*Take a shot every time I say Alison Brie*

Spring gives me one of two feelings- breathlessness and the feeling of new. Fresh flowers. New chances. Knowing that no matter what, the sun will come out tomorrow. But the other one is dread. Easter pastel colors that are dead on the inside. Sunday services at 8 am that you don't want to be at. Sunny landscapes that make you think you can take your jacket off, but in reality, it's way too cold. Horse Girl is the second feeling personified. I went into this movie knowing next to nothing, except it starred Alison Brie, it was a little weird, and it was called Horse Girl. My friend Parker said that that was probably for the best, and oh my god, he’s right. 

I’m not going to describe in depth what this movie is, mainly for two reasons, the first being that I want to honor Parker’s vision and my personal experience watching this, the second being that I honestly couldn’t tell you if I wanted. I truly don’t know. But the elevator pitch for Horse Girl is that it is about an introverted and peculiar woman named Sarah (played by Alison Brie) and her slow journey into a mental breakdown. I just want to get it out of the way right now- this movie is fucking weird. It’s completely and utterly batshit crazy. And if those types of movies don’t work for you, then you really won’t like this movie. But even if you do like those types of movies, you still might not like this one. This movie is like if the horse girl you knew of growing up decided to lose all of her inhibitions and become feral and unhinged. And as much as I love a cinematic moment where the heroine says ‘Fuck it!’ and lives for nobody but herself, ideas of proper femininity and general societal expectations be damned, it doesn’t really work in this instance.

There is a strange ambience of unease strung throughout, and it only puts more pressure on that arterie as the runtime furthers, doing so with an almost perfect trifecta of unsettling cinematography, a score that significantly utilizes running shower water, and stellar acting that makes my blood run cold in the best way possible. But it doesn’t quite click. And as much as I laughed at the ongoing nosebleed joke, I can’t forgive the wonky script. It feels like they rushed that stage in order to get to the fun stuff; the acting, the cameras, and the music. It loses its footing about a third of the way through, right when Sarah begins to lose her handle on reality, and subsequently, right when they needed a good script the most. Her nervous breakdown doesn’t have a solid conclusion, or much of a conclusion in general, and it’s almost insulting how quick the movie decides to just give up and blame it on the aliens.

Alison Brie (who also co-wrote the screenplay) tries hard in her portrayal of Sarah, the titular horse girl. She really does, and I will hand that to her. She commits to this really fucking weird project, not once letting up as the movie goes on, if anything, going harder and harder with every passing scene. Her character study of an isolated woman losing her mind is a fascinating one, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's well done. It’s all over the place, though I think that fault lies in the script.

This movie is weird, but not because it aims to be. I mean, it wants to be a weird movie, and it does end up being so, but that’s exactly my point. It's not for its own benefit. But like the horse girl in your sixth grade class, you acknowledge her, feel a little bad at how awkward she is, and carry on. I will say, the movie does a good job of warping your perception. It does a good job of starting off and portraying Sarah as a sane woman in a crazy world instead of vice versa, and proceeds to carry on that idea throughout the movie, even as it becomes more and more apparent that Sarah isn't okay. You still want to hold onto the notion that Sarah is in the right, that everybody else is wrong. Nobody is the real villain here, not even Sarah, who’s up against herself. But even then, we don’t even know if she won her fight or succumbed to it.

To tell the truth, I didn't take anything profound away from this. I didn't walk away feeling any different, for better or for worse. I just shut my laptop, walked outside, and went, “Damn. That was crazy. Oh well.”  Did Alison Brie get abducted by aliens after all? Is she actually crazy? I don't really know, and I don't think the movie knows either. This movie has a lot of fire, a lot of passion, but no real destination. It just keeps running. At one point while watching it, I just stopped asking questions and let the movie take me for a ride. And I think that’s the best way to watch this. Embrace the open arms of Horse Girl, and she in turn will embrace you.

There are very few films, or pieces of media in general, that so quickly and largely become part of the Internet’s lexicon like “Uncut Gems.” Adam Sandler, yes, that Adam Sandler, plays the role of a lifetime as Howard Ratner, a jeweler in New York City’s diamond district, circa 2012. The movie’s plot focuses on Howard’s daredevil attempts to handle his huge debts and distraught marriage. Each scene provides higher and higher stakes by overwhelming its audience with a claustrophobic score and overlapping dialog, which often has multiple characters talking at once. Howard’s douchebag charisma carries the film as his life spirals into chaos, leading to some of the most incredible scenes from a movie in recent memory. 

“Uncut Gems” became an instant meme-machine for a variety of reasons. The movie touches on a ton of popular culture including basketball, New York City, gambling and modern jewish culture. As a New Yorker who happens to be a huge basketball fan, this movie feels like it was created in a lab where they dumped all my favorite stuff together, it banged around loudly like an old washing machine, and out came ‘Uncut Gems’ in a tiny blue vial. This film features specific events in recent basketball history as main plot points, the king of New York sports radio Mike Francesa as a bookie, and NBA legend Kevin Garnett playing the pivotal role of himself. Many characters are untrained actors, and all of their performances are spectacular and add to the gritty realism of the film.

The memetic qualities in “Uncut Gems” are born through Howard. His goatee with a five o’clock shadow, diamond earrings, rimless glasses and leather jacket provide the perfect cover for Adam Sandler to transform himself out of his goofy, mainstream comedic persona. Howard is a degenerate at heart, but his allure never runs dry. Although he’s blazing a trail of crime, his one liners and obnoxiously selfish attitude throughout have you cheering for him. Ratner’s classic line “This is how I win” has been quoted and altered an infinite amount of times on social media, and has proven to have the qualities that make a meme last. The “This is how I win” meme represents winning by “nefarious means” according to the website KnowYourMeme. Minor victories as well as huge ones are represented through this meme, as Twitter users have used it to reference everything from getting out of jury duty by changing your age to ninety years old, to tricking your wife into taking the worse plate at dinner by feigning ignorance. “Uncut Gems” has spawned tons of reaction images and GIFS that are being shared all across the Internet. 

Howard’s undying demeanor that he will win his way juxtaposes itself well against the backdrop of the Internet— a low stakes affair for many, like me, who scroll through Twitter all day. Living vicariously through Howard is a trip, and pretending everything is on the line in minor moments of life are what memes emulate best, fetishizing and making light of our moment to moment experiences. Memes are connecting us through minutiae of life, and cult films like Uncut Gems are our new vocabulary for describing these moments in relation with each other. Everything from political moments to sports events to the coronavirus outbreak are being understood through memes of our favorite characters, and those with the most destructive personalities like Howard lend themselves well to convey our emotions.

The cult following spawned from “Gems” is a deserved one. The Safdie Brothers, creators and directors of the movie, nailed every aspect of how to create an immediate cult classic. The score for the film, done by Daniel Lopatin, AKA Oneohtrix Point Never, adds to the anxiety this film induces. Its glitchy effects and long synth chords create the atmosphere of dread that Howard battles through. “Uncut Gems” isn’t a typically enjoyable experience, and those who brought their families to the movies for the new Adam Sandler film for some goofs and gaffs would be quite disappointed, and shocked. The Safdie’s ability to make a movie that is both difficult and entertaining to watch is on full display here. There isn’t a single memorable joke or hilarious moment you can call back to. There are no tension breaking bits, just momentary relief from the suffering. The movie doesn’t allow you for a moment to question Howard’s actions, as the whirlwind the movie creates has you more swept up in what's coming next, rather than parsing through moral dilemmas. Howard exists in every moment to survive the next. He is a beautiful man, trailblazing a path to nowhere. 

“Uncut Gems” is not a reproducible experience. There aren’t going to be many movies in the future that will be able to pull together as particular a cast as the Safdie’s pulled off for this one. This film has taken the internet by storm, and Howard Ratner has been inducted into the internet meme Hall of Fame, somewhere between Tony Soprano screaming and Walter White boasting.

My mother is enamored with the legacy of Tonya Harding. Every four years for as long as I can remember, the winter Olympics would roll around and the names of “Tonya,”  Nancy” and “that bitch” would float around the house. My mother, Sara, wasn't so much as obsessed with the story as she was passionate. It was clear from a young age that this was a Team Tonya household. 

As the years go on, I seem to be the only one to inherit her feverish interest--my brother even had the audacity to say that Harding seemed too whiny during old interview tapes. I won't lie, I, Tonya has been one of my favorite movies for the past three years, but Sara and I aren't alone. Over in Williamsburg, there was a hallway museum dedicated to everything Tonya, and the only reason I didn’t go is because 1) I wasn’t living here when it closed in 2017, and 2) I would be betraying my mom if I went alone. There's a play that is purely constructed from things that have been stated during the news coverage of it all--and surprisingly, it works. But why? What is it about this event that keeps us on the edge of our seats, almost thirty years down the line? Well, there’s a lot.

Probably the most obvious is the story itself. It seems like a storyline you’d keep up with on a soap opera for two weeks while you battle a horrendous flu, but no, this actually happened. The sex, the violence, the sheer drama--it’s all true. But in the truth of it all, there's an unreliability and ambiguity you just can’t shake. Part of the reason why we haven't let it go yet is because the story keeps changing, even after all this time. We don't know how much Tonya knew, and most likely never will. We don't know if she was telling the truth or covering her ass--that's all up to you.

Something that people never talk about or even acknowledge is the role that class played in all of this. Harding, who grew up in poverty and with a difficult family dynamic, was the opposite of the image that the USFSA wanted to project to the world. Her mother chainsmoked in arenas and her husband was some dude named Jeff Gilooly (who was probably hot by 1994 backwoods standards), and both were awful people. She skated to the Jurassic Park theme and hair metal bands, and didn't care what anybody thought about her in a sport that was all about caring. She was talented, and she knew it, regardless of her homemade costumes and crunchy hair. Sure, it might have contributed to an attitude problem, but she had the work ethic to back it up. If anybody deserved to be a diva, it was her. 

But every single time that Tonya worked her way up the system, somebody would meet her there to remind her where she came from, to tell her that no matter how hard she tried, she would never be a part of the boys club (or, rich people club. I don't know). Someone was always there to remind her that she would always be trailer park trash regardless of her inarguable talent. Whether or not Tonya had anything to do with it, the clubbed knee had everything to do with opportunity and privilege. This is the first woman who ever successfully accomplished a triple axel jump in competition. She became an Olympian, and she broke records. Tonya Harding was a force to be reckoned with, and to tell the truth, nobody would care if her fur coat wasn't made from rabbit hides. I can't even say if America would remember her whatsoever if she didn't cuss out the other competitors and shotgun beers in her spare time. Class helps contextualize and even adds an entire layer of dimension to this story. 

At surface level, this story is often diminished to a catty feud between women, when there was so much more at work besides snide comments and rankings. This goes to show the amount of pressure and value the media and public put on women for stories that aren't up to them. Even now, almost everybody involved wants to move on. Both Tonya and Jeff go by different names, and Kerrigan refuses to speak about it at all. But we keep untrenching it all because of how juicy and meaty the story is. Who cares if they want to let it go--we don't want to let go, and that's all that matters! Tonya has tried to make something of herself even after her lifetime ban was instigated--she went into boxing, she tried car racing. But like the judges who never gave her the scores she deserved, America never let her forget that no matter how hard she tried, she bashed in Nancy Kerrigan's knee, and that's all she'd ever amount to.

But through it all, she doesn't give up. Tonya is scrappy, and it's not hard to see something of yourself in her. Time and time again, she'd fall on her face, and everybody around her would absolutely humiliate her for it. And still, she’d decide to get back up and do it again. If she decides to do something, she will stop at nothing to do it--the only thing truly holding her back is her asthma (RIP to her boxing career, the star that burned out too quickly). And how can you hate that? 

Even though I will profess her innocence until the day I die, I can't honestly say if I'm right or wrong. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if Nancy deserved for her knee to get bashed (and that is not what I am saying, even though that is totally what Sara is saying)--for fuck's sake, she ended up skating in the end anyways. What matters is that Tonya is strong as hell, in every sense of the word. She survived several abusive relationships, and still kicked ass in everything she did. She literally beat up her creepy older step brother with a hot curling iron while getting ready for a skating competition (that she won, mind you). If I was ever thrust into Tonya’s position, I’d crumple like a pathetic used tissue, and so would you. It doesn’t matter if she did it or not. What matters is that I am enamored with Tonya Harding’s legacy, and so should you.

In the beginning scene of Marriage Story, the two leads talk about what they love the most about the other. Charlie talks about Nicole's drive, her small quirks, and she does likewise. They aren't swiping at each other, nor nitpicking. It’s a sweet snapshot into their two lives and why they spend it with each other. Then it cuts to therapy. The two are hostile. The two are quiet. The two are divorcing, and regardless of what they love about each other, nothing will change that. Nicole isn't that cheery actress, and Charlie isn't a bright eyed director. They are tired. They are human. And lest we forget, they are divorcing.

Marriage Story follows Nicole, an actress trying to get back into the business, and Charlie, an up and coming theatre director, going through the strenuous process of splitting up, the bulk of the movie asking themselves how they will manage to get their son through the other side unscathed. In my opinion, this movie was fine. I mean, it’s good. In fact, it’s really good. But it doesn’t fight to stay with the viewer. It just kind of trickles away with no real takeaway besides the concept of love as a whole. Like the two leads, the movie yells and fights and wears interesting outfits, but like the people we fight in real life who also wear cool clothes, it eventually fades into the background of others that look just like them. It also won’t shut up about the fact that ‘Hellooooo! This movie is about divoooooorce! Did you get that? They’re divorcing. They don’t get back together. They split up. They are divorcing!’ Shut up! I know! And this movie could have made that point in less than two and a half hours.

In those two and a half hours, the camera follows the characters like a play, swinging back and forth like a head peeking through to see what the two could possibly be arguing about. I can imagine it's a callback to the characters’ background. But, it’s at times like these (amongst many, many others) where it feels just a bit too on the nose, like it wants to be quirky and have a flair. However, it just comes off as not trusting the viewer to draw their own conclusions, or perhaps being too uppity to let them have their own conclusions. This is Baumbach’s vision after all, not ours. Another instance includes the scene where Charlie gets his divorce papers served to him. It feels like a play- characters are running in and outside the kitchen, the camera not once leaving it's perch. Even Nicole is orchestrating the people around her almost like she's a director getting ready for curtain, the dialogue zinging back and forth like a pinball game. It’s well done, but it’s also like, ‘Ugh. We know.’

Now before I talk about the two lead performances, I want to shed a light on the real star: Laura Dern. Laura Dern is Nora, and she isn’t a regular divorce lawyer, she's a cool divorce lawyer. She kicks off her heels to hug potential clients while wearing fun blazers and club dresses. She delivers iconic monologues about what it means to be a mother. She eats kale salads! I hope that Baumbach will take this opportunity to explore the MSU (Marriage Story Universe) by giving Nora the screen time she very much deserves.

Scarlett Johanson, I hate to say it, gave a noble performance. She deserved that Oscar nomination. There is a cadence to it, and you feel like you know these characters through Nicole. You've heard Nicole go on and on and on about Charlie, and even though they are almost divorced, it's still natural to hear her continue to do so. She's a bit annoying, but I don't think that's Scarlett's fault. This isn’t her script after all. While I still don’t like her character, I sympathize with her. Listening to Nicole talk about the relationship in the consultation scene is...something. I don't want to say powerful, but there is something compelling hearing her with an even tone about the demise of her marriage, with pulls of emotion and tears just pouring down her face, the cameras not once cutting away from her shaggy pixie. 

Adam Driver is fine. He didn’t do anything bad, but he didn’t do anything great. He and his Adam Driver fist sized shaped hole in the wall were just there. Anybody can scream and yell to the point of tears, especially since he had been warming up for like, over an hour. I will say, Driver’s portrayal of Charlie took a character that was annoying and selfish with occasional streaks of love, and almost inverted it (or at least, made it seem so, which is still no easy feat). 

There were so many weird scenes that were just off, some more than others. The fight scene. The knife scene. Whenever piano music started playing and a tall white person started singing (of which there were numerous). The divorce papers scene. Every possible moment where the possibility of a strong performance could be delivered, got slighted by weird direction, strange dialogue, and camera shots that just need a little push to the left. And sure, you could argue ‘oh, well that’s just life, life is awkward and never perfect!’ and like, okay, fine, maybe you’re right, but this is a story about two assholes divorcing; something’s gotta give.

I am contractually obliged to talk about the fight scene, and I will make a case for it even after seeing the abbreviated Twitter version of it. That wasn’t the full fight, and it did not do it justice. It started as a conversation after a nightmarish court scene, rising and escalating to the point of losing their respective cools. All jokes aside, there is solid acting in that scene (even though there is a bunch to make fun of). There is still tenderness and love there, and it's hard to watch. I guess I don’t really like this movie as a whole only because it feels like I'm watching someone else's real marriage fall apart. I don't want to watch it because it's not for me. I want this to work out, but I know it won't work. I don’t want that hope, and I don’t want to watch a story that I could easily find three of happening at once around me. It’d be different if it made a case for the characters, but to tell the truth, I don’t care about any of them.

Marriage Story is a good movie. But it’s not the best, especially in the wide world of campy divorce movies. Kramer V. Kramer will always hold that distinction. I really hope that I will see this movie as a midnight cult classic someday, with people bringing tiny squares of drywall to punch and pocket knives to slice ketchup packets with. Ooh. I can see it now. As much as I nitpicked and generally disliked this movie from a technical standpoint, I liked this movie in a weird way. Spoiler alert, they get divorced, and they stay divorced, but things are civil. Things are okay. The ending is hopeful, which while not all that realistic, is welcome. And I will hand that to Noah 'Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted' Baumbach (yeah, he wrote that movie in order to fund the divorce that inspired this movie instead of directing two off-Broadway plays). While the trailers and promotion tell us otherwise, this is a story of love. It's a love story in the sense that it’s really hard to truly hate someone. They are in love, but should we forget, they are divorced.


Image from Netflix via YouTube

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