Monday, October 08, 2007

More Movies!

From the "everybody knows this already" department: Crash is a gooooood movie. One of the best serious dramas I've seen in quite a while. It's upsetting, doesn't have a lot of light moments, but the effect for me was more thoughtful than depressing. The movie follows a dozen or so characters (big cast, all terrific) as their lives are affected by a couple days' events on the streets of Los Angeles. It makes for a lot to think about: 21st century racism, isolation, prejudice, fear; the fact that everyone has more to them than first shows (and isn't that some of the oldest wisdom, "don't judge a book by its cover"? We all know to try not to do that. We all do it anyway). That you never really know what is happening in someone else's life is worth thinking about, and Crash is a great vehicle for it. Every character has something to identify with. Every one also has deep flaws.

Moralizing: We're all flawed humans. Treat each other kindly. Bad things may still happen, but to do otherwise is to live in a kind of prison.

Crash reminded me a bit of House of Sand and Fog, another excellent drama, this one based on a powerful novel by Andre Dubus III. House of Sand and Fog is quite sad, however, and though I recommend it I don't want to see or read it again.


Good news from the "sometimes even Sandy digs a chick flick" department: Mona Lisa Smile (2003) wasn't nearly as nauseating as I'd feared. Julia Roberts plays Katherine Watson, a new art history instructor at Wellesley College in 1953. An independent thinker from California, Miss Watson is unprepared for and ill-suited to the conservative, stodgy, stifling environment she finds at Wellesley, despite its being a school for the sharpest minds in the country ("I thought that I was headed to a place that would turn out tomorrow's leaders, not their wives").

Miss Watson proves herself a powerful instructor and role model. She teaches a lot, she learns a lot. It's a nice story, however stereotyped and stylized. Especially noted: the costumes are great. Maggie Gyllenhaal is lovely. Julia Stiles has a terrific voice. Marcia Gay Harden is funny, borderline freakish, as the chintz-loving elocution/deportment instructor.

The story is complete fiction -- I don't think that Wellesley College had classes in deportment and whatnot, as even then it was a place for serious education -- but it is true that in 1953, even women's college graduates for the most part "only" married and raised families. I suppose the question is there: how far have we come? Even in 2007, nobody asks men how they plan to balance career and family. But I don't have the energy for that today, and as Katherine Watson learns, we don't all measure by the same yardstick. Mona Lisa Smile is a good story, and a pretty movie, and I'm going to leave it at that.

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