“What promises, unspoken or otherwise, have Nick and Amy broken to each other as their relationship bloomed and withered? What is expected of a husband and of a wife, what contracts have these two souring yuppies violated? Gone Girl prods at these questions with a morbid sneer—not quite as thoroughly, or effectively, as in the book, but it is rare to see a movie this glossily mainstream plumb the dank, scary sub-basements of marriage the way this film does.”—GONE GIRL review!
Hello Richard, I have a question! About books. Have you read anything recently that you love/would recommend? The last book I recall you recommending is "A Visit From the Goon Squad" which I bought and subsequently cried my eyes out over every time I read it (in a good way, such a great book). Hope you're well and in any case, Happy September.
Glad you liked it! I love that book. Love love love it. Some other recommendations:
- Await Your Reply and You Remind Me of Me by Dan Chaon
- Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
- The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham
- Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Read all of those while on trips in the past few years and they pretty much all made me cry in different ways.
I. I’m moving on Friday. Actually moving. After a year or two of wondering if maybe I’d go to Brooklyn or maybe just get out of this little studio up here on the sixth floor and go somewhere else nearby, I’m actually going. I haven’t even been here for three years, but I still feel like my whole adulthood has happened in this apartment. I turned 30 here. I stood in a particular place I’ve never stood before or since, over by the cable box, leaning on the high dresser, when I talked on the phone with my friend’s boyfriend, he telling me she was dead. I had a very few guys up here, but the ones I did mattered, in big and different ways. Pretty much everything I’ve written on here, on this dumb blog (are we still calling them blogs?) was written on this little brown couch, the one my sister bought, fleeing from a different apartment, before she left it all behind to go to L.A. (Only to come back again—she’s now in a nice place in Williamsburg.) This little hermitage, on 14th Street, central and small, has been the nexus of, well, me for long enough that it feels very strange and sad to be leaving. I haven’t packed at all, because I’m no good until the last minute, so it doesn’t feel over yet. But there’s tonight, and then Wednesday, and then Thursday, and then that’s it. All that! Just three more nights of all that.
I don’t know how I’ll feel in the new place, deeper in the East Village, with one of my best friends. I’m sure I’ll miss living alone, but I hope I don’t. Living alone hasn’t been great for me—I’ve the Tumblr posts to prove it. I’ll miss the convenience, the ease and annoyance of Union Square being right there. I don’t know that we can really ever prepare for something new until it happens and then it’s not new. I had a drink with my future roommate tonight, who just started a teaching job at a tony prep school uptown, and she’d been so nervous all summer, nervous but also blank. She didn’t know what to feel. Because how could she know until she’d been there? And now she has, and it’s good, and it’s nice to have the question answered. I’m eager for that, to not live in that weird liminal spot where I am right now, all my books and Playbills and DVDs and whatever else seeming less like accumulated life than just a chore, things to be thrown in a box and carted off. I can’t wait to feel like myself again, my new self, anyway.
The NYU kids are coming back. I saw them yesterday, tromping down 14th Street with “Class of 2018” T-shirts. I like to joke every year that the freshmen look like children, actual children. Such babies! And they do, sometimes. But mostly they just look like people, albeit people with bright faces and sloppy gaits, as yet unburdened, un-muted and tightened in the way that too much time spent in Manhattan can do to you. The Class of 2018. It’s such a silly, enormous number that it doesn’t mean anything. The Class of 2014 was much, much scarier. 2018 is an imaginary number, one only the math geniuses, lugging their boxes into their new homes while their parents nervously inspect every vagrant dotting the block, can understand. I wish them luck! But me, I’m moving toward the river.
II. I joined a gym. I joined a gym and paid for 20 sessions with a personal trainer. An insane expense that I can’t afford, but they pressured me into it, there in the little downstairs office, the guy giving me his practiced spiel, frustratedly losing his way every time I interrupted him with a stammering question. I’m glad I was hoodwinked, though, even if my bank account isn’t. The sessions are tough and I dread them, have even last-minute canceled a few out of fear, but I’m starting to see the good in them, the focus they draw out of me in a way that sitting in front of a computer and letting my mind reel but my body fall apart does not. My trainer, Matthew, is a weird guy. He’s into Magic: The Gathering and talks about chess. He told me he was a literary agent once and I’m not sure I believe him. He said to me today, while I was struggling on some horrid machine, that he wants to get back to writing, “If only someone would let me do it.” All I could muster to say in return was, “Yeah, it’s a racket.” And he wasn’t sure what I meant by that, which is fair, because I didn’t know either. It just felt like all I could say, sweating there in that gym. I turn to the side in the mirror every night to see if there any results. Of course there aren’t yet, and never will be unless I do the other work required, like diet and cardio. But still. I’m going. And all that pull and push and dread eventually giving way to relief is worth something, it feels like. I hope I keep going once the gym isn’t an easy two doors down from my apartment.
III. I went to Fire Island. This strange trip, like a pilgrimage. When I was about two years old, my uncle Bobby died, he and his lover and pretty much all their friends wiped out by disease. But before that, there had been summers on Fire Island. He owned a house in the Pines, and I went there once, as a baby. I’ve seen the photos of my sister and me in the pool, have heard the dim, gauzily remembered stories about my toddler sister enamored of drag queens, grabbing at their sequins and feathers. Nearly thirty years later I went back, to meet some friends, to stay at a house in Cherry Grove and sit by the pool and go out at night, to be enamored of the drag queens myself. That place had loomed so large in my imagination that, my whole time there, I had to keep reminding myself that I was, in fact, there. I liked it, I think. That you can see the mainland, and yet are so hidden and tucked away, clapping around on little boardwalks, contained by the feverish, sad, horny spell of the place.
The friends I was with were accommodating, knowing that I was nervous about the whole thing. The couples I didn’t know who were also staying at the house were great too, summer expats from Connecticut and Toronto who let some part of their year, every year, orbit around the island. We went out, we drank a lot, some of us smoked a lot. There were too many innuendo-y jokes for my taste, drag speak hurled around with abandon, but it was fun to try to forget myself for a few buggy nights.
At the grocery store in the Pines—the Pantry, excuse me—right by the checkout line, where impulse buys usually are, were the ultimate impulse buys. Condoms and lube and enema kits and laxatives and all those gnarly gay sex-related items that, I blushed to think, the checkout girls were so familiar with. Probably more familiar than I am, anyway. I felt like a stranger on Fire Island, but peering in, saying “Ohh, I see,” was its own kind of success. We stumbled home on the beach one night, from the Pines to Cherry Grove, and I stopped a few times to point up at the very visible stars, and though no one there on the beach with me was all that interested, I thought of my mom. Who, when we’re in Rhode Island, likes to rush my sister and me outside and point out some constellation, or a planet’s seasonal glow. My mom might have been on that beach once, with her brother. It was sad to think about. It felt, sometimes, like I was walking on bones. But as the ferry chugged away, back to Long Island, and I watched older gay men serenely waiting to get back to the city to pick up supplies and then return all over again, the island, and all its bitter and lovely history, seemed perfectly eternal. Tragedy and loss and time be damned, there are still sunny, choppy Tuesday afternoons in the summer.
These are the two obvious metaphors about Fire Island: that it’s this spit of land just to the south of everything else, this tiny strip where people seek out each other. Where they can be together in their difference, there in the thin place between land and the deep, lonely oblivion of the ocean. And then, second metaphor, there are the deer. Who are afraid of nothing. We were walking through the Meat Rack (during the day, I’m not that brave yet) from Cherry Grove to the Pines and we stumbled across a doe and her two fawns, picking at the dry grass near the site of a fire. We hung back for a second, thinking that if we got too close to this mother’s young she might attack us. But we quickly realized that she was not fussed about us being there at all. Or about her being there. The deer on Fire Island are, more than any other creature on that silly line of scrub and sand, perfectly, wonderfully confident. Completely content with where they are.
“The Simpsons and My So-Called Life seemingly overlap very little on any sort of television Venn diagram. And yet, watching both this weekend, it was clear that they share some central spirit. Of course, both shows are about family, the reliable chaos of closely tethered people rattling around under one roof. Both series, in their own particular ways, are keen to the forever shifting resentments, allegiances, and power dynamics of familial life. And when confronting the outside world, the series are admirably, stunningly even, attentive to detail and texture, that certain essential spark of life. The Simpsons, in its heyday, was a cartoon populated by very few cartoons, while MSCL was the rare show about teenagers to not pit kids against a monolithic idea of adults, or vice versa. Smart and empathic and clever in an age when a lot of television wasn’t, these two shows were both, in their wildly different styles, beautiful and thorough depictions of American life.”—Comparing two shows that maybe don’t need any comparing!
“Is it asking too much for a slower, more deliberative Y.A. fantasy? It might be. Though, with the wrecks of Beautiful Creatures, The Mortal Instruments, Ender’s Game, and (I’m predicting) future Divergent films dashed on the rocks below Twilight and The Hunger Games’s towering perch, you’d think that maybe, just maybe, some intrepid studio would go a different route, rather than ritualistically following the same old beats and hoping for different results somehow. (Is that the definition of Hollywood insanity?) Sadly, The Giver is not that daring film.”—The Giver doesn’t survive the translation, I’m afraid.
“Besson clearly has had these themes rattling around in his head for a while and wanted to spill them all into a movie somehow. So here’s Lucy, a brief, furious burst of ideas and action and style that doesn’t quite congeal into a thoroughly realized, or even all that comprehensible, movie, but that earns our admiration, or mine anyway, for at least trying to do something with the well-worn superhero genre.”—LUCY is a lot of fun! Review!
I like that in Los Angeles the phrase “magic hour” is a commonly used expression of time. Not just by people in showbiz. It’s just a generally expressed idea, about when the sun is setting, and the sky, light bouncing off the Pacific, is a starchy pink and a lonely ochre, a sad, searching orange, like the sky itself is wistful about the end of the day. It really is magic! I heard this phrase a few times in the past week, and it gave the city a specialness, as if some knowing, unseen cameras were pointed at us the whole time — this, in the land of movies, another movie.
I know a lot of people who have moved to L.A., and people who have always lived there, whom I found through various strands of the Internet. And every time I visit, the question pops up, “When are you going to move out here?” In the past, I’ve always responded with a chuckle and a false “I wish!” Because so much of that city, spread out thin and brown and dismal as a dry floodplain, is so unappealing to me. And because the driving scared me, all that it implied about big distances and fast car rides.
But I did some driving, enough driving, this time out, and saw friends with whom I’m closer now, and miss more because of it, and the fuzzy picture of an imagined me living in Los Angeles, started to look, well, a little less fuzzy. Maybe this could work! Maybe the driving—I even took the freeway!—isn’t quite as frightening as I’d imagined. Maybe the sleepier corners of a city that is troublingly unconcerned with limits can still be cozy and comforting, and even, somehow, exciting.
I think the big realization of the past week, though, was how tiring and silly the binary thinking is. That it’s either New York or L.A., that you are one person or the other. I’d like to imagine that I’m a more nuanced thinker than that, but I easily, in my first years in New York, fell prey to the thinking that liking one city over the other—in defiance of the other, really—said something defining about who I am. Of course that’s dumb, and cliched. Places are just places. We can never leave our apartment wherever that apartment is. We can drink and smoke and eat wherever, provided we have the money. Hell, we can be found dead and still in a Ukrainian field, having had no more daring an idea than going on vacation.
So I’m back in New York, and happy to be here. Because it’s where my stuff is, and where my bed is, and where I don’t feel that dull and uneasy discomfort of being someone’s houseguest. (That most homesick-inducing of feelings, the stress of a bed you have to be polite about sleeping in.) But I also felt, walking around Manhattan today, like maybe a little bit of me is reaching the end of the big New York chapter. I’m not going to Los Angeles. I certainly have no practical reason to go there right now. But it is nice, at least, to feel myself wriggling out of New York’s indifferent but insistent grasp. I can leave you, city. I have at least one idea where else I could go. And that feels quietly thrilling.
But then, of course, there is the simple reality of living. Standing in the Trader Joe’s line tonight, trying to look placid and sober after four beers in the sun, I had the sudden, watery feeling that I’d probably be much the same anywhere. The details would change, there would be gas and parking, or Euros and visas, and yet, always Sunday nights. All lonely and sorrowful, the sun setting no matter what. The cashiers at whatever store, wherever it is, waving me toward them with the same bored hands, me blinking at them slowly and saying, “I can just put that in my bag. I’m not going far.”
Just a few days ago I was staring out the window of an airplane and marveling at the view. It had been a long time since I’d had a window seat, so until it got dark I ignored my book and watched as Chicagoland grew smaller and smaller, all its roads and cars and housing developments snaking around like Nazca Lines. I’m pretty scared of flying — usually saying prayers to myself as we take off, gripping the armrest tighter with each jolt of turbulence — so this was an unexpectedly pleasant, pensive portion of the flight. How amazing it is to be on an airplane! How wonderfully possible it makes the whole world seem. I’m fascinated enough by air disasters, grand and terrifying as they are, that I often forget, during all my Wikipedia-ing of various doomed flights, how miraculous flying can be.
But now, of course, that little memory, that sudden fondness for flight, seems silly, even cruel. I read that brutal thing in the Times describing the scene on the ground, about bodies and books and T-shirts and shoes, and a wave of sickness came over me, a reaction I’m not used to having to even the most gruesome things I read about on the Internet. But something about this particular horror — the awful arbitrariness of it; the bitter fact that they were quite literally just passing through; that it was both an accident and deliberate, a clumsy murder meant for someone else — has really grabbed me in some dark way. I can’t stop reading about it, or looking up passengers on Facebook (a particularly ghoulish habit of mine, and maybe yours), or searching for photos of wreckage and rubble. (And, yes, feeling a curdling guilt over a few months’ worth of missing plane jokes.) It’s all so horrifically scary.
And, of course, horribly sad. To think of someone up there, maybe the handsome young AIDS advocate who posted an update about his trip on Facebook less than a day ago, staring dreamily out the window and thinking the same things I did on Sunday. All of them up there, looking forward to a trip, or glad to be coming home, or just excited to be in that moment, racing through the air. Maybe some of them even forgetting, if only for just a second, all the troubled land that lay below.
“Not much happens in Boyhood but there is, I think, a lot being said. About divorce, about childhood in America, about adolescence, about the beginnings of a creative life, about family. Mason’s childhood may not look like yours, or that of anyone you know. But there is something universal about Boyhood nonetheless. We all passed through time along with the actors in this film. We spun on the same planet, slept and dreamed and wished and breathed. Boyhood reminds us of that, our common humanity. It’s an act of communion, lovely and enriching and ultimately sublime.”—Here’s my inevitable gush about BOYHOOD
“There is an air of fantasy to the film—in its glittering idealization of a Manhattan full of magic, in showing a career spring into being with accidental ease—but there’s far less cheap sentimentality than one might expect. The film’s original title was Can a Song Save Your Life, and while I don’t think the film really answers that question, or even attempts to, it certainly says something about a song doing the soul some good during difficult days. And about music’s unique ability to imbue an otherwise mundane moment with a certain specialness and meaning. And I think that’s probably plenty good enough.”—Here’s my review of the surprisingly charming BEGIN AGAIN
“Its metaphors and allegories may not be subtle—the whole of human society, the strata of haves and have-nots, shown as compartments on a train car—and it may be hard to watch at times, with all its crunching, spurting violence. But the new sci-fi action drama Snowpiercer is nonetheless the most original and oddly stirring movie so far released this year. A stark and grimy look at a terrible future, Bong Joon-ho’s film (his first in English), is unrelentingly bleak until, well, it relents. When it does, and it’s really only for a brief moment, the film achieves a kind of grace, a transcendence of all the dark obliteration preceding it, in a way we haven’t seen since Children of Men, Alfonso Cuaron’s 2006 masterpiece about another dystopia.”—Go see SNOWPIERCER!!!!
“Tessa, played by Nicola Peltz, is costumed in the style of many a Bay girl before her, with very short jean shorts and very tight tank tops and silly high-heeled boots and pouty pink lip gloss, all fashioning her as the innocently teasing sexpot next door. I don’t know if Michael Bay had a babysitter as a kid whom he’s still lusting after or what, but his obsession with this particular type, these Daisy Duke’d madonna-whore hybrids, is increasingly gross and unsettling. The fetishistic costuming and leering camera work would be one thing if any of these characters had any sort of agency, but they never do. Here Tessa is simply fought over by the two men in her life, overprotective daddy and hot stud racer boyfriend, Shane (Jack Reynor). Oh, I guess she gets scared sometimes, too. And has to be rescued. Those are the other two things she does.”—Transformers: Age of Extinction is really bad, guys!
“The Leftovers is not about a post-apocalypse; the world is functioning, for the most part. But there is nonetheless a mounting dread and unease, as if along with this small but not insignificant fraction of humanity, a crucial sense of order and balance is gone too. Maybe it’s a loss of faith’s organizational influence—if those 140,000,000 were Raptured and now Heaven’s doors are closed for good, then what does anything down here even mean?”—Here’s my review of THE LEFTOVERS!
My parents came to visit a week ago, and I wanted to write something about that. Because it’s always strange, increasingly strange, to have my parents here. To linger for a bit in the distance between us, to see my parents out of context, standing uncomfortably on Bedford Avenue, to feel like I know a place so well that they don’t know at all. Suddenly, and gradually, you know things your parents don’t, have a vocabulary that is not exactly beyond them, but certainly outside of them. I like showing my parents around New York, but it also makes me feel more than a little desperate about time passing.
We were walking to McCarren Park, because it’s near my sister’s new apartment, and I was going to tell them about what a destination spot the park was for all the cool kids, about their intense kickball leagues and the scary encroachment of condos and about how this place was the center of the universe for everything that people thought of when they thought about Brooklyn. But then I realized, with no small amount of despair and dread, that that’s an old reference. That’s an eight-year-old story, from when I first moved here, when McCarren Park was a wry joke on Gawker. I got a flash in my head of ghosts playing kickball, or old people, like in A League of Their Own. They’re all gone now, was what whispered its way through my head just then. Of course they’re not all gone, they just got older, like I did.
I also wanted to write something about this past weekend, when I went to Woodstock for a friend’s birthday, where food was cooked and distressingly artisanal cocktails were drunk (I say distressingly because when the hosts were not available to make one for me, I was forced to do the mix myself, and I did it completely wrong) and a lot of anthropological wondering happened. The party was a bunch of writers, mostly poets, and I found myself thinking that maybe this is where they all went when they left McCarren Park however many years ago. All the people that evaporated from 2006, materialized here. Or somewhere else! The finance types I met one dumb night in Midtown eight years ago are now fattening up the Hamptons. The scary musical theater queens from 2007, straight out of Michigan, are prowling the Pines like they own the place.
There’s such a thing as knowing too much about a place while also knowing nothing about it. Because, I guess, that’s just sort of how time works. I don’t know anyone playing kickball in McCarren Park anymore. But I also stood dumbstruck last week, feeling brand new, at the Kara Walker sugar sphinx only a few blocks away. And in Woodstock, where all those writers went, I didn’t know anyone. So I spent the night introducing myself, talking about the city like it was an old friend we all knew, none of us shocked that it had never introduced us before, but glad to at least share some words in a common tongue. I also met a girl who went to my high school. And we talked about old teachers and I thought of my parents, back in Boston, exactly where they wanted to be, not thinking much of that park they walked through with their anxious kids a week ago. Maybe they will only remember it as the park near my sister’s apartment, where my dad felt tired and we huffed in the heat and wondered what to do with the rest of the afternoon. And in another eight years, that too will just be something some other people did once, before they left and found somewhere else to call home.
“I guess us gay guys are supposed to appreciate all this “it’s like they’re dating!” subtext? But I’ll admit that I saw the movie only after Jonah Hill’s ugly, offhand gay slur to a paparazzo made its way onto TMZ, and that fact made the film’s sometimes direct but mostly allusive homoerotic tendencies read a little smug, everyone seeming a little too proud of themselves for all their supposed open-mindedness. Yes, it’s cute that Jenko and Schmidt do, rather passionately if ultimately platonically, love each other. And it’s great that we’re getting a big, broad mainstream comedy that isn’t afraid to explore intra-male emotional dynamics in surprisingly earnest and heartfelt ways. But that it’s all such a winking joke in the end—that Jenko never actually smooches the frat bro (Wyatt Russell) he forms an immediate, sexually charged bond with, much to Schmidt’s envy—is also a cop out, a tease. I’m not naïve enough to have thought that the movie was actually going to go there, suddenly alienated hetero teenage boys be damned. But in some ways the almost feels crueler, and kinda flippant.”—On the gayness of 22 Jump Street
“Characters on Orange Is the New Black speak English, Spanish, German, Russian. They come from poverty and wealth and some hard-to-define place in between. Whether this accurately represents real-life prison populations is certainly up for debate. But at least this is a show—the rare, rare show—that is deeply committed to giving us a thoughtful and thorough, especially thorough this season, look at the lives of a vast range of different women. Women in the context of themselves and of the broader world, women who live under someone else’s thumb but who have nonetheless created their own complex society of rules and order and economy. It’s not exactly a metaphor for how women function in the “real world,” but it’s something approaching profound.”—Six episodes in and loving the new season of Orange Is the New Black.
“Are Augustus and Hazel the cutest couple in the whole wide world? For the time being, they sure are. Does the movie elicit blubbery tears in a way that’s both sloppily big-hearted and almost cruelly precise? Yep, it most certainly does. So much so that I am genuinely nervous about what is going to happen in movie theaters across the nation come Friday. Maybe not since Titanic has a movie threatened to so thoroughly burrow itself into young hearts only to beautifully break them by the end credits.”—The Fault in Our Stars is pretty good, guys!
1. I hear people say that Cannes is like the Miami of France, but I’ve never been to Miami, so Cannes is mostly just the Cannes of Cannes to me. Curving gently around a bay on the Cote d’Azur, the city is sun-blessed and beautiful and tacky and utterly alive with luxe, ludicrous possibility. At least for the film festival it seems to be. The beach is lined with tented restaurants and clubs that thump with parties at all hours of the day. Arriving there on my first day, I’m struck by how close and upfront everything is. In New York, the fabulous stuff is largely carefully spirited away in anonymous buildings. Here it’s splayed out on the beach for all to see, in a way that is silly and exciting and sexy and very French. My boss and I find ourselves, three hours after landing, standing with glasses of champagne at one of these beach parties, making small talk with Adrian Grenier. I’m so jet-lagged and yet over-stimulated that this truly bizarre moment registers as weird but not that weird. I just floated dumbly into it, anyway. This was all my boss’s doing, he easily talking our way into the party, the girl with the clipboard saying “Oh, I’m sure you’re on this list somewhere.” There’s a lot of that in Cannes (at Cannes?), people trading false confidence, no one wanting to be caught out of the loop. It’s fun and makes you feel powerful, but it’s also the beginning, I worry, of a lie.
2. I’m a liar for being here. That’s what I spend a lot of the week thinking. What am I doing here? Everyone else, literally everyone else, belongs here, knows what they’re doing, fits into this opulent jumble in some crucial way. I meet other writers who speak in a language I barely understand, casual, familiar references to directors and oeuvres and styles and influences that make me feel like a dumb kid with a Blockbuster card. Is there a word for how smugness disappears, the way it sickly, sadly evaporates out of your body? Because that is what I feel at Cannes (in Cannes). As if all the years I spent reciting IMDb facts and impressing friends with not just movie knowledge but movie opinion were, it turns out, worth nothing. Because here I am, feeling so stupid, so useless, so unproductive compared with these journalists and critics, real journalists and real critics, who know so much more than me. Here I am with this fancy assignment but with nothing to back it up. This is a shaming experience, but a changing one too. I can actually feel myself changing.
3. Ego steps back in, of course. How could it not as I gape at the Hotel du Cap and Justin Bieber and Jennifer Lawrence and Edward Cullen and every other famous person you can imagine at this party I’ve mistakenly been allowed to attend. We’re right on the ocean and there are yachts twinkling in the distance, looking like a whole skyline there are so many of them, and I am drinking free but very good champagne and wondering, but secretly appreciating in some shameful way, what I ever did to get here. This is my second night, but on the first night I felt it too, at another beach party with a new friend, he very kindly encouraging me to uncynically accept the wild majesty of this place and these people, awed and amazed, guilty and grateful. It’s such an odd feeling to exist somewhere you know you shouldn’t, scared that you’ll be found out, but giddy at the continued success of the con.
4. Of course there are movies! And before each one the logo for the festival comes up on the screen, a mini presentation set to dreamy music that everyone applauds. Applauding because we all made it, and because the French really take this seriously. The cinema. There are kids all around the Palais des Festivals holding signs asking for tickets to the night’s red carpet premieres. All impossibly attractive teenagers desperately hoping to see, waiting all day to see, some art film that, I don’t think, kids in America will ever hear about. That strikes me as wonderful, as hopeful, as a sign that this really is something special. This event I’ve read about every year for well over half my life. This is how it works, and people care about it. Not just those hired to care, but these kids, with their good hair and nice outfits, all enviably cool and French. Old people, too. They queue up for the afternoon screenings, in smart windbreakers, tickets in hand, asking foreigners in lilting English if they too have seen “the film of Cronenberg.”
5. I begin to lose myself, to fall into the grand swoon of the whole experience. I stand on more beaches and clutch more glasses of champagne and think to myself that I don’t really know who I am. It’s like all that weird, surging growth you do as a teenager during the summer, every moment tingling with possibility, living in the yawn, the maw, of potential. Now, suddenly, I am someone who’s here. Who chats up a pretty blond Brazilian film student at a party, who doesn’t care when he says he has a boyfriend, who laughs when he says “You are Richard, I am Ricardo!” Who stumbles, way too late at night, to a gay bar and introduces himself to a certain young, beautiful, maddeningly successful Quebecois director and makes a total fool of himself in the process. (“Um, hi?” is the last thing I hear before I turn away from him in hot-faced embarrassment.) Who wants to hate this cocky director’s movie but winds up loving it, more than anything else. Who stands, one weird night, looking out across Monaco (who goes to Monaco!) with two new friends, still strangers, and feels for a second a sense of certainty. I’m here! Despite everything else, I’m here. And maybe nobody else here knows who they are either. Maybe that’s the point.
6. It’s strange to be this much in my head. It’s a surprisingly emotional experience, this whole festival thing. An epiphany every hour almost, which is exhilarating and exhausting and definitely pretty lame. It’s easy, but probably correct, to feel completely annoyed with myself, some brag-happy nightmare who’s asking people to marvel at and confirm his impossible luck. (Of course, in my head, these people never really call it luck. To them, these fantasy people, it’s all perfectly earned.) I have to stop talking about this already. I can’t be this gushing, bragging jerk when I get back. But it’s so hard to not feel special here, even with all this indignant doubt worming its way around.
7. On my way out of Cannes, the owner of the Airbnb arrives to drive me to the train station. I’d met his girlfriend, a Russian girl in cut-offs and a tank top, fled somewhere cold for this sunny place, and assumed her boyfriend would be some gruff, hairy European, idling outside in his Renault with house music blaring away. But he’s instead a nice, clean-cut guy in shorts and boat shoes, who speaks in apologetically broken English and is enthusiastic about his new rental enterprise. He asks me about New York as we drive in the rain, and tells me about living in Antibes with his girlfriend. She wanted a yard and a real kitchen, and that’s what her apartment has in Antibes, so that’s where they chose to live. He shakes my hand when we get to the station and then I’m on my own.
8. Aix is as lovely as everyone said it would be, but it’s also full of university students and I feel incredibly old and sad, there by myself, eating dinner and reading my Kindle, the lonely weirdo, table for one. It’s an odd sort of narcissism, the kind that insists that everyone is looking at you, but out of scorn and cruel pity. Of course no one is looking at me, I don’t even register, but it’s hard not to feel conspicuous when traveling alone, especially if you’ve never really traveled alone before. Here was this trip I was so excited for, and I find myself only rarely marveling at the beauty of the place I’m in. It’s mostly the loud echoes of recent ghosts—I was just on a beach with hundreds of people drinking champagne! I saw Jane Campion dancing like mad!—and worries about what’s waiting back home. It’s hard to not have someone to talk to, to break it all down, even at charming cafes in France.
9. So I go on Grindr, my first time ever on Grindr, and I get two drinks with an opera singer from Texas who is in Aix for the summer. It’s not as awkward as I thought it might be, but it’s not as fun either. Mostly because I know how quick it’s going to be, that we’ll say goodnight and that will be that. When I get back to my hotel room, though, he’s sent me a message asking if I want to hang out more. I do, in some small way, but I tell him I’m tired. It’s not a lie, exactly, but it feels like one anyway.
10. At another cafe, on another day, with another round of drinks, I strike up a conversation with another person from Quebec. But this time she’s friendly and warm and she tells me about how she came here on a business trip 20 years ago and never left. Now she has French kids, teenagers, and it’s funny to think about that. She says her son, 16, is very cultured, and when he goes to North America, Canada and Ohio, to see her side of the family, he is horrified by his grandmother who buys her produce from Costco. “They grow up faster here,” she says, and I can’t tell if she’s happy about that. Later that night I say fuck it and sit outside at the nicest restaurant I can find and order a steak tartare and a bottle of wine and smoke my Gauloises and am suddenly glad I’m not a French teen whose mother doesn’t quite understand him.
11. The train station in Marseilles has the most beautiful view, looking out across the city and a castle or a church or something on a hill. And the station is built like all the great old European stations, a huge shed with tracks leading out into the unknown. Weird that the Marseilles train station is one of the most enchanting places of the whole trip. But, there it is. Somewhere I’ve been now.
12. My last night, in Nice. What a place! As I walk down toward the water, walking like mad toward the water after four days spent inland in beautiful, boring Aix, I wish that I’d chosen to spend more time here. But an evening’s all that I’ve got, and I watch the sun worriedly, like the minute it’s dark the French gangsters will come out and get me. I sit on the beach one last time and pay too much for a glass of wine and take some obnoxious Instagram photos and watch planes land and take off, arcing up over the Mediterranean. On my way to Aix I met two kids from Indiana, just graduated from Purdue, who were backpacking across Europe. And on my way to Nice there were more American backpackers on the train, a bunch of kids just starting their trip. It’s comforting and sort of sad that someone else’s trip is always beginning as yours ends. My feet blistered and dead, these kids all bouncy and stringy and uncertain about what’s going to come. On the train platform in Aix I said “That’s great! Congratulations!” when the Indiana kids told me they’d just graduated. And I felt old, but almost cozy in that oldness. They were polite and said thank you and then wandered off to find their friends, leaving me with my cigarette and my suit bag, trying not to stare off after them with some small bit of longing.
13. For my last dinner alone, I rack up more insanely expensive data charges and fiddle on my phone, eating duck and potatoes and bread and drinking rose and smoking more Gauloises and good god I’m overdoing it. But I’m supposed to be, right? When else but this kind of stolen week can you let yourself be the most ridiculous version of yourself?
14. When I get back to New York I meet a girl who writes for Vogue who was on my same flight. We laugh at the small worldiness of it all as we smoke a cigarette outside JFK. She disappears somewhere and I get in the taxi line, right in front of an attractive family, mother and two handsome teenage sons, who have returned from, and I’m maybe crazy for interpreting what I heard this way, Kim and Kanye’s wedding. The way the kid says “And then I said to Kanye,” so casual and nonchalant, leads me to believe he knows him. But maybe I’m tired and just imagining things, maybe I’ve been alone in my head for too long, or exposed to too many impossible things in the last two weeks. I get in my cab and say my address and it’s nice to speak confident English again, to watch all of familiar New York spring back into being on the horizon.
15. The day after I don’t feel so special or magically confused anymore. That feeling fades quickly, both a relief and a disappointment. It’s muggy and my apartment’s a mess. Someone got my debit card number and charged $500 at a French version of Home Depot. I’m broke and tired and feeling guilty about how many times I tweeted from France. (“Was I annoying?” I ask a friend. He doesn’t say no.) But then there’s work, and the subway, and everything else. How nice it all is. How lucky I am. And then I go to a movie.
All the noise is gone. There had been bells, as there must be bells in old towns in Italy, and of course there had been cheers and applause and the warm thump of music. But now, all is silent. Just the random, distant drone of a moped, that essential European sound, and a dog somewhere, Italian dogs sounding older, more forlorn, more knowing in their already knowing dogness. The windows are open—it’s such a pleasure to open European hotel room windows—and there is a chill of wind streaming in.
They did it. After all of that, and the “that” is so big that she doesn’t really know what exactly she is referring to just then, it was done. They, like so many other people in this oddly accessible world, were married. Married! Married again, of course, but this time it felt different. Last time was such a lonely act of pretend, but now this, this lavish thing, seems just right. She stands by the window, the orange of the narrow streets humming with night, and knows that it’s all been worth it. The strategies, the plans, the grand, showy gestures. Sometimes it is nice to show off, when there is something worth showing off. Here, this love. So, here, this castle, this musician, this plane flight to Italy, wings banking over the Tyrrhenian Sea, this gaudy abstraction. Fine, fuck it, let them say it was too much. How much is too much for love? She feels then, for maybe the first time ever, completely proportioned, owed and earned.
He stirs in his sleep, mumbling something about socks, the way that he does sometimes. The restless poet, the unending dreamer of big things. How smart he is, how capable and direct a lover, and yet still so mysterious. Isn’t that exciting? How much she has to figure out about her new husband. Isn’t that the plan, then? The adventure? Here’s me, and there’s you, and let’s spend the next many years figuring each other out, while our daughter grows and watches and learns. Isn’t that a thing to celebrate, two people, three people really, committing to the same grand and wild experiment? She smiles as she looks at him in bed, stretched diagonally. Not from selfishness but from need. He’s a person growing, trying to fill the world. For now it’s the bed. She’s content to let him have it.
And there’s enough to be looked at outside anyway. She turns back to the window and gets a sudden shiver of excitement. She’s in Italy. How strange a life in this world can be. She does not miss Calabasas just then. She does not miss any of the trappings of the carefully planned life she’s built. Just then she is maybe as anonymous as any new bride, there on her Italian wedding night. How many new couples have slept in this room before them, she wonders. How many giddy first fuckings, how many sloppy mistakes, children willed into the world by champagne and nerves? It feels good to be a part of that history, but also to be a little smarter. They’ve got the baby already, they’ve got the life. This isn’t some uncertain future they’re wandering off into. It’s planned, it’s known, it’s set before them, the most perfect, profitable course an American life can take.
But still, Italy. Something about it haunts. And she stands by the window and trembles, just a little bit. There are always accidents. Always the universe’s secret whims. Kim and Kanye have beaten them mostly, but they’re human too, she knows. She shuts the window, not all the way, and joins her new husband in bed. He murmurs something else, unintelligible, as she folds into him and slips off into mighty dreams. Tomorrow is tomorrow. But for now, there is only this, this knowable night when they conquered something together.
“Most of Mommy is a heart-swelling, heartbreaking, breathtaking piece of cinema. When the audience spontaneously applauded at one particularly glorious filmic flourish halfway through the movie, I knew that it was the perfect film to be my last at Cannes. Like my experience at this festival, which was my first, Mommy is difficult and disorienting and thrilling and grand. I can’t wait to come back, and I can’t wait for you all to see this film.”—Xavier Dolan’s existence makes me want to bury myself in a hole, but I loved loved loved his movie at Cannes this year.
“But in terms of its approach to social media, both its benefits and drawbacks, Chef gets it mostly right. Favreau’s film speaks this jaunty language pretty fluently, as Casper embarks on his reinvention tour of the United States with his trusty sous chef, Martin (John Leguizamo), and his son, Percy (Emjay Anthony). Percy, like most American kids these days, is adept at all manner of social media, especially Twitter and Vine, and Favreau uses the kid’s frequent updates about his father’s progress as little mile markers for the film. Favreau seems genuinely fascinated by social media’s easy potential, and employs its whimsical little flourishes (the Twitter bird features prominently) to brighten up his already cheerily bright movie.”—CHEF is pretty good!
“There’s something grimly, undeniably fascinating about watching Zac Efron in the new comedy Neighbors. The knowledge that Efron was, at the time, struggling with addiction sadly permeates all of his scenes, casting his chiseled good looks in a strange, sad light. Maybe I’m just imagining things, but his eyes seem glassy and tired, his Disneyfied California twang is hoarse and smoky, and his trademark rippling physique has a new ropiness; that genial, All-American beefiness replaced with something more wiry and hungry. It’s startling, and whatever it indicates about Efron’s personal life may be troubling. Unless, of course, it’s all just part of the show. Which it very well may be. Whatever the cause, within the context of Neighbors, a raucous comedy with a sharp edge, Efron’s newfound darkness works pretty well.”—I’ve reviewed Zac Efron in Neighbors
What do you do when you get a Facebook message from a man you don’t know who is 51 years old (which is 24 years older than you are) and it says “You seem interesting ….. and a little damaged. I think I’d like that” ?
I thought I meant that question rhetorically, exasperatedly, at first, but actually I really want to know.
I have gotten a lot of creepy messages from men I don’t know during the last few years I’ve lived my life partly online/in print, but especially in the last few months. When my book came out, a few excerpts were printed online. I am very grateful for them and mostly it was for the good. The downside was that people who didn’t read the full book and had no plans to had access to my name, my picture, and a narrow window into my romantic history, which, basically, was that I didn’t have one. And a number of THOSE people, all male, took these excerpts as invitations to email me, tweet at me, and Facebook message me to do one of a few things:
1. Ask me out (sometimes confusingly in other states/countries??)
2. Accuse me of friend-zoning or otherwise wronging men
3. …. ?? I’m not sure what?? But there’s definitely a third category, and the above message falls here. (So does the one I got the other day that was like “hey I read something about your book, you should check out my photo albums—I’ve traveled the world.” ??? Like, congratulations on having a camera and being able to find an airport?) I guess the best name I can think of for this category is “Announcement of My Male Existence.”
Haha. But seriously.
I have dealt with these messages and things pretty well I think, which is to say that I’ve almost exclusively ignored them. But, I don’t know, sometimes I wonder if I ignore them too much. Sometimes I really want to respond! I really wanted to respond to PUA McReddit up there—not because it’s even that bad on this totally shit relativity scale, but just because today I felt like punching back—and I even wrote out “cool message to send to a stranger half your age who doesn’t give a shit!” in the little reply box. But then I deleted it and reported him as spam instead.
Partly that is because responding would do nothing, and I know that even if I took the time to craft the BEST and cleverest of all possible wounding insults, it would do nothing. He’s nothing to me. It’s nothing.
But all TOGETHER, among all the women writers I know and talk to and read about, it’s … a lot! It’s not even just “hate mail.” I don’t know what to call it, even. It’s just mail we get for being women. And sometimes I wonder if there should be a place to put all of it and then make every man who works for or reads the internet (so, all of them) look at the log for, I don’t know, an hour a week. That seems fair to me. I just worry sometimes that men—even the ones who are kinda paying attention—have a vague idea that they understand the extent to which this happens. But they don’t really? I mean, how could they.
Every time I get an unwelcome/harassing/mean/rude/bizarre message from a man I don’t know, I have to decide whether to be proud that I can ignore it and say nothing, or to be aggressive, and make it known somehow, and give it (and therefore him) attention. These are terrible options. I think they are both brave (because it’s brave to believe you’ll always have skin this thick, and it’s brave to believe other people will care to hear about something that seems wrong to you), but I don’t know if either feels all that good. What it feels like, at this point, is a routine.
I have a thick skin the way you must when you’re a woman with an internet presence. (Or a woman in general.) Sometimes I feel like I’m (or we’re) not supposed to acknowledge our toughness. There have been times I’ve wanted to publicize something like this and didn’t because it somehow felt like bragging. But I AM proud of it, even if it’s fucked up that’s a skill I ever needed to develop. I guess I think vocal pride has to be part of this raw deal we were handed. If I don’t get to team-brag with other women about how tough we are, and how the mail/tweeting/messages/comments media guys consider “hateful" are, like, Edible Arrangements compared to what we deal with, then I don’t know what recourse is left.
“With its male moral noodling, its beautiful and fragile brown-haired women, and its moody Euro stylings, Third Person reminded me of Breaking and Entering, the peculiar, but arresting, final feature by the late, great Anthony Minghella. That was a more thematically complex movie about urbanization and displacement, in addition to the children in peril and the adultery, but the two are partners in that they are both slightly self-mythologizing features made by rich creative guys who have something to say about the loneliness and confusion of being a rich creative guy.”—TRIBECA REVIEWS!
“Unpretentious and remarkably good-hearted, Love Is Strange is not strictly the gay-rights film its premise might suggest, nor is it easily classifiable as anything else. It’s part romantic comedy, part aging drama, part family portrait, part ode to a beloved city. What all those parts add up to is something rather marvelous and moving. I left the theater on Thursday morning feeling sad and happy and, maybe, a little wiser.”—I really liked Love Is Strange.
“Populated by a menagerie of low-lifes and genial dopes—played by a uniformly excellent cast including Kate Walsh, Oliver Platt, Bob Odenkirk, Adam Goldberg, and Colin Hanks—Fargo is akin to FX’s other great crime series, Justified, only with that show’s cool wit swapped out for a loopiness that frequently, and alarmingly, tips over into near-existential dread. That the show maneuvers these sometimes sudden changes in tone so seamlessly is its chief delight. I’ve seen four episodes and am itching for more.”—I really like FX’s Fargo. A review!
“On a show that has partly been about uncovering the various lies and compromises embedded in the American dream, Peggy has always seemed like our only occasionally daunted hope for the future. What does that future hold for Peggy, and by some weird extension, for us? From the looks of it, there may be some tough times in the coming weeks. But I still think Peggy, with her reliable pluck and spark, will ultimately be the one who saves the day.”—MAD MEN season premiere reviewed!
HBO’s Game of Thrones returns for its fourth season on Sunday. In case you haven’t yet watched the series and are curious what it’s all about, or just need a little catch-up, we’ve gone ahead and written a summary of all the major stuff that’s happened on the show so far. We may have missed a few details here and there, but this is basically what you need to know.