Taking the Rough with the Smooch: Movie notes

Taking the Rough with the Smooch: Movie notes February 23, 2017

A couple quick hits before we move to our main event, viz. a trip back in time to Gay 1986.

Habit: Do you like artsy bisexual ’90s vampire movies, but found Nadja too cold, The Addiction too smart, and everybody too good-looking? Boy do I have a film for you. Habit follows a startlingly disheveled and run-down dropout type (writer/director/star Larry Fessenden) as he meets a cute early-’90s chick at a party and begins to wonder why people are disappearing. The direction is really sharp–the cuts and angles seem somehow especially emotional to me, driven by the characters’ emotions rather than by artsy theories or something–and although the plot is very basic, the whole look and feel of the movie really does capture the gradually-then-suddenly disintegration of a life in addiction.

Game 6: I assume this turned up in my Netflix queue because it has Robert Downey Jr in it. If you are extremely invested in baseball and Don DeLillo (who wrote the screenplay) and you have nearly endless patience for self-absorbed men, you might enjoy this. There’s one character who’s interesting in theory: She at first seems to be the wise black woman who guides our hero to a better path, but in fact she turns out to be pushing a prosperity-gospel, “things will always go your way if you just have faith!” kind of message. I like that twist, I guess, but this wasn’t a fun movie, sorry.

A couple nights ago I watched My Beautiful Laundrette (1986, London) and Parting Glances (1986, a bland version of New York) back to back. That’s a strategy which is especially unflattering to Parting Glances, so I’ll review them in the opposite order and try not to make comparisons (except for the one I totally just made in the parentheticals).

Parting Glances: One of the first movies to directly address AIDS, in the scrawny battered person of Steve Buscemi. He is the best thing about this film; he even has a real accent! Anyway, the action takes place in a tasteful, not sordid, version of ’80s New York City, where everyone’s shoulders slump for some reason, everyone has enough money, there’s a certain dishonest grease of likability over the whole thing.

Gentle satire of the avant-garde art world which you’ve seen a thousand times already. Gay sexy stuff, which iirc was a big deal for this kind of well-meaning movie. A Pieta-like nude pose in the shower. Lots of dialogue that really takes you back: Remember how people used to say “lover”? Or saying, “They were–you know” instead of “gay”? Even in New York!

I don’t know, the dialogue and acting and the whole idea of this thing were just not insightful enough. With the exception of La Buscemi, who radiates charisma, honestly. I also did like that the movie doesn’t give closure. It commits to slice-of-life.

My Beautiful Laundrette: I’d seen this at least once before, in my troubled youth, and wondered if it would hold up. Holy cats it holds all the way up. Written by Hanif “Buddha of Suburbia” Kureishi, directed by Stephen “A Bunch of Things” Frears, this is the perfect mix of satire, sordidness, and heartfelt reconciliation. (I’m always saying that all I ask of a story is humor, sleaze, and repentance. This movie is like the jackpot of those things.) Also, “relevance” isn’t really a virtue, but in many ways this feels like it was made in a kinder version of last month.

So, the story: Utterly charming Omar (Gorden Warnecke–why didn’t he become a star? He sells this whole thing so well) is spending his days caring for his dissolute, depressed father (Roshan Seth) when one of his uncles offers him a job washing cars. “Mrs Thatcher will be happy” that you’re working and off the dole, the uncle notes, and Omar gives this sweet smile that we’ll see again and again in unexpected places throughout the film. He’s a lopey guy, despite his slumping shoulders!, and there are lots of great scenes of men at work, I always appreciate manual-labor scenes. The car-wash job turns into an offer to run the uncle’s decrepit laundromat, which Omar seizes as a chance to not only make ’80s money, but pursue a slow, prickly, sexually-charged reconciliation with a childhood friend (Daniel Day-Lewis) who fell in with a gang of white supremacists.

Ahhh I loved this. Everyone’s complicit–the sudsy laundromat scenes are symbolic not of cleanness but of labor. The Indian characters are all finding ways to manage their anger, redirecting it as despair or capitalist cynicism (“In this d–n country, which we hate, you can get anything you want… but you have to know how to squeeze the tits of the system”) or determination (“I think I should harden myself,” Omar says in an unintended double-entendre). There’s just enough artsy cutting and angling, not too much; there’s romance music when Johnny the skinhead first comes into the laundromat. Lol the ’80s, so great about letting people want things. “I want everything now,” Omar says, with a black eye from where his other uncle stepped on his face.

In our own differently-bad time this stood out: Omar really pursues Johnny, really makes himself vulnerable to rejection, without ever losing sight of the harm Johnny’s done (he is offering real forgiveness, the kind that only comes when you acknowledge the wrong done), and all his open admiration for Johnny–the upward tilt of his head, his wide smile–makes him more self-confident, more free. There’s a pretty strong message in the plot that repentance requires humiliation and suffering as well as amends. (“I want to forget all them things,” Johnny says, and Omar’s face gets really hard, angry and resigned and disappointed.) But I was even more struck by how the whole love story plays out from Omar’s end, since I’m not sure I can think of other films that portray someone blossoming as he offers the second chance he’s longed for years to give.

A tender movie in a tough world; an illustration of that Chris Arnade twitter thread about belonging; a movie in which homosexuality isn’t respectable and doesn’t seek to be (the parallels with the adulterous couple) yet/therefore a gay romance is a source of joy and healing. Class-conscious, really sleazy in its willingness to make class differences a source of sexual tension (there’s a lot going on in that “When we were at school you and your mates kicked me all round the school and where are you now?” speech); a basically perfect movie.

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