Prozac Nation

Prozac Nation is the slowest quick read I’ve ever read. It’s 300+ pages of glib complaints, easy rants, long-winded descriptions, and it is utterly exhausting. But it’s a necessary read for a twentysomething female, and for anyone in the modern world who experiences depressive thoughts, or knows someone who does.

Elizabeth Wurtzel is both the most arrogant and bravest person of her generation for writing this book. She took all her horrific years of pre-diagnosed depression, hashed them out in what was undoubtedly very painful detail, probably even relived them as she put them into words, and then let the masses do the rest. She invited people into her brain, to feel sorry for her, to feel repulsed by her, to want her to shut the fuck up, to want to hold her hand, all in an attempt to describe something that is even worse once it’s described. And that thing is depression. Depression is the most selfish disease of all, but it’s a real one, and her story is the recounting of what happens when it — and its host, for lack of a better term — are not taken seriously.

She summed up her mindset pretty early on: “No matter how many chemicals I have ever used to bleach or sandblast my brain, I know by now, only too well, that you can never get away from yourself because you never go away” (p. 11). Everyone wants to be someone besides who they are at some point, but to have that thought constantly? That’s something else entirely. That’s a chemical imbalance that is often masked by the wrong chemicals — drugs, alcohol — and the wrong experiences — suicide attempts — rather than the right chemicals — drugs — and the right experiences — who’s to say?

Wurtzel is quick to qualify the catch-22 of her depression, too. She recognizes that the source of her depression is no more tragic or complicated than anyone else’s; in fact, she’s probably a lot better off than most people with it. She had just as unstable a childhood as the next person; divorced parents, absent dad, crazy mom. But she never accused them of not loving her, even if she said it at different times in her adolescence. As she put it, “Nothing about my life seemed worthy of art or literature or even of just plain life. It seemed too stupid, too girlish, too middle-class” (p. 51). And then, over the course of the book, she proceeds to describe how everyone around her, including her parents, her school, her employers, her friends, her boyfriends, her own lifestyle, accommodated her disease and made it easier for her to live with it. No one, including herself, found her situation dire enough to fix because it never got that dire in anyone’s eyes — it’s hard to comprehend that behavior like hers was in a gray area, half induced by her own volition, half induced by something askew in her brain, fully coming across as incoherent and helpless. When someone complains about something you can’t relate to, or at the very least see, it becomes trivial. When they do it all the time, and pull the attention away from the good and into the bad, it becomes repulsive.

As I read this book, I found myself relating to passages in it, and then scaring myself into thinking there was something seriously wrong with me. This passage in particular struck a chord because, well, it’s accurate: “Instead of thinking that there was no future, all I did was plan for the future, treating the present tense and all its tension like a lengthy, labored preamble to a real life that awaited me somewhere, anywhere else but here” (p. 97). It’s not that I’ve had those thoughts, it’s that I do have them, currently. But then I’d read on, and see that her reaction would be to go on a bender, and I’d feel relieved that that idea sounded completely unappealing to me. Selfish, yes, and comforting. What a combination.

Wurtzel intended for her readers to experience these emotions with her. She wanted us to go through each little breakdown, each big breakdown, each idiotic decision, all the back and forth between times in her life. She wanted everything to blend together, and for us to feel annoyed, and scared, and unsettled. “As I found myself saying to not a few people who would tell me they found the book angering and annoying to read: Good. Very good. That means I did what I had set out to do” (p. 356). Adding up all the instances of inane whining actually amounts to something — a constant state of something unfixable, but also a tale of how there really is hope.

I finished this book weeks ago, weeks before yesterday in particular, and had been meaning to write about it for some time. Today felt like the right day, in light (or rather, darkness) of yesterday’s awful news about Robin Williams. Like many people across the world, spanning generations, I feel a loss that’s going to feel like a loss for awhile. Robin Williams was an omnipresent, supremely talented man, one who brought everyone joy in a variety of ways, one who was relatively open about his drug and alcohol and mental health problems, and yet one who couldn’t be saved from himself. It goes to show that actually, maybe, you can never be too open about your problems if you articulate them in the right way to the right people. There is help out there for some people. Maybe it’s in the form of laughter, maybe it’s in the form of medicine, maybe it’s in the form of writing, performing, data analysis, sewing, DJing, whatever. Maybe it’s some combination of all of those things that hasn’t been discovered yet. I hope it is soon. I can’t imagine what his family is going through right now.

You won’t enjoy every sentence of this book, because it’ll hit you hard, but if you think you need to know what it’s like, you probably do. It’s better to know, and to empathize, than to shrug it off. I’ve never felt more confident in uttering a cheesy statement like this before, because it’s the truth: We’re all in this together.

Bad Words

It’s unfortunate when a mediocre movie happens to good people. Bad Words is one of those unfortunate situations.

I laughed a lot, but I didn’t feel great about it. Jason Bateman’s character, Guy, is a terrible guy, the kind of guy you’d address as “guy” as you gave him the finger after he cut you off in traffic or something. He enters spelling bees just to beat out little kids, and he also pulls pranks to weed out the weaklings from the playing field. As much as I love watching Bateman cuss and be his usual sly self, it was a little hard with adorable, smart children standing in the way.

The most adorable and smartest of the lot was his comic foil and co-lead, Chaitanya (Rohan Chand), who has saucer-sized eyes and a very mature haircut. He and Bateman made a really great odd couple together, and I hope Chand gets a ton more roles, because he’s great. The rest of the kids also pull you back to your grade school days, as you watch them stress out over consonants and vowels, and go through their OCD motions, and try to impress their parents. Adolescence is (and always will be) rough, and it’s even rougher when you have to spell everything correctly. There was a part of me that wanted to yell at the TV and tell them that it gets better, because spell check is built into everything now.

Appearances by Kathryn Hahn, Allison Janney, and Philip Baker “Bookman” Hall all helped the case of this movie, of course. Hahn was Jenny, Guy’s aloof media sponsor and occasional fuck buddy; Janney was head of the Spelling Bee Association, or whatever the official name is; and Hall was the main judge of the National Spelling Bee (or whatever the official name is) and, as it turns out, Guy’s estranged dad. Cue touching music here.

I’d have said spoiler alert sooner, but I’m not going to recommend this movie to you. It’s fine, it’s Jason Bateman’s first foray into the directing world, and it shows that he knows what he’s doing with the camera, but maybe doesn’t know how to pick a script. Hard to say. Also hard to tell what the point of the movie was, other than a vessel for Bateman to be an amusing prick for ninety minutes. If I didn’t love him so much I would have turned it off, but he’s too good at cussing out kids.

Mud

Mud contains many likable things: Matthew McConaughey, Matthew McConaughey shirtless, nature, southern accents, Reese Witherspoon, and Michael Shannon. It bums me out to say, then, that it was a total misfire of a film.

It had flashes of greatness, of course. McConaughey’s transition from clean-cut rom-com stud to rugged, mysterious, quirky outdoorsman has been well-documented on this blog, and everywhere on the internet. It makes sense that he chose a role like this as he was making his resurgence into the world of serious acting. And I don’t know that I could have seen anyone else playing this role, either. Mud is a bad guy, but even after I found out he was bad, I never changed my view of him. I can’t not trust McConaughey. It’s just that as this lovelorn, forelorn, worn out guy, he looked too good. He was too tan, his shirt was too white, and his teeth were too shiny for me to be convinced that he had lived the life I imagined he led. And not only did Mud look too good, but he was too complicated for his own good, as well. At some point in the past he committed a murder, because the girl he on-again-off-again loved, Juniper (Witherspoon), got involved with the wrong guy for a second. At some point in the past he knew Sam Shepard, or whoever Sam Shepard was playing in this movie; it’s irrelevant. At some point in the past he lived in the riverlands of Arkansas. He’s got all the makings of a Southern bohemian, but he’s not even an ounce jaded. He still believes in love, enough to wait for his girl before skipping town, enough to mislead two innocent boys into thinking love is perfect and real and unchanging. None of it lined up for me.

The scene between Witherspoon and McConaughey that you might expect, given the plot line, never happens. They barely see each other from across a parking lot. It’s so disappointing. These two should have been in a movie together long ago, and they basically still haven’t. Witherspoon is in this movie for maybe seven minutes, also. What a waste of talent! And speaking of wasted talent, I had a hard time believing Michael Shannon in the role of Galen, surfer-bro uncle to Neckbone (Jacob Lofland). Shannon is too dignified, too crazy-eyed, to portray someone that chill and misfitted. But he tried.

Lofland, though, and Tye Sheridan as Ellis, were great and understated in their roles. I like when kids support each other, and don’t create rifts over nothing. Maybe it’s unrealistic, but it bodes well for the future, at least in my head. Neckbone–I struggled to type that character name with a straight face–has Ellis’ back no matter what, as Ellis experiences the breakup of his parents, the discovery of love’s fickle nature, and what it means to be a man who lives in the woods eating beans out of a can. They’re good pals, and it’s sweet.

I have to applaud writer-director Jeff Nichols for at least trying to tell a different story, even though he didn’t get very creative with his dialogue. We’ve seen these types of tales before. Kids get inspired by some mystical guy in the forest, and it changes them forever. It’s interesting that this guy inspires them, but they figure out his ruse and call him on it. I just have a hard time combining the mystical element with the romance, and the adventure, and the tweendom. Too many genres, too little time. The music didn’t help, either; there were upbeat montages, dark ambient sounds, and a completely jarring inclusion of “Help Me Rhonda!” over the end credits, which took me out of the rather poetic and beautiful ending to the story. It’s almost as if this movie didn’t take itself seriously enough, which is a shame, because it could have been so great.

But if I really need my fix of McConaughey in the swamplands, I can just go back and rewatch True Detective. His arm tattoo is better on that show, anyway.

21 Jump Street (the movie)

I’m not big on big blockbuster comedies or reboots, but dammit! This one was kind of funny. I did laugh. I laughed! I did. Especially because they put in a joke, within the first 10 minutes, about how bullshitty it is that reboots even exist. I appreciate and applaud that level of meta, and I allow it to proceed entertaining me.

Besides the obvious, casual chem-bro-stry between Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, and the subsequent excellently-written banter that they delivered with aplomb, this movie was astoundingly well-edited. The storyline involved a lot of flashing-forward and quick-cutting, in a way that would make a lot of similar comedies look instantly cheap. But the awesome team of Lord and Miller made it look pretty darn seamless, and thus a little more respectable than other aforementioned big blockbuster comedies.

I’m not going to get into the minutae of the plot, because it doesn’t really matter, and it’s just more fun to watch it not knowing what’s going to happen. What I am going to get into, however, is the theme of generational differences that was very well-handled throughout. See, Tatum and Hill played these two 26-ish cops going undercover at a high school, and you’d think that with their youthy youthfulness, they’d blend right in. Makes sense to me. But even for someone 10-ish years out of their freshman year in high school, the differences are astounding. I’ve always prided myself on calling out my peers when they say they’re old, because they’re not. We’re not. We’re not yet 30. The technology we grew up with is truly not old. It’s just outdated, and we live in a world where “outdated” happens very quickly now. But seeing that newfangled teenage mindset portrayed on screen — exaggerated as it was, with Dave Franco’s perfect bro encouraging composting and kicking homophobia to the curb — made me realize that so much has changed in the last 10-ish years since I’ve been in high school that it might be okay to embrace the things I’m familiar with as… old.

The scene that really stood out to me was when Doug (Jonah Hill) calls Molly (Brie Larson) and she picks up, only to reveal almost instantly that she never talks to people on the phone unless they’re her grandparents. All of her communication with her friends is either in person (at school), or via text. TEXT! To me, that is truly terrifying. If language were still upheld on its proper pedestal, I might be okay with texting being the prevalent form of communication. But it’s not. Kids, teenagers, even early twentysomethings, interact in a completely different way now. And those habits have bled into my age group, and the one above me, and the one above that. I barely talk to my friends on the phone anymore. I text. There’s text etiquette replacing phone etiquette. There’s no more room to call. I didn’t start watching this movie expecting to have all of these Big Thoughts, but here they are, laid in front of me and strewn between occasional dick jokes. I’m not old yet, but I’m definitely older.

And so are the actors that I still consider vibrant and innocent — Jake Johnson played the school principal, for god’s sake, and Ellie Kemper one of the teachers. I’m not saying either one of them isn’t an authoritative figure, but I consider them to be sort of in my age group, and I don’t consider myself to be an authoritative figure, so by the transitive property, none of us should be in charge of anything.

Except comedy. In the comedy realm, I think we’re set.

Breaking Bad, Season 4

Last time I checked in on this show, I said I was compelled to watch the next season. If you note the time stamp, it was a year and a half ago. Apparently I’m not normal; binge-watching Walter White’s escapades isn’t at the top of my pop culture priority list.

It bothers me kind of a lot that it’s taking this long for me to watch this show. From all the hype, all the chatter, all the ear-plugging-to-avoid-spoilers, I feel like I should have been absolutely smitten with New Mexico, and I should have lost sleep in order to finish the show faster and engage myself in all the finale talk. But I can’t bring myself to binge-watch anything, and I still can’t bring myself to declare this the best show on television. I have no explanation, or even conjecture, for why. I just want to state it, and that’s all.

I really, really liked Season 4. It’s my favorite so far. It toyed with my emotions, and it finally made me care about the characters I was seeing, rather than just root for them to do something wildly irresponsible and thrilling. I feel like I’m finally starting to “get” Vince Gilligan, and especially trust his bizarre aesthetic. He takes a stark, naturally beautiful landscape, and distorts it in a way that prevents the viewer from ever being comfortable watching the show. That’s dark and brilliant.

I began the season hating Hank (Dean Norris) and his shitty attitude with a fiery passion. I wanted nothing more than for Marie (Betsy Brandt) to flush all his medication down the toilet and remove all his extremity props from his medical bed. (I also love her unconditionally after watching The Michael J. Fox Show and wishing she were my aunt.) He surpassed dickweed levels of rudeness and went straight into toolnotch douchebag–and then, somewhere in “Problem Dog,” he started figuring it all out, Gus-wise, and he regained his confidence, and he smiled a few times, and he earned back a portion of my respect. Maybe it was validating at first, seeing him get shut down by his own former employers as he tried to pursue an investigation of Gus’s operation, but then it became impossible not to root for him. I’ve never really been pro-Walter White, but I’m definitely not anti-Hank anymore.

You know who I’m pro, though? Skyler. I’m so pro-Skyler. I have no idea why I kept hearing Skyler hatred surface a few years ago, because Skyler rules. As Walter spins downward, Skyler soars. She could have done a million things wrong with the confidential information she was given, but she didn’t. She’s in on Walter’s secret, and she’s helping him keep it better than he possibly could. Anna Gunn forces you to respect her when she’s on screen–she’s tall, and stoic, and difficult to break–and that confidence has bled into Skyler even more this season than in previous ones. I suppose we always knew she was just as fucked up as Walter, but this season, we truly know why they got married in the first place. They’re a demented team. Maybe even more demented than Walter and Jesse (Aaron Paul), whose interplay was downplayed this season. I pined for more yos and bitches, but the temporary separation of big W and little J only set up something far greater, I imagine.

Speaking of big W… actually, what am I supposed to say here? Bryan Cranston won three Emmys in a row. Clearly he knows what he’s doing. All I’ll say is, “Crawl Space” is one of the most superbly directed, and scariest, episodes of TV I’ve ever watched, and the only scary thing I’ve seen that made me grin from ear to ear after it was over. At least until I saw the image of Gus “Harvey Dent” Fring. Good riddance, chicken wang.

I’m looking forward to bringing this thing home… in a year or so. I’ll take my time.

Obvious Child

I’d like to watch this movie over and over again, thanks.

It’s got everything I could ever want in a movie, really. Jenny Slate’s adorable, wrinkly-smiled face beautifully holds all the ranges of emotion that her character, Donna, goes through in getting dumped, having a one-night stand, and deciding to go through with an abortion. As Donna, she carries herself differently, more confidently and richly, than she has in her other (brilliant) work. Slate isn’t a standup comedian per se, but she sells Donna’s stage presence so well, while also selling the crippling insecurity that most standup comedians have. She is an “everygirl” without being generic; Donna is relatable, in the sense that her crisis is normal, but she’s weird enough to stand out, and to make you realize that you’ve never met anyone quite like her. Oh, and her standup is fucking hilarious. If I remember correctly, from various Obvious Child-related interviews I’ve heard her do, the comedy bits were mostly written by the writer/director, Gillian Robespierre, but punched up by Slate herself. I’d mention some of the lines, but I want you to laugh out loud as hard as I did.

Onto Jake Lacy, now. I’d say I’m afraid of him getting typecast as the new John Krasinski, but (a) that “fear” is actually a reality and (b) he’s so incredibly good and likable that it shouldn’t matter. I want a Jake Lacy for myself, just like I want a John Krasinski for myself. Both actors are so facially subtle and physically nimble, and honestly there’s not a hatable bone in either of them, and also they’re both gorgeous, duh. Lacy’s chemistry with Slate is sweet without being overbearing or saccharine. Maybe he’s an ideal (and therefore nonexistent) male archetype, but he’s also a little boring, too, and that’s what makes his character, Max, completely acceptable in the world that this movie creates. Max is normal, he makes reasonable grand gestures rather than rom-com grand gestures, he thinks about sex and then also thinks about the consequences, and he wears khaki pants sometimes. He’s a very, very easy guy to fall for. (Can you tell I fell for him?)

The rest of the casting in this movie was nearly flawless. Gaby Hoffmann, as Donna’s female best friend Nellie, may as well have played her sister, because the two are slightly-frizzy-haired, big-eyed, peaches-and-cream mirror images of each other, and I’d be surprised if they weren’t at least somewhat close in real life. Gabe Liedman, as Donna’s male best friend Joey, is Slate’s actual real life best friend, and while I’m convinced he didn’t do a lick of acting, he was still damn funny. My only fault with the movie was with the parents — Richard Kind and Polly Draper, as Jacob and Nancy Stern respectively — who were also accurately cast. I wanted to see more of them, and more of them with Donna. Their divorce, and their subsequent complete acceptance of her choice to have an abortion, was almost too casually handled. I appreciate that this movie didn’t make a big deal about either topic, because it’s a modern world, dammit, and the first step towards actual modernity is having these types of issues portrayed normally and reasonably in the media. But the fact that her parents led normal divorced lives, and that they weren’t at all offended by their daughter’s normal choice — that’s something to make a slightly big deal of. If only to wave a hand at the portion of the audience who may be uncomfortable with it, to highlight the fact that it’s okay in even brighter yellow marker.

Or, maybe it’s obvious enough that it’s perfect.

Web Therapy, Season 1

Watching this show, I couldn’t help but think of my second-favorite clip from Friends:

Lisa Kudrow’s character in Web Therapy isn’t exactly Posh Phoebe, but she’s almost her. Fiona Wallis is a pretentious, snobby, self-centered bitch who makes each web therapy session she performs about her. It’s amazing to watch, especially given Kudrow’s lightning-fast improv skills. I have to admit, though, it’s not as hilarious as I want it to be.

I think the reason why I’m not laughing out loud at this show is because it’s too real. Fiona is this completely messed up person, speaking as a normal person would–I mean that in the sense that, because it’s improvised, there are uhs and ums and likes strewn about; Fiona herself is not normal–and so her personality is extremely hard to take. It’s almost frustrating to see this person’s life in little chunks, basically recorded for us, all while knowing that she herself will never watch it and figure out how screwed up she is. She’s also very one-dimensional until about midway through the season, when she finally gets the chance to assert her intelligence and talk back to a particularly sassy client.

I get the sense that this show improves with time, because the character gains dimensions and the story twists and turns. I also think that the quality of the show is dependent on the actors working with Kudrow. Dan Butakinsky, the co-creator (along with Don Roos) and one of the co-stars, is a darn good improviser, and while his character isn’t particularly interesting, his banter with Kudrow is fun to watch. It’s clear that they’re creative partners, and that they work well together. Alan Cumming’s guest spot is particularly bright, too, as he warms to Kudrow quickly and makes her character very comfortable on screen. Victor Garber and Courteney Cox, however, aren’t as quick on their feet as Kudrow. Though it’s exciting to see Garber as her husband, and Cox as her psychic, they’re just no match.

I think I’ll give the second season a shot in some time, and maybe also try out The Comeback, but I hope it’s so much more than this first season. Kudrow is so talented and likable, which maybe is part of the reason why it’s so hard to watch her play a cold-hearted shrew. I want her to have another outstanding role, to really prove to the world that she (and Matt LeBlanc) were the true talents of Friends. Maybe she already has and I’m a few seasons behind. Fingers crossed.

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