“An artful, fun examination of why hating America is often completely justified.” Voilà the tagline of Asawin Suebsaeng’s review of the film in Mother Jones. As it happens, I saw it last night. My excuse: (a) It’s playing at my neighborhood theater, a mere twelve-minute walk from chez moi, and (b) I’ll see anything by Sofia Coppola, as I loved ‘Lost in Translation’ and enjoyed ‘Marie Antoinette’ (okay, I thought her last film, ‘Somewhere’, was a waste of time but gave her a pass on that). As for this one, it is, shall we say, not essential. Now the pic is indeed an incisive portrayal of trash American celebrity culture in all its trashiness and of the IQ-challenged multitudes who are riveted to it, but don’t we know this already? While watching the film I was aware that it was based on actual fait divers—which is announced at the outset—but could hardly believe it, as it seemed not credible that fabulously rich and famous pop culture personalities—some of whom I had never heard of (shows you how à la page I am)—would leave gates and doors of their sumptuous Beverly Hills or Malibu villas unlocked while absent (sure), keys under the mat (duh), and with no alarm system (don’t insurance policies require this?), enabling rich, drugged-out teenage airheads to burglarize them not just once but several times, coming back for more and having parties there while they were at it. But such did happen. It really did. Trop bizarre…
On thing I must insist on: the trash popular culture and obsession with mindless material acquisition depicted—and implicitly critiqued—in the film is not specifically American. It is everywhere. The media in France or elsewhere on the vieux continent may sweep it under the rug, or strive to maintain appearances, but these countries are indeed afflicted by it. And it may not yet have reached places like Chad or Malawi, but if they ever become even moderately prosperous they will get it too. C’est sûr et certain. When it comes to this downside of the human condition, America is simply the trailblazer, c’est tout.
Another film on American young people seen recently was ‘Frances Ha’. The ones in this are a little older, of a higher intellectual caliber, and more sympathique. It’s a trifle of a film, about the trials and tribulations of a mid-20s moderately talented dancer recently graduated from Vassar named Frances (actress Greta Gerwig), who lives in NYC and is trying to figure out her life. Since she’s American and is in America, she perseveres despite setbacks, never gives up, and you know it will all work out for her in the end. I have numerous former American students in this age cohort and thought of them during the film. So far as I know (mainly via FB), life is working out for them. Reviews of the film are very good on the whole. It opens in France on July 3rd.
For the record, I should mention a film seen on DVD in the US a couple of weeks ago, Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘The Master’, that I wasn’t able to see during its run in Paris earlier this year. I hadn’t liked anything I’d seen by the director and would have skipped this one were it not for the theme, of a cult leader clearly modeled after Scientology founder Ron Hubbard (I have a perverse interest in cults and those who are attracted to them). The word of mouth on the pic wasn’t too good—the principal critique being that it was too long and boring—but I thought it wasn’t bad. Not that I’ll unreservedly say it was good either, but it did hold my attention and Philip Seymour Hoffman, who dominates the film, was amazing (he’s a great actor; as for Joachin Phoenix, I haven’t yet decided if his performance was stellar or if he was overacting). À chacun de faire son propre jugement.
UPDATE: The latest London Review of Books has a review essay of the book The Bling Ring, by Nancy Jo Sales, author of the Vanity Fair article hyperlinked to above.