Friday 5: The Game’s Afoot

The employer sent me to a national development writers workshop. You know “development” is edu-speak for “fundraising,” which isn’t exactly what I do, but I work for a fundraising non-profit, and lately they’re asking for more fundraising-related writing. Mostly I write features: this person established this scholarship and look at all the cool things people have done with it! Or this student received this scholarship and look at all the cool things she’s done with it! Also a lot of alumni profiles. It’s fun work, and I enjoy the challenge of telling compelling stories.

This could be a photo of any professional conference, but it’s a photo of the one I attended last week. That’s my computer stuff in the lower right, and two seats over is the one other person from Hawaii, a stewardship director at USF. She’s from Maui but has been living on the continent since college, I’m guessing. She was rather amused when I told her about my adventures in the snow the next night. Hawaii people just find each other, I guess.

Occasionally I get to do stories that lean corporate. This large company is supporting this research with this cool result in mind. A skill I didn’t know I have emerged last year. I can look at a rather sciencey grant proposal and find in the 100+ pages the interesting story. A few emails for quotes and I’ve got a nice feature.

There are other kinds of writing in my field. Special proposals to potential donors, for example, making the case for naming this auditorium after a loved one. Or less specifically targeted pieces for broader pools of potential donors, for donating toward this new building’s construction. Or even broader appeals for annual donations to specific programs such as the law school or the college of language and literature.

I don’t do most of these other kinds of writing, not as a matter of policy, but just because I haven’t been asked. So this workshop was a chance to learn how to do it. There were people like me, writers learning how to be development writers, but most of the people I spoke to were development people learning how to write better.

We had stuff to learn from each other. A fundraiser doesn’t think like a writer, and a writer doesn’t think like a fundraiser, so there’s usually built-in conflict when we have to work together. I learned a lot last week in Boston about how to do what I do more effectively for these people doing important work.

Still processing, but more later.

Friday 5: The Game’s Afoot

  1. Where’s a nice place to take a walk?
    Around here, the Ala Wai Canal isn’t the most picturesque, but it’s a nice long, fairly quiet walk along the edge of Waikiki uninterrupted by traffic lights.  I enjoyed a walk down Newbury Streetin Boston last week, one of those long narrow parks down the middle of a busy street.  There were a lot of cross streets so you had to be careful, but the park itself was nice.
  2. What do your everyday shoes look like nowadays?
    I’m a guy, so I pretty much keep it simple.  I have a pair of shoes that works at the office but also walking down the street, these all-black Sketchers.  They’ve got laces but they’re slip-ons, and they look sorta professional but also kind of sporty.
  3. What separates a good pedicure from a bad one?
    I’ve never had a pedicure, but I’m told by a few guys that they’re nice.  I’m super self-conscious about my feet and have made an effort to be less so.  I need to find a guy-friendly nail salon who’ll be gentle.  I’m super ticklish.
  4. When did you last go for a hike?
    I took some students on the Manoa Falls hike a few years ago for a photography project.  It’s a hike so gentle I’ve once taken kindergartners on it and they handled it with (muddy) ease.  Most of my hiking has been of the urban variety, begininng when I was really into geocaching ten years ago or so.  I haven’t seriously hiked much since the year before I moved to Hilo, but I’m sorta getting the itch again.
  5. What’s a good song with the word “walk” in its title?
    I have more than 50 songs in my iTunes on this computer with “walk” or some form of this word in the title, including the wonderful “I Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash and “Walk On” by U2, but my favorite is Bruce Cockburn’s “One Day I Walk,” which is covered on YouTube by an impressive number of musicians.  The Lovell Sisters (whom I loved!) have performed it live, and Anne Murray has covered it on a recording.One day, I shall be home…

Review: A Star is Born (2018)

A Star is Born (2018)
Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott, Dave Chappelle, Andrew Dice Clay. Written by Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters. Directed by Bradley Cooper.

It was seventeen years between Janet Gaynor and Judy Garland, twenty-two years between Garland and Barbra Streisand, and now forty-two years between Streisand and Lady Gaga as the titular star in A Star is Born. I mention this only because I’m thinking about the disconnect I felt with the music in the 1954 version and about how much I enjoyed the music in this 2018 version. Some stories deserve to be retold in ways that connect to their intended audiences, and maybe this is one.

Some people say once a film has achieved cultural icon status, there’s no point in remaking it, but I’m not one of these people. Art is consumed, but it is also created, and its creation is most often where the magic and beauty are, and if we didn’t all feel this way we would be stuck with one interpretation of Romeo and Juliet and one version of “All Along the Watchtower.” The world would be a poorer place.

Is the world a richer place with this third remake of A Star is Born? It’s too early to tell, but it’s already spawned one hit single (“Shallow”) and Oscar buzz for its stars. Of the four films, it has the best music and possibly the best acting, and if anyone in the cast wins an acting Oscar it will be a first: Gaynor and Fredric March lost to Louise Rainer and Spencer Tracy. Garland and James Mason lost to Grace Kelly and Marlon Brando (The Country Girl and On the Waterfront—they never had a chance!). Neither Streisand nor Kris Kristofferson were nominated for acting awards, but Streisand did win an Oscar for best song.

More important, Gaga and Cooper have something different to say in this telling of the tale. There was a hint of a statement in the 1976 film about rock music and pop, but here it seems to be the central theme. This movie is less about a relationship, less about self-destructive personalities, and more about music and success. This may also be its biggest shortcoming, but the shift in emphasis validates a third remake.

Our falling star is now named Jackson Maine and our rising star is Ally Campana, and their meeting is very much like Esther’s meeting John in 1976. Ally’s singing in a drag show when a drunk Jackson stumbles in. Their connection is nearly immediate, and they get to know each other very quickly. Before they’ve been acquainted 48 hours, Jackson practically forces Ally onstage to perform one of her songs. She’s an immediate hit.

The first half of this movie is better than any half of any of its predecessors. Cooper and Gaga are a joy to watch, crackling with chemistry and sincerity. Cooper adopts a Kristofferson-like look and sound, while Gaga is all kinds of humility and sweetness Streisand couldn’t approach (and possibly only Gaynor equaled). Gaga’s music in real life doesn’t do a thing for me; if it moves me at all it moves me out the door. But here in their early scenes, absent the veneer of a pop show with all its choreography, makeup, costumes, and sheen, we have an actress perhaps less skilled than her opposite but making up for it with utter vulnerability.

Ally on stage is likeable, but her pop music feels fake, and if that weren’t blatant enough a statement, there’s a moment where Jackson offers her a pep talk, saying her audiences will love her if she always effing means what she’s singing.

But as Sam Adams wrote in his critique on Slate, “the further from Jackson’s influence Ally gets, the worse her music becomes.” Cooper’s message may not be as overt as Adams interprets it, but there’s so much in the setup about having a voice, having something to say, and trusting others that he’s definitely on to something.

The worsening of Ally’s music doesn’t necessarily dictate a worsening of the story, but it is the case here, and the second half is a letdown after such a promising setup. Still, my fondness for the film is salvaged by a decision Cooper the director makes near the end, giving us something none of the earlier movies offered, making 2018’s A Star is Born the best of the four.

7/10
77/100

Friday 5: Not Shaken

It’s been a difficult week, and I am not comfortable sharing the worst of it in a public space like this, but although I was enormously inconvenienced and somewhat stressed, nobody got hurt and nothing important was lost, so I consider myself pretty blessed.  Even in my worst weeks, my life is pretty great.

Saturday when I was out for a long walk, something flew into my eye and stayed there.  It was miserable.  I took myself home and after several attempts to wash it out, just went to bed hoping my eye would discharge the foreign matter while I slept.  It didn’t.

So Sunday morning I took myself to the ER, something I never do.  The last time was more than fifteen years ago when I snapped a ligament in my calf at work and really had no choice.  The doctor said he couldn’t see anything in my eye but I did have an abrasion.  He speculated that something flew into my eye, abraded it, and bounced out, and said it should be fine in a day or two, which turned out to be true.

Until then, I was constantly aware of this discomfort in my eye, and found myself tearing up uncontrollably at times.  It was miserable.

Came home from work early Tuesday because I was feeling physically crappy in the midst of dealing with the other ickiness (the stuff I’m not detailing).  Then my planned vacation day Wednesday (to deal with practical fixes for this ickiness) turned into a stay-in-bed-all-day day because I was still ill.  Finally felt mostly better Wednesday night and never got to finish the business I meant to take care of, so I took a half day of vacation Thursday and still didn’t get it done.

It’s been like that.

I did have a fairly productive half-day at work Thursday, though, so the trend is upward.  I’m hoping to settle matters Friday evening so I can enjoy the weekend, which will include a Halloween party at a HS classmate’s house and hanging out with the folks.

Also have to start preparing for my trip, which is exciting.  I’ve decided not to share details about it until I get back, but I promise I will.

From here.

  1. When are you the straw that stirs the drink?
    I am not nearly the drink-stirrer I once was, especially since I work in a new place and am a low person on the totem pole.  However, I have used my voice to speak up on behalf of our nursing moms.  I’ve been with the foundation for nearly two years, and the space we use for a nursing room could be a lot more hospitable.  I really think we aren’t making this high-enough a priority.
  2. Who has delivered the most stirring rendition of your country’s national anthem?
    There’s a video going around this week of Willie K singing a completely rearranged “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the UH Manoa vs. Nevada football game last weekend, and it’s quite terrific, but my favorite all time is still Huey Lewis and the News, who’ve been singing it at baseball games since the mid-Eighties.  I first saw it to open the All-Star game in San Francisco and couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  It sounded the way I think it should sound at a ballgame.  The one I’m embedding here is from a few years later, 1987, and while it’s not the best of their performances of this song, this video’s got the best audio.
  3. Who or what is stirring in your vicinity?
    The occasional car passing on the street outside.  Nothing else I’m aware of.  My neighbors on both sides and across the street all retire early.  So it’s just me, just the way I like it!
  4. What do you like and dislike in a stir-fry?
    Bean sprouts, broccoli, and tofu are my favorite ingredients, but I also like snow peas and baby bok choi if I can get them.  Celery and carrots are big turn-offs in a stir-fry.  I also prefer a light hoisin sauce over a thick teriyaki sauce, but probably the best is just some olive oil and butter, or maybe some chile oil.
  5. How do you deal with feeling stir-crazy?
    I used to go for long walks, but now I get in Jessica and go for a drive, sometimes just around the neighborhood or all the way to the office and back.  A few times, I’ve driven somewhere, parked the car, and gone for long walks in more interesting places.  I have always loved driving, but now in my second month of car ownership after four years of car non-ownership, I love it even more.  Plus the car is air-conditioned and the crib is not, a huge plus in what has been a very humid season.

Review: A Star is Born (1976)

A Star is Born (1976)
Barbra Streisand, Kris Kristofferson. Written by Frank Pierson, John Gregory Dunne, Joan Didion. Directed by Frank Pierson.

This second remake of A Star is Born is the logical bookend for the collection. In 1937, Janet Gaynor played a rising movie star. In 1954, Judy Garland played a rising star of movie musicals. Now in 1976 Barbra Streisand plays a rising star of pop music, this time as Esther Hoffman instead of Esther Blodgett, with Kris Kristofferson as her alcoholic discoverer, John Norman Howard instead of Norman Maine.

“Are you a figment of my imagination,” John asks the audience as he takes the stage for a live performance, “or am I one of yours?” It’s a great line, practically an epitaph, and John repeats it until it moves past poetry and into cliché, a rather excellent statement about self-destructive rock stars and the relationships they find themselves in all the time, according to VH-1 True Hollywood Stories.

Kristofferson provides the movie something the earlier versions didn’t: a male lead with charisma to tug back against the star. John’s rock-star magnetism and rough road-weariness almost make alcoholism sexy, where in 1937 and 1954 all it did was make men weak. I want to say I disapprove of such representation, but it feels appropriate, and it makes for a much better dynamic.

John discovers Esther when, after a big concert, he orders his limo driver to take him to the bar where Esther is performing. From the beginning, she’s confrontational and tough. John’s drunken behavior is messing up her gig, and she tells him so right in the middle of her show. When John takes her home after the show and offers to come up, Esther says no, but he’s welcome to show up for breakfast in a few hours if he’s up for it.

Esther calls the shots in this relationship from the beginning, and while John nudges her onto the stage for her turn in the spotlight, her success, like the successes of the Esther Blodgetts before her, is entirely hers. A star is born; she isn’t made.

The music in this incarnation is far better than in 1954, and although Esther’s songs don’t exactly thrill me, she performs them with a sexy stage presence that makes it difficult to turn away. John’s country-flavored rock has the outlaw vibe of Kristofferson’s own music, and my only complaint about his performance is that we don’t get to hear enough of it. Darn alcoholism.

This remake suffers from some of the same period-related stuff as the first remake. It worships Streisand the actress-singer a bit too adoringly and segues twice into that Seventies staple, the golden sunlight country road long drive music video, complete with lens flares. You see the first one coming a mile away, and the second one is only a surprise because who expects that twice?

Some of the pacing is also misguided. There are a time and place for candlelit bathtub lovemaking scenes, I suppose, although what they are I can’t tell you. Esther’s fights with John also get tiresome and too long. They love each other but it’s a damaged relationship. We get it.

It’s pretty harsh to blame a 1970s film for being too 1970s, but I blame the 1954 film for being too 1950s, and the enduring films of any era should be called out for their excesses. It’s a fine movie with some definite highlights and a few too many self-indulgences.

6/10
67/100

Review: A Star is Born (1954)

A Star is Born (1954)
Judy Garland, James Mason. Written by Moss Hart. Directed by George Cukor.

Esther Blodgett is a singer in a band when she meets Norman Maine, a Hollywood star at the very beginning of his career’s decline. Although this 1954 version is my least favorite of the four A Star is Born films, Esther and Norman’s meeting in this one is the best. Norman’s drunk when he wanders onto a stage where Esther and her band are performing. Rather than let Norman be embarrassed, Esther quickly incorporates him into the act, as if he were part of the show.

It’s an immediate display of grace, sensitivity, talent, smarts, and self-assuredness that characterizes Esther throughout the film. If only such economy in development could be employed the rest of the way.

Instead, we get a three-hour marathon that’s alternately engaging and sloggy. Everything we love about younger Judy Garland is right here, as if the film were written about her, and everything some of us (me) hate about 1950s movie musicals and their showtunes is right here as well, in overwrought, boring excess.

Take out most of the songs, and the film would be a pleasant length, but the filmmakers are determined to make it a comeback tour de force for Garland, who’d been out of movies for four years following the end of her time with MGM.

I’m grateful that this movie holds true to the original in one very important aspect of Esther’s career. Although Norman cracks the door open for Esther’s chance in the movies, Esther kicks it down with her talent, charm, and niceness. She’s pretty, but she’s not that pretty, just like the first Esther Blodgett. Some guy who has the hots for her does her a favor, but Esther makes Esther. It’s the best thing about the film.

When Esther’s first major film premieres for the Hollywood VIPs, we’re treated not only to a few minutes, but what feels like practically the entire movie. It’s misery.

Esther’s career is on the rise, while Norman’s is on a self-destructive path downward. It’s just as interesting as the original except that James Mason’s Norman Maine is not nearly as likeable as Fredric March’s and there’s really very little romantic chemistry between Garland and Mason. They’re much better and much more believable as best friends.

Could have been a great movie if not for all those songs!

6/10
61/100

Friday 5: Social Capital

Awkwafina hosted SNL and honestly, it feels more like a blip than a trend.  Sure, for those of us who were already fans and paying attention, it has certainly been the Summer of Awkwafina.  She released a new album (reviewed by me here) then showed up in Ocean’s 8 and (of course) Crazy Rich Asians, in which some people say she was a scene-stealer.

I was going to say she’s probably too edgy (musically) for SNL but it had Childish Gambino last season in a highly touted musical guest appearance, so maybe not.

If they’re serious about getting Asian actors, musicians, and comedians, they really don’t have to look too far.  I mean, why not George Takei, John Cho, or Randall Park for male actors?  Or Ming-Na Wen, Ally Maki, or Sandra Oh for female actors?  I think Kimiko Glenn would be great for SNL but she’s probably not mainstream enough yet.  Oh!  What about Jameela Jamil from The Good Place?  I bet she’d be great and she’s on a successful, highly lauded show on network TV.

Obvious musical choices are Kina Grannis (whose audience is right in SNL’s target demo) and M.I.A.

Asian musical guests (after a very quick look):

  • Black Eyed Peas (Filipino; 2004, 2009, 2011)
  • Smashing Pumpkins (Japanese; 1993, 1995, 1998)
  • Metallica (Filipino; 1997)
  • Norah Jones (Indian; 2002, 2004)
  • the Shins (Japanese, 2007, 2012)
  • the Yeah Yeah Yeas (Korean; 2009)
  • Bruno Mars (Filipino; 2010, 2014)
  • Nicki Minaj (Indian; 2007, 2014, 2018)

That’s better but come on.

From here.  Certain words highlighted in case Philosophy Mom drops in.  🙂

  1. Who or what keeps hanging around?
    This incredibly annoying sore knee.  I’m pretty certain now that I have to have it looked at, and if they have to immobilize it or do surgery and THEN immobilize it, I’m going to be sad because my new car is a stick.  Argh!
  2. When was something most recently injected into you?
    The flu shot last year.  It was my first in several years but I was at the clinic anyway for something else so I figured I might as well.
  3. What were you most memorably the chair person of?
    You know, it feels great not to have been in charge of anything for a long time.  I was on the planning committee for our HS class reunion last summer and was put in charge of our Family Feud game, but that’s hardly being the chair.  I think I have to go back to my first teaching gig when I was kind of in charge of the technology committee but not really.
  4. When did you last gamble on a decision, and what was at stake?
    I make risky decisions all the time.  I guess for serious, big decisions the most recent was accepting a layoff in place of someone in my department who was going to be laid off.  I didn’t have anything lined up, so I lived on my freelancing gigs, which meant I lost a lot of weight that year.  The stakes were not especially high, since I don’t have a family or a mortgage; yet we were talking about a livelihood with insurance.  That decision led to my being where I am now, which I am enormously happy with, and my team member is still at the firm I left, so it paid off.
  5. Where will you be heading this weekend?
    Def Leppard Friday night.  Out for a long walk Saturday.  Dinner with the folks Sunday.  Pretty mellow weekend in store, except for that concert.

 

Review: A Star is Born (1937)

A Star Is Born (1937)
Janet Gaynor, Fredric March, Adolphe Menjou, Lionel Stander.  Directed by William A. Wellman.

Esther Blodgett is a North Dakota farm girl with dreams of Hollywood stardom.  The original A Star is Born movie pretty much begins with her family thinking she’s crazy for even entertaining the notion.  Her grandma, however, believes that if you’re willing to risk everything in pursuit of your goals, you have to do it.

Esther relocates to Hollywood, where she discovers the supply of young, aspiring actresses far exceeds the demand.  She’s about to give up when a chance encounter with one of filmdom’s legends, Norman Maine, leads to an audition, a minor supporting role, and the lead in her own film.  Soon, her career is on the rise while Norman’s is on the decline.

The Esther-Norman relationship drives the film, because while Esther may have needed Norman’s little boost to get through the door, she’s not at all dependent or needy in her relationship with Norman or in any other relationship.  Norman clearly needs her far more than she needs him. She just really, really loves him, and he doesn’t quite know how to be loved.

In nearly every way, A Star is Born looks and feels like the popular movies of its time, but with a smart, strong woman taking the lead.  Norman is no tragic hero—he’s not a hero at all—but he’s a man loved by a woman. Could his demise have been reversed by a woman like this, or by anyone?  The film seems to think not, and as Norman travels along his beautiful, downward spiral, Esther goes along with him because someone has to try.

Fredric March as Norman and Janet Gaynor as Esther are a great screen couple, and Gaynor’s performance is especially impressive, the best reason to watch this film more than once.

75/100
7/10

Review: Eighth Grade

Eighth Grade (2018)
Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson. Written and directed by Bo Burnham.

Kayla is in the last week of eighth grade, where she’s pretty close to invisible and doesn’t seem to have any close friends. Her classmates vote her “Most Quiet,” which bugs Kayla. She doesn’t think of herself as quiet; she doesn’t want to be quiet. She has things to say, but she can’t seem to interest anyone in hearing her.

Like many young men and women, Kayla spends most of her waking time in front of a screen. A smartphone from which she Snapchats her activity, a MacBook on which she produces YouTube self-help videos for almost no audience. In these videos, she presents herself as socially competent, a positive thinker, an assertive friend. She’s none of these things in real life, and the only person who seems genuinely interested in everything going on with her is the one person she doesn’t want listening: her single-parent father.

Because most of us were eighth-graders millions of years ago, we’re like Kayla’s dad. We see what a bright, interesting, resilient young woman Kayla is. Unlike Kayla, we also see that the young people around her, the popular kids throwing pool parties at their huge homes and the nerdy cousins and the handsome (barely pubescent) jocks all have their own growing pains.

Perhaps they struggle differently, but they struggle as deeply. Kayla doesn’t see that the pool party girl knows her married mom flirts shamelessly with Kayla’s dad, or that the nerdy boy is, by virtue of being the least cool person in the room, perhaps the only person at the party not pretending to be something he’s not, and therefore the one most worthy of her friendship.

Kayla takes a foray or two into the world of grownups (read: high-schoolers) where she sort-of experiences the kind of acceptance she longs for. I don’t know what such excursions were like for anyone else, but I imagine Kayla doesn’t see anything especially unusual.

Which makes Eighth Grade one of the realest looking movies about pre-high-school I’ve ever seen. Performances all around are solid and thoughtful, and the script brilliantly gives grownups (read: people old enough to be Kayla’s parent) one film and young people another, both of them sincere and provocative. This is one of the best movies for younger teens I’ve seen in a very long time.

9/10
92/100

Friday 5: Again or Not Again

Plans are set for my November writers conference.  Oh crap!  It’s in November!  That’s NaNoWriMo!  Fridge.  Now I’m going to have to work at double the pace early in the month so I don’t have to stress about it during my trip.

I’ve really been focusing on getting enough sleep on work days.  I often fail miserably, but I’m succeeding more than I used to, and it’s made a huge difference.  Yes, it means sometimes rolling in an hour or two after I usually intend to be there, but my boss has been very understanding, and I always stay late if I roll in late.

I feel like I’ve been a child about putting myself to bed responsibly.  I’m annoyed with myself.  I know a lot of this isn’t my fault: I’ve had sleep issues my entire life, and the issues I have now are searious and a threat to my health, but I’m not doing enough to resolve the issues.  There are things beyond my control, and there are things within my control.  I need to take care of the things within my control.

A coworker this afternoon introduced me to the strangely satisfying concept of soap cutting.  There are people on Instagram who just make short videos of them cutting into bars of soap with a knife.  Mesmerizing, and I’m saying this in a completely non-facetious way.  I don’t understand it but I think I’m hooked.  I mention this now because I suspect these things might make it easier for me to relax into sleephood at night.  That’s my intention anyway.

I’ve seen three films this year so far that I’ve rated in the 90s.  Eighth GradeThe Bookshop.  Puzzle.  I call that a good year.

Friday 5 from here.

  1. What is the story behind one of your scars?
    I have a scar on my right wrist.  I sliced it open with my own ice skate one day in tenth or eleventh grade, when I was still dating Lisa.  We were playing tag on the ice, and I had this killer move where I would let someone get really close to me in pursuit, and then I’d duck down, stopping almost completely while the pursuant skated right past me.  In this game, I put my right hand down on the ice to help me with braking, and my skate slid backward and right over the wrist.  Ouch.  To this day the feeling in my skin right around there is not what it was.  I think I severed things that never reattached.
  2. What’s an example of your being pretty much like everyone else?
    I really hate getting-to-know-you games.  If we all hate them so much, why do organizers of certain things still plan them?  I was chatting with a coworker who went to a conference late this past summer and she said they made them do a spaghetti-noodle-marshmallow game.  Nobody likes these!
  3. What’s an example of your being pretty much unlike everyone else?
    I prefer cold macaroni and cheese to hot macaroni and cheese.  With ketchup.
  4. Of websites you look at daily (or almost daily), which have you been paying attention to longest?
    This has to be Hawaii Threads, a local forum run by a good friend.  It’s pretty dead nowadays, but I still check it once or twice a day.
  5. What’s something you wish a smartphone was capable of?
    Underwater photography.  I think of this every time I’m in the water at the beach.  I can think of few things prettier in my near-daily life than the ocean as the sun peeks over the Waikiki condos.  I’m thinking of finding a waterproof Funsaver just to try and capture some semblance of the prettiness.  We also haven’t really reached the digital-audio-file-to-text transcription technology everyone really wants.

Review: Puzzle

Puzzle (2018)
Kelly Macdonald, Irfan Khan, David Denman. Written by Oren Moverman and Polly Mann. Directed by Marc Turtletaub.

People who know me don’t have to be told I’m predisposed toward liking a movie about a middle-aged homemaker questioning her choices and discovering a love for solving jigsaw puzzles. It’s like this movie was made for me, so take my recommendation with this in mind.

Agnes feels she’s been taken for granted by her family: a hard-working, loving husband who doesn’t seem to need much from her outside meals and companionship, and two adult sons who respect her but don’t know anything about her.

A day after a birthday party thrown for Agnes which she seems to have done all the prepping for and cleaning up after, Agnes takes a few moments for herself, apparently a rare occurrence. One friend has given her a jigsaw puzzle as a birthday gift. She spends the day completing it, and then breaking it apart so she can complete it again.

Dinner is forgotten in these puzzle-solving moments. And when her family expresses annoyance at having been put on the back burner, Agnes begins to resent the role she may have carved out for herself.

She goes to a puzzle shop and buys another.

Soon, she is secretly practicing a few times a week with a new puzzle-solving partner—an independently wealthy inventor, recently single, who watches the news all day because he’s fascinated by the destruction.

I saw Puzzle five days after seeing Juliet, Naked, and they are nice complements for one another. Both movies feature middle-aged women questioning their choices, wondering if it’s not too late for a do-over on some of them. I like them both, but I like Puzzle quite a bit more. Whether it’s because of its puzzles theme, because it’s considerably more anguished, or because it leaves a bit more to the viewer to interpret doesn’t really matter to me; it’s probably all three.

“Why do we love puzzles?” one character asks.

“It’s a way to control the chaos,” says another.

Heck yeah.

9/10
90/100