it takes too much out of you to make it to dinner at your daughter’s place in the bad neighborhood, you are maybe not the best of people, but you are still people. If your family abandons you right when it seems everything will be okay, it is fine if you want to pop those balloons and tear down the decorations. Anger, sadness, jealousy, envy, all the bad emotions—they have got as much of a place in our lives, our human lives, as the good ones. If we are lucky, the good ones show up more. But, the bad ones do not make us... less. They just make it harder to be more.

And, as I write that, Joy just had her epiphany in the bathroom and she is approaching the guy with the motorcycle. She is making things better. When you can, you should. But, you should also be accepting of the moments in which you just cannot... It is like the serenity prayer; you need the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

It is the courage part that may be hard.

Friday, November 21, 2014

i am so critical...

I’m glad that the likes of Roger Ebert agrees with me about Bobby’s plotline in Pieces of April; he writes: “ Hedges, the writer-director, half-heartedly tries to do something that doesn’t work and is a little offensive.” Yep. Totally.

On the other hand, I must disagree withe Nick Rogers‘ when he terms the titular April a “Pierced pixie-girl.” Pixie-girls, in cinematic terms are not simply a little eccentric—and April is really only visibly eccentric while she’s a little boring in personality—but cheerful and energetic as well... well, maybe there’s room for something other than the manic pixie, but I do not think April is quite interesting enough to be it. Her plight may be interesting, but she really isn’t.

Similarly, while I can appreciate the quiet subtlety of this film, I must disagree with Rogers when he says, “Thankfully, Hedges stages no knockdown, drag-out dinner-table histrionics.” A little more histrionics may have put more life into this film. I mean, yeah, as Peter Rainer points out, “Hedges doesn’t judge [his characters] too harshly [so] no one descends into caricature,” and that is great. But, other than a single scene—Joy kicking the dashboard then exiting the car because she has no good memories of April—this movie lacks emotion of any kind in any significant amount. April cries and it barely registers.

Rainer says Holmes looks “pleased” to be playing a character “who, for a change, [has] more than one tiny thing” on her mind. Unlike her role on Dawson’s Creek is Rainer’s point, but I get the feeling from this line that he has seen neither Dawson’s Creek nor Pieces of April, the latter of which would be weird for a guy reviewing the film.

Even worse, I just can’t think of more to say in regards to this film today. Nor can I find the right tangent to start rambling about some other topic. Hell, I can’t even be more critical of this film than I have already been. Despite all the negative stuff I’ve said this week, I still like Pieces of April.

in the kitchen

What to do.
Write blog entry.


I can do it, too.


So, there’s the metaphor. April is the turkey. It’s as simple as that. There’s a couple specific bits in Pieces of April where this makes perfect sense. Not a lot to say today, so I’ll just get into it.

First of all, Wayne’s little speech about cooking turkey:

It’s a common misconception that you can just stick a turkey in the oven. Turkey needs to be tended to. It needs to be cared for, lovingly. One must pay close attention to poultry...

So much can go wrong. Turkey could burn in places, be overcooked, undercooked—which is a health hazard. And, what about basting?

One gets the impression that April was neglected as a child, that her mother was always a bit of the bitch she has become with the cancer. One gets the impression that April’s damage has been with her for a very long time. And, she was never “tended to” and never “cared for, lovingly.” No one ever paid close attention to her. That’s why her family has no clear, good memories of her as a child.

The second thing is closer to the end of the film. Wayne has ripped off one of the turkey’s legs for his dog. But, when April gets her finished turkey from the Chinese family, the leg has been replaced, rebuilt out of bread. That family has rebuilt some of the missing part of April.

That is all.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

too many memories

Roger Ebert tells me Hannah and Her Sisters is the best Thanksgiving film. I have never seen it. I mentioned a while back that I am not the biggest fan of Woody Allen. I’ve seen a few of his films, I can appreciate what he does, but I’m just not all that enamored with it... with them.

Similarly—and I think I share this with Ebert—I can appreciate what Peter Hedges is doing in Pieces of April even though I think the final product is flawed. In a way, it might be because that film is inherently flawed that it is also quite endearing. Like family, like Thanksgiving, the twisted heart within the happy occasion is the horribleness possible when family get together in large numbers. None of us is perfect. And, family or not—blood being thicker than water and all that—get us together and insist on hanging out as if our relations have not been strained time and time again by arguments and disagreements, as if some of haven’t disowned others (or wanted to), as if we haven’t had numerous instances in which we weren’t talking.

April Burns used to light matches and throw them at her sister. She set a fire in the kitchen (that may or may not have been an accident). She used to date “Eddie the drug dealer.” And, she once smashed some turkey salt and pepper shakers. And, though it’s never stated, it seems like there was much more wrong with April. Maybe she had a drug problem, maybe she had some anger issues. But, she’s trying to get her shit together. And, that’s the kind of thing we should support. It’s the kind of thing film should explore from time to time.

Film doesn’t deal in forgiveness and forgetfulness as much as it should, maybe. Hell, this film doesn’t deal in forgiveness and forgetfulness as much as it should. It tries. But, then right when those moments should be coming, right when the emotional throughline of the fill should be climaxing, we get still photos and then nothing. Maybe Joy gets her climax, that moment in the bathroom in which she sees the mother yell at and then leave behind her little girl. But, the acting there is so understated that it hardly qualifies as an emotional climax for the film as a whole, plus this is not, strictly speaking, Joy’s movie. It is April’s. The movie as it exists...

(Ebert suggests,

The movie ends rather abruptly, as if it ran out of money. Maybe it did; it was shot on digital for $200,000 [—I’ve seen both as much as $300,000 and as little as $100,000 quoted as well—] in three weeks (and looks remarkably good, given those constraints). The closing montage of photographs looks uncannily like a way to represent a scene Hedges didn’t have time to shoot (the 81-minute running time is another hint).

That makes sense to me. I hope Ebert is correct. Otherwise, the ending of the movie is a horrible cop out.)

The movie as it exists doesn’t fulfill the promise of its beginnings. Instead, it merely offers us a look at a bunch of damaged people. Damaged in different ways, from Wayne to Bobby to April to Beth to Jim to Joy. April’s brother, Timmy, may be the only character here (well, excluding the obvious Eugene and Evette) who isn’t particularly damaged. His concern for his mother is reasonable, unlike the controlling, demanding nature of Beth’s or the almost-eager-to-be-without nature of Jim’s—

(Seriously, though Jim cries in that moment where he thinks Joy has died, he seems like his grieving process has jumpstarted, like Joy’s actual death will be an afterthought. Hell, he cries only after she stirs, not as he believes she has died. Beth’s concern for her mother is something similar. She’s a bit too eager for her mother to feel sick. It’s like Munchausen by Proxy or something.)

We’re all damaged in some way or another. Some of us may deal with our damage just fine, but some of us don’t. Thing is, when you’re around family, they’re supposed to accept you (at least on some level), no matter your damage. Pieces of April—and every Thanksgiving movie, really—promises that familial acceptance. But, it barely fulfills its promise. Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Dutch—they both bring us to that same brief ending, but they do it better. A few glances in Planes, Trains & Automobiles gives us more feeling than the photos at the end of Pieces of April. That silliness with the gun at the end of Dutch gives us more familial connection than the photos at the end of Pieces of April. And yet, Pieces of April does provide us something important, even if in such a tiny fashion. It offers us hope. It offers us family. It neglects the detail. But, maybe that’s ok. We can fill in our own detail. We’ve got memories for the times we forgave or were forgiven. We’ve got memories for the times we needed someone or were needed. We’ve got memories for the good times and the bad times, all the family gatherings...

I don’t know about Hannah and Her Sisters, but I think the reason Planes, Trains & Automobiles (and Dutch to a lesser extent) works so well is that it is all about the promise of the family gathering at the end. The emotional core of the film is Neal needing to be with his family and Del being without his. Similarly, the emotional core of Dutch is Doyle needing a stable family (even if he probably wouldn’t admit that) and Dutch wanting to make such a family (even if he wouldn’t admit that). Pieces of April is about a family trying (even if some members are doing so a bit unwillingly) to get together, to formulate something that maybe they never even had. And, that is what Thanksgiving is like—for some people it might be the only occasion on which they see a lot of their family. For others, it might be a dreaded event, but it’s still a necessary one, one in which family is re-formed, reinforced. Thanksgiving is a day on which, more than many others, family matters.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

if not now, when?

But, here’s what’s great about Pieces of April. Real people are often assholes. Real people are not always so easy to figure out. They’ve got problems, their problems sometimes date back to before you ever knew them, and you might never get the chance to figure them out fully. April doesn’t need to be explained. Her mother doesn’t need to be explained.

Her sister Beth might need to be explained, but really she’s a logical extension of the mother’s bitchiness and the mother’s dyingness. Similarly, Timmy’s attachment and possibly inappropriate closeness—these things make sense around what we see of Joy, a woman whose bitterness was eventually answers (not literally, of course) with cancer that made her life and her personality finally make sense.

Hell, maybe that’s April’s problem; she hasn’t found the thing that makes her make sense yet. She could use a good time loop... ooh, there’s a thought. If this were a time loop...

...for April, then waking up might go a little better eventually. Bobby would probably be a bit confused because April got out of bed deliberately and purposefully. She would accept the salt and pepper shakers with thanks... which means their little bit of sex would change, maybe not even happen. She would know her oven wasn’t going to work and go straight to Eugene and Evette. Evette, being an obviously caring person, would always be touched by April’s story—whatever it is—and their oven would be available every morning.

Actually, at some point, April would learn how to fix her oven herself, but then she’d find some other way to interact with Eugene and Evette, to interact with Tish and Wayne and even that cranky guy in 3B. Like Phil Connors in Groundhog Day, April would get to know everyone in her building. It is said that she’s new in the building, but she would be the most popular person in the building, she wouldn’t even need her parents to show up, but they would, and Bobby wouldn’t scare them off with he crazy bloodied self, and they would find an all-building Thanksgiving going on. And, speaking of Bobby, he wouldn’t need to go get that suit but April would find a faster way for him to have one, and there would be decorations galore. I imagine a rooftop party with everyone in attendance, a delicious turkey and the usual accoutrements. And, there would be a nice vegetarian spread at one side of the party, too, for the likes of Tish (and April, who is also a vegetarian).

April would also learn Chinese and, the big speechy bit at the end—to echo Phil Connors’ Chekhov report—would be a Chinese-language rendition of the first Thanksgiving story, but not the wholesome, schmaltzy version but an inspirational, meaningful version that would draw the audience in and make them wonder why any other holiday might be more popular than Thanksgiving.

...for Joy, though. What would a time loop be like for someone who’s dying? She’d probably resort to suicide a lot sooner than the likes of Phil Connors or April Burns. She’d probably get in a few more of those “I don’t know how to say this” moments. She wouldn’t get the get-to-know-the-neighbors thing April would get, or that Phil gets in Groundhog Day; instead she’s just got her family and that car. It’s a tiny world, but that doesn’t mean she couldn’t make some significant changes within it, help Beth not be such a hovering fussbudget

(did I really just use that word? what year is it?)

and help Timmy to not be such a mama’s boy so he’ll be ready for her to be gone, help Jim to move on and let Grandma know that her daughter is not totally horrible. And, I imagine that Joy would manage to get to a Smack Daddy concert in the city, maybe bring him to April’s rooftop party... well, assuming they get concurrent time loops.

...for Grandma... actually, her days probably blend together already, what with the dementia and all. A little like the drug addicts in Repeaters. Hell, the time loop version of Pieces of April would tie back well into April’s past problems.

the most perfect thing ever

Subtitle: observations on watching Pieces of April

First, do Bobby and April have those Catholic candles because they’re supposed to be religious or just because they tend to be cheap? They’ve got several of them lined up by the bed.

Casual display of (white) female flesh followed by (black) male picking her up and carrying her away to the shower to wake her. There are some potentially dangerous visuals here, with the race thing, but I think the director is deliberately playing on that.

Before we get to Alison Pill’s awkward cue award, there’s a brief moment of angst for Katie Holme’s April—keep in mind, this was Katie Holmes on the cusp of becoming a serious actress. She’d had a great, but small part in 1997’s The Ice Storm, had notable roles in Disturbing Behavior, Teaching Mrs. Tingle and Wonder Boys, plus four years of Dawson’s Creek, and Pieces of April was her demonstrating she had real indie cred.

Then, Alison Pill’s awkward cue. Oliver Platt, as her father, opens her door while looking for her mother, and finds Pill’s Beth in a state of undress. The awkward part is the door opens and then Pill starts to pull up her dress. It reminds me of that Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode in which they watched Gunslinger and they had that “cue the horses” moment as the camera obviously panned so the horses were within view but the guys on the horses were cued a moment too late, so they’re just standing there, ready to go.

As the family is introduced, I must mention something I only just noticed. Alison Pill and John Gallagher, Jr. play brother and sister here and currently star as a couple (off and on) on HBO’s The Newsroom. I know, acting, and all that, but still worth a mention.

I mentioned the handheld camera yesterday but there are also a lot of closeups, on hands tying a turkey shut, on April’s face, on anything and everything. Indie film 101 kinda of stuff.

The salt and pepper scene—April calls her mother by name, and mentions that her mother told her similar shakers were “worth more than you are.” Seems Joy was a bit of a bitch well before she got cancer.

April is either the greatest to do list maker or the worst. She writes “preheat oven” then turns on the oven and crosses off “preheat oven.” It’s either poetry or just plain stupid.

“They don’t deserve decorations.” April tells Bobby this when she catches him putting a paper turkey on her door. A) she then proceeds to make decorations but B) if they don’t deserve decorations, how do they deserve food? Echoing her sister’s sentiment from earlier, how does she expect them to drive up to New York to eat with her if she thinks they aren’t even worthy of decorations?

Bobby leaves on his “thing.” Toying with the audience about the black guy maybe being into drugs or something else illegal is certainly not the politically correct thing to do, and if the writer/director is trying to play on stereotypes for some deliberate reason, that reason is lost somewhere along the way. This is, at its best, a movie about family. Bobby’s little errand is entirely separate and inherently distracting from the main story.

Joy leads the family’s presumptions that April’s Thanksgiving dinner will go badly.

Evette’s comment about April’s youth and white privilege versus hearing about April’s “problems” is funny, until we cut past April explaining her problems, and Evette is now in tears. It’s a cheap laugh followed by a lazy edit. The tears are not earned and April’s story—which this movie should be, is neglected in the process.

There’s a lot of what YouTube’s Cinema Sins calls “the pronoun game” going on in this movie. For example, earlier, Jim was looking for “her” and Timmy actually asked, “who?” when his dying mother, I’m guessing, wanders off regularly—I mean, she’s going to do it later, just get onto a motorcycle and leave her family behind. Just now, Eugene asked April if she stuffed “it.” April has never done this before, does not immediately understand his question.

So, Evette reminds Eugene of his first two Thanskgiving turkeys, one undercooked, the next burnt. It’s a cute moment. April should enjoy it, should be amused like we are. But, she’s not. Earlier, we could have taken her lack of energy as her being tired, being nervous. Now, she just seems emotionless. Then, she gets a bit violent while trying to mash uncooked potatoes. There may be something wrong with this girl.

CUT TO (but only briefly) Bobby on his scooter. This kind of cut implies import to his subplot. Since his pursuit will ultimately amount to nothing since he changes out of his nice suit after April’s family leaves, there is really no point to this.

“Nobody likes it from the can.” If my sister Brooke is reading this entry, she can agree with me, cranberry sauce is supposed to come from the can. We’ve tried homemade cranberry sauce. It was as bitter and tart as cranberries are. While the canned stuff is sweeter. Maybe there’s good homemade cranberry sauce out there, but I have not had it.

The squirrel funeral is weird. This family would not stop for this sort of thing; it doesn’t fit their characters. But, it makes for a deliberate brush with death on their roadtrip. to go right along with Joy’s nausea and the later moment in which Jim thinks Joy is dead. It’s a bit too on-the-nose in concept, and far too slight in execution to really mean anything. As it is, it’s a waste of time, like Bobby’s storyline.

April should not be so judgmental. The guy with the messy apartment and the cats—his oven might be just fine.

April tries to move on to Tish for the turkey preparation and I miss Eugene and Evette already. Tish is too much of a vegetarian to let April cook in her oven—maybe she shouldn’t have agreed to it just a few minutes ago.

Wayne (Sean Hayes) should be the eccentric loner who turns out to be helpful, maybe gets brought out of his shell by helping April come out of hers. Instead, he turns out to be an ass.

More of Bobby’s storyline... it might have worked a little better (but still been as potentially offensive) if we had been misled a little longer in thinking he was looking for drugs, and then suddenly he’s finding a new suit. Instead, we get Latrell taking him to a thrift shop and it becomes clear he’s just looking for clothes well before he finds them.

The “no good time” speech from Patricia Clarkson—I’m guessing this was something that got her award nominations and wins, but as my daughter said watching this with me last night, there’s not much to Clarkson’s role that deserves an award. Before the movie ended last night—since I’d only seen it once before and didn’t remember, I told Saer, maybe she’s going to take her hair off and show a bald head from chemo, and that would explain so many wins; actors tend to be impressed by other actors willing to play ugly.

Timmy just took a closeup photo of his mother’s hair. I’m wondering if the prop camera just didn’t work so the actor just didn’t realize where the camera was pointed.

Wayne comes to April’s apartment and she’s immediately impolite. Then, when he offers actual helpful advice about dealing with turkey, she is short with him. She’s just like her mother. Perhaps that’s the point, but offering us a bunch of characters that are almost all unlikeable is a bad way to go. Wayne quite rightfully leaves, angry.

“Timmy is very talented.” “All of our children are talented.” “Yes, Beth’s talented, too.” No mention of April. Yep, Joy is a bitch.

Beth singing—why? I mean, other than to give Joy another opportunity to be rude... which her dementia-inflicted mother gets to respond to in such a way that for a moment we can’t be sure she’s not literally unsure of who her daughter is. The thing is, if we can’t trust April’s earlier story about her mother and the salt and pepper shakers, then what is the point of this movie? I mean, seriously, if Joy used to be a kind woman and April is wrong, then we can’t trust April or this film. Joy’s memory of April turns out to be really about Beth, which means Joy can’t be trusted. Joy’s mother can’t be trusted, because dementia.

Joy gets angry and hits the window, kicks the dashboard, and Jim for some reason stops the car so she can get out. In reality, he would have kept driving, she would not have gotten out of the car... of course then we wouldn’t get that horrible—and I don’t mean horrible filmmaking in this instance but sheer horribleness in character—moment in which Joy connects April biting her nipples when she nursed as a baby to the cancer that came later. These are bad people driving to have their Thanksgiving meal with a girl who may be worse—all her mother remembers of her is petulance, shoplifting and a fire in the kitchen. April used to light matches and throw them at her sister, and she once used a lighter to trim her brother’s bangs. Joy is horrible for bringing all this up, but April also is pretty bad for having done these things. The only positive characters in this film are Eugene and Evette and they’re already gone, to be seen briefly in the “happy” ending...

And, April calls the police to report a kidnapping over Wayne having her turkey. The craziness just found a whole new level.

What I can’t quite figure out is, what is the point to all of this? As April breaks into Wayne’s apartment, this film becomes something quite strange. Wayne stole a leg from the turkey for his dog so April physically attacks him (though we don’t get to see much of the attack the way the scene is edited). Chinese family to the rescue, when really they should be avoiding this girl.

My thing is this: why is the one (potentially) redeeming scene in the film—April telling her tear-inducing story to Evette and Eugene—not actually in the film? I mean, sure Bobby’s little quest to get a suit is sweet, but the storyline plays so inappropriately that it barely matters. So, what we have is a series of scenes about bad people being mean to one another, except apparently April’s got good reasons for all she does—we just don’t get to know what those reasons are.

She tells the story of the first Thanksgiving to the Chinese family, and it seems like it should be a metaphor for her first Thanksgiving dinner going on today, but she just can’t manage to tell the whole story. The girl who’s translating for her happens to know which version of the story she really wants to tell though, since she doesn’t translate at all until the third or fourth start. And, then April gets into a story about how one day everyone knew they needed each other, which seems like it should tie nicely into the plot of this film and wrap everything up poetically, but then we CUT TO that dead Joy scene in which Jim sees his wife asleep in the passenger seat and thinks she’s dead. It’s an abruptly tragic moment, something the film has not really led us to, something it leaves behind almost immediately.

Personalized license plate: JOY. Didn’t notice that before.

So, family arrives outside April’s building, it’s a bad neighborhood so they feel sorry for her... except, no, they don’t. Instead, Jim says, “God damn you, April.” As if she chose to live in a bad neighborhood just to hurt them.

Bobby arrives, running toward their car, banging on the front of the car, then saying hi, despite the fact he’s beaten and bloody. 1) you know, kinda racist, make the black man even scarier for the poor white people so they leave and 2) what kind of a moron who is beaten and bloody decides that is the moment to introduce himself to his girlfriend’s family?

Possibly the worst thing is that Allison’s Pill’s Beth might be an even worse person than anyone else in the family, but her actions are driven by caring about her mother. It’s a disturbing message having caring about someone else be exemplified in such bad behavior. Essentially, no one wins in this film... until that happy ending, that awkward happy ending. I’ll write more about that tomorrow and especially about Roger Ebert’s guess that the director simply ran out of money, hence going with the photos and not filming the actual dinner sequence. But, for now, I must go. Gotta get some sleep. It has been a long day, awake for 18 hours now, spent 15 of those at school.

I do remember liking this movie when it came out. But, it will take some effort to like it again this week. It has its moments. But, it also has its awful moments.

Monday, November 17, 2014

if i told you the long version...

Not long into Pieces of April, a few characters go looking for Joy. To be fair, Joy is a person, a woman who is dying, but still... it’s an on-the-nose metaphor.

If you haven’t seen it, and you probably haven’t, picture an independent film circa 2003, a lot of handheld camera and natural lighting. Not a great deal of plot development either. In fact, the titular character’s storyline takes place pretty much in one general location—her apartment building (first her apartment, then neighbors’).


So, first night with this movie, which I only ever saw once, 11 years ago when it was in theaters. I let it play without writing much. I remember liking it when it came out, and critics liked it. Patricia Clarkson, playing the dying mother in the film, got a lot of award nominations. My daughter Saer wasn’t that impressed. She liked it well enough but wanted more. I agree. The film is good here and there. Even the horrible behavior of April’s family on their roadtrip to her place plays like something I’d like to see in a little independent film. On IMDb, some people describe the film like it’s a perfect film about family. I think that the film is severely lacking in content about the biological family at its center... or rather, that family is severely lacking at being a good example of what family is.

What the film does deal with well is the various denizens of April’s apartment building who help her out when her oven doesn’t work. From the grumpy old guy who gets mad that April even woke him to the African American couple who teach April a few things about preparing the Thanksgiving meal. From the ornery guy who lets her use his oven then nitpicks how she uses it to the vegetarian who refuses to help her to the Chinese family who ultimately help her out. These scenes play out far more realistically and far more pleasantly than a lot of the family business. The family arriving outside April’s building only to leave after seeing her boyfriend—a black guy recently bloodied in a fight—to go get food at a restaurant, for example, makes the family into quite horrible people.

Had the movie ended with April’s mother’s arrival at April’s door, leaving the details to our imagination, it would be much better than it is. The ending, though, with the photo-style freeze frames and the unearned happiness—it just doesn’t fit the rest of the film. It’s nice, at least, that many of those apartment building denizens are there along with April and her family. That actually makes for something I like; it’s a theme I’ve written about numerous times in some of my fiction, the construction of a pseudo-family out of friends and acquaintances. Had April’s family never arrived, had she been stuck just with the apartment building folk, that would have been an awesome ending as well.

And, don’t even get me started on the racism-baiting plotline with April’s boyfriend and his errand he runs... actually, I’ll just talk about that another day.

For today, I will keep this short. Let the movie settle down inside me, digest a little more.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

i think this makes us even


We start Dutch in the parking outside the mansion where the party’s going on. We’re out with the attendants. Then, we rise up over the action and CUT TO inside, we’re still hovering. Like spies, like we shouldn’t be there, and we shouldn’t. The people who should be at a party like this just won’t be watching this movie. And, that’s ok.

As long as we like class division to perpetuate itself... I’m reminded of Levine’s (1992) piece about the “Folklore of Industrial Society.” Popular cinema divided the masses. Levine cites Gans’ (1962) research into the television-viewing habits of 1950s Italian working-class families in Boston’s West End; Gans found that, “Although the television was on constantly, actual viewing was highly selective and was structured to filter out themes inimical to the life of the peer group and to accept those characters and situations that confirmed the group’s values” (p. 1380). We don’t just accept whatever culture throws at us. We are selective, often to reinforce the things we already value. We don’t go to fancy parties like the one at the start of Dutch if that isn’t our usual thing. And, we don’t watch movies about folks from that high-class side of life unless there’s going to be something bringing them down to our level. Doyle, at the start of this film, is a brat, a snooty, self-centered brat. His father and his mother both speak of him almost as if he’s an object they’ve been fighting over instead of a person. Dutch may treat Doyle horribly but at least he seems to recognize that Doyle is a human being. And, of course, the whole point to the movie is that Doyle will eventually recognize someone other than himself as human. Tim at Antagony & Ecstasy takes it slightly further than I would but it’s apt enough to say that Doyle (when we first meet him in the film) “commits physical acts of violence because he literally does not recognise that Dutch has value as a human.” I nitpick because Doyle’s later line about “a solid economy need[ing] hand workers” demonstrates that he does think Dutch has some value, just not in his immediate vicinity.

But, I was saying... or Levine was, anyway:

People [do] not passively accept whatever popular culture [is] thrown their way; they preselec[t] the culture they expos[e] themselves to by learning to decipher reviews and coming attractions, by understanding the propensities of authors, actors, and directors to whose work they have been exposed in the past, and by consulting members of their communities. (p. 1380)

For example, earlier tonight I saw Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. I like Nolan. His Batman films are inherently flawed but generally speaking, his films work for me quite well. I like Aronofsky, I like Fincher... I’m not even sure I could specifically name a director I don’t like because I probably haven’t paid much attention. I’m not the biggest fan of Woody Allen, but I can appreciate what he does enough to be familiar with him. Similarly, I can appreciate John Hughes, and still rather enjoy some of his films, but some of the 80s sensibilities in his films just don’t hold up very well anymore.

But, Levine... or rather, let’s move on to Butsch (2001), who describes how “working-class immigrants” in late nineteenth century Chicago and New York turned the commercial space of nickelodeons “into social clubs for their own needs” (p. 107). The modern equivalent, since I recently spent a lot of time in this blog writing about horror films, might be the horror film audience, when the theater is full and everyone has high energy and they’re interacting with the movie, yelling “don’t go in there” before the Final Girl enters the darkened house and “I told you so” when she finds her dead friends and their killer in that house.

The audience has a shared culture to it.


Though I’ve got readers outside of the United States, I opted to go with Thanksgiving movies for November, even though there are very few such films. Hell, the two so far are only leading up to Thanksgiving. There are hints of some of the meaning to Thanksgiving... Okay, somewhat. I don’t mean the historical side of Thanksgiving, what it is purported to mean when it’s talked about in elementary school classrooms. I mean the personal meaning. Thanksgiving for my family, for example. It’s a time for a lot of us whose lives might barely pass one another a couple times a year to get together and celebrate... well, to celebrate being together really. I’ve got six sisters, and most years lately, five of them have been at our Thanksgiving dinner. It’s usually at one of their houses—this year it will be at my oldest sister’s place—and their kids will be there, and their kids’ kids. There will generally be a few non-family folk as well, current girlfriends or boyfriends of the unmarried relatives maybe, an associate from work who had nowhere else to be (I think we’ve got one of those this year). It’s like Christmas without the gifts. The meal itself, the gathering, watching some sports (not me) and/or playing some games (definitely me) with family—that’s simply (and quite complicatedly) what it is about. So, the vital heart of both Planes, Trains & Automobiles and Dutch is the trip home for that dinner.

What’s that saying about home? Home is where when you have to be there they have to take you in. Also, the less cynical one: Home is where the heart is. Thanksgiving—the legend—is like this nice little story related to the origins of this country, and celebrating the holiday is like the country is coming home, like for that one day it really is a place where different cultures can sit down to a peaceful meal together and forget all their differences. Similarly, Thanksgiving—the holiday—is like a nice little story about family togetherness that for a little while we pretend is true (the cynical version) or, the story that proves that family is what matters regardless of everything else that goes on in our lives (the not so cynical version).

The two movies left for this month are about the day of Thanksgiving, about preparation and that family gathering, the sparks that come from a family thinking it can get together when it has grown apart. The point to the holiday is sort of both—family can overcome a hell of a lot, but it can also fuel conflict. There’s a thin line between family and fight, I guess. That Planes, Trains & Automobiles and Dutch both deal quite exclusively with the journey to Thanksgiving should demonstrate the importance of the occasion. Drifting back to the likes of Daughton (1996)—cited so often in the first 365 days of this blog—both of these films are masculine quests but without clear, concrete goals. Daughton describes the masculine quest as journeying “outward in order to master and claim some object in the external world” while the feminine quest is “journeying inward in order to encounter and submit to the power of the dark goddess” (p. 140). Daughton cites Rushing (1989) in explaining further:

...the goddess... has been divided by patriarchal influence into light/dark, good/evil, upperworld/netherworld, and eventually, virgin/whore aspects... When the upperworld Goddess actively and consciously accepts her underworld half [or vice versa] (or when the feminine part of the masculine psyche does the same), she is transformed and made whole” (p. 3, 9, cited in Daughton, p. 140)

Add to those dichotomies (though not necessarily strictly because of patriarchy) the likes of Neal Page/Del Griffith or Dutch Dooley/Doyle Standish. The obvious similarities in their names—Del to Neal, Dooley to Doyle—draws an obvious link between the pairs. And, these movies, as these characters journey home, are all about the two men becoming more alike. They can only reach home when they have completed themselves by becoming a little more like their counterparts. Rushing’s (by way of Daughton) dark/light goddess, or Jung’s shadow maybe. There’s probably something Freudian here as well, but with Dutch in particular, it would be difficult to identify Dutch or Doyle specifically with, say, the id, since they both have some outlandish tendencies.

It occurs to me, since the scene just passed on my television, that the scene in which Doyle attacks the security guards and then pulls the pellet gun on them is actually quite pivotal if we do look at Dutch and Doyle in Freudian terms. Dutch talking down Doyle’s violence here effectively subdues Doyle’s id. Of course, since Dutch will end up hitting Doyle’s father later, his own id is apparently free from time to time.

Works Cited

Butsch, R. (2001). American Movie Audiences of the 1930s. International Labor and Working-Class History 59, 106-120.

Daughton, S.M. (1996). The Spiritual Power of Repetitive Form: Steps Toward Transcendence in Groundhog Day. Critical Studies in Mass Communication 13, 138-154.

Levine, L.W. (1992). The Folklore of Industrial Society: Popular Culture and It’s Audiences. American Historical Review 97(5), 1369-1399.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

i'm not taking anymore of your crap

Woman: Libby, this is Natalie Standish. Natalie is Reed’s... Oh, is it alright to...?

Natalie: Say that Reed got me pregnant when I was a barhop at your country club, married me to avoid scandal, spent the next ten years sucking the life out of me, got bored with me, dumped me, and screwed me in court? Sure, go ahead.

Woman: Uh... Natalie is Reed’s ex-wife.

In the modern parlance, a screenwriting fail.

But, nevermind that. I just had to rewind a couple times to check a mistake. So, a dozen minutes or so into the movie, Dutch is preparing food while he and Natalie discuss what to do about Doyle. Dutch cuts chicken with a knife at first then resorts to a cleaver, then puts the mangled chicken along with some potatoes and vegetables in a pan... and CUT TO timer, CUT TO those same ingredients in a nice dish. Natalie comments, “Smells good.” But, they’re sitting in a restaurant. They were in a house kitchen a moment ago, and then a restaurant. It’s not an editing error but something bigger, an actual setting error. I can’t figure out why this would have happened.

But, nevermind that. Let’s back up a little, to this:

It’s a little too... cute. And, that shrug... Why? It reminds me a bit too much of Mr. Empty Pants from Married with Children (though that episode was a couple years after this film)—

—which makes the character of Dutch seem a bit... lesser, before the film has even gotten started.

Meanwhile, to counter all this negativity, a couple of the best parts of this film:

1. The kid who invites Doyle to his family’s house for Thanksgiving, after Doyle says no, tells him, “Have a nice weekend, rotting in your own pissed-off world.” Great line. Great delivery.

2. At the greasy diner, Doyle asks, when asked what he wants to eat, “What won’t make me vomit?” That is not the good part. The good part follows, as the waitress (Patrika Darbo) actually takes the time to look over the menu, implicitly to find something that won’t make Doyle vomit. It’s a great response.