I almost didn’t watch Gypsy. There were so many bad reviews. I sometimes forget my cardinal rule: I generally disagree with critics. I saw one good review, and a gay girlfriend told me she liked it a lot. To get to the point, I decided to watch it. Continue Reading: Review: Season 1 of Gypsy
This weekend I watched two movies about love. Both dealt with young women in search of themselves, young women in search of love, young women who had to struggle with loss and with being misunderstood.
One of the films got great reviews and won prestigious awards. One of the films was a bit of a flop.
Now, I know I’m not a film critic, or a critic of any kind. I’m just a person who has been watching movies and TV for a lot of decades. Even though one of the letters on my Myers-Briggs is a J for judging, I am not a judgmental, critical minded person. I’m easy to please where entertainment is concerned.
So when I see two films that are very alike in theme and subject matter, it makes me wonder what sets them apart. Is the quality of the acting? The skill of the director? The originality of the script? I want to come back to this, but first let me explain the two stories I’m talking about.
The two films are Blue is the Warmest Color and Dorfman in Love. If you pay attention to film news, you know that Blue is the Warmest Color is the one that got the great reviews and won awards.
Blue is the Warmest Color
Blue is the Warmest Color is a French film about a young woman, Adèle, played by Adèle Exarchopoulos. It’s three hours long and covers years of Adèle’s life. She falls in love with Emma, played by Léa Seydoux. Emma is older, artistic, and out. When they meet Adèle is still in high school and not clear about her own sexuality. As the years pass, the two women live together for a while but it isn’t a successful long-term arrangement. For years after they part Adèle continues to long for Emma until she finally comes to terms with their parting and walks away from her past. There are long scenes of explicit sex.
Dorfman in Love
Dorfman in Love stars Sarah Rue as Deb Dorfman. She is a grown woman who lives with her dad (Elliot Gould) and works in her brother’s (Jonathan Chase) accounting firm. She has a fantasy love attachment to a friend of her brother’s played by Johann Urb. Deb takes care of everyone in her life, especially the three aforementioned men, who do not appreciate anything she does. Then she meets Cookie, played by Haaz Sleiman. With Cookie’s help, she begins to understand who she is and what her true worth is. She is able to leave her past behind. There is no sex in the film but there are a couple of straight kisses.
Who and How Do We Decide on Great?
In terms of acting, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux both do a fantastic job. Especially Adèle Exarchopoulos, who has to age from a naive teen to a responsible adult before our eyes. But the acting in Dorfman in Love was perfectly adequate. The actors weren’t called on to do anything especially intense the way the actors in Blue is the Warmest Color were, but does that mean they didn’t act as well as the two French women in the parts they were given?
The approach of the directors in these two films was very different. Blue is the Warmest Color was full of close-ups, often focused on the two women in minute detail. Dorfman in Love took a much more expansive approach. I found the directing styles suited to the material – they certainly wouldn’t have worked in reverse – but they were perfect for the stories they were telling. One film was a serious examination of a young woman’s maturation and growth, while the other was firmly in the romantic comedy camp of maturation and growth. Is one genre more worthy of success than the other?
Does the intensity of the subject matter, the intensity of the emotion portrayed make one film better than another? Is it the seriousness of the approach vs. the comedic approach? Is it the closed-in focus of one film that makes it better than the more open look of the other – is that somehow more artistic? Does all the daring sex in one make it more weighty?
What I’m getting at here is that secret something that makes one film an international hit and topic of conversation around the globe while the other feels passed over. Somewhere there is a magical line between good and really, really good that these two films exemplify perfectly. But who decides where that magic line is? Critics? Ticket buyers? Award givers? The folks on the living room couch?
And what does that mean to someone who might love Dorfman in Love but finds Blue is the Warmest Color long and tedious? Is that person wrong or someone whose tastes don’t count?
I can’t tell you how many people have told me I should watch Breaking Bad because it’s really, really good. But I cannot bring myself to watch a story about a teacher who sells meth. And I’ve told others they should watch Friday Night Lights because it’s really, really good only to realize they won’t watch a series about football. Is there a right and wrong in this?
I’d really like to know the answers to these questions. I really would.
We have a serious problem with our entertainment. We think we own it. We think we own the stories, the characters, the actors. We think it’s ours to dictate and control. If it isn’t the way we want it to be, we get vicious.
Entertainment is a gift to us, created and conceived for our enjoyment by someone else. We don’t know or own that someone else.
It’s the Internet. It’s Twitter. It’s message boards. You can say whatever lame-brained thing you want and send it out into the world. It’s so easy, even I can do it.
That doesn’t make it right.
Actress Anna Gunn from Breaking Bad wrote this op-ed piece: Breaking Bad star Anna Gunn: I have a character issue. She made several good points in her post, including this one.
At some point on the message boards, the character of Skyler seemed to drop out of the conversation, and people transferred their negative feelings directly to me. The already harsh online comments became outright personal attacks. One such post read: “Could somebody tell me where I can find Anna Gunn so I can kill her?” Besides being frightened (and taking steps to ensure my safety), I was also astonished: how had disliking a character spiraled into homicidal rage at the actress playing her?
Before I started this blog, I was putting an occasional pop culture post on one of my other blogs. That’s where you’ll find Dear Lesbian Bloggers, Isn’t it Time to Forgive? The post is about the resentment many directed toward The L Word. In that post, I stated,
I surfed around among many lesbian writers, sampling what they had to say about The L Word. I was surprised when I discovered a plethora of complaints, vilifications, and shaming. Nobody liked Ilene Chaiken. Nobody was satisfied with the plot. The characters were all too pretty. It wasn’t realistic. Everyone was mad because Dana died. Everyone hated Jenny. And on, an on, and on.
On the blog Dorothy Surrenders the other day, I saw On Faith and Fandom. She was talking about the attacks on two actresses because of their personal beliefs.
Which leads me to the recent heated fandom debates – to put it very mildly; you should see the email folder I’ve made for all the messages – over Rachel Skarsten of “Lost Girl” and most recently Laura Prepon of “Orange Is the New Black.” Both have been tied to churches that are reportedly anti-gay.
Fans argued that it was okay to hate a character and the person who plays her because of a religious belief. Even though before they knew this one personal thing about the person, they loved the character and the actor playing her. Nothing about the show or the character changed.
Love a show? Then watch it.
Is there some show you love? Breaking Bad or Orange is the New Black, perhaps. Yea! Then watch it for your entertainment pleasure. It’s a gift to you from a network and a creator and a producer and a huge crew and a lot of actors who work for months to bring you said entertainment. If the show you love has a message or a larger cultural meaning about good and evil or visibility for LGBT people or some other topic dear to your heart, good for it! You can support the show on that basis.
If the show you love has a character you like or don’t like (because every drama has to have a protagonists AND an antagonist or nothing dramatic happens) then good for the show’s creators for giving you characters that make you care.
The thing is, it’s fiction. It’s story. It’s made up. The actors are not the characters. And neither the actors or the characters belong to you. You don’t get to judge entertainment based on the actor’s personal lives. You don’t get to hate them when the characters they play don’t do exactly what you want. Just because you feel invested in a story or character, it’s still mass entertainment and not your personal possession.
Here’s how Shonda Rhimes (Gray’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Scandal) put it on Twitter:
People who tweet seeking advice on how to be a writer = awesome. People who tweet GIVING advice on how I can write stuff they want = crazy.
— shonda rhimes (@shondarhimes) August 26, 2013
Advice from Uncle Bill
When I was a kid, my Uncle Bill was a theater manager. That was back in the day when Elizabeth Taylor was a huge star. She was on her 5th or 6th marriage, and I commented to Uncle Bill about not wanting to see her latest movie because she got married all the time. He said, “Look at her her acting. Look at the work. That’s all that matters.”
Look at the work. A lot of people did a lot of work to tell you a story. Watch it with pleasure or don’t watch it at all. But don’t threaten to harm the people telling you the stories.
Breaking Bad image ©AMC