I used to think I was normal. But when you see the same pattern over and over in several films you start to wonder. Every comedy seems to be using the same template.
I saw it in Bridesmaids. I saw it in Young Adult. We were watching people going through some sort of crisis, messed up, unable to function. In Silver Linings Playbook there were profoundly troubled adults of both genders. I realize now that this was a plot-line that had been used for both males and females. The Hangover series take us to roughly the same places.
Friday I watched Girl Most Likely, Kristen Wiig playing an over-the-top neurotic, as we wonder whether she’ll get her life together by the end of the roughly 90 minute film. Tonight it was Frances Ha. Where Girl Most Likely features recognizable actors such as Matt Dillon and Annette Bening, Frances Ha is populated with unknowns. Girl Most Likely and Frances Ha have in common that their plots seem destined for a downward spiral, until each protagonist finds redemption in the most unexpected ways. The title belies the fact that Girl Most Likely follows an unlikely trajectory. Frances Ha sometimes resembles a documentary, with its film noir look and painfully genuine dialogue.
The boundaries of “comedy” continue to expand, as our ideas of what the genre can include multiply. Surely we felt that something good was eventually going to happen to these characters even though they go to some very dark places along the way.
Both films speak to me because they concern the travails of artists (although they could just as well be humanities/ arts grads) in a world that seems more interested in people according to fiscal rather than human assets. By coincidence this was the week of the COC’s Ensemble Gala, a time to recall just how difficult it is to make it in the opera business. A very few will continue to make a living singing, while others become teachers or at least stagger on with the help of a dayjob. There’s a special poignancy to such films because of course many of us in the audience had our own moment when we decided we had to opt for a day-job to pay our rent, and couldn’t cut it any longer 100% from the avails of our creative work.
Even the much darker Blue Jasmine follows largely the same plot –that is, a protagonist’s journey into mental disorder—without the same easy ending.
And as I look at my own sense of who I am, calibrating “normal” according to what I see around me, I have to wonder. Am I the odd one, when Rob Ford’s excesses –his drugs, his alcohol and his stories—appear to be normal behaviour? I could measure the nature of “normal” more easily had I seen those films in a theatre, rather than at home. Do people laugh with recognition & identification at the wacky behaviour in these movies, or is it merely derision?
I loved the moments in each film –thinking especially of Girl Most Likely and Frances Ha – where I couldn’t see a pathway to redemption. The curious thing with each of these films is that the old pattern –of a plotline logically connecting character growth—is now a liability. I don’t think we foresee a happy ending so much as take it on faith; and then the story very generously hands us something gentler than what we would have expected. I suspect it’s a lot like what people are living through nowadays in their 20s and 30s. Life is crap, and then when you’ve compromised –taken a day-job or maybe stopped aiming so high—things improve after all. This kind of arbitrary plot-line is more real precisely because it’s not something you can extrapolate from what came before.
I’ll have to watch them both again, when I know how they’re going to end.