Gone Girl

I saw the adaptation of Gone Girl last night, and thought it captured the book well. Gillian Flynn and Fincher did an excellent job bringing it to the screen. I loved the book. I thought it was a fantastic, dark satire of our culture’s image of gender roles and especially how the media views marriage and relationships vs. how they actually are. I feel it has to be viewed through that lens, the same way Silence of the Lambs is grand guignol and not realism. If you have not read the book, it depends on twists, so you may want to stop reading now.

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Amy Dunne functions as a modern femme fatale, threatening men with something worse than death: a woman controlling their life.
She is a fascinating creation, an entitled psychopath. Part of me wants her to be as popular as Hannibal Lecter, so we can see prequels of just how messed up her childhood was, having her parents write books with the Improved Version of her! (The parents were perfect in the movie, those smiling shitbags.) It’s too bad Amy didn’t move on to another victim, like Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction, or Kathleen Turner in Body Heat, but she’s a different. She doesn’t inspire fear by punishing sexual desire with the death penalty, her weapon is worse: Life Without Parole. Or at least 18 years of it. The perfect night terror for cads.

That’s the great fear among Men’s Rights Advocates. That a woman, or “Crazy Bitch,” will poke holes in the condom and lock them down for paternity when all they wanted was a one-night stand. Their other bugaboo is the woman who cries rape during consensual sex. Amy does both of these: She fakes rape twice, and fakes pregnancy once (or twice, depending). This could be held against the story; are you saying women are like that? No, not any more than Thomas Harris was saying “men are cannibals, or want to wear your skin.” But it’s our nature to want a hero, and this story has none. Neither spouse was innocent; Nick is more sympathetic in the film than the book, though part of that is the nature of film and using a ubiquitous actor like Ben Affleck. And I am not a fan. He was well cast because it’s easy to see him as the puppy-faced douchebag that Nick most certainly is.

If the story is lacking, it is in identifying exactly what’s wrong with Nick, other than being a cheater. If I missed it, it’s my own myopia. He’s been raised to want to please women; he’s the typical Nice Guy who isn’t, and that may be all we need to know. He wants the Cool Girl (one of the best soliloquys of the novel and film) but she also wants the Good Guy. We never get a clear view of their marriage, though she does accuse him of putting a false version of himself forward, “the Best Nick,” the one he will now have to be for the rest of his life, or she’ll come up with an even more twisted punishment for him. I wish this was explored further, but it wouldn’t have been so taut a thriller if it had been. There are other books for that. I expected Nick to be more passive-aggressive. He has no friends except his sister; that is telling in itself, in the same way Amy’s lack of friends is a warning flag. (While it’s not always an issue, I’ve noticed that when someone only has friends of the opposite sex, there is often a good reason).

In the movie, Amy’s murder of Desi is much bloodier and I felt that was a bad choice. She’s dangerous enough without going Basic Instinct on us for shock. The ending was also drawn out a little too much for me, but other than that, the film hit every note the book did. The Nancy Grace-alike was incredible, and the story’s depiction of how the media plays on our perceptions, and expects a fantasy perfection of relationships and criminalizes the reality, was spot-on. Take for example when Mr. Affleck said that his relationship with Mrs. Garner was “work.” Relationships do take work, but we’re not allowed to say so. No no. We must only show effortless grace, like Amazing Amy.

 

Extracting Judgment

I like the films of Mike Judge. Like John Waters, I think he made his bones and I give him a bit of a critical pass, that few reviewers are likely to do with his latest film Extract. What can I say? I loved Idiocracy, shamelessly elitist- even decried as eugenicist- because while it may not be scientifically sound, it was still hilarious and one of the best satires of modern America yet filmed.
Extract is more obviously a return to the “success” of Office Space, which only became a beloved classic on video and cable. This time we see things from the top, instead of among the worker drones. He’s just as acerbic mocking them as he was at Lumberg. It’s not quite as inspired as his previous hit, but that was when Dilbert was all the rage and pasty white nerds needed an outlet; this one takes a look at Joel, an entrepreneur who came up with a better way to make flavor extracts, and built a successful privately owned company from it. And we all know the sufferings of the small businessman, squeezed by the government and big competitors. Joel has bigger problems- an employee minus a testicle, harpies on the line who shut things down at every perceived slight from their co-workers, a manager (J.K. Simmons) who won’t bother to learn people’s name, a wife who locks up her goodies in the Sweatpants Locker when he’s late coming home, and perhaps worst of all, a sexy scammer who sees money in this confluence of misfortunes.
It’s a funny jumble of scenes- Joel’s best buddy (Ben Affleck, in a jerky role that suits him well) runs a sports bar and likes to solve everything with drugs; Gene Simmons plays an ambulance chaser who genuinely wants to slam Joel’s balls in a door; a gigolo, who Joel hires to seduce his wife, so he won’t feel guilty if he cheats on her, is so stupid that posts should picket the film because it says he’s as dumb as one. The structure should feel familiar; his previous films are similar. He’s good at jokes and people, but his plots aren’t exactly clever or new. But coming here for a clever plot is like seeing a Coen Brothers movie for “some good dumb fun.” What were you thinking?
Oh, Judge still stumbles at the Act 2, part 2 conflict in his scripts, and depends on characters not talking to each other to keep it going. There are things that could be solved by Joel and Suzie sitting down and talking to each other; is Willie the pot-head Cindy’s boyfriend, or brother? Why doesn’t Joel tell Step about Willie? Jason Bateman and Judge’s endearing sense of humor managed to make me look past the plot holes. I was delighted to be entertained with a minimum of vulgarity. Sure, they curse. Someone’s nickname is Johnny Horsecock; the damage done to a man’s testicles is the very linchpin of the plot. But it’s not as revolting as we’ve come to expect from humor. And I appreciated that. Just as John Waters can never top Pink Flamingos in disgusting acts committed in the name of cinema, Mike Judge may never make us laugh as hard as we did at Office Space, or the first time we saw Beavis and Butthead narrate a music video. But I feel cozy watching his films, like I’m at a buddy’s place. Having a beer. Yup.

3.5 out of 5 lost testicles

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