Single British Female, or, Random Thoughts on Recent Things

1. Notes on a Scandal I was mightly excited to finally get to see this film this past weekend but wound up a bit disappointed. Not that Dame Judi Dench doesn't give a delicious performance -- for which she has rightfully received an Oscar nomination. In fact, you can almost see that joy an actor must feel at having such a juicy, evil role to play. And I really, really wanted to like this movie more than I did. It's a dark and eerie tale of deception and friendship and sin and emotional blackmail that's incredibly well done and well-acted. But I thought it devolved into a sort of Single British Female soap opera by the end of things, seizing on the worst stereotypes about women in general (and lesbians in particular). Plus, the entire plot turned on a completely inexplicable device -- an all-too-conveniently crumpled piece of paper Cate Blanchett's character just happens to come across in a trash can. There's no explanation or reason that it should have been there and seemed so implausible that all three of us who saw it together were pulled out of the movie in one of those "wait...seriously?" moments. Not a bad movie but I wasn't as wild about it as the critics were.

2. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Okay, so I'm about a year behind in jumping on the bandwagon o' praise for this Jonathan Safran Foer oeuvre but what can I say? I'm only now getting back into novels after reading mostly screenplays and short stories the past year. It's a terrifically moving book revolving around 9-year-old Oskar Schell's search for meaning in his life after the death of his father, who was at a meeting in the World Trade Center the morning of September 11, 2001. Oskar is a compelling and heartbreaking narrator and although the book got a tad trying at points when switching narration to Oskar's grandfather and grandmother, I thought the times I got to spend inside the nine-year-old's amazing little mind were really great. He's one of those characters with such a balance of "realness" and quirkiness that you develop a deep and abiding affection for him. I'm not sure how many other authors could tackle the delicate subject of 9-11 with such grace and humor and unique perspective.

3. Conversations with Other Women

I rented this movie from Netflix over the weekend and while it didn't impress many critics, I have to say I loved it. It's the story of a man and a woman who meet at a wedding reception and while they initially appear not to know each other, their intimate past is slowly revealed through their flirtation. The director uses a split-screen effect throughout the movie and although I can see where people could find it a bit too much, I actually liked the way it served as a narrative device so that you could see both actors at the same time or, in some cases, see a visual expression of a character's conflicted emotions. It stars Helena Bonham Carter and Aaron Eckhart and I found both of them charming enough to make up for a general lack of plot. Not sure everyone would agree though. Don't think Chris found it nearly as intriguing as I did. I think it might be of particular interest to people who are fascinated with the way stories are told, the way perspective shifts the reality of events and the way people relate to each other.

4. The Year of Magical Thinking

I tried reading this book, by Joan Didion, last year and couldn't quite get into it. It's a memoir about the sudden death of her husband, writer John Gregory Dunne in 2003 from a sudden cardiac event -- just after her daughter lapsed into a coma following what seemed initially a routine bout of the flu. I don't think I would have been ready to read it a couple of years ago, but it's a brave and honest look at death, grief and the insanity of the way we think, the way our brains and our hearts process loss and the shift in reality.

You know, in case you were wondering.