Monthly Archives: June 2017

Viewing Diary June 2017

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Being John Malkovich (1999), directed by Spike Jonze

When I watched this back in 2008, I felt bad for Craig, the solipsistic schlub played by John Cusack. Years later, I lack even a sliver of sympathy for him, but I’m touched by the tender relationship between his wife Lotte and his would-be paramour Maxine. The two women start out at opposing ends of a love triangle, but—with Malkovich as their fetishistic intermediary—soon become ardent lovers. They end the film poolside, now a pair of cute, gay soulmates, and it feels exactly right. The film could scarcely have ended any other way. Craig may be the author stand-in, the same sort of frustrated artist who crops up throughout Charlie Kaufman’s work, but he still gets shoved aside. The writer’s instincts supersede his self-pity. (Kaufman reminds me a lot of my estranged father, who was born a few years after him. Both spent the late 1980s writing unproduced screenplays and working jobs they hated in Minneapolis. In the early ’90s, Kaufman moved to Los Angeles to write for sitcoms around the same time that my brother and I were born.)

So kudos for the lesbians, though the straight men telling their story seem only able to imagine trans or homoerotic yearnings via surreal sci-fi. Absurdly low ceilings, chimp therapy, celebrity puppeteers: all these weird jokes exist on the same plane as two women who have sex through an actor’s body. Cameron Diaz, her hair frizzy, her cardigans unbecoming, lends her high and desperate voice to the conceit. It flutters over shots from Malkovich’s first-person POV: “Ohh, I feel sexy!” Catherine Keener, meanwhile, smirks archly. I found her sexually intimidating back in 2008, but now I see a lot of myself in her. We’re both tall, slim, and sultry in a button-up. She models a level of confidence I wish I had. If I watch this again in another decade, I wonder if I’ll be even closer to Maxine.

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