I am keen to kick off the new incarnation of this ‘blog’ as, in part, I mean to continue – that is to say, by writing about topics that are so violently a thing of the past that people dressed in Kryal Castle-style medieval robes should be present in order to guide the reader through my offerings. Namely, while I was holidaying in a grand old gold rush town, I went to see the film I Don’t Know How She Does It. Thousands jeered when I told them of my mother’s and my plans to take in a ten a.m. session of this flick, but I regard sitting through the occasional I Don’t Know as the price I pay for only wanting to see films that are about wealthy people living in big cities, although I also favour a gritty urban drama featuring extremely poor people, if it manages to fulfil the function of making me feel better about my own lowly status. Then, when safely back in Melbourne, I belted off to see We Need to Talk About Kevin, which, if nothing else, admirably fulfilled this latter function.
As it turned out, the characters in I Don’t Know weren’t quite rich enough for my liking, as I would have preferred them to be dripping with jewels, but they were still a great deal richer than I am ever likely to be, given that the heroine, Kate Reddy (Sarah Jessica Parker), has one of those classy all-purpose banking jobs that was the provenance of Frances O’Connor’s character in the, strangely unexciting, Cashere Mafia. Kate’s husband, Richard (Greg Kinnear), is an architect, which, spookily, was also the job of Frances O’Connor’s husband in Mafia. The thinking seems to be that architects are suitable semi house husbands because they, apparently, only ever hang around the apartment, or occasionally walk up a street, while on the brink of landing a huge commission, for which, for some reason, they are in contention, even though they are one-man operations. (Anyone who thinks that architects are not high-powered has never watched Richard Gere in Intersection, given that in that film he is playing an architect and a man, Vincent Eastman, who is the master of all he surveys.)
Several years ago, I read the novel on which the film of I Don’t Know is based and seldom have I loathed the heroine of a book, or even a living person, so much. The work in question was one big bleaty English whine about how very much this tiresome woman had to do, to which I could only respond, ‘Well, no one forced you to have these children, so could you please, for the love of Jesu, just shut up about it?’. (The next heroine of a novel whom I hated as much was Claire Truman in Because She Can, a roman a clef about a book editress’s miserable life working for a Judith Crist-style harridan. The young woman in question not only had an adoring artistic family, but, previously to being in the Crist-style human’s employ, had had an avuncular boss who adored her, and she, furthermore, had issues with being ‘under challenged’ by her work, both of which made her a massive crawler, to my way of thinking.) I will say for the film’s incarnation of the heroine of I Don’t Know that being American, she makes some kind of attempt at cheer, unlike the whingeing British harpy in the book. Furthermore, in terms of characterisation, Kate is, at least a human being, if not an especially recognisable one, which is not the case with her ‘driven’ colleague, Momo (Olivia Munn). Momo, strangely enough, does not, on the occasion of an important meeting, enjoy having to hold a lot of mothering-related objects that Kate pulls out of her copious bag and, in order that we see what a cold fish she is, speaks in the manner of a cyborg. (Similarly, Kate’s colleagues are shown to be uptight bastards because they are insufficiently charmed by her barging her way into a packed elevator while holding a whole heap of helium balloons – God forbid she should actually show some consideration and wait two seconds for an empty lift to appear). The cyborg is ultimately humamised by becoming a mother herself, something that Kate assures her is the most wonderful thing that could ever be. Now, as Kate is the only person in the hospital room after the much-vaunted baby arrives, it appears that the cyborg is to be a single mother without even the benefit of any family help, which will be bags of fun for her, I’m sure.
Kate has two children, Emily, who’s a vile little beast, and Ben, who, while he has a pleasanter disposition than his sister, does not appear to be the brightest child in the world. There’s a minidrama when he has to go to hospital after getting a bad bump on the head, and it is hard to imagine that this injury could make him much stupider than he already is. There is also a bitchy, always-on-the-gym-treadmill stay-at-home mother, Wendy, played by Busy Phillipps, an actress who is slumming it massively after being a regular on Freaks and Geeks and Dawson’s Creek, and Kate’s best friend, Allison. Allison is portrayed by Christina Hendricks, who is, obviously, also slumming it massively, and has the same look of ill health that John Cusack sports whenever he’s in another massive pile o’ shite such as America’s Sweethearts or that film in which Noah Taylor plays Adolf Hitler, with, no doubt, the vim and vigour he displayed in Vanilla Sky (now, I admit that I have not seen this film about the fuhrer; apparently it contains the line ‘Come on, Hitler, I’ll buy you a lemonade’, which, alone, would surely worth the price of admission). For some reason, even though Allison isn’t a working mother herself, she periodically delivers statements to camera about the plight of her fertile, overemployed sisters, as though someone were interviewing her – I am at a loss as to whom this person might be but am confident that it was not the same personage who did the interviews with old Communists that are dotted through Reds. Allison makes, for example, the observation that when a working woman leaves her place of employ to go to a child’s sickbed, she is looked at with disdain, which, I have to say, is not something that I have ever witnessed to be the case. I admit that I might have looked at these women with disdain, given the commensurate increase in my workload that is the result of the sickbed visiting, but I’m well aware that it’s not the fashion to express dissatisfaction with this state of affairs.
Not an enormous amount happens in the course of I Don’t Know, which was completely fine with me, as I don’t like struggling with plot developments. In essence, Kate and Richard fall out of, and into, understanding with each other, and she spearheads some huge deal that involves her working closely with big wheel Jack Abelhammer (Pierce Brosnan), who falls madly in love with her, being, apparently, extremely attracted to women who balls up even the very simple task of sending an email, not to mention being afflicted with lice. He listens with breathless interest as Kate natters on about her children and about her love for the common man’s sport of bowling. At the film’s climax, at which Jack confesses his passion for Kate, she takes her leave of him, in order to go and build a snowman with her daughter, even though, as my mother pointed out, as it had only just started snowing, there would be insufficient snow for this task. After a lot of back-and-forth about the matter, Kate decides to keep her job, because she, allegedly, ‘doesn’t know who she is without it’, but is now going to say ‘No’ more often, which, it seems to me, she was doing plenty of already. Now, we’re plainly supposed to regard her as some kind of hero for this stance, even though she is the sole person who is going to benefit by it. Certainly, I would hazard, her colleagues will not, as they would probably far prefer Kate simply resign, and be replaced by someone who is actually willing to leave her mobile phone switched on occasionally and generally be much less of a nitwit. However, seeing I Don’t Know How She Does It actually did cause me, finally, to meet my personal hero. When we, unaccountably, could not find the exit out of the cinema, the usherette who answered my hysterical plea said, ‘If you can’t get out, you’ll have to sit through that again’.
Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, on the other hand, is a book that I am crazy about, in partial measure because I don’t have any children. I’ve read the story of reluctant mother Eva and her murderous son, Kevin, several times, in the same spirit that someone who has managed to get out of joining the navy would read The Caine Mutiny. Therefore, I could not wait to see the film, and I sat excitedly through the trailers, even my 185th viewing of the one for that flick about Margaret Thatcher, the theme of which seems to be that the old strikebreaking fiend was really a twinkly eyed pussycat who closely resembles Meryl Streep.
My enthusiasm was misplaced, though, as my main emotion by the end of Kevin was the desire never again to see the colour red, given its extensive use in this particular work, or to see an extreme close-up of food, either just sitting on a plate or someone eating it. The other chief motif of the film was heavy-duty irony, such as mugs with smiley faces and balloons with smiley faces at scenes of tension or of general overwhelming despair, or the Beach Boys’ swoony-adolescent ‘In My Room’ being played while Eva snoops around Kevin’s joyless chamber. Frequently, the film’s director, Lynne Ramsay, was able to hit the jackpot by combining a close-up of food with the colour red, as with hands spreading strawberry jam on white bread, or amalgamating the colour red with a spot of paradox, such as large red poster reading ‘Expect Great Things’ being positioned close to the scene of Kevin’s massacre of his schoolmates. I appreciate that the cinema is a visual medium but I wanted a lot more conversation and far less of such visuals as Kevin, wordlessly, in profile and Eva, wordlessly, staring straight ahead, as though they were members of Bjorn Again. I violently missed all the verbal wise-arsery of the novel that makes its edition of Kevin, even though he murders a teacher, several of his classmates and his father and little sister, a strangely engaging presence. Furthermore, and while I also appreciate that films shouldn’t have to follow their source material slavishly, I do just want to point out that Eva’s husband, Franklin, is a much, much bigger arse in the book, undermining Eva at every turn while slavering over Kevin and being dismissive of his little daughter, Celia. Rather than having cuddly John C Reilly in the role, the part clearly should have been played by the improbably named Mark Valley, who played the hulking Aryan Republican ex-marine in Boston Legal.
It is difficult for me to know with whom, out of the makers of I Don’t Know How She Does It or We Need to Talk About Kevin, I need to be in more of a rage. Yes, the people behind I Don’t Know were making a film so lazy that it seemed as if the grandparents from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory were at the wheel, while those who brought us Kevin were, at least, attempting something that wasn’t completely submental. The problem with this, though, is that the Kevin people were mishandling much more valuable source material; whatever the opposite of alchemy is, that is, unfortunately, what those ambitious humans were up to.