Bright Wall/Dark Room.
8 months ago
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Weekend Picks: We Don’t Live Here Any More (2004)

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It’s a wonder that anybody gets married these days or even bothers to fall in love at all any more for that matter because, at least according to a film like We Don’t Live Here Any More, the whole thing just seems like far more trouble (and pain) than it could ever possibly be worth. In a film like this love strangles, marriage cages, and your family sucks the life right out of you. So of course you start up an affair with your best friend’s wife, just to get some breathing space. Which isn’t exactly a great solution either, so you wind up even more confused and beaten down than before you’d cheated—only now you’ve hurt a good number of people close to you in the process. As one of the main characters tells his children early one morning, after a particularly explosive argument with his wife the night before: “it’s all just adult foolishness”. 

We Don’t Live Here Any More follows the story of two adult couples, Jack and Terry Linden (Mark Ruffalo/Laura Dern) and Hank and Edith Evans (Peter Krause/Naomi Watts), as their lives intersect in a small college town. Jack, frustrated with his suffocating marriage to the alcoholic and messy Terry, seeks solace in a passionate affair with Edith, who feels unloved in her own marriage, forever playing second fiddle to her husband’s career. Oddly, the affair provides each of them with just enough of what they need in order to stay in their respective unhappy marriages, stabilizing their depressing domestic lives to the point where they seem somehow bearable. Soon enough, though, Hank and Terry begin an affair of their own, and quite quickly the balancing act becomes a bit too much for everyone involved, and the whole thing begins to topple over with predictably disastrous results. 

Then again, we must remind ourselves that we are in the fine (if frequently depressing) hands of Andre Dubus. a masterful writer whose pair of short stories the film is based on. Compared to Carver by some and Chekov by others, Dubus was often able to capture the very real moments of our lives, the daily grind and struggles of modern marriage and romance, and the misguided but human ways in which we attempt to sort out solutions. It should come as no surprise, then, that We Don’t Live Here Any More is a dark and depressing tale of infidelity, friendship, and marriage—but it also shouldn’t surprise you to hear that it’s all quite finely wrought.

We Don’t Live Here Anymore is not at all an escape of a film, or something to watch when you’re seeking comfort or relief from your screen. It’s an often depressing and brutal film, and was largely overlooked upon its initial release for many of these very same reasons. Still, it’s a film that’s well worth seeing and now, nearly ten years later, it’s our very first Weekend Pick.

—Chad Perman

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9 months ago
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My Life Without Me (2003)

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THIS IS YOU, WHO WOULD HAVE GUESSED IT?

by Erica Cantoni

23-year-old Ann is dying.

In between night shifts, scrubbing talcy black boards and speckled linoleum hallways at a university she didn’t attend.

In between rousing to dress, feed, and nuzzle her four and six-year-old daughters, stringing clothes onto wet flapping laundry lines, concocting affordable family meals in their tin can camping trailer of a home before leaving for work, again and again.

In between continually suppressing her own fatigue in order to cheer on her Good Husband with no job, or to comfort her beautiful Nordic mother with no hope.

In between all of this, Ann is secretly—and quickly—being overtaken by uterine cancer.

Within minutes of meeting Ann (Sarah Polley), we understand that she is an almost unfathomably kind and good woman, in deeds and patience above all. Pregnant at seventeen, and then again at nineteen, by the puppyish Don (Scott Speedman), a perpetually unemployed but rakish and good-hearted man, the first and last person she has ever kissed. Loving to the point of her claustrophobia, even if you don’t understand yet. Ann is no mere dutiful adult—she is a thrilled and wondrous mother, a compassionate and selfless wife.

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Ann and Don live budgeted and cheap, together with their lovely and wholly different daughters, in Ann’s mother’s back yard. You understand that life is hard for them but somehow also cozy, somehow still a thing that someone might want. My Life Without Me never lets you pity Ann entirely and maybe she understands that too. Halfway through the film, Don tells her that he wants to take care of her. Wants to give her a better life than the one they have (though he marvels "you never complained, you never once complained.") But it’s not that you would never want this life, it’s just that it is too oversized for a 23 year old. It’s too big and too functional for the greedy careless aspirations of the young – like a wheelbarrow for toddlers.  

Throughout the movie, there is a stoic and simple style of dialogue. There are no perfect lines, no artificially tragic sentiments or cheap deep witticisms, little glamour. And so Ann just talks like a tired young mother in a cold Canadian city probably would. Like a girl born with a strong, sharp mind but no time left in her days to develop it.

Early on, Ann faints and goes into the hospital alone. She sees a composed Eastern European doctor who diagnoses her plainly, but can’t quite look her in the eye when he tells her that she will be dead within two months. Ann calmly points out that such poor delivery methods must be a liability in his profession. He agrees, and admits that the nurses are starting to talk about it.

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Ann sits with the doctor, in that quiet hospital hallway, freed from responsibility for a few hours, pensive. Eating his ginger candy and deciding not to share this with anyone but him. Not to share the news and not to share the experience either.

Ann determines not to tell anyone that she is dying. She creates a clandestine life, a second self. And maybe that is the allure of keeping this secret. Much like an affair, it becomes a thrilling and terrifying thing for your brain to fondle and obsess about, to knock down walls and expand rooms over. Dying and cheating can be almost strangely life-giving.

Ann’s initial reaction to her impending death is every bit as pragmatic as her life has been. She makes a to-do list: Record annual birthday messages for her girls until they are 18. Tell them she loves them daily. Go to Whalebay Beach for a picnic. Find her husband a new wife.  Drink and smoke as much as she wants, finally. Go visit her dad in jail. Sleep with another man.

She meets Lee (Mark Ruffalo) in a 24 hour laundromat. He offers to fetch her some coffee and then comes back to find her stretched across their orange plastic chairs, asleep. He blankets her with his coat, folds her laundry through the night, and watches her until she wakes up, until it is light. He sends her home with his navy pea coat for the sudden cold, and a novel he has hidden in her clean clothes. He leaves a note on the title page, his number and a request to call.

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Days later, she does, and then goes to his house, which is empty as a drain.  They sit in his nondescript car, in the rain, and listen to the mixed tape his sister sent to him from a radio station up north. They kiss. They scramble. They brush up against that dangerous moment of decision over whether there will be touching and love making, over whether they will disregard what they ought to do in favor of what they want to do. The choice closes in on them without any formal discussion, but a clear understanding that she is married.

So be it.

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Ann’s collection of remaining days unspool. When she learns her life is nearly done, almost ready to set down, you can see Ann begin to budget her remaining self differently.

Sometimes she works. Sometimes she finds a salon and asks a woman to change her, to cut or color her hair, to paint her fingernails—to make her something worth spending money on. She reads Lee’s book and goes to visit her father in the penitentiary and tells her husband that she loves him. 

The children will get those birthday tapes, recorded in a front seat, off-the-cuff, with wisdom she doesn’t struggle too deeply to find. Don will get the pretty, sweet new neighbor to nurse him. They will get the so-called gift of oblivion in her final days. 

But Ann will get songs she’s never heard before, with Lee, in his car. Drives to forested and befogged overlooks, seafood restaurants at the pier. A time to lie naked with him and not let him know too much about her.

And this is the part that is difficult, as a viewer. I instinctively want the people in Ann’s life to have more of her as she is leaving. But that is not what she wants. She wants more of herself.

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Maybe you, too, have been in relationships so gridlocked that you shamefully, fleetingly wished that the other person would somehow die a painless death so that you might be nobly allowed to leave. So that, a secret coward, you might be freed.  But it had never occurred to me that your own terminal illness might present you with a sort of freedom, limited as it may be.

I think about all the reasons to be unfaithful and it becomes hard to deny Ann hers. My wife doesn’t understand me; we never have sex anymore; we have plenty of sex but none of it is any good. We outgrew each other; he cheated on me first; she doesn’t love me anymore; no one understands me. Maybe you can understand me. Maybe you are the one person in this whole damn world who can reflect me back to me and make life worth something again.

So maybe everyone cheats to feel alive again. To be saved.

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And that’s why Ann really strays, isn’t it?

It’s not the cancer, climbing up into her liver and lungs. It’s the relief from a life she both resents and adores. The girls who climb into her lap at night and close their eyes, one two three four five six, all together. Arms wrapped around each other like ropes, swaying on an imaginary raft to the sound of their mother’s stories, into sleep. How could you resent these girls? And yet she does, some, amidst all that ardent glycerine love.

Don is right; Ann doesn’t complain – she is not her mother’s martyr daughter. But there is a tiny weary umbrage, held down like an anchor, that suggests she sees her life as something that happened to her. You can read the lists of implied sacrifice:  the schools she didn’t go to, the day job she doesn’t get to work, the cigarettes she chose not to smoke, the alcohol she refrained from. The new clothes she doesn’t wear and the absence of disposable time to learn, the inexperience of new hands and mouths on her, the men she’ll never know chose her for her and not for duty and daughters. The doors no one ever held open, the house she never had. The years she never had. Having to be better for her girls than her own parents were for her.

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But now, just in time, she has this fast and secret courtship with a man that needs her, wants her so badly that you can see it in his sad grimace. Not for her domestic service, but for her—the mystery of her and the way she thinks and her own wounds and everything we always think we’re waiting to be wanted for.

Somehow, her husband remains oblivious—both to the affair and to the illness—and that makes me hate him just a little. Gives empathy points to Ann. What good is a good man who doesn’t really know you? Who has forgotten how to see you.

In the afternoons, after Don has found a new job constructing swimming pools a town away, Ann and Lee sit in his vacant living room, empty but for stacks of books and table lamps set on floors. Ann asks him why he hasn’t furnished the house yet. And then answers herself: "Because you think whoever left might be coming back."

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I cry five times watching My Life Without Me and then return a phone call to someone I have been fighting with. I do not, after my years and scenarios, sympathize much with Mark Ruffalo or Sarah Polley for their love cut short. Maybe it was a pulpier, more real and independently vital love than the routine relationship she and her husband had. Or maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was just the timing, just the fresh thrill she felt she was owed.

When the movie ends at the docks, Ann gone even sooner than predicted, I don’t cry for the wronged lovers. I probably don’t begrudge them either. They chose what they chose and I guess I hope they were happier for it. I do cry for the little girls left behind, though. Bourgeoisly for wondering if Don knew, for immature Don’s heart if he did. For Ann too, I guess. For the lives we choose and the ones we don’t and the almost unavoidable loneliness that runs through them all like railroad tracks.

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Would Ann have cheated on Don if she wasn’t dying? Is it less abhorrent because she was? 

Does it matter?

You want to know the real cost of cheating? It is simply this: You will never see each other the same way again. And that is the sacrifice we make when reaching out for something to fill us up. Again. Finally. The betrayal is not in anything so simple as whose appendage went into whose orifice. Grow up. It’s about this: How can the betrayed ever again look at the cheater or, hell, themselves without a sense of disappointment? 

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And they also don’t tell you this: There is something in the cheating itself that changes the way the unfaithful party sees the betrayed, the innocent. There is something a lot like respect lost in the transaction, and even if that feels particularly cruel, well, there it is. If I cheat on you, I will loathe myself and you so much that I will maybe never be able to look at you with pure attraction or admiration ever again. I will despise you for leading me to this, for letting it happen, even for taking me back. Infidelity is no bending, no stretching. It is all burning and breaking.

And while I adore this movie, I also recognize that it is a cutting short of infidelity’s full cycle. It is a tragic fairy tale. Ann cheated on Don because she was dying and it remained a short, contained indulgence. Presumably, Don will never find out. But what if he does? What if, upon her death, a possessive and heartbroken Lee can’t help but confess to Don his own claim on Ann? What part of her cheating remains inconsequential then? And, whether Don ever realizes it or not, the affair Ann had surely pushed her away from him as she neared her death. Left her with less admiration for him, for the father of her children. For her publicly chosen life. That is the trade off. In the end, Ann is not around to opine on whether it was worth it and we are not qualified.

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Back in Lee’s empty house, in that frozen fantasy, Lee tells Ann that, at best, you maybe ever really know 10 percent about the people you love. And that if you worry too much about learning the other 90 percent, you’ll ruin everything. 

Don knew the version of Ann that functioned and purposed. That mothered and wifed and cleaned and slept too little and sang “God Only Knows” to him off-key but so sweetly and worked tirelessly to be better than everything she had known for her family’s sake. And Lee knew the part of Ann that needed to make love on bare floors to sad strangers, to discuss books in the woods, to feel beautiful rather than just good, to really talk in diners at midnight, to dream of travel and everything that hadn’t happened yet.

In the end, who can really say which man had the greater percentage of her life. Or how much of ourselves  we are expected to know only by ourselves.

How much we just keep carrying on.

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Erica Cantoni is a writer and a person living in California. You can read more of her work here.

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1 year ago
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In Defense of Sentimental Schlock: A Taxonomy of Made-for-Television Holiday Films

by Elisabeth Geier

Say you’re home for the holidays, at your parents’ house in the town where you grew up. Say there’s not much for you to do during the day. Say the one or two friends from high school who you might actually want to see didn’t come home this year. Say you’re wary of going to the movies in town because the other people from high school—the ones you never want to see again in your life—are likely lurking in line at the concession stand, or waiting just inside the door of the restroom, to assault you with awkward hello’s and how-are-you’s and did-you-hear-about-my-wedding/baby/novel/successful start-up/multiple advanced degrees?

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Say you’d rather stay in, on your parent’s comfortable couch, so much more comfortable than any couch you can presently afford, and watch movies on their enormous new flatscreen TV, so much more enormous and flat than any television you can presently get away with hanging on your bare, rented walls.

Say that despite your hometown agoraphobia, and the shroud of sadness and shame that inevitably descends after a few days in your parents’ house, you are still all about the holidays, all about the fantasy of the hap-happiest season of all. Say you love Christmas, truly; the candy-coated, pine-scented, make-believedness of it all. It’s fantasy. It’s escape. You yearn for impossible scenarios with impossibly happy endings, poorly-scripted and cheaply-produced, preferably involving film and television stars in some kind of career shame-spiral, just to remind you that hard times hit us all. You yearn for things corny and colorful, because it’s the holiday season, and during the holiday season you’re allowed to go all-out, cheese-balls-to-the-wall sentimental.

Here, then. Add a little egg nog to your rum. Settle in to your corner of the couch. Turn on the flatscreen. Refer yourself to the following, a guide to made-for-television holiday films—with a guarantee that you will find at least one example from each genre on cable at any given time during these last few days leading up to surrounding Christmas—and then…give yourself over to the schmaltz.

THE FAITH-BASED FANTASY

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Characterized by: tragedy and redemption; Scrooge-like characters rediscovering the meaning of Christmas; third-act shifts into Christian morality play.

Network: Lifetime

See: The Christmas Shoes (2002) based on the popular-among-Christian-moms, offensive-to-everyone-else song “The Christmas Shoes.” In the film, Rob Lowe plays Robert, an attorney whose work keeps him from engaging with his wife and daughter. Kimberly Williams is Maggie, an elementary school music teacher with a mechanic husband (complete with a working-class New England accent, the only accent in the film) and a sensitive son. Watch as Kimberly Williams develops a mysterious, fatal heart condition, which she faces with dignity and grace! Watch as her precocious, sensitive son sets out on a quest to buy her the perfect, final gift: a pair of Christmas shoes! Watch as Rob Lowe gives a master class on face-acting for television film: a closed mouth means disappointment, an open mouth means surprise! If you’ve heard the song, you know the ending, but this movie is still worth watching for the climactic, slow-motion race to get the shoes to mama before she meets Jesus tonight.

See also: The Christmas Blessing (2005), a sequel starring Neil Patrick Harris as the grown-up version of the boy from part one. I don’t want to give everything away, but let’s just say there is an amazing surprise-organ-donation resolution. And again, Rob Lowe’s face.

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Palate cleanser: Patton Oswalt’s angry, hilarious dissection (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iq10bz3PxyY) of the song on which the film is based.

THE DRAMATIC ROMANCE

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Characterized by: The country mouse/city mouse paradigm; redemption via charitable acts; middle-aged men and women finding love.

Network: The Hallmark Channel

See: A Holiday to Remember (1995), starring Connie Selleca and country music star Randy Travis. Divorced businesswoman Carolyn (Selleca) leaves New York City for her South Carolina hometown, precocious pre-teen daughter in tow. She reconnects with her high-school sweetheart/former-fiancee (Travis), who is now the town sheriff. This is embarrassing to admit, but I think Randy Travis is a dreamboat. A wooden actor with terrible enunciation, but a dreamboat, nonetheless. And yes, he does sing in the film. There is caroling. There is a runaway orphan with a shaggy dog.  There is a climactic birthing scene. As a bonus, Rue McClanahan (may she rest in peace) guest-stars as a meddling but well-meaning aunt.

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See also: On the Second Day of Christmas (1997). Pre-fame Mark Ruffalo as a mall security guard who has a Christmas Eve run-in with a beautiful shoplifter (Mary Stuart Masterson, forever Joon in our hearts) and her precocious, pickpocket niece.

Palate cleanser: “The Christmas Song” by Weezer. Because in real life, Christmas romance sometimes means waiting beside the tree, all by yourself.

THE MAGICAL ROMANCE

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Characterized by: Modern variations on A Christmas Carol; Santa in trouble; Santa in love; Santa in a skirt.

Network: ABC Family

See: Snow (2005). Tom Cavanaugh (television’s Ed; dreamboaty in his own right) is Nick Snowden, aka Santa Claus, Jr. Santa’s sleigh is grounded when one of his reindeer, Buddy, is captured by a big-game bounty hunter. Because the sleigh won’t fly with only seven reindeer, Nick has to use his magical mirror to transport back and forth between the North Pole and Southern California, where Buddy is being held captive in a zoo. But guess what: the zookeeper is a pretty lady with a tragic past and a big heart, and she loves Christmas! Bobb’e Jaques Thompson, of Role Models fame, co-stars as the requisite precocious kid, and helps Santa spring the reindeer and get the girl. The best thing about Snow is that all the performers appear to be having a genuinely good time, especially when pretending to jump into a mirror, or holding a one-sided conversation with a reindeer. The worst thing about Snow is that all the kissing is close-mouthed. Can’t a Santa get some tongue?

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See also: Christmas Do-Over, aka Christmas Groundhog Day, in which comedian Jay Mohr is the poor man’s Bill Murray, re-living December 25th again and again until he gets it right. This movie is B-A-D, but worth it for the schadenfreude of watching Mohr sing and dance to win Daphne Zuniga’s heart.

Palate cleanser: Are you joking?! The magical romance made-for-television Christmas movie is the best made-for-television Christmas movie of them all. No palate cleanser needed, if you ask me. I suppose Bad Santa is an option, if you prefer your St. Nick stand-ins more salty than sweet.

To quote Dino and the Chairman of the Board, it’s a marshmallow world in the winter. Marshmallows are fluffy, confectionary fun. They’re also full of ground-up pig skin and bovine bones. There’s something disgusting about the holidays, something sad, something lurking under the sweetness to bring you down. But that’s what the couch and television are for. Why not save your cynicism for other months, tell your refined taste to stuff it, and let yourself sink into the sweet, pillowy, air-puffed nothingness of made-for-television holiday films. Will it make you feel a little dirty, a little guilty in the pleasure you take from seeing faith, love, and Santa Claus save Christmas over and over again? Probably. But you can always purge the sickly-sweetness in January, when Oscar nominations are announced and you have to rush to see every Important Film you overlooked during the year.

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You know Elisabeth Geier loves Christmas. She always will. Her mind’s made up the way that she feels.

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1 year ago
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Body Swap Week: 13 Going on 30 (2004)

I WANT TO BE THIRTY AND FLIRTY AND THRIVING!

by Andrew Root

In a few weeks, I’ll be turning 30 years old. I can say things like “it’s been seventeen years since I last took a piano lesson.” I’m sure this signifies something.

I was recently asked to take a small, non-singing part in a college musical in which I play a WASPy Harvard University admissions officer who is befuddled – utterly befuddled! – by a young lady who dresses all in pink and, in lieu of a personal essay, applies to the prestigious learning institute via a headshot (can you guess?). The director of the play, a sprightly 23-year-old, said that the part needed a more mature element, and since it didn’t involve singing (actually, it involves looking about bewilderedly, wondering why on earth everyone else is singing), I agreed. At the first read-through of the script, I met the rest of the cast; first year sociology majors arrived in their pyjamas cooing eagerly over how coffee is just the best, while their elders—the wizened third and fourth years—ate apples and bananas and talked about which teacher’s college they were going to apply to. I was asked what my major was, what year I was in. Someone I didn’t know gave me a hug when we were introduced. I began to tilt my head to the side as one might if interacting with an adorable baby goat, and say things like “Oh honey, no. I’m old. I don’t have a major.”

I’m starting to feel my age.

Some of these people were 13 years old only five years ago. Where were they then? At 13 years old, I was most likely devouring Smashing Pumpkins’ Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness in the bedroom that my non-identical twin brother had just vacated, ending our lifetime status as roommates. There was a baseball border running around the ceiling and red, yellow, and blue sponge painting on the walls that my mother refused to let me paint over because she had put so much work into it just three years previous. I was a year away from my first kiss with a girl named “Mickey” who I’d never met before and haven’t seen since. I played baseball twice a week in a church league, and I’d discovered that masturbation was amazing. I’d given up piano lessons and I got straight A’s in school. I would be awarded the “citizenship award” at my grade 8 graduation (though I’m still not quite sure what I did to achieve such a title). I was a good kid, by all accounts.

Around the time you turn 13, you find that you can earn friends by either being nice to certain people or being mean to other people. I chose the former, my brother the latter—and I was his target. He was the picture of a cool kid: tall, athletic, confident with a rebellious streak that got him noticed by all the girls in the class. I was shorter, my hair was fluffy and unruly, and I still wore whatever clothes were bought for me, usually from Zellers. Though I was a natural target, I was strangely removed from the politics of being liked. I had a group of similarly picked-on friends, and who needed everyone else? I realize that this is not the case for everyone.

Jenna Rink, the awkwardly earnest protagonist of 13 Going On 30, wants desperately to be part of the popular clique, and aims to get there via a system of stuffing her bra, dressing in neon, and shunning her Talking Heads-loving best friend, Matt. She’s fully embroiled in the politics of adolescence, all with the goal of being liked in mind. At her 13th birthday party, Jenna is tricked by the improbably named “Tom-Tom”, leader of the “Six Chicks Clique”, into waiting blindfolded in the closet for Chris (the magnificently-coiffed object of her desires). In a total dick move, everyone sneaks out. When Matt appears in the closet instead of her expected beau, Jenna is devastated and curses her one true friend.

Here’s where it gets strange. The magical body change of this movie comes via a conveniently placed cloud of “wishing dust” that falls about Jenna as she brokenheartedly repeats her magazine-inspired manta: “I want to be thirty and flirty and thriving.” In a “presto chango!” that fast forwards her life by seventeen years, the gawky teenager is transformed into Jennifer Garner, and is magically spirited away from her embarrassing suburban house into a sleek Manhattan apartment, complete with a job at a fashion magazine and a hunky professional hockey player for a boyfriend. Even the 30 year-old Tom-Tom (Judy Greer) has become her best friend! Jenna jumps along the timeline from 1987 to 2004, clearing the bog of adolescence and all its trials and embarrassments, and when she comes to, she’s shocked to find what her life has become. You know what they say about being careful what you wish for…

Why 30? Because at 30, you’re supposed to have everything figured out. You’re supposed to have a home and a family and a career. You’re supposed to be set up for the rest of your life. Just writing that sentence made a wave of anxiety wash over me. At thirty, my brother and two older sisters were married, houses and careers secured, little ones either on the way or already arrived. I rent. I have no kids and no plans for kids in the near future. I have two degrees, but have recently made the decision to abandon my career path in favour of I don’t know what. At 30, I’m starting all over again.

Did I do something wrong? Am I a failure? By a lot of people’s standards, yes. Without the traditional benchmarks of success, I wear a target on my back for well-meaning, back-handed comments. When I landed a job working with at-risk teens (a job I am both good at and find incredibly rewarding), the news was superseded by the fact that it only offers part-time hours. “Well, it’s something,” the well-wishers say, with a tight-lipped smile and a hand on my shoulder like I’m a diamond miner who found coal instead. I recently skipped my 10-year high school reunion, in large part because I didn’t want to spend the evening explaining myself and the reasons why things aren’t exactly where I thought they might be.

Like any good Faustian parable, Jenna gets what she wants at the expense of her soul. As the newly-transformed Jenna acclimatizes herself to her new lifestyle, new body, new personal dynamics (just why is everyone afraid of her?), she comes to realize that during that seventeen year lapse, she became kind of a bad person. She’s selling out her coworkers to a rival magazine; she cruelly ditched Matt at that party and never spoke to him again, favouring a Machiavellian rise through the ranks of her high school’s social network; she never sees her family; her boyfriend is a douche. Thirteen-year-old Jenna can’t imagine how she got to this place. By all appearances, she’s everything she wanted to be as a grown-up, but after one week of critical insight into how she got there, the whole thing comes crashing down. Jenna realizes that her rejection of Matt dramatically fractured her one real friendship—and that she’s unable to get him back. Seventeen years of bad blood and hurt feelings have led him into the arms of another woman, and it’s simply too late for her to make sufficient amends. Our hero is long past the time when dancing solves problems.

Jenna, or course, gets to go back. Just when she’s at her lowest, that darn cloud of wishing dust swirls around her and she wakes to find herself back in the closet of her parent’s basement—13 again, with all her choices and mistakes ahead of her. A quick transition to a wedding and a candy-floss pink dream house speak to her better choices the second time around. The film resolves with her on the lawn of her new home, with her old friend/new husband, happy, and very much in love (and by the looks of the house’s size, pretty successful to boot).

And there’s the fiction of it all. I can’t clap my hands and take a year off before going to university to find out what I really want to study instead of just majoring in whichever subject I got the highest marks. I can’t take back those two separate occasions on which I cranked up massive amounts of debt to travel across the Atlantic for two different girls. I should have done more research into just how oversaturated the job market was before I dedicated two years to pursuing a career that maybe I wasn’t very passionate about in the first place. But I can’t do that. And why would I want to?

I like my life. I’ve got good friends, a wonderful family, a caring and supportive partner, and limitless potential. I don’t anticipate having anything figured out as I traverse my thirties, and who’s to say I should? There is no benchmark number. There is no age at which you are supposed to be any one particular thing. I can see the comfort in that way of doing things, but nothing exciting happens when you’re comfortable. That isn’t to say that you should buck tradition for the sake of it. Just know that it’s okay to not have it figured out. You’ve got a friend in me.

But Hollywood gives us happy endings for a reason, and it’s important to keep dreaming. And so, with the help of some conveniently-placed wishing dust, here are a few wishes for my dream life at 30:

  • A publishing deal for that childrens book I started writing about the charming neighbours and their whimsical adventures.
  • A theatre that could financially support all the theatrical people in my town who have professional-level talent, but not professional-level opportunities.
  • The discovery that my dog no longer turns nasty when I try to trim her nails.
  • A real New Penzance Island (from Moonrise Kingdom), where I would live in a replica of Suzy Bishop’s house.
  • Woodworking skills.
  • A local cinema that regularly holds Terrence Malick retrospectives alongside Jim Henson tribute nights.
  • Wisdom, satisfaction, a sense of adventure.


Andrew Root wants it known that this is the first movie that Andy Serkis chose to do after Lord of the Rings. He tumbls here.

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