December 3rd, 2008

A Part For the Hole

I saw Synecdoche New York last night. The film has received many rave reviews, some from critics I deeply respect. Still, the preview had me concerned. It made it seem as though the picture might be both cute and sexist. The good news is that the preview forcefully misrepresents the film, which isn't cute, for the most part, and only mildly sexist. The bad news is that this is a movie that worms its way up its own ass, with increasingly irritating results. Early on, I berated myself for having worried that it might be bad. Indeed, there were moments when it seemed positively brilliant, not to mention personally devastating for someone like myself, mired in a mid-life crisis of confidence. Also, it made me laugh, hard, in a number of plaes. Later, though, as the characters accrued layers of improbable make-up that made them seem absurd rather than aged, I stopped enjoying myself. The conceit decayed into conceitedness. Maybe that was deliberate -- it's that self-reflexive -- but, if so, the filmmakers took way too long to make the point. Although there were moments when I was moved in the latter portions of the film, the majority of its final hour was tendentious and tedious. I found myself longing for the more earthy, real scenarios of its first thirty minutes. Watching that first section, I kept thinking that it was like one of Woody Allen's dark comedies, only smarter. By the end of the film, though, I felt like I was watching one of those dreadful films where Allen refuses to let the audience laugh because he is making a serious statement. Is it worth seeing? Sure. But don't let yourself be as disappointed as I was when it starts to all apart.

Seriously Ironic?

I had a grand time watching this micro-musical, which plays so deftly off of the Broadway tradition in presenting its story arc:
See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die
I wonder, though, what the political purpose of this collaboration is and, further, whether it has any hope of achieving it. Is this merely an example of singing to the converted? Or did its creators believe that it might function to educate through irony, as many claim the shows of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have? Most of the students I teach would laugh along with me if I showed them this video. But that doesn't meant that they would automatically share my views on the subject. On the contrary, it seems increasingly clear to me -- and this is why, as much as I enjoy programs like The Daily Show, I am wary of the idea that they are necessarily mind-opening -- that laughter these days can readily be elicited, not only from those who share the perspective of the humorist, but from people whose convictions align them with the demographics to be laughed at.