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“Late Night” Review

Written by Mindy Kaling (this is important)

Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling walk into a bar…

Well, not quite.

Age. Gender. Breaking into a male-dominated business.

This is a good movie; well-written, well-cast. Not overly preachy, although dealing with timely issues of gender politics. I’m considering going a second time and adding it to the personal collection. Definitely personal collection.

Mindy Kaling stars as Molly Patel, a showbiz outsider who longs to be an insider. Like the actress who plays her, Molly has a great sense for comedy and timing.  I don’t want to spoil things, but as a chemical plant quality analyst in Pennsylvania, she comes up with a brilliant plan to get an interview as a  writer for the show she has loved and studied since she was a kid.

Emma Thompson stars as Katherine Newbury, the host of a late-night talk show, “Late Night with Katherine Newbury.”  It’s a somewhat intellectual show, but in danger of going under because ratings are flat and dropping. She won’t engage in Jimmy (Fallon/Kimmel) hijinks with her guests. And her guests aren’t the kind that would necessarily indulge themselves. Doris Kearns Goodwin in Tight Pants? No. Just no. Katherine is not your warm-fuzzy type of personality. In fact, she is rather detached, especially what’s going on with her show and with the people who work for her. I wouldn’t call Katherine a bitch. She’s not knifing anyone in the back (although, there comes a twist in the third act). She’s not out to emasculate her all-male writers room. She  is stubborn and not a fan of change, thus the 10 year decline in quality and ratings. The show is safe and stale, but she won’t see it.

The talk show host who came to mind as I watched was not Samantha Bee, but Dick Cavett. Same higher-brow content, same dry humor.


Katherine is a tough boss. She is not portrayed as an unreasonable demanding bitch, like Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada” (another workplace comedy). She’s intelligent and intellectual and knows what she wants. Unfortunately, it’s not necessarily what’s best for her or for her beloved show. As mentioned, she is detached from what’s going on with her staff (one guy died years ago and she didn’t know), or the changes in the world. At one time, Katherine herself had done stand up (Emma Thompson, before we in the US came to know her, had been performing sketch comedy for years with Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, among others). Her sense of humor is displayed in some of the cutting remarks she makes in defense of her positions, and in an unplanned stand-up set. it’s a step forward in depicting powerful women. Representation matters.

The network president, a talent agent, and the writer’s room all want Katherine to change her format to the more sophomoric ones put on by the late-night guys.

Molly’s opening into Katherine’s world is precipitated by Katherine firing one of the writers who asks for a raise. When she says “No,” he protests based on having additional expenses due to a growing family. The firing isn’t because he asked, it’s because he  objected and based the request on HIS needs rather than warranting a raise for a greater contribution to the show. Katherine tells him it’s sexist. (Okay, so we do have some preachy) She’s right in that his reasoning has nothing to do with his work. Sound logic. Good business sense. However, because she’s not giving in to the emotional appeal (“Please, Sir, may I have some more?”), she seems heartless. Katherine isn’t. She’s just thinking more practically. More of what we perceive as “masculine thinking.” The writer fires back that she’s a sexist because she does not work well with other women. There are some facts to support this: Katherine has a dismal track record of retaining female staff.

Enter Molly.

The writers for the show are all white men, most have Ivy League credentials on their resumes, and the head monologue writer, played by Reid Scott (“Veep”), was expecting to have his brother hired for the open slot. His brother who had run the Harvard Lampoon. That’s a solid credential. The first time Molly goes to sit in a meeting, they deny her a seat at the table, literally, saying one open chair was for a guy who was running late because he was trying to sort out a now long-distance relationship. She end up sitting on a waste basket. This is what you call a visual metaphor. An even greater one is that, since women were scarce, the writers have been using the ladies room when they shit, something Molly learns the hard way. I’ll come back to that later.

Before I go further, let’s delve into Molly’s creator/portrayer, Mindy Kaling. She had the same education track as those writers, a top private school in Boston, BBN, then graduated from Ivy League in 2001 (Dartmouth. Big whoop. We at UVM routinely eat their lunch at Winter Carnival. Go, Cats, Go), interned for Conan O’Brien, did stand-up, and began with the American “The Office” in 2004 as a write/performer, for which she won an Emmy as a writer. After “The Office,” she went on to “The Mindy Project,” creator/lwriter/producer. This is her big screen writing debut, I believe, but my point is that Ms. Kaling knows her stuff. She is intimately familiar with writers rooms, television production, comedy, lack of representation. They tell you “write what you know.” She has. Some of the casting reflects her experience as we see faces we know from “The Office” (Amy Ryan) and “The Mindy Project” (Ike Barinholtz).

You get the idea, Molly has to prove herself to a bunch of skeptics and wants to save the show. From the outset, she’s depicted as intelligent, driven, and willing to think outside the box to achieve her ends. So, we have an underdog to root for and we have a near-impossible task we want the underdog to master. And the focus is on Molly’s work rather than her personal life. (“Why are you making a point about that?” We’ll get there) So this is a workplace comedy.

We also get #MeToo elements, some romcom elements, big missteps. Look, it’s a great movie.

This movie hit my feminist nerve endings from nearly the start. Not in a bad way. I mentioned the the writers preventing her from taking a seat at the table. The fact that the Late Night writers were all white male. Racial comments were made. Sexist comments.

The biggest metaphor for me was the men using the ladies room to shit. And continuing to use it even after Molly’s arrival. What bugged me was when, in the middle of Molly having a private breakdown in what is supposed to be a ladies’ room, one of the guys comes in to do his business. They have a quick, somewhat sympathetic exchange over her meltdown, but he still insists on using her facilities and SHE LEAVES TO ACCOMMODATE HIM.

My God, that pissed me off no end! Yes, there’s something to be said for him insisting on still getting his way, but goddammit, she should have yelled, “GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE AND DON’T FUCKING COME BACK!” Ms. Kaling is a damned good, very experienced writer, but this was a missed opportunity for Molly to claim some power and autonomy.

What also pissed me off was the twenty something white man sitting two seats down constantly fiddling with his phone during the movie, at one point, something loud started to play. I yelled at him. With support. It was analogous to what was going on with the movie. People, if you want to talk or fart around with your toys during a movie, do the rest of us a favor and wait for it to come out on Red Box, huh? You have a responsibility, when out in public, to behave in a way that is considerate of that public.

The above picture speaks volumes. When yours has been the only voice in the room and things aren’t working so well, perhaps it’s time for different perspectives. Part of the ongoing snark in the writers room was how, as a woman of color, maybe the writers (or the brother of the head monologue writer) could gain advantages in hiring. The boys’ clubs in certain industries weren’t established so much as treehouses with no girls/people of color/LGBT/different religions allowed as they were networking within an insular sphere. Nepotism. Friends of friends. Alumni of the same college. Fraternity brothers. It’s a tribal thing: we will favor the members of our tribe until there is no room for anyone else. This dynamic plays out in the men in the story pressuring the star of the show to do what the men are doing, things. Rather than working to perfect what she’s doing, they insist on things being done their way, their idea of what’s funny. The threatened replacement for Katherine is a male comic in the same age range as the writers.

I’ve worked in the financial industry on and off for 35 years and I saw it up close and personally: in the mid-1980s, we had the invasion of the “Suits,” who fit one of the above categories. Didn’t know what in the hell they were doing, but damn, they got promoted fast. I spent a lot of time talking to angry customers cleaning up after the messes they’d made.

But, Molly shows her smarts and eventually wins over the other writers. And that brings up another thing that bugged me:

It’s a workplace comedy. There was no good reason for trying to go to romcom territory.

And

The guy in the blue shirt is Reid Scott playing the “Head Monologue Writer.” The guy on the street is Hugh Dancy playing one of the other writers. There are subtle undertones of working towards a romantic relationship (very subtle) with the Reid Scott character, and a flirtation with the Hugh Dancy character that ends abruptly. He is where we get the #MeToo content, but not what you’d expect. During their first flirtation, he mentions it taking 3 weeks to get her into bed and that’s treated as something cute. While this movie could pass the Bechdel test (Two women having a conversation that doesn’t center around men), given the subsumed hostility of Molly’s work environment, romance just doesn’t belong. And it’s not necessary. Ms. Kaling has made comments that Valentine’s Day is Christmas Day to her. Okay.  That’s your thing, Mindy. In my perspective, when it started to come up, my response, “Aw, Jeez! Really? Do we need this?” This is how women get stereotyped: always looking for love. This sort of subplot is why, even as late as 1998, women at my law school were told that we were just there to find husbands. (If that was the case, it’s an expensive damned method you’ll pay for the rest of your life. Literally) What I loved about Molly, is that this was the first time I’ve seen Mindy Kaling play a  major character that wasn’t “bubbly,” obsessed with pop culture and shopping, or boy-crazy (Kelly Kapoor and Mindy Lahiri, her two biggest roles prior to this one. Mrs. Who in “A Wrinkle in Time” doesn’t count). Are women not interesting if they’re focused on a goal other than a romantic relationship?

The romantic comedy element, though distracting, did not ruin the story for me. I liked that Molly found her way on her own. No mentoring from within the boys club, you know, no “I’ll help you, Little Lady.” Molly solved her own issues. Molly breaking into a rarified world isn’t about race or gender. It’s about making the argument using your own skills and merits.

Representation. It matters.

 

 

 

I’m Still Here

How many times have I said that? (I know, I know)

I’m not a Stephen  Sondheim fan (I recognize his genius, but his music doesn’t resonate with me).

It’s been 364 days since my last blog post. That was about how I felt since the death of my friend 15 years ago. I have sisters (more on them in a bit) but that was the loss of a soul sister. Given the number of blunders I’ve made in that time, I think I relied too heavily on her superior common sense and smarts for guidance and didn’t really work to develop my own.

2003 was a suck-ass year.

Followed by 2005.

So was 2008.

And 2015.

2018, too.

I self-diagnose as having situation depression. It manifests as a form of emotional paralysis: I don’t want to do anything. Everything is overwhelming. I just want to hibernate until things are better. I don’t want to be medicated because that won’t resolve the issues (and that goes for drugs and alcohol. They don’t solve the problem, so why bother?).  I can’t afford to go to a psychiatric hospital because I don’t have insurance or the means to pay for it (or a regular prescription. That shit’s expensive). And I don’t want to be on meds anyway. (Sort of a middle finger to Big Pharma)

I looked for an image for this post of a woman wrapped in chains to illustrate the point. However, the ones I found (including strait-jacket photos) were all a bit too BDSM to use. Yeah, no.

Lost a good-paying job in March. Managed to scramble, financially through most of the year, but found another job in September that pays 63% less. No, that was not a typo. Call center. White collar work, but not a living wage. I have never been so over-managed in the 34 years I’ve been a working adult. At any given time, at least 4 people can be monitoring a phone call located in Florida, New York, or Mumbai. The task does not play to my strengths: problem-solving. And my co-workers tell me it’s obvious to them that the manager does not like me. At all. However, I did win a 43″ Sharp smart TV at the Christmas party, so there’s that.

The way out…

In the time in between jobs, I SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETED a course in Web Design and Program Development. Me. I learned HTML, CSS, Bootstrap, JavaScript, JQuery, some graphics work, PHP, and MySQL. The JavaScript and the PHP  haven’t stuck too well, but the coding community is extremely supportive, in terms of fora (plural of forum), chat rooms, and websites to learn/practice coding.  I made what I think is a kick-ass website for my final project (no, I’m not providing the link right now. It’s supposed to be uploaded to here somewhere, but we’ll see if I was successful). Starting wages for web development are still about half of what I was making in mortgage due diligence, but more than what I’m making now.  And I can create tools for folks to complete better, more accurate mortgage reviews.

I am standing in my own way in terms of lacking self-confidence. Potential employers will give you puzzles to code and I am too chickenshit to complete them. Practicing code on a website in order to refresh memory and boost confidence.

And, once again, I need to find a home. (And save my stuff in storage. Seriously. If anyone reading this has a spare $150,000, that’ll pay off all my debts and purchase a nice little condo for me with enough to move CA storage stuff to FL, furnish home, acquire two kitties).

I’ve been ready to throw in the towel for eternity for months. I’m serious.

This week, an old wound that I’ve been trying to heal by ignoring it has reopened. This is where my sisters come in. One of them posted an old photo of the two of them wearing hats from my grandmother. I remember when the picture was taken. In the posted photo, I was cropped out. I’m being erased from my family. And that broke my heart.

I imagine they would say this is all my fault due to issues I had with my mother, but 20 some years ago, I could see that the unity and bonding that my dad wanted so much for us wasn’t going to outlast him. I thought I had worked towards healing old wounds and rebuilding relationships, but I was wrong. Back in 2000, at my sister’s wedding, her co-workers challenged me when I said I was her sister. They pointed at my other sister and said, “No, that’s her sister over there!”

How nice. Of course, she has family pictures all over her houses, but I never saw myself in any of them. Granted, we had a bad relationship as kids. After I moved out, I discovered that she had broken some of my collection of horse statues (including Breyer collectibles which appreciate in value. Dumb fucking move). I don’t think it was accidental. Nor was cutting up my prom dress to make an 8th grade graduation dress without asking me (Thanks, Mom. You knew better). Her boyfriend/husband was not very friendly and the first time I saw her kids beyond being little babies, they thought it was great fun to hit me with duck decoys while their parents stood by and laughed. I should have known.

Of course, the usual comment that follows is “Well, you hold a grudge.” Actions speak louder than words. My words, your actions.

The cropped picture brought it all home. If you bitches wanted to hurt me, you fucking did it. Congratulations. I hope you’re happy with yourselves. You tried to trap me into moving home and being a caretaker for someone who disliked me only slightly less than you did.

Why was it decided that my life and happiness mattered less than yours?

Whatever. You can block me on Facebook, refuse to acknowledge my existence, not communicate with me unless you want something (which has been the case since we were teens. I only exist if I’m useful to you. The sad smile and tears with “We really should be closer” only comes out when the wine flows. I’m willing to be closer, just not on your terms). However, like science, whether you like it or not, I’m still your sister. Those were my parents. I don’t even know what you did with the bodies. NONE of you had the maturity, courage, or grace to reach to tell me my mother was dying, was dead, the date/time of the memorial, or even offer me the pictures of myself from the hall. I didn’t want money (this was a discussion I’d had with Mom several times. And Dad. Because he and I were both ATTORNEYS who had studied wealth transmission, we knew the best estate planning was to spend it all (including transfers) during your lifetime). All I wanted were the cross-stitch pictures I’d made for them, the photos of me as a baby and little girl, me with Ralph, my graduation pictures, the Fidelity publicity photo of me wearing a headset. That’s it. My stuff. Given the treatment years prior of my collectibles, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were tossed the first day of cleaning out the Rutland house. And I’m pretty sure I was lied to about them.

Anger is like  drinking poison and hoping it kills the other person. I have to forgive you for myself. I can also forgive you because you have to live with yourselves. I don’t.

I have been working on some short stories. I will finish those sumbitches if it kills me. Which is ironic because they’re supposed to be funny erotica, not Swedish death metal (shout-out to a friend). And not under my name. Someone I respect told me I need to focus and commit to something, then success will follow. Also commented that the comerotica (comedy + erotica. Portmanteau word. May catch on. May not) would be successful. I can do that.

And that’s the state of me right now.

Still here. The Iron Rose will bloom again.

 

 

Since You Left

February 1, 2003 was the worst day of my life, but I think you know that. I’d like to think, if the situation was reversed, it would have been equally as devastating to you.

You left.

I don’t kick myself because I had turned off my phone and didn’t get the call when Ellen made it. This wasn’t Dad or Gram with some warning that they were about to leave. You and I had a great conversation the day before. Truth? I was surprised as hell that you picked up the phone. That almost never happened. You know how, after someone has suddenly left, the stories come out? “Just out of the blue, Jeremiah called/dropped by/sent an email/text/Facebook comment and the next day, he was gone.” That phone call the day before was one of those stories. I don’t remember what the hell we talked about, except I was light-headed after giving blood, and you ragged on me for being an airhead blonde because of it. And I said, “Fuck you.” You said, “Fuck you.” . And a bunch of other shit. Our usual shit. I think I forgot to say, “Talk to you later.” That was odd. I always sign off a phone call that way. Maybe that was another sign that, no, I wouldn’t talk to you later. Or ever again.

It’s been almost fifteen years. I lost you, I lost Toulouse, I lost my housing (through my own folly). That was the last time I had a home of my own. 2003 was a real festering turd of a year. And I am not recovered from it. Your departure is still a raw, oozing wound. It doesn’t heal. It won’t heal. I don’t want it to heal. I don’t want to get over losing my soul sister.

Yeah, sister. You have one of your own. I have two. I think it’s fair to say, we were closer to each other than to them. I couldn’t and cannot talk to Kathy and Laura like I could talk to you. I was like the alien in the midst of the Thatcher family. We kept each other’s confidences. We talked about stuff that would get me puzzled and dismissive “You’re weird” looks from K&L. You and me, though, we got each other.

I don’t think it’s a secret that I needed you more than you needed me. You had my back. Maybe I took it for granted. Yeah, I did. I have no idea what it was I did for you. Made you laugh? Got you into some Lucy & Ethel type capers? I think maybe part of my ongoing, decade-and-a-half-long grief is guilt. Guilt for taking, for not giving back enough, for being selfish. I took your presence in my life for granted, and I also took it for granted that we would be on the Earth together for decades. 1979-2003, not even a quarter-century. it’s not fair.

You’ve missed a lot. You missed me coming in third on Jeopardy. You missed me on “Reba.” (and Ms. McIntyre was kind and gracious when I almost burst out crying all over her because you would have loved that I was on her show).  I needed to talk to you about what I saw of Dad with dementia and how scary that shit was. You weren’t here to consult over the issues that drove the final breaking wedge between the rest of the Thatchers and me. If ever I needed a soul sister, that was then.

You should have been here to torment me on my fiftieth birthday. I should have been able to mock you on YOUR fiftieth birthday. Coward. You skipped Earth before that milestone. Forty years was enough, I guess.

By the way, I’m the one who put the yellow rose in the bouquet that was the center of your memorial service. Ellen went along with it. And I’m sure you dumped the picture into that bouquet. Our final “Fuck you” to each other?

You’re the one who kept my feet to the fire writing. I should have been able to consult you about publishing. By all rights, the first copy should have gone to you, not just the dedication.

I still have trouble referring to those closest to me as “best friend.” That’s your job, and fuck you, Bitch, you quit on me. What happens if I call someone else “Best Friend”? Is she going to quit on me, too?

I’m angry, still. How dare you leave? And should I feel guilty over being angry? Doesn’t change the fact that I’m angry, bereft, abandoned. Yeah, you were over a year younger than me, but you had more big sister energy. I feel like I’ve been  cut loose since then, tumbling from a plane without a parachute in a high wind. It’s not your fault, but I wonder if I’d have been blown around so much or made so many bad decisions if you were still here. Or maybe you would have ended the friendship because I’m too much of a pain in the ass.

I don’t know. You had a lot of nerve to be able to get tanked, barf,  and not have a hangover the next day. Such a bitch for being smarter, better self-disciplined,  and more responsible than me. How dare you have your shit together.

Whatever.

I miss you. Every day. I just thought you should know.

 

 

 

09/14/2017

In “Slaughterhouse Five,” Kurt Vonnegut describes the hell of surviving the firebombing of Dresden (In Slaughterhouse Number 5. Sorry if that’s a spoiler), then emerging the next morning. Billy Pilgrim is surrounded by manmade destruction on a nearly incomprehensible scale. In the middle of this hellscape…

…a bird starts singing.

In the middle of death and devastation, life reasserts itself.

I live in South Florida and Hurricane Irma came through last weekend. The winds picked up on Saturday, getting stronger through the day and the main event lasted most of Sunday. I could hear hollow booms from time to time. I knew my home was well-positioned for winds coming from ESE (home is in a condo building on the WNW side) and the household had taken steps to prepare.

Before the storm hit, as we were clearing the porch, I was watching the Muscovy ducks and white ibis that hang out in the canal behind the house. The water level had been lowered in anticipation of heavy rain and the birds were probing for worms and bugs. I wondered where they’d go for shelter, whether they’d be able to survive a Category 4 hurricane.

Once the wind started, I put up a pretty good show of being cool and brave for those around me. And for myself. In the wisdom of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Whistle a Happy Tune, putting on the performance convinced me, too. It seemed like the winds wouldn’t stop increasing, that the water level in the canal behind the house wouldn’t stop rising, one more good gust hitting a palm tree would bring it down.

Let me tell you, it was a long damn weekend. And the nights were worse. No quietly whirring fans to block the noise of the wind. The dark seemed even darker. But I could see the silhouettes of trees under assault from 80 mile an hour gusts. I could hear thunder. Lightning flashed. With no power, I was keeping my phone off to save battery. We had been getting tornado warnings, flash flood warnings, lightning strike warnings, but with the phone off, I wouldn’t hear or see them. Sleep was fitful.

I had had a chorus of people on social media telling me to evacuate, and when it became clear that I wouldn’t,  telling me to check in and be safe. Every few hours, I’d turn on the phone and post, starting with “I’m still okay,” describing the conditions, and finishing with “I still have gummy bears.” (I’d started a running joke about gummy bears being among necessary hurricane supplies. More than a few people agreed). One of the last posts, when the winds really did start to ease, I reported that the gummy bears were gone. There were expressions of sympathy.

The winds died down. The rains stopped. We still didn’t have power, and it was cooler outside than in. My roommate and I ventured out to see the damage. Huge trees had fallen into some of the other buildings in the neighborhood, crashing through porches, landing on roofs. Here was the source of those booms I’d heard.  These buildings faced directly into the storm and many units had tattered or missing screens. No golfers were out on the course; too much debris.

We were lucky. Our electricity was out for 36 hours. The internet was fully functional a day later. I wouldn’t call it PTSD, but as I’ve been working, I’ve heard a deep “thrum” and checked the trees to see if the winds have returned. They haven’t; it’s the fan. I know they haven’t, but I still check the trees to be sure.

Tonight, 3 days later, I went to the store to pick up a few things and I stood in the parking lot for a moment. It was a normal September night, warm, humid, pink and orange sunset. The frantic energy was gone. It was quiet. But for the leaf litter and branches on the ground, you wouldn’t know what had gone on.

The morning after the storm, I looked at the canal. And had my own Slaughterhouse Five moment. Amid the downed branches on the other side of the canal, there were the Muscovy ducks and white ibis.

Life reasserts itself.