Because of how I’m wired, I’m not a great fan of a lot of middlebrow TV or films. I am continually turning down offers to watch extremely good things, Academy Award winning dramas etc, in favour of junk. I quite like a lot of super abstract video art, and lowbrow genre trash – nothing in the middle. I’m not proud of this – in fact I wish I were different – but nature + nurture conspired to do a number on me in this regard, and now here we are.
Anyway, the result is, I sometimes watch genre films and write – well, not quite reviews, but… commentaries? – on them. And because I haven’t really documented that material in any intelligent way, I thought it might be a good idea to gather some of those pieces in one place, in case anyone feels like they need that.
Starting with the best first, The Surrender was a one-woman show based on Toni Bentley’s erotic memoir about her sexual adventures, and in particular, her journey into the world of heterosexual sodomy. I saw this with Jess and Siobhan in New York and it is easily one of my top three theatre experiences of all-time.
Click on the link and journey from top to bottom – or as Toni Bentley would say: ‘from bottom… to BOTTOM.’
I saw this early Selena Gomez holiday romance / mistaken identity saga back in 2011 and it was terrible, but also, the sight of Leighton Meester shedding some of her uptight cares and worries and learning to be free by splashing through fountains and necking with a topless aussie bloke in waist deep water… ahhh.
This whole film is a fucking disaster, and I ended up being on the side of the uptight wealthy jerk who the heroine’s parents are trying to set her up with, rather than the free-spirited Cuban dancer lad she falls for. Also the Patrick Swayze cameo was weird and disturbing. But a dance training montage to Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie makes everything okay.
Thanks to Clyde Enriquez I watched the iconic Filipino rom-com One More Chance, way over-identified with Bea Alonzo as the heroine, and hated matinee idol John Lloyd Cruz more than I’ve ever hated a movie character before or since. Fuck that guy.
Jess Bellamy and I sat down together and watched the Hannah Montana movie – jointly, for science – and each wrote our own review. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but it is not a very good movie. Except for the barndance sequence, that’s all killer no filler.
Most recently, I poured my tired soul into this Dakota Johnson vehicle, and look, I felt a lot of feelings, but I can’t pretend they’re all thanks to the film. I spent a lot of time being distracted by the conspicuous wealth on display, and by the total lack of any clear narrative arc.
Four minutes into this Dakota Johnson movie and I’m feeling all kinds of feelings.
1. Sex and the City-esque light philosophical reflections about being single over a high-speed montage of a couple getting together and then breaking up
2. Dakota Johnson seems really fine, but also like she’s not sure she wants to be here. Maybe that’s her MO. The whole of 50 Shades, her special trick that she brought to the performance was the look of being deeply unhappy about being there. It’s a Thing I guess
3. I fucken hate TaySwi’s Welcome To New York, and it’s not like I don’t love 1989, so don’t lay that on me
Dakota Johnson moves to New York after breaking up with her bf of four years to find out what it’s like to be single and Rebel Wilson meets her at her new job as a paralegal
like there are jobs in New York
there are no jobs in New York
At the end of day one of job, Dakota wants to go home, in her sexy mini and makeup, but Rebel is the irresponsible best friend, already. Some fucking how.
Not that I can write better romance than this movie: I am this movie.
There’s a character who’s slightly anally looking for the right guy on dating websites – the bartender at the place she’s meeting these guys has a playful frisson-charged friendship with her, will something develop? On date one, the gag is that the guy isn’t into having children, he’s about having crazy sex acts.
This is making me long for the overstuffed shambolic fuckup that was Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis’ Friends With Benefits – so many failed setpieces. This film knows all the moves, it just doesn’t care.
But: glossy costumes, well-lit, colourful sets, heaps of extras, Dakota Johnson looking winsome: we proceed.
Rebel Wilson takes Dakota to a bar where she instructs Dakota to get laid. Fifth Harmony’s Worth It is playing, Dakota says several times ‘I’m not looking to hook up, I just want to discover who I am”. This is, in the parlance of the Hero’s Journey: Refusing The Call.
Dakota ends up making out with the bartender that’s been flirting with the uptight girl, then it cuts to the next morning at Dakota’s sister’s beautiful house, her beautiful, huge, beautiful house. Her huge house that she has in New York with her doctor job, her doctor job that has made her rich, rich enough to own a huge, beautiful house with great couches and lovely natural light where Rebel and Dakota awake, hungover, after the night out they had following a day at work at their jobs, their jobs that they have in New York, because they have jobs in New York.
I’m 16 minutes into this film and the lighting is exquisite.
There’s a whole thing with the sister getting clucky, deciding that she wants a baby herself. What’s going on here? Do I have the courage and sensitivity to say anything about this scene in this recounting or do I leave it alone?
(note from future david: looks like i decided to leave it alone)
Dakota’s boyf that she split with at the top of the film shows up for a meeting, she asks him to come back to her, he says no. It’s a good bit of writing cause it’s done and dusted in a couple of short lines – this is how writing should be written.
I will write this scene, this same scene, I will write this exact scene, with a little less grace and fewer Dakota Johnsons.
The uptight girl is at the bar being alone when a hen’s party rocks up and the hen is an old friend and girl-on-girl competition is about to be afoot, I can feel it. Bitch friends asking too many spiteful questions bring our girl down, but then the bartender pretends to be her boyfriend to make them jealous and score points.
Just, give me one reason to like any of these characters. Have them do something good, or interesting. They’re in the sympathetic protagonist slot in the movie but I just – don’t – care.
God the extras are well dressed, though.
In fact, the costumes are off the fucking chain. There’s not one scene where Dakota doesn’t look like she’s in an amazing and sexy hair commercial.
Having wealth, having fucking wealth, man.
Dakota moves into a beautiful luxury apartment with high ceilings, with all her possessions, her goddamn possessions, how can she be sad when she has everything? How does she live?
The sister is gonna have a baby by herself, it doesn’t work the first time, the sister has a history of helping other people but when will she learn to take care of herself?
Rebel and Dakota are hanging out in a… place. If it were the 90s, and it were Sliding Doors, that place would be… yoga. Because that’s what aspirationally attractive young professionals with romantic possibilities ahead of them did, in movies back then. Now it’s 2016 and they’re in a sauna. Which is fucking yellow.
I’ve said before that the lighting in this film is unbelievable, but here I think they’ve legit let the designer go too far. Fuck, man, what’s even going on.
The flight attendants are walking up and down the aisle and chatting to people in their gorgeous Birmingham accents and they are adorable. Nathan and Rachel are a few seats back so they can clearly see that I’m watching this film, there are no secrets on this plane. I tried to convince Rachel to watch it too so we could debrief about it but she said that all reports are that it’s terrible, so now I have no-one to debrief about it with except you, word document.
What does Dakota do in this film? What does she DO? She exists only in relation to her partners, prospective or past, she has no thing that she does. And the meet-cutes in this flick have been universally bad.
Nah but straight up, fuck the bit where the characters hate on pubic hair as a thing where it’s ugly and you can’t have sex with new guys if you have it. What the fuck is wrong with you, screenwriter, that you wrote that, and with you, entire culture, that you sanctioned it? I mean don’t get me wrong, I know what world I’m living in, I know what to expect from Hollywood patriarchal mainstream fluff, but every so often, man the world is just depressing.
(aside: a week or so into Stockholm development, and thank you Sweden for your healthy mature attitude towards nudity and the human body, but also as a consequence, I’m extremely aware that every dudebro at the gym is getting around with shaved nads. I feel hella self-conscious rocking my full natural bush; Dakota Johnson, I relate, I relate.)
Dakota does the thing where not knowing how to work her electrical appliances and being confused about technology is cute. (It’s understandable and no judgment, but it’s not cute.)
There’s a Glee club sequences and a whole thing with the pregnant sister wanting to have sex and having sex with some young dude at the office christmas party. Man, fucken American banter is so type A and obnoxious, it would be nice if people were just nice to each other, in this films, in all this films.
The sister has sex with a dude in the copy room at the law firm, which we know from the first scene with Rebel Wilson is under surveillance, and not to be having sex in.
(The gag where this sex scene has been filmed is set up but never delivered on, which means it’s 100% on the editing floor, in which case, I commend the editor of the flick for their restraint in paring this thing back to a digestible length.)
The uptight girl gets angry at kids in a library and tells them that dudes are no good and that love is dead, it’s a setpiece with kids as comedy. She meets a librarian who is cute with a scruffy face.
Dakota goes to her ex-boyf’s christmas party to see him dancing with his new gf because who the fuck is Dakota Johnson in this film, a walking open wound.
She has wealth, sees wealth, a wealthy businessman takes her to the top of an expensive building he owns, because wealth = romance, romance = wealth.
Now she’s hanging with the businessman’s daughter, he gets angry because she’s bonding with his daughter. It’s three months later. The relationship ends. Where are we. In the sky somewhere, night, in the shadow of the earth, I’m lost in the vastness of the world and the melancholy that is international travel, as lost if not more so than this film.
There’s a mealy indie guitar ballad to celebrate the end of this relationship, a parade scene – so many extras. So many extras. A great scene with silhouettes. Good lighting. Dakota hugs her sister and cries. This purposeless, vacuous movie has no trajectory, and I’m lost in it.
The uptight lass is now with the scruffy librarian, now it’s a montage of the characters being happy, being happy, it’s a montage of… what? Dakota has some casual sex, and then runs into her ex-boyfriend again. I swear, we get no distance from this character. We can’t even use him as a measure of Dakota’s progress because what progress? What direction? What even?
The sister pushes away her young lover because she is too afraid to be open.
The perpetually single bartender has fallen in love with the uptight girl but it’s too late, she’s gone.
The wealthy businessman tucks in his daughter with a melancholy air.
Dakota get a text from her ex-boyf inviting her back. She goes to hang out with the bartender.
DAKOTA VOICEOVER: Maybe this whole time we’ve been making all the wrong moves. Maybe we’ve been focusing on the wrong stuff, and now it’s too late.
Dakota has sex with the bartender to the tune of the Harlem Shake. Is it a good song? Seems like on paper it should be a good song, but also, I don’t know if I like it?
Everyone drinks in this film, alcohol is the only thing. Dakota has a huge birthday party, a rooftop party. She gets drunk, the lighting is beautiful, who are all these fucking strangers.
The setpiece in this section of the film is all three of Dakota’s beaus meeting. At her birthday party.
The bartender makes a move on the uptight girl, who’s now getting married to the librarian so she rebuffs him. The wealthy businessman apologises to Dakota, she… ah, I don’t know. She still doesn’t look like she wants to even be in this film. But I’m tired and I just need a hug and I want Dakota Johnson to be happy.
At this point on any international flight my head is in a weird place and look at Dakota Johnson’s kind eyes and ohhhhh, I don’t need grace just a smile, just a smile
Dakota is now ripping in to Rebel Wilson for not having a life of her own, which is rich given that
a) Rebel is doing her best with the paltry material she’s been given as the wacky best friend, and
b) Dakota doesn’t even have the beginnings of a flicker of a life.
The realtalk concludes with a song that I thought might be the Verve’s Already There, which woulda been an unusual choice, but it was not. Often the soundtrack is the place in these safe-bet studio films where the director feels free to cut loose and pull in an unexpected choice or two, but here the music feels curated by Spotify algorithms, and I guess that’s fine, I guess that’s fine.
Now her ex-boyf comes and sits with Dakota on a stairwell. They make out, they nearly have sex. But he’s still with his new girlfriend, Dakota’s angry.
The editing, the editing is exceptionally good. It’s going so fast.
But there’s a triumphant bit where Dakota realises she wants to be alone. And there’s a water breaking sequence which is… well look, I feel like there’s probably a way to play someone’s waters breaking as a clever gag, but this is not it. And then there’s a labour in the back of a cab. And now it’s soft chiming guitars and the baby got born. And holy shit, the baby they hand to her when she’s finished giving birth is clearly a fortnight old. Man, you can’t get a genuine infant in the movies, can you? It’s understandable and ethically good, but also, jesus.
So the final score at the end of the flick is:
– The sister gets back together with her young dude because they love each other and he wants to help raise the baby
– Dakota walks back to her beautifully lit apartment at dawn and enjoys being alone
– She reads Cheryl Strayed in the window of her apartment and texts Rebel Wilson
DOES SHE EVER WORK AT HER FUCKING JOB
She’s getting ready to walk the Grand Canyon. She sees young girls who are friends on the streets and smiles. An anthem of independence plays and she reconnects with Rebel Wilson.
DAKOTA VOICEOVER: I’ve been thinking that the time we have single is really just the time to get good at being alone…. but how good do we really want to be?
(is this the moral you want to leave your audience with? does this actually mean anything?)
Final shot, Dakota standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon in the dawn. Alone. Truly alone.
And there, there, what a lot of things to think and feel. Do I have the energy, do I have the heart? I feel like a mess.