Sunday, September 21, 2008

Outside and In the Bedroom


As I sit here at my computer, I can feel the whispers in the next room. Two lovers behind imaginary walls tear at my mind. I can still hear them like a pre-pubescent boy hears something behind his parents bedroom door. What are they doing in there? What are they talking about? Why, after all these years, do I sit here as an adult and still wonder so many things about love and sex and relationships? Why do I feel alone? Doesn't everybody? I think the mere existence of these questions in my head relate directly to the types of movies I enjoy watching. I will talk about a few of these movies--ones that, I believe, contain these types of questions and offer answers.
David Gordon Green, "that poet of the cinema" (according to Roger Ebert), has made four immaculate and highly dramatic movies in the last eight years and one good buddy/action/stoner comedy. I side with Ebert on Green as poet. The man makes beautiful, touching, heartbreaking films that do a great job of uncovering the human motivations that drive relationships and make them fail. David Gordon's Greens fourth film Snow Angels fits right into his already stellar cannon. His camera glides around a small, frozen town. We see the kids at band practice. We see one of our protagonists and his reaction as we hear a gunshot in the distance. We see sunlight glistening through the trees as a Bobcat operator scoops salt to the side of the street, we see a man pumping gas, and then we meet our principle characters, the young man at band practice Arthur (Michael Angarano), his former babysitter Annie (Kate Beckinsale), and her estranged husband Glen (Sam Rockwell). It is "Weeks Earlier."
The most enlightening and beautiful thing about Snow Angels is the way it deals with young love. However, there is a dark, very dark side as well. The film basically tells the story of two relationships--one just beginning, one very far gone. Annie and Glen were high school sweethearts who fell victim to small town life like so many others. Glen began drinking, they probably started fighting, she kicked him out, and he keeps trying to come back to being husband and father for real. We know that he never can and so does Annie, but Glen keeps trying. She is beautiful albeit worn down. He is a drunk and has tried to commit suicide, but he is getting better. Theirs is the very far gone relationship. When we meet Glen, he is going to spend the day with his daughter, Tara. Annie is going to sleep with Nate (Nicky Katt) at a local motel. There is a tragedy that arises in the midst of this triangle, which only adds to the difficulty. And it is beautifully and heartfelt the way it is exposed to us, but this part of the story is not what I want to get into. I'm not merely reviewing this film. I want to talk about a specific aspect of it and how this aspect relates to me. And how I became happy and satisfied watching a very somber film. 
Now for the enlightening and beautiful. While Annie and Glen's tragedy plays out, we get to see through the eyes of Arthur Parkinson (16 or 17 years old). Arthur is fairly quiet but a normal kid. His parents (Griffin Dunne and Jeanetta Arnette) are going through a rough split, but he seems to be dealing with it. Meanwhile, Arthur has caught the eye of a cute, spectacled new transfer student named Lila (Olivia Thirlby, Ellen Page's best friend in Juno). The scenes between these two young actors provide the best example of acting/writing/directing as a whole in recent memory. There probably hasn't been a better story of young love since Green's second film All the Real Girls, which is a beautiful film on a whole different level. What is great about Green's writing and directing here and previously is his seeming love of getting inside his characters heads and in their lives, their homes, their bedrooms. In fact, I was reminded while watching Snow Angels of Todd Field's magnificent 2001 film In the Bedroom. Those questions I asked early are at least hinted at or tried out in films like this, and this is the first time since seeing Say Anything... that I felt so happy seeing a teenage relationship develop onscreen. So many movies mythify and make young love seem so hokey.  We all know it is not. Take this exchange between Arthur and Lila at about the midpoint of Green's movie:

Lila writes "Hey You!" on Arthur's hand. She takes her glasses off.

Lila: I think I look weird without my glass. You know what else I think? I think I like you. 

Arthur half-smiles. You can see the happiness.

Lila: ...And I think you like me too.

Arthur: Oh! (sarcastically)

Lila: At least I want you to like me because when you smile i think it's attractive.

What follows is perfect and serene and reminds you of that time in your life. Your first experiences with the opposite sex, maybe even love. Their relationship is heightened in a later bedroom scene where the young couple experience oral sex with each other, and it is in such a realistic and beautiful and non-graphic way it's no wonder nobody saw this film. I, for someone who is currently having a helluva time with life and love and romance and relationships, am lucky to have experienced something like Arthur and Lila have going on when I was that age. I leave you to decide for yourself when you see this film. 
Most people have never heard of this film. It was actually made in 2006 but couldn't find distribution until late 2007/early 2008. It serves as another example of the flawed Hollywood system of producing crap for the masses and hiding the gold. I am one who has always been a seeker. Show me love, all sides of it, and give me truth. 

  

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