Category Archives: relationships

Why I Love Julianne Moore

It’s just an unavoidable fact about me: I love Julianne Moore. Love, love, love, in all the ways that a cinephile can love a movie star. (Except for the creepy, obsessive, and bad ones. Not those.) She’s just one of my favorite living actresses. Why is that? you may ask. Well, hypothetical reader, you are right to ask. Because I’ve prepared an itemized list of reasons for you. First of all: she’s a redhead. (Ashley is also a redhead. This is not a coincidence.) Second and mostly of all: she’s an incredible actress.

[Image via three frames]

Moore gives such intense, nuanced performances – in so many movies, she’s the one who sticks with you. Her actions and delivery burrow under your skin and stay inside you, surfacing in your mind when you least expect it. Just look at her in Safe (1995), one of her many collaborations with director Todd Haynes. She’s Carol, a superficial California wife and mother, obsessing over the color of her new couch and whether or not it matches the rest of her interior decoration. Then, one day, her body starts fighting her. Amidst spontaneous asphyxiation (see above), nose bleeds, coughing, and more, she’s jerked out of her once-comfortable life.

Safe is a brilliant mix of caustic satire, AIDS metaphor, melodrama, and horror. It’s got a great supporting cast, including Xander Berkeley (he of Candyman) who, in one haunting scene, has totally unemotional sex with Carol at the end of a long day. But at its core is Julianne Fucking Moore and her tender, pathetic vulnerability. She’s like a struggling animal, unsure of what her body’s doing to her, eager to just get on with her life and resume her former complacency. You know the old chestnut “you have to be smart to play dumb”? Julianne Moore is smart. She was also a crucial part of Haynes’ postmodern genre revisionism in Far from Heaven (2002), and to a lesser degree in his Bob Dylan super-biography I’m Not There (2007).

Or look at her in Magnolia (1999), where she’s acting in the service of a very different kind postmodern playfulness – that of director Paul Thomas Anderson. (She also played the aptronymous Amber Waves in his porn epic Boogie Nights [1997].) In one of Magnolia‘s many storylines, she’s Linda, the drug-addicted wife of a dying TV producer played by Jason Robards, and calling her “a wreck” is a massive understatement. She ‘s wracked with guilt and quasi-suicidal desperation, and she inflicts her emotional histrionics on everyone around her – from a nurse (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to her husband’s lawyer (Nashville‘s Michael Murphy).

Like Safe‘s Carol, Linda is extremely vulnerable, but she’s also defensive. She may be plagued with self-loathing, but she doesn’t put with shit from anyone else. In a film packed with great, hot-to-the-touch performances – like a bathetic William H. Macy – Moore is a stand-out because, despite being a complete psychological mess, she retains an intimidating quality of refinement. Even when the screenplay gets a little too cutesy or pat, Moore’s performance sprawls, sneers, sobs, and threatens to collapse. In the most grandiose moments, she still feels naturalistic; this makes her the perfect cornerstone for PTA’s ensembles.

No matter what the quality or genre of the film, she brings that je ne sais Moore, that unquantifiable essence. I haven’t seen some of her more mainstream roles, like Hannibal or Next, but I’m sure they’re all the richer for her presence. And take an already rich film, like Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men (2006), pictured above, or the Coen Bros.’ wacky neo-noir The Big Lebowski (1998), where she plays the title character’s daughter, a sperm-hunting artist.

In both of those films, she’s a minor character who’s romantically linked to the protagonist. But she doesn’t feel minor; instead, she seems to exist on a higher, more mysterious plane than Clive Owen’s bureaucratic everyman or Jeff Bridges’ stoner private eye. As she is in real life, her characters in those films, Julian and Maude, are politically engaged. They’re fully aware of what’s going on, and they can manipulate their situations to get what they want. Thanks largely to Moore’s acting, they’re not plot devices, but rather self-motivated women. So Julianne Moore’s versatile, too: she functions equally well in lead and character parts.

All of this leads me to Moore’s most recent role: as a laid-back lesbian wife and mother whose family is unpredictably changing in Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right (2010). I seriously enjoyed this movie; it literally made me laugh and cry, sometimes in rapid succession. I was so deeply invested in the characters’ relationships, and it’s because the main cast – Moore, Mark Ruffalo, and especially Annette Bening – make their shared histories, as well as the repercussions of their tenuous biological links, believable.

It’s not a big or sensational movie. Nobody’s going to die or get arrested. The worst that can happen is a series of broken hearts, which in this case is really the scariest threat of all. The film’s screenplay also deals with difficult, controversial questions of sexual fluidity. It may not always be quite successful or accurate, but Moore’s performance as Jules personalizes these issues, as they have direct consequences on the dynamics of her marriage.

In an early scene, teenage son Laser asks his moms why they watch “gay man porn.” Jules hazards an explanation: “Well, sweetie, human sexuality is complicated. And sometimes, people’s desires can be… counterintuitive…” Without being too edgy or too bland, The Kids Are All Right takes on the human drama that results from those counterintuitive complications – and by extension, the confusing and inexplicable behavior that defines families. It’s a powerful, poignant movie. And, if the stars are right, maybe Julianne Moore will win that Best Actress Oscar she so deserves. Either way, I’m grateful to her for years of beautiful acting.

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Mississippi Hetero-Prom Bullshit

So, I’ve been stranded up here in suburbia lately, with my only Internet access coming in bite-size chunks at the public library. That said, I’m going to take the scant time I have to write a little. Ashley’s been working on a post about the history of Disney princesses in relation to feminism, and I would like to eventually comment on similar topics, as prompted by The Princess and the Frog. In the meantime, however, I want to address an ongoing controversy involving institutionalized homophobia. It’s the Fulton, MS Prom Discrimination.

The situation, which can be understood from glancing over a few news sources, is relatively straightforward. Constance McMillen, an 18-year-old student at Itawamba Agricultural High School, asked if she could attend the prom with her girlfriend, and wear a tuxedo. School officials told her no. Then they cancelled the prom itself, claiming that they were “taking into consideration the education, safety and well being of [their] students.” Students become upset with McMillen, although supposedly she wasn’t the reason for the cancellation, controversy flared nationally, and the ACLU sued the school district.

The results? The judge found the school district wrong, but felt it would also be wrong to forcibly reinstate the prom on April 2, because apparently it would “only confuse and confound the community on the issue.” Fulton sounds like a community that’s pretty easy to confuse and confound. Since the news broke of the school district’s bullshit decision, however, McMillen has become a rallying point for the rights of LGBT teens. A Facebook page called “Let Constance Take Her Girlfriend to Prom!” has hundreds of thousands of fans, and Dan Savage recently advocated donating to her cause. So, awesome! A lot of cool people are very much behind this brave young woman.

I think the above paragraphs should give you pretty much the objective background necessary to form an opinion and, if desired, show your support. And now I must subjectively say: Fulton, Mississippi, what the hell? Both my father and girlfriend went to school dances with same-sex dates, just because they wanted to, and neither was held to some nonsensical, arbitrary school policy. I don’t want to invoke my Yankee bias against the intolerance of the Deep South, but I see few other answers here.

The ACLU has also helpfully turned up a flyer handed out to Itawamba High students, informing them that their “guests… must be of the opposite sex.” You may notice that these aren’t “dates,” but “guests,” and it looks like as long as the two of you make a nice hetero couple, your “guest” can be just about anyone of any age. Why, exactly, was this rule in place? According to McMillen, the principal’s excuse involved same-sex students not in relationships trying to buy the cheaper tickets for couples instead of two more expensive individual tickets. Uh-huh.

So basically, in their effort to force students to pay through the nose for prom tickets, the school was willing to dismiss the existence of homosexuality. Ahh, what a pastoral dream world those Mississippian school administrators must be living in. Where women wear dresses, men wear tuxedos, and the two go together like peanut butter and jelly. (And you’re also forbidden from mixing peanut butter with peanut butter?) Here’s a little video where you can hear from Constance herself on the matter.

The matter of the tuxedo is similarly baffling. It reminds me of a story from last October where Ceara Sturgis, a 17-year-old lesbian student in Jackson, MS, was banned from wearing a tuxedo in her yearbook photo. As in McMillen’s case, it was chalked up to the ominous but inevitable “school policy.” I.e., it’s always been this way and that’s how we likes it. Granted, I don’t know why these girls want to wear tuxedos; in my thankfully limited experience, they’re uncomfortable as hell, and I’d rather wear a dress in an instant.

But then again, that’s why I’m me and they’re them, isn’t it? Because I’d prefer a dress and they’d prefer those stiff, black-and-white iron maidens we call tuxedos. And I’d also guess that just because they’re in Mississippi and surrounded by heterosexuals (and bigots), that doesn’t mean said identity rubs off on them. So thankfully the tide is turning and such outdated school policies are starting to change. As the Facebook page I linked to above mentions, a recent attempt by a Georgia high schooler to take his boyfriend to prom was successful, and McMillen’s trials may well have been a factor.

This piece of Internet access is rapidly coming to an end what with the library closing, so I’ll conclude hastily. The school district’s actions in this case is just self-evidently ridiculous. It reminds me of last Christmas, when Ashley’s hometown of Chambersburg made national news for its decisions about the displays in the town square: If the atheist veterans are going to get one, then no displays for anyone! Apparently the school administrators of Fulton have a similarly childish approach, and it’s kind of blown up in their face. I say good luck to Constance McMillen and the ACLU with their struggle to get this all sorted out in the name of equal rights, and fuck you to oppressive, illogical school policies everywhere. Now, take everything I said and apply it to gay marriage, too.

(PS: regarding the tuxedos, it’s not like they were planning to go naked or topless or wear bikinis or anything. They were going to be very heavily clothed, just in clothes that weren’t strictly gender normative! Any school that has a problem with that deserves to have its idiotic intolerance plastered all over the national media.)

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Porn for Women: because women don’t like sex

This morning – by which I mean this evening, because a night of paper-writing has confused my sleep schedule – I read the new XKCD, as I do every Monday, and found myself confused. This was, of course, because I’d mercifully never been exposed to the horrors of Porn for Women. Ashley directed me to this recent Happy Bodies post, and I was on my way. So: what is Porn for Women? The easiest answer is, It’s really, really stupid. It’s a website that assumes that the biggest turn-on for women is, to quote Randall Munroe, “hot, clothed guys cooking, doing laundry, and vacuuming.” And has lots and lots of pictures and captions about exactly that.

Where to start talking about what’s wrong with this picture? Usually, it wouldn’t be worth wasting time over, except that it’s a nice little object lesson in the stranglehold of absolutist gender roles. Ostensibly “reclaim[ing pornography] for the rest of us,” it’s 1) not actual pornography, unless you have some extremely specific fetishes and 2) full of generalization, after generalization, after generalization. Also, can you say condescending? God, it’s like one giant jewelry commercial! The smug, obnoxious expressions on these men’s faces practically scream, “You’re a woman, so you’re really easy to please and flatter!” Christ, it’s called “Porn for Women,” not “Porn for Lobotomy Patients”!

Let’s take a quick look at some of the nausea-inspiring imagery this site provides.

God, fighting preordained gender roles is such an uphill battle. This website is ostensibly showing how men should act toward women, but their suggested course of action is to treat all women like perpetually pregnant, dainty, retarded flowers, all the time. Also, from the way he’s looking up from his coffee, it looks like the woman in question has just stumbled out of bed. Maybe there’s some sort of Stepford Wives ruse going on here? Or maybe this is Coraline 2, and he’s the Other Husband? Did I already say, “Can you say condescending?” Because… condescending!

The way this is written and designed, it feels like the creators of this website didn’t think women wanted men to treat them well so much as behave like they’re totally emasculated. This isn’t porn for women. It looks more like a mid-’70s Mad Magazine cartoon about the effects of Women’s Lib. Something else that angers me about this website: it assumes a proper course of action for men in relationships with women, based on yet more assumptions about what women like. It also treats men who follow these guidelines like they’re doing something heroic. “Wow, listening to your significant other’s desires or interests? You deserve a gold star!”

Hell, I wouldn’t want to go “NFL playoffs” in the first place, but I wouldn’t particularly want to go to a crafts fair either. And what if the woman who this “porn” is being directed at doesn’t like crafts fairs? Too bad, because she’s a woman? And what about the postcard where the shirtless man says, “As soon as I finish the laundry, I’ll do the grocery shopping. And I’ll take the kids with me so you can relax”? Wouldn’t it be a little more pornographic if the shirtless man said he’d drop the children off somewhere so they can “relax” together? But far be it from me to question Porn for Women’s universal applicability to all women.

If you see fit to visit the website, don’t miss their quiz. Each question has three totally transparent options, which amount to 1) he’s a housework-doing, gift-buying demigod, 2) he’s flawed, and 3) he’s a narcissistic, puerile troglodyte. Because it’s not like men behave different ways at different times. As if they’re, oh, people. Yet despite how little actual humanity this website tolerates in men, it’s funny how man-centric is. The emphasis is entirely on the man (’cause God knows lesbians don’t exist!) performing all these selfless acts, with the assumption that the passive female watching him will experience pleasure. These “pornographic” men are so insistently thoughtful and generous that it’s oppressive. Because isn’t that what women want? A grinning, chore-loving family man who’s dead inside?

Normally a website like this wouldn’t be worth as much attention as I’m giving it, but I think it’s a great example of how obnoxiously restrictive so many conventional views of gender are. Either he’s a normal man, or he’s this nonexistent “porn star” dream man who wants to do housework and cook! Though he still doesn’t care what you think. Oh, God, no. Could you imagine that? Like a man and woman, talking to each other about their own thoughts and feelings, communicating what they want through language? That’d be too much. Instead, men wishing to please their women should toss on an apron, light a scented candle, and throw that woman in the bath while you fix something with an Italian name. Also, tell her how much you care about her. Forced kindness is the key to every woman’s heart. (Because their locks are all exactly the same. And unlocking them means they have sex with you.)

Note: for actual porn for women (and men and queers and whomever) please feel free to click any of the options in the Alt Smut section of the blogroll. —>

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“Atalanta” and self-determination

So, this isn’t nostalgia for me, since I wouldn’t be born for another couple decades, but it might be for some people. This is an excerpt from a 1974 TV special called Free to Be… You and Me. Attributed to “Marlo Thomas and Friends” (other participants include Mel Brooks, Rosey Grier, and little Michael Jackson), Free to Be… is basically a series of songs and skits in the vein of Schoolhouse Rock or Sesame Street attempting to teach children about gender roles, tolerance, and the fact that they were indeed “free to be” identified with whichever gendered behaviors they chose. On the whole, it’s pretty cute, if sometimes a little nauseating or unintentionally hilarious. But the best part, without doubt, is “Atalanta,” a fairy tale cartoon voiced by Thomas and Alan Alda. Watch it for yourself.

It’s not the best-made cartoon of all time  – the animation style is low-rent and reminiscent of cheap storybooks, the music is dated, and the voicework sounds like Alda and Thomas are reading through and enjoying themselves. But it’s not bad for part of a TV special, and that’s the point anyway: it’s the moral. After decades (centuries?) of being told stories where a woman/princess is only an object of desire, caught between forces into which she can have no input, only able to hope that a handsome prince will win her hand, this is finally a fable about gender equity.

It’s an adorable fairy tale with three likeable characters (no requisite villain to be seen) that allows its protagonist’s self-determination. Among the most heartening moments: Atalanta’s correcting of her father’s decrees; John’s respect for Atalanta’s wishes; and of course the ending, when everybody really does end up happily ever after. No one is funneled into an enforced, specific type of “happiness” like that under fairy tale marriages. (E.g., what happens when Cinderella finds out that the Prince – who she’d only had a few hours’ worth of contact with before committing herself for life – has a few bad habits of his own?)

Instead, Atalanta and John get to choose their lives for themselves. They don’t blindly pigeonhole themselves into one single life choice that will decide everything else for them. The cartoon accepts that people change over time and that when you’re pretty young probably isn’t the time to make quick decisions with lifelong repercussions. It’s important to be able to go out, explore the world, discover new alternatives, beliefs, lifestyles, etc. Maybe they’ll end up settling on a more traditional mode of life. Maybe they’ll find their own way to go, distinct from all established ways of living. And maybe they’ll realize that they’re too dissimilar and pursue other people instead. As the cartoon wisely concludes, who knows?

So I highly recommend showing this cartoon to any young children or older children or really anyone you know who could still learn a thing or two about relationships and life decisions. Sometimes it’s astonishing how ignorant people can be about all the choices they have; when I can, I try to tell children, Different people can do different things. Not everyone needs to follow the same track of college, marriage, job, kids, house, etc. Some people can, and good for them, but not everybody. And maybe not Atalanta, even if she is a princess. Our birth ranks – like our genitals, chromosomes, bank accounts, and skin colors – should not determine where we end up in life. The only ones who should preside over that decision are us.

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