Friday, June 17, 2016

Nosh 20: 'Maggie's Plan,' 'Weiner' & More

By David Elliott

Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, served fresh each Friday.

APPETIZER (reviews of Maggie’s Plan and Weiner)
As Georgette, a New York tumor of academic ego in Maggie’s Plan, Julianne Moore brandishes a sort of Russo-Germanic accent that calls to mind when the Red Army and the Wehrmacht jointly invaded Poland. Like them, she knows how to kill, and her PC feminism turns volatile when her mild, dominated husband John (Ethan Hawke) falls for young, lonely, sperm-seeking (for pregnancy) Maggie. Georgette’s notion of winning him back is an intellectual endearment like “Nobody unpacks commodity fetishism like you do.” John, insecure novelist and “ficto-critical anthropologist,” is genuinely moved. Basically he’s a sensitive twerp, a slave to his penis (for more on that, see the next review).

Rebecca Miller’s comedy obtains pleasing hints of gravity from Greta Gerwig, who plays Maggie as a kind of floating, naive temptress who doubts her sexy charms. Gerwig, current Queen of the Indies (previous queens: Carol Kane, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Lili Taylor, Parker Posey), has a passive dreaminess kinked by funny rushes of impulse that seem buoyant and spontaneous, with echoing elements of Judy Holliday in the ’50s. This is Gerwig’s hip rom-com, on a clear genetic line from ’30s screwball dames to Holliday, through Woody Allen’s Diane Keaton to the frisky Big Apple sitcoms of modern times. Each mood twist nudges laughs, with mild frets about how people holding these jobs (Maggie is a modest educational functionary) keep such nice apartments in modern, deluxe-priced Greenwich Village.

The movie’s plan is obvious, with its triangular ping-ponging of familiar crises, its pretty children as adorable props, its old songs, its supporting couple (Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph) who loyally insert wisecracks and tighten plot threads. Miller, a deep New Yorker, is rich in territorial knowingness and she writes good zings. But her comedic choreography is a little closer to clog dancing than Ginger Rogers. Clog, not clod.

The politician’s downfall in Weiner makes those in Citizen Kane and All the King’s Men seem gracious, almost demure. This documentary tells about the 2013 New York City mayoral race of Anthony Weiner. Two years after his career as a liberal firebrand in Congress was killed by a “sexting” scandal, the scrawny, hyper politician attempted a comeback. But when new crotch selfies surfaced, he turned desperate and became a sucker for every punch. No city stages raw exposure more nakedly than the Naked City, and Weiner was a pitiful worm on a media hook.

The soft take on Weiner is that he was wrecked by his “victimless” crime. But here, clearly, is the victim: Weiner’s wife Huma Abedin, for years an aide to Hillary Clinton. The tragedy of the film is the humiliation of Huma, who turns mute as Tony kamikazes. He’s still the hurt, snarky kid whose “funny name” helped set him up as a viral phallic joke. In an update of the old Charles Atlas muscle-builder ads, he is the weakling who tosses a tantrum and kicks sand into his own face.

Like last year’s Amy, about sad, dismally addicted singer Amy Winehouse, Weiner is a binge of self-destruction. Both films have some caring nuances, but with sadistic zeal each leaves their subject defenseless. Seeking fast, shallow, digital sex, Weiner allowed his most private digit to ruin his life. Will our new rooster, Mr. Trump, with his huge phallic ties and almost pubic crown of hair, flop so brazenly? Please, yes.  

SALAD (A List)
Here are 15 Good Movies About Politicians (with leading star and date):
The Last Hurrah (Spencer Tracy, 1958 ), Secret Honor (Philip Baker Hall, 1984), The Candidate (Robert Redford, 1972), Il Divo (Toni Servillo, 2008), The Best Man (Henry Fonda, 1964), Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis, 2012), Blaze (Paul Newman, 1989), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (James Stewart, 1939), Bulworth (Warren Beatty, 1998), All the King’s Men (Broderick Crawford, 1949), The Iron Lady (Meryl Streep, 2011), Gabriel Over the White House (Walter Huston, 1933), Election (Reese Witherspoon, 1999), A Lion Is In the Streets (James Cagney, 1953) and The Great McGinty (Brian Donlevy, 1940). Special, partial case: Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941).

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
On Oct. 30, 1938, having detected the first tremors of a national panic caused by his radio show The War of the Worlds, Citizen Welles signed off: “This is Orson Welles, ladies and gentlemen, out of character to assure that The War of the Worlds has no further significance than as the holiday offering it was intended to be, the Mercury Theatre’s own radio version of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying Boo.’ … ‘I’ve often wondered if you had any idea (of the public response) before you did it,’ Peter Bogdanovich asked Welles decades later. ‘The kind of response, yes,’ replied Welles. ‘That was merrily anticipated by us all. The size of it, of course, was flabbergasting.” (From Patrick McGilligan’s invaluable Young Orson: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane.)

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
“Stars often define their context. Buster Keaton rules any space he enters, and Kim Novak fulfills the Golden Gate in Vertigo. Stars can surprise, like Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi, giving depth to campy Ed Wood. The best thread the needle of nuance, like Paul Giamatti in Sideways, his heartache crammed into barely speaking the name of his ex-wife’s lover: Kennnn.” (From the Introduction in my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, available on Amazon, Kindle and Nook.)

DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.

Audrey Hepburn as Natasha in War and Peace (Paramount/De Laurentiis, 1956; director King Vidor, cinematographer Jack Cardiff)

For previous Flix Nosh meals, scroll below.

1 comment:

  1. Another Politician film: State of the Union. Spencer Tracy (the Anti-Trump businessman outsider presidential candidate)