Marmaduke even though there's an unnamed quadrant clearly starving for movies like The Kids Are All Right.
Herding all of America into these four age/gender categories is of course the kind of folly that marketers have to parade as science when confronted with the diversity of our country. The truth is, people within the same quadrant have diverse tastes -- some watch reality TV, some watch sports, some watch HBO. If everybody could agree on anything (besides Toy Story, that is) we wouldn't have these divisive elections, or people who hate the Yankees no matter how much they win.
When it comes to movies, I often disagree with my peers -- even if we're the same age, same gender, same ethnic background, same education. That's what makes life -- and art -- interesting. I was thinking about how idiosyncratic taste is because
of a few spirited arguments I've recently had with friends trying to defend my liking something.
I really loved A.M. Homes's dark suburban marital satire Music For Torching and recommended it to a friend living through some marital strife. I got a virulent text message asking me what the hell I liked about it, how awful the people were, etc etc. (Sorry!)
Then last night, I watched the movie A Single Man by Tom Ford, a stylish tale of grief which earned its star Colin Firth an Oscar nomination, but otherwise passed through the culture fairly uneventfully. I found it incredibly moving, for deeply personal reasons, which I'll get to in a moment. (Like The Kids Are All Right, it also features an unassailable performance by the stellar Julianne Moore.)
I had been dissuaded from seeing it back when it was in theaters by a friend I trust, who lambasted it as "a pretentious, overwrought, boring perfume ad" and said there was "no story." And last night when I touted it to another peer, a filmmaker who has experienced loss, he replied, "I walked out halfway...it was just 'too gay' for me. I know that's shallow, but it was like shot after shot of men's eyebrows and waxed chests, and backs..."
These are both guys in my very narrow quadrant -- they are even fellow writers. Here's the thing: I can't argue with either of them, I know what they mean, but I got past the stylish fetishizing right away. For me, it was an indelible use of cinema -- including even variances in color saturation -- to convey the state of grieving. The story is of a gay college professor named Falconer in the early 60's whose longtime lover dies, and how the social conventions of the era muffle his heartache. He lives in a fog and is on a suicidal bent, revisiting his past and his present, until he has an encounter that endows him with one of those rare moments of clarity.
I won't give away the ending, but I will say that at first I found it a complete cop-out, then I thought about it more. I realized that while I was watching it, I was empathizing with Falconer's grief and loss, because of how I sometimes have felt in the months and years since my parents died.
But then as the end credits began, I was gobsmacked by the revelation that in fact, Falconer -- despite his specific plight as a gay man in 1962 -- was like my widowed father in 2009, who was in the fog of grief, going through the motions, then he had a last day (or week, really) that kind of dug him out of it. He saw his teenage granddaughter shine in a school play, he presented her and her sister with the memory book he'd self-published about his late wife, he confided to me that he'd started dating and "felt like a teenager" -- and then he died in his sleep.
Of course I can't expect other people who haven't gone through what I have, or what he did, to get past all the beautiful trappings of Ford's movie, but I find it fascinating how important it is for them to feel like their point of view isn't wrong. As one of the characters in the movie says, "Sometimes awful things have their own kind of beauty." But also: one person's awful is another's beauty.
It's the kind of difference of opinion that relegates these kinds of movies to the art house, because this means they appeal to a "specialized" audience. But thank god they're getting made, because not everybody has a talking dog or a secret superhero identity.