Crazy Rich Asians

Well this was a cute, dumb, emotional time. Rom-coms aren’t really one of my loves, which can’t be because of cheesiness given how much I go for things like the cosmically silly Star Trek series, so my current theory is that it’s probably for the same reason that I’ve never really gone in for Jane Austen. Which is absolutely what this movie is at its base. Austen meets Cinderella, but then make it Asian. A big cast of high-strung weirdos, rags to riches, but Asian. Crazy. Rich. ASIANS. That addition is a GOOD ONE. It’s probably not supposed to be the whole reason why I liked this movie, but it is. I’m supposed to tell you that in addition to being a representation revelation, ‘it’s also a really fun rom-com!’ But honestly, all the fun I had was absolutely with who was having it. And that really was a cinematic treat.

Also, like most rom-coms, it is undeniably its greatest when it embraces the fact that the most meaningful relationship is not between the man and woman at the ostensible center at all. Here, it’s Constance Wu’s plucky Asian-American heroine and her boyfriend’s silk & steel Chinese mother, Michelle Yeoh. The climactic scene in this movie is a pivotal mahjong game, incredible, with just the two of them and a couple half-deaf grandmothers. And that is why you buy your ticket.

That, and because the affably zany Awkwafina gets approximately four times the opportunity to show how funny she is than she got in Ocean’s 8. And because of the food montage in the night market scene.

And because there’s that particular moment of catharsis that yeah, only a romantic comedy can give you; that thing were you just *burst* into a joyous flood of tears as someone to your left flings both arms up in the air in celebration and someone behind your right shoulder cheers aloud and then everyone’s just laughing and clapping and wiping at their cheeks.

Oh my god I’m tearing up right now just thinking about it again! Shit, maybe I am a rom-com person….

Lady Macbeth

Watched this spare & unsparing psychological costume drama in entirely the wrong season but with the entirely right person: my dear friend Emily, of exactly the artistic temperament to holler along with me from minute one to minute 90.

Here is your requisite explainer that Lady Macbeth is not about the Shakespearean antiheroine, but another woman in her troubling thematic line. Hers and maybe Highsmith’s, as the movie plays out like a chilly, murdery Ripley story set in a remote north English manor in the mid-1800s, with this particular enigmatically brutal protagonist a young woman just sold off into marriage to a wealthy, sallow man who hates her. She hates him too. There are approximately five and a half other characters in the play and four of them are people of color, because why just make a rare minimalist Victorian when you could also be making an incredible indictment of white feminism? I guess if you don’t want to be unusual and interesting!

Other things Emily and I yelled about:

– Florence Pugh, who is going to be so famous. Watching her performance in this is like being treated to something.
– How you can hear the sound of everything. The creaking of floorboards, the creaking of her dresses. This movie sounded like it was made in the ‘70s, in a cool way.
– That inside the house the camera never moved in a shot, like they’d just set it up to frame a picture and the actors would enter and leave it as they chose.
– But whenever she went OUTside, the camera broke free to track with her in a loose handheld. The wildness of the heath and whatever, good shit.
– This one very visually unusual cat we decided represented the undomesticated aspects of Katherine’s character, particularly when it jumped up on a table after she [redacted redacted mushrooms redacted]
– [mushrooms redacted]
– The part where a character literally goes redacted [!!]
– Power structures

Lady Macbeth is a striking, dialogue-light, tone poem sort of movie in which nothing is wasted, particularly your time. Come Holler With Us.

Howards End

Of that classic genre: lush sweeping Merchant-Ivory period film about how if only the men had stayed out of it and let the women manage things we could have saved a lot of trouble. Interesting that this seems to be what became of the Shakespearean comedy three hundred years later. That was a joke but now that I think about it, these Edwardian novels do hinge a lot of the plot and entertainment on mistaken identities and mix-ups and secrets and marriages. Only it is certainly a drama now. It’s funny, but it’s a drama.

And romantic. There are a lot of passions, and even more Reasons and Rules why these passions should be restrained, which is of course the most romantic thing the Western canon knows of. Personally the most romantic thing I’ve ever seen is in this movie, which is HELENA BONHAM CARTER’S HAIR. It is IMMENSE, just cascading down her back in thick wild rumples. She tries but that hair will NOT be restrained, it must grow free, and there of course is the metaphor.

What is not a metaphor, because it’s spelled out very directly, is how E.M. Forster feels about English class hierarchy, capitalism, and gendered behavior policing, which is: this malarky will be the death of us, it will lit-erally kill you, fuck it all. E.M. Forster is great. He was writing a whole century after Jane Austen but my mind puts them in the same British Lit category, and also has a clear preference. I like that Forster writes romances where a lot of stuff doesn’t work out. Austen, and she is the pinnacle of this and we love her for it, gives us that game of watching the characters figure it out bit by bit until they come together in the end, and it’s very satisfying. But what Forster does, which I find more exciting, is stuff like how he opens Howards End: with a couple getting together bang out the gate, only to promptly break it off and then the real story gets going.

Emma Thompson won an Oscar for this movie. As did the art direction, and another statue for Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Merchant & Ivory’s screenwriter and the only person to have won both an Academy Award and the Man Booker Prize. Helena Bonham Carter’s hair did not win an award, but we still get to enjoy it forever.