Category Archives: Movies

In the Wayback: Muriel’s Wedding

There’s circuitous route to how I got the the main subject of this post, but it’ll just take a minute. For reasons I won’t get into I’ve had to pay a little more attention to my teen’s online life. One thing I’ve learned: she will reblog nearly any pro-woman, pro-gay, pro-transgender, pro-feminism, pro-choice, anti-rape post that crosses her path on tumblr, and she will call out female friends who say they are not feminists. I’ve started compiling a list of “feminist films for teens,” so we can watch some together and with any luck even talk about them a bit. (I’ll post it later, but feel free to share any thoughts.) As I’ve been building up my Netflix queue and reading through lists, I’ve also come across lots of movies that I loved as a young woman, to watch again.

Muriel’s Wedding holds up well, largely because of its two lead actresses, Rachel Griffiths and Toni Collette. Both have proven in later films and television (“Six Feet Under” and “United States of Tara,” for example) that they can really act. So although Entertainment Weekly was right in saying that the movie is flawed because we never really see who Muriel is, underneath, because she’s Toni Collette we instinctively feel there must be something of depth and value there.

There’s far less dancing in the movie than I remembered. I watched it thinking I would see several scenes of lip synching to Abba. There’s one, and it’s fabulous, but apparently I merged my own joyful apartment-bound Saturday nights with my memory of the movie. I would have sworn the girls performed Fernando together, but I guess that was me and my roommate instead.

I don’t know what happens to Muriel at about 1:10, but that’s where her transformation starts. Somehow at 1:33 she’s already a different person, even if she needs the rest of the movie to really feel it.

As so often happens when I watch movies from my past, I can’t help noticing my sympathy shift from daughters to mothers. When Rachel Griffiths, as Rhonda, tells her mom “I love you but you drive me nuts” as she leaves home, I think of my own teen daughter at least as much as I think of my mom, a line of strong, slightly(!) demanding women who love each other like crazy but need their space. If I raise my daughters well, there will only be room for one XX human in this house someday. And Muriel’s mom — well, I’m not sure what I think of that plot twist, but the small, cowed life she lives must be one big reason why Muriel runs like hell in the other direction, however stupidly.

I would watch this one with Violet, if she wanted, but I don’t know if the ABBA obsession would be enough to carry her through, and the idea that a wedding is life’s great prize might not be so much wrongheaded to her as utterly foreign.

Is it “feminist”? I have to put that word in quotes because I don’t know what that means as an adjective describing a movie. It passes the Bechdel test, women in the movie can be sexual without being slutty, Muriel is overweight without it being the focus of her character or the movie: in other words, women can talk and have bodies on their own terms.

But I loved the last scene in particular, where the girls ride away from their hometown of Porpoise Spit in a taxi, first shouting “goodbye” out the window to the mall, the beach, the plaza, and then just smiling at each other. It reminded me–somewhat randomly–of the end of “Valley Girl,” when Nick Cage and what’s-her-name look at each other and smile as they ride away from the chaos they caused at the Valley High prom. It’s a “yeah, we just did that” look and a little bit of a “you and me against the world look.” For Muriel and Rhonda especially it’s an “I love you, too” look, because the prize for Muriel at the end of “Muriel’s Wedding” is not a husband or a boyfriend, it’s a friend who thinks she’s awesome for no particular reason at all. So much so that she can believe it too, even without a wedding.

Wayback rating: Worth the trip

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Filed under grown up life, homeschooling high school, Movies, raising girls

June heats up

Our schedule was really getting smooth and predictable there for a few days. Then summer started happening for real. Visitors from out of town — two sets at once! — summer camp, a trip to the Davidson Young Scholar summit (we’re an out Davidson family, so ask us anything), a 48+ hour power outage, crushing heat and humidity, a writing class at the Loft, and summer colds. All this in the last 2 weeks.

Where was that math book again?

I haven’t quite figured out how to adjust, knowing that July and August probably won’t be that much different. Once Violet bounces back a little more we’ll work it out. In the meantime we’ve been taking advantage of Victoria being away to watch some classic PG-13 movies, including Spinal Tap (which was rated R! who knew?) and Dumb and Dumber.

I still harbor a hope that my unsocialized girls will be the next Farrelly brothers.

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Filed under Homeschooling, homeschooling high school, Movies

Birders in Central Park

We’re on vacation, and we watched a lovely little documentary about birds and birders in Central Park. Knowing that the film can be selective about its subjects, I still couldn’t help feeling that birders are an inherently more charming, patient, curious class of people than nonbirders. I even liked Jonathan Franzen better after seeing him here.

You would think — I would think — that New York’s Central Park is all sparrows and pigeons, but it plays host to hundreds of different species of migrating birds. As one of the birders observes early on, the birds are incredibly cooperative: a pack of a dozen birders can come upon a bird and expect it to stay there for them to observe.

The bird photography is beautiful. As one birder observed, the birds are like brightly colored ornaments in the trees. The detail on some of the feathers is astonishing.

This young birdwatcher was adorable, smart, sweet, and wise. I hope someday she rules the world — she’ll do a good job.

We watched on HBO — I don’t even understand how media access works these days, but you can at least find out more about it online.

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Secret Worlds

Could it be a sign of perimenopause that just seeing that Studio
Ghibli logo in the opening credits of a movie makes me tear up?

Or is it just a symptom of the period of parenting we’re in, our girls
still childlike but obviously older, older, OLDER every day?

Not too old (never too old?) to look forward with great excitement to
The Secret World of Arrietty, another Ghibli film with a brave and
resourceful female protagonist, beautiful attention to visual detail,
and a gentle spirit from beginning to end.

There are so many things I love about earlier Ghibli films that are
present in Arrietty, which I will try not to spoil here. I love the
magical realism, the way the natural world is realized with such
loving precision that the magical elements—the little people, the cat
bus, the bath house of the spirits, the creaking house of Howl—seem
real too.

I love that there are girls at the center, that every Ghibli movie I
can think of passes the Bechdel test. I love the friendships that
don’t quite rise to the level of romance but are still true love.

I really love looking over at my girls in the dark theatre and seeing
them already looking back at me with big grins, silently communicating
“Isn’t this awesome?”

When I saw a scene in which a character moved in and out of a shaft of light, a number of times, it was like hearing a musician enjoying the opportunity to play a particularly beautiful passage, adding grace notes to the repeated sections, and I could feel my older daughter, next to me, watching.

She is nearing 13, already taller than some of my adult friends, and she sits in the movie seat with her animal hat, her Taylor Swift t-shirt, her Ugg boots, every inch a young teen. She had just told me the day before that she wanted to learn how to create light effects in video games, so I know she was watching that shaft of light doing something in that artist brain that is nearly inaccessible to me.

I wanted to go home and redecorate the attic just like this.

While she was at a sleepover later in the week, our younger daughter demanded to watch Totoro again, and soon afterwards we watched Spirited Away. We’ve always said she’s just like Mei, and she has embraced that image for herself.

In those movies too, the world is a magical place but nothing is more magical than clear water, tall trees, or a fresh ear of corn. No world is more beautiful than the natural world, but, Miyazaki seems to say, it takes a child’s eyes to see it.

Cross posted from my homeschool blog Red Sea School.

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