2/06/2006

"Dudes With Boobs"/"Numb & Number"

I've been to see a couple of mediocre movies in the last week, one of which was at least amusing. In TransAmerica Felicity Huffman gives a praise-worthy performance as a soon-to-be MtF transsexual. The problem was that the movie, as a friend of mine said, turned into a sitcom midway through. I have always liked Felicity Huffman, though. There is something very Francis McDormand about her, don’t you think?

But does the banality of the plot say something essential about the banality of transsexuality in a Jerry Springerized America? I don’t know. I have known transgendered folk (they’re always referred to as “folk” aren’t they?) in my time, and have always found them to be as fabulous and flawed as anyone else, and while that may be one message the GBLT “community” would like to get across, there is something just a tad disingenuous in it, coming from folk who very clearly believe themselves to be more fabulous on the whole than the general population. It’s kind of like, aside from the burden of our fabulousness, we’re just like the rest of you. That’s why I think the appeal of transsexual road movies is limited. On the one hand transsexuality is fringe, but on the other, transsexuals in and of themselves are no more (though no less) interesting than the rest of us.

Transsexuality for me is pretty cut and dry. I mean, OK, so you’re a boy in a girl's body or vice-versa. You wanna go the distance I’m all for it. But do it and have done with it. None of this endless, “oh, by the way, I used to be a dude” shtick. Be it. Believe it. It’s like young gay guys who are always talking about their bisexuality. Mm-hmm. Once you haven’t been bi for ten or so years, it’s probably safe to say that for all intents and purposes you’re gay. No one's interested in hearing about the blowjob you got from your prom date anymore. It doesn't mean you were ever straight. Sorry.

People are incorrect for the most part when they assume other people, in general, are overly concerned with their sexuality. The only people concerned with it are probably your parents, if they don’t have any grandchildren yet, and anyone who wants to sleep with you (the number is always less than you think). Otherwise, your preference in partners is really not something that looms large in the collective unconscious. The world will move on through its grief on its own. And accepting it will let you get on with the business of getting laid.

Anyway, Itchy liked TransAmerica a lot. Said it was hilarious. I wouldn’t go that far. It was too predictable to be hilarious. But it was humorous and heart-warming. And enjoyable. And Itchy didn’t squirm or fidget at all through the whole thing.

For the first time ever, though I’m loath to admit it, I somehow forgot to silence my cell, and it went off during the movie. I usually have it set on vibrate anyway. It’s never set to “ring,” so while I suspect sabotage, I don’t know who I would blame. Maybe Itchy. I have harangued him on this topic ever since we went to see De Battre Mon Coeur s'est Arête and his phone went off. And he answered it. He says he didn’t like the movie anyway, but that’s not really the point. I don’t see how he could not have admired—nay, adored—Romain Duris in it, myself, but then there’s no accounting for taste, as everybody knows.

The other movie, which I saw last night, was Woody Allen’s Match-Point, which could have been called Numb & Number, and was nothing if not numbing. Thanks in part to the mind-numbingly numb performance of Jonathan Rhys Meyers. My film-going friend said she thought his character was supposed to be that way, and I agree, which is all the more reason the film should not have been made. It may be all the rage to make movies about vacuous characters we don’t care about and aren’t meant to, but that’s not the realm of art, that’s the realm of life. Life should imitate art, not vice-versa. This movie may be about Woody Allen’s unmitigated misanthropy, as some reviewers have suggested, but if it is, so what? Join the club, Woody.

There are many silly, incongruous things about the film that are the result of lack of discipline on the part of the writer/director. They’re too many and too silly to name, in fact. But one is the silliness, on many levels, of this most Jewish, most Manhattan of directors directing this most Waspy of British films. He doesn’t know the idiom and it shows in the lack of depth and color of all the characters, except for the hysterical Nola, played awkwardly by Scarlett Johansson, who is, tellingly, the only American in the cast. She is described in the press packet as a “femme fatale type”—which seems unfortunately accurate. No one in this movie is anything in and of him or herself. We are dealing with types. They don’t even aspire to be anything more than mere points in a not-very interesting polemic about the centrality of luck to success in life. Woody Allen himself has been famously quoted as saying “eighty per cent of success is showing up,” and he was apparently hoping that would work for him this time, but I don’t think it did. The rest of the cast showed up, too, to little effect.

He tried to liven it up a little, or give it some depth, or something, with transparent references to Crime and Punishment, with Rhys-Myers’ Chris as Raskolnikov, and La Traviata, with Johansson’s Nola as Violetta, I guess. Other than this there are scenes where he seems to think he can simply transpose the New York of 1977 to the London of 2005. The whole opera thing—I mean, when Rhys-Myers meets the Hugh Grant look-alike (Matthew Goode) who will provide him his surprisingly easy and swift entrée to high society, they connect over opera. Two men in their mid-twenties. I’m like, so is this Woody Allen’s long-awaited gay movie, or what? Two star-crossed opera queens meet over fru fru drinks at the country club? In fact, Rhys-Myers' Chris is so cagey throughout it would have befit the character to have had a secret gay lover, except that then he would have no reason to off him in the end. Gay affairs are so much simpler, it’s strange they haven’t caught on more.

There’s also a funny scene at the Tate Modern where Nola is staring intently and with what is supposed to be real interest at this gigantic, truly hideous piece of modern art. She seems to be the only person at the Tate who’s there to look at the art, and you just know everyone’s laughing at her. I mean, who really scrutinized Chris Ofili's painting of The Holy Virgin Mary, the one with the clump of elephant dung? You know, nobody really looked at it. It wasn't made to be looked at. It was made to be talked about. That's why the show was called Sensation. But here Woody’s got Scarlett studying this huge splatter on the wall like it’s a pointillist masterpiece. My rule: don’t look at it for any longer than it took to make it.

But the point was, these are people who go to the opera and to art museums, but is that really what the generation of people the movie centers on—even the blue bloods—really do? And not just do, but do passionately? In London? Don’t they go clubbing? Don’t they snort crystal meth and have group sex and throw up afterwards? What happened to that Woody Allen? Now that he’s old he’s treating young people in his films like they are too. Like everyone is. But no. Two randy young heterosexual men with huge disposable incomes don’t sit around with their legs crossed chit-chatting about their love of opera. Sorry. Even in England.

So everything in this would-be morality tale is off. As we were leaving my friend said, “there was no schlemiel” Not to mention no Schlimazel. But this is actually the capper, the final silliness of this silly movie. In a short scene from some other movie, but with the same bad actors, after Chris commits his Dostoevskian crime (for which he will, of course, go unpunished), he either wakes from a dream (or is in someone else’s dream—it’s not entirely clear) and offers a high-flown philosophical disquisition on the nature of the guilt he does not feel, which ends with him telling the ghost of one of his victims: “The innocent are sometimes slain to make way for grander schemes. You were collateral damage.” Of course, the grander scheme is… well, there isn’t one. It’s more like, “sometimes the innocent are slain to make way for, er, me.” Which is fine, but why not just say it? It would have been more in keeping with the character.

I did like the twist with the ring, on which the whole plot turns. It was nicely done, plotwise, though my moviemate didn't think so. I agree it wasn’t worth sitting through the whole movie for it. Plus the scene with the ring itself—when he tosses the ring it doesn’t look real. He used CGI. Woody Allen goes all CGI on us. Unfortunately, like the rest of the movie, it looked totally fake, too.

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