One of my favorite hypotheticals to play is “what’s my dissertation going to be about?” I’ve heard some good ones from friends in the academy, some of whom are putting them together as I type. I often formulate my ideas here, but haven’t nailed it down yet.
It could very easily be about Fox Searchlight and its role in commodifying indie during the 2000s. Read the titles — Napoleon Dynamite, Garden State, Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, Slumdog Millionaire, (500) Days of Summer, Whip It! Hell, even Darjeeling Limited was a Fox Searchlight picture. And while Wes Anderson’s 2007 India road movie showcases The Kinks and not Vampire Weekend, his quirky aesthetic is all over Garden State, Napoleon Dynamite, and Juno.
But I’m a little resistent to the idea of writing about Fox Searchlight, despite the fact that I think it’s essential to formulating theories about the decade when indie broke. For one, I’m not a huge fan of many of these movies (I’m with Annie — Garden State seemed way less profound the second time I watched it). For another, to my surprise, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist was distributed through Columbia.
I saw Nick and Norah during its theatrical release in fall 2008. I hated it. I thought Lorene Scafaria‘s script was too slick (perhaps unfairly comparing it fellow Fempire screenwriter Diablo Cody’s work). I didn’t know why headphone-crossed Jersey kids Nick O’Leary and Norah Silverberg (played by Michael Cera and Kat Dennings) had the same first names as the gin-soaked sleuths of The Thin Man series, nor did I understand why their playlist was infinite (maybe I’d have to peruse Rachel Cohn and David Leviathan’s book on which the movie was based).
Some of the hatred was unfounded. Since iPod ear buds appear to form a heart on the movie poster, I assumed Apples were gonna fall on me like I was Isaac Newton. Refreshingly, the movie’s music geeks are pretty low-fi. These kids like antiquated things like posters, fliers, radios, and mix CDs. Me too.
Annie and I talked about the movie last May. She seemed to think that it was mostly just okay, but liked that there were gay teen characters whose sexuality wasn’t commented upon. But then she also asked me my opinion on a scene that I had completely misread. So, several months later, I finally got around to rewatching it.
Truth told, upon second viewing my response wasn’t quite as venomous. It contained some promising moments, and I do like Mark Mothersbaugh’s score. That said, I don’t think I can in good conscience like this movie.
1. Norah Silverberg has a friend named Caroline who clearly has a drinking problem (kudos to Ari Graynor for playing drunk convincingly, as it’s hard to do well — I also thought she was hot in Whip It!). Caroline stumbles around New York City alone, black-out drunk, and swimming in her own vomit. She’s also positioned as a burden on her BFF who often abandons her to go be with a boy she likes, thus cancelling out any sisterhood this movie could have. All of this, to my horror, is played for laughs. The entire time, I was just hoping she wouldn’t get raped, abused by the police, or die of alcohol poisoning.
1A. Caroline runs into men at port authority who won’t help her get home. One of these men is a ticket taker played by Frankie Faison, who was awesome as Commissioner Burrell on The Wire and several other things you’ve seen him in without knowing his name. The other is a mute fast food employee who lets her eat his turkey sandwich, played with the precisely executed defeat Kevin Corrigan brings to the majority of his sad sack characters. Someone be an ally and help get this girl home.
2. I find the whole love triangle between Nick, Norah, and Nick’s ex-girlfriend and Norah’s classmate Tris unfortunate. Tris (played by Alexis Dziena, who folks may also remember as Lolita in Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers) is a popular girl who would probably only spend time with a dweeb like Nick because he’s harmless and his adoration boosts her self-esteem (perhaps not unlike cheerleader Cindy Sanders dating geek Sam Weir at the end of Freaks and Geeks). Thus, Tris follows Nick throughout the whole movie, first in the hopes of making him jealous at his gig by waving around her new boy only then to be jealous when he starts hanging with Norah.
Oh, and Tris and Norah hate each other. Norah thinks Tris is a skeeze and Tris thinks Norah is a frosty box. Girl power!
2A. Tris gets Nick to drive her home toward the end of the night and does a sexy dance for him on some dock. He strands her in New York in the middle of the night. Yikes! Not the way to be, bro.
3. While it’s interesting that Nick O’Leary is in a queercore band called The Jerk-Offs, his gay bandmates function as little more than the gay best friends (see also: Sex and the City or the mice in Cinderella). They’re cute, fashionable, insatiably horny, and all too willing to be saddled with Caroline so that Nick and Norah can fall in love. One of them is Asian American, which perhaps should be exciting, but he gets little more dimension than the “MySpace is the new booty call” guy from He’s Just Not That Into You. His name is Thom, by the way (played by Aaron Yoo).
Also for some reason, these guys carry a box of push-up bras in their van so they can help make over the supposedly frumpy Norah so she can help Nick get over Tris. These bras fit her, somehow.
Admittedly, they do come up with a good alternate band name. I’d go see Dickache.
3A. There’s some icky homophobia that goes on in Andy Samberg’s cameo. While I’m sure it was deemed good for his brand to be associated with this project, I’m not sure Nick’s crazy homeless sexual predator is quite the angle I’d go along with.
4. I’m not sure how good The Jerk-Offs are, but I doubt they’re big enough to open for Bishop Allen. Just sayin’.
5. It’s much harder to navigate the entirety of New York in a night by public transit. Somehow these kids are doing it on foot or in a van. And they’re always finding a place to park. Infuriating.
6. The entire Where’s Fluffy? storyline is a disaster.
For one, the band should never be named, because any band name Scafaria came up with was not going to serve the mythological importance the band serves for the characters. As it stands, Where’s Fluffy? is on par with Hey That’s My Bike! for worst movie band names (I think the best might be Sonic Death Monkey and Kinky Wizards from High Fidelity, but welcome other examples).
For another, the movie doesn’t pre-date social networking and wireless communication technology, yet you’d think it does. Before the kids got to any gig, someone might have checked Twitter, Facebook, or received multiple text messages from other friends about the status of each show. Instead, these kids rely on the radio, and are thus completely clueless about the status of their favorite band’s show. How’s that for lo-fi?
Oh, the storyline does get one other thing right. Gossip can lead to awesome fake-outs. The funniest example in my experience was when Dinosaur Jr. were rumored to reunite to headline the Merge showcase during SXSW 2006. I think there was a rumor that The Arcade Fire were going to play the same showcase as well. People stayed in line for hours to catch . . . Spoon. Admittedly, Spoon are a great band. But they were local at the time, and pretty easy to catch. Haha.
I think I was waiting to see Animal Collective at the time, which my partner scorned me for because a) the show was kinda boring (err, I mean . . . “meditative”) and b) Neko Case and Sharon Jones were playing at the same time. Win some, lose some.
Finally, having the kids chase Fluffy around town doesn’t make sense, especially when a far less convoluted resolution exists: the concert sells out. It happens all the time. I bet it really happens all the time in New York, as it has more people and fewer venues to accomodate them, hence why so many alternative venues have formed. No brainer. Also, a sold-out show is a great way to get the leads together. I’ve had some lovely dates as a result of not getting in to a show.
7. If you’ve gotten this far in the list, are you noticing how busy this movie is? It’s only 90 minutes long too. As a result, all plot twists feel hasty and poorly developed. A lot could be cut out of this movie. I’d remove Caroline’s drinking or the love triangle (actually, it’s a love rectangle — I forgot that Norah is sort of dating some rock wannabee named Tal, played by Jay Baruchel). If I kept the love rectangle, I’d have the leads be with nicer people who just aren’t right for them. I feel like this is more interesting, and truer to real life.
So what did you like about this movie, Alyx?
There’s one thing I loved about it, and her name is Kat Dennings, who plays Norah.
I’ve actually liked Dennings for a while, due in part to the fact that her dry, off-kilter cadence reminds me of my friend Hannah from Karaoke Underground. The first time I saw Dennings was as Jenny Brier, an overly sophisticated tween who employed Samantha Jones to put together her bat mitzah in season four of Sex and the City.
I felt she was underused as Catherine Keener’s daughter in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. I thought she was cute in the Nylon cover she did with Olivia Thirlby. I will eventually get around to watching The House Bunny for both her and Anna Farris. I like her. Please have her be in more things.
I found Dennings’s performance as Ms. Silverberg to be winning, making all of the insecurity that comes with being the nerdy smart girl high school guys don’t tend to notice until after they’re in college. Norah even gets a few additional layers. Her first kiss was with a girl. She’s the daughter of Ira Silverberg, a fictional producer who runs Electric Lady and not being sure if she wants to inherit the family business or enroll at Brown or perhaps choose a third option that doesn’t evince her privileged standing as an upper-middle class girl who attends a private Catholic school.
As an aside, Norah is but one more free spirit fictional character who considers going to Brown, keeping company with girls like Serena Van Der Woodsen. Perhaps they wanted to follow in the footsteps of Todd Haynes and Duncan Sheik and major in semiology. They also boast a pretty rad student radio station.
I was drawn to this at 17, but knew I couldn’t afford to go or did well enough on the SAT to qualify. I jumped through that hoop just once before the application deadline to UT. I was a Texas scholar, so I knew they’d accept me. Once I got in, my AP test scores qualified me for sophomore standing, allowing me to double major in journalism and history.
But Norah is also interesting because she is proudly Jewish. I wish this had been brought in to her experience at a Catholic school, but nonetheless, I find it interesting that Norah identifies so strongly with both the cultural and religious aspects of her heritage.
Finally, Norah makes me like her relationship with Nick, or at least feel confident about how she’ll get to shape it as an equal. When the movie takes the time to breathe and let the scenes between Nick and Norah unfold, we get the sense that these are two very well-suited people who are out on the town for one night only to discover that they could be embarking on something special, perhaps even transformative, but it isn’t executed in a heavy-handed, obvious way.
Which finally brings me to the scene that Annie convinced me I needed to rewatch. It’s their love scene. When I originally saw this scene, which takes place in the recording booth at Electric Lady, I thought it was dumb. Hooray, Nick’s magical penis surges Norah toward a once out-of-reach orgasm. It was especially irritating because the scene originally seems as if it’s going to play out with Norah recording Nick playing guitar, but instead we get to see her climax through the level readings of the recording equipment.
While I still really wish we got to see Norah’s technical prowess and Nick’s vulnerability as a feminized, performing subject, Annie is right. Nick is coaxing her . . . digitally, which allows her pleasure to take focus and has little to do with his gendered anatomy. Interesting. If the movie had made some more surprising turns and given itself room to do it, I might have enjoyed it as much as its female lead.
I was talking with my friend and neighbor Rosa-María during Glee‘s fall finale about Freaks and Geeks. We were specifically talking about the final episode, “Discos and Dragons,” which she just rewatched. In it, Michiganian teen protagonist Lindsay Weir is loaned a copy of The Grateful Dead’s American Beauty by her hippie high school guidance counselor Jeff Rosso and steps into a larger world.
I’m not a Deadhead. For those of you watching Community, main character Jeff Winger’s religion/Paul Rudd analogy in this week’s episode is pretty much exactly how I feel about the band (i.e., we understand the appeal and don’t begrudge it, but also don’t share it). To me, I’ve long wondered why anyone would listen to the Dead when there’s Santana, a peer jam band that was more rhythmically intesting with a better lead guitarist. And before anyone starts mailing me bootlegs, I have also heard American Beauty. My first listen even took place around some pretty optimal conditions. It didn’t take.
That isn’t to say that I’m not fanatical about other things. For one, I’m a huge Animal Collective fan, who are themselves a bunch of hippies with a rabid fan base. And while I don’t think the two bands sound that much alike, both espouse feel-good truisms like “What do you want me to do, to do for you to see you through?” and “You have your fits I have my fits, but feeling’s good.” And of course, Animal Collective’s “What Would I Want? Sky” samples the Dead.
I’m fanatical about this show too. It’s one of my favorite television programs, perhaps of all time, and unlike some of the critically-acclaimed fare of the decade (ex: The Wire, The Sopranos, Mad Men, 30 Rock, The Office, season two of Friday Night Lights, season three of Arrested Development), I don’t think I know anyone who has seen Freaks and Geeks and doesn’t like it. I’m especially fanatical about how much music factors into both the characters’ lives and the tone of the show. For a show set in pre-MTV suburban Michigan, it nails the radio domination of classic rock, the percolation of punk and post-punk, and the general antipathy toward disco. Thus, it makes sense that Lindsay and many of her peers would be into the Dead, as they’re also into The Who, Led Zeppelin, and Rush.
As an aside, one of Lindsay Weir’s clearest televisual counterparts is not a Deadhead, even though the band was fashionable at the time of her show’s season-long run. Angela Chase, the angsty protagonist of ABC’s ultra-90s’ drama My So-Called Life was given her father’s tickets to a Dead concert in “Father Figures” because he couldn’t make the show. She scalped them out of anger toward her father, who she caught talking to an attractive woman who was not her mother outside their house. She also did it for the chance to talk to her crush Jordan Catalano, who was willing to buy the tickets from her. But it’s also clear that Angela doesn’t get what all the fuss over the band is about, much to the ire and bewilderment of her Deadhead friend Rayanne Graff.
I think Lindsay becoming a Deadhead is really interesting. Throughout Freaks and Geeks‘ 18-episode run on NBC and the Fox Family Channel, Lindsay worked toward defying expectations. Sometimes, these expectations were put upon her by her peers, whether they be her kid brother Sam and his nerdy friends, the Mathletes she used to be close with as a geeky good girl, or the burnouts she hangs out with throughout the series’ run. Other times, they were put upon her by authority figures, whether they be the concerned faculty at William McKinley High School or her parents, who feared this bright girl was throwing her life away by running with a bad crowd.
But the best moments for me of this show were when she defied her own expectations, which were already considerable. She does it when dumping freak Nick Andopolis, an otherwise nice boy who was completely wrong for her, and later when she tries to be his friend. She does it when she rejoins the Mathletes only to quit again after realizing that she doesn’t get any joy out of it. She does it when she tries pot for the first time, only to discover that she really doesn’t like it. She does it when she sticks up for her friend Kim Kelly in English class when they both dismiss Jack Keroauc’s On the Road, to the disdain of their pretentious teacher. She does it to dazzling effect when promoting her family’s sporting goods shop while sticking it to Vice President George H.W. Bush and his lackeys for throwing out the original question she was going to ask him in assembly during his visit to her school.
She does it here too. Originally skeptical of the Dead’s profundity, she gets a gentle nudge from a stoner couple at her school (one of whom is played by Samaire Armstrong, who I enjoyed on The O.C. as Seth Cohen’s music geek girlfriend Anna and who had an enviable platinum blonde pixie cut with hot pink roots in the Lindsay Lohan vehicle Just My Luck). When Lindsay gets the record home, she slowly absorbs the music and ends up “getting it,” whirling around exuberantly in her room.
As an aside, kudos to actress Linda Cardellini for being able to make what could be an otherwise cheesy scene believable.
Discovering the Dead couldn’t come at a better time for Lindsay. As her junior year winds to a close, she finds out that she’s been selected to participate at a state-wide academic summit at the University of Michigan. The idea of spending two weeks of summer vacation participating in competitive seminars and hobnobbing with her supposed intellectual peers sounds like a flattering offer but a pointless exercise to her. It sounds like little more than résumé padding to me, though I probably would’ve gone if offered it at that age).
However, the idea of following the Dead from Texas to Colorado with her Deadhead friends and Kim sounds like an ideal way to spend part of her summer vacation. So she decides to skip out on the symposium to go truckin’.
And while I have no doubt that Lindsay ends up going to a good college anyway, I’d imagine that those two weeks did more to shape her as a young woman than battling wits with a bunch of eggheads about great literary and philosophic work ever could. She’s probably the kind of person UC-Santa Cruz are looking for to manage their Grateful Dead collection. At the very least, I’m sure she’s got some items to donate.
The other night at a friend’s birthday party, I was talking with some friends about what TV shows they’re watching. There’s so much good stuff on television these days that it’s hard to keep track. My friend Neesha’s Thursday night viewing schedule requires DVRing some shows that she catches up on during the weekend. But if you missed a show in its first run because you don’t have cable or it was cancelled before you had a chance to tune in, you can always catch up on DVD (well, at least if the show was released on DVD).
As a TV fan, I keep thinking about theme songs. How do they set the tone for the show? How do they convey characterization? What does song selection say about the show, its cast, and its creators? How is meaning changed if the song was written for the show or if it’s a popular song? How do legal processes intervene if popular songs were used and can’t get cleared? So I thought I’d start covering some of them here, and would greatly appreciate it if you fine readers threw out some suggestions.
The first theme song up for consideration pre-dates production, but very much fits the show’s early-1980s Michigan suburb setting. The song is a proud, snotty declaration about being an individual and not giving a damn about your bad reputation, which perfectly reflects the show’s unpopular teenaged ensemble.
It also gestures toward the show’s cult status. Though cancelled on NBC after barely a season, the show developed a rabid fan base. After jumping through several hoops to get all of the period-appropriate pop music cleared, the show was released on DVD, resulting in the widening of said fan base. Oh, and the song is by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Total bonus.
BTW, if you haven’t watched Freaks and Geeks before, you really need to get on the stick.
There’s a lot to love about this show — its underdog cast, their attendant class baggage and/or compromised social standing, and the show’s expert balance of comedy with pathos are but few attributes.
I think the opening credits do an amazing job of distilling who and what the show is about. By using Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ “Bad Reputation” to accompany picture day — that freak show day of hair gel, ugly sweaters, and constrictive suits — we immediately know who these kids are. Sam is the flustered late bloomer, Daniel is the hunky loser with mystique, Neil is the older-than-his-body dweeb showman, Ken is the tough guy who won’t smile, Nick is the doofy yet loveable stoner, and Bill is the gawky, aware kid who thinks all of this is nonsense. If only Daniel’s tough girlfriend Kim Kelly got her picture taken too. She could easily out-scowl Ken.
But my favorite picture-taker is Lindsay, who serves as the show’s protagonist. Now, I may be a little biased. I’m all about smart, bored, conflicted, proactive brunette characters and would like more of them to show up in Freaks and Geeks producer Judd Apatow’s subsequent film work. In the opening credits, I specifically love that Lindsay gives a guarded, toothless half-smile for the camera, only revealing her megawatt grin for a brief moment after the picture is taken. This brief moment perfectly captures the awkwardness of being a teenage girl growing up in public and wanting to defy expectations of what that might mean. Something tells me Joan understands, and isn’t afraid of any deviation.