Bridesmaids revisited

Last night, I went to see Bridesmaids with a friend. She had free tickets, and I spoke up first. I had heard good things about the movie, although I had not read any reviews or commentary, so I had only a vague idea of the story.

Since I lost interest in Saturday Night Live shortly after the original cast left, I was not familiar with Kristin Wiig. So we start with a disclaimer: Grandma here is a generation removed from this movie's target audience. I know who Wilson Phillips are and have heard their big hit many times, but they were not part of my formative years. I was not familiar with any of the actors, other than Jill Clayburgh and the mysteriously uncredited Jon Hamm. As far as I know, I have never seen a movie produced by Judd Apatow, and I definitely never saw The Hangover.

I thought the film started out promising. I found Annie's (Wiig) departure from her sex partner's (Hamm) house (he's not her boyfriend, as he makes abundantly clear) quite funny. And the conversation that follows between Annie and her childhood best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) is both very real and very entertaining. It sets up a great chemistry between the two.

Part of the film continues in this vein, and that was the part I liked. This could have been a really good movie. Instead, it was a good movie interspersed with gross-out "humour" (either you love it or you don't) and over-the-top shtick. At over two hours long, I suppose there is room for more than one comedy in this movie, and that's what we get.

Especially in retrospect, I found a lot to like. I was engaged by Annie and her interaction with Lillian. That felt real. I liked much of the interaction among the bridesmaids. I liked the rivalry between Annie and the rich, beautiful, perfect Helen, the wife of Lillian's fiance's boss and Lillian's new best (maybe) friend. I liked the dysfunctional interaction between Annie and Ted (Hamm), who were so clearly on different wavelengths. I loved the character of Nathan Rhodes (Chris O'Dowd), a state trooper who becomes interested in Annie. O'Dowd had a way of delivering lines and interacting with Wiig that made me feel almost like he was improvising.

I did not like Annie's creepy English brother and sister roommates. They are sometimes creepily funny in themselves, but it felt to me as though they belong in a different movie. Helen's stepsons add nothing. I did not feel that the gross-out elements add anything to the film either other than to show that, yes, women can be gross too and get laughs out of swearing and farting (and more). Although I usually found Annie to be believable even while Wiig is playing her for laughs, I did not like when she goes completely over the top, nor when her self-sabotage gets so extreme that it seems to be in service of the plot and not something that comes organically out of the character.

I'm unsure about the character of Megan, the sister of Lillian's fiance's, played by Melissa McCarthy. She has a key role in the plot, and she's refreshingly different among all the other bridesmaids. McCarthy definitely steals more than a few scenes. But even though the movie never makes fun of Megan for being heavy (to its credit), it does make fun of her for being masculine (she wears men's shirts), oversharing about her bodily functions, and being obsessed with men. Sometimes I thought she was funny. Sometimes I just went, huh? Since comedy is subjective, maybe Grandma was missing something. I'm not sure if the pivotal scene between Megan and Annie is awesome or awkward. Maybe it's both.

One reason the film ran long was that the script was oddly loose, especially for a comedy. I appreciated that when the more realistic interaction is going on, but some scenes clearly should have been tightened up. I think the airplane scene ran quite long and almost seemed to have more than one ending. The dress shop scene ran long as well. The through-line of the failed cake shop and Annie's love of (and skill at) baking are used in the plot but really go nowhere. And often I didn't know where we were. Annie and Lillian live in Milwaukee but the wedding takes place in Illinois?

For a character-driven movie, even the main characters are strangely underwritten. We learn a lot about Annie, but she still feels more like shtick than a real person. Lillian is largely a mystery. Helen is a type. Annie's mother (Clayburgh) is never even named. I didn't feel like these characters had lives outside this particular story. It seems like the only reason Rhodes is a cop is to find a way to get Annie and him together.

Among all the blatant obviousness, there are really nice subtleties. Again, we have more than one movie going on here. There are great little moments that pass between Annie and Lillian. I liked how Helen ingratiates herself with Lillian largely by stealing ideas from Annie, who of course knows Lillian better. That's mostly shown and not told, which is the way a screenplay should work. And I love Rhodes's incredulity at how Annie tries to dismiss him as being like all the other men she knows when she has already seen that he is not.

If only someone had taken one or two more passes on this script. If only the direction had provided more focus and the editing had been tighter. It's a comedy, sure, but a comedy that wants to be taken seriously. This movie has things to say, but I fear they are lost among the things it shouldn't have bothered saying. I give Kristin Wiig credit for making a good effort and often succeeding, just not as much as she could have. I know this will seem heretical, but as silly at Sex and the City often was, it was also better at delivering insights. The best of the TV series as well as the first movie (I didn't see the second) sometimes moved me in ways that Bridesmaids failed to do.


Au clair de la lune

The window in our almost-finished media room faces more-or-less southeast. We don't yet have a shade or curtains on the window, and the door is not yet on its hinges. Last night, I walked by the room after brushing my teeth and saw what seemed to be a full moon. I checked a calendar to make sure it was full. Then I went to the window, looked at the beautiful moon still low on the horizon, and had my own esbat.

An esbat is a celebration of the full moon and of the Goddess. It is considered to be a time of power, when we can draw energy for tasks ahead. I did my usual ritual of expressing thanks for things that happened during the day and wishing blessings upon various people in my life, but somehow it was different. No candles, just the light of the moon. I wish I could have been outside. I often weep during my ritual because it brings emotions to the surface. I did so last night.

I'm really not much of a witch. Even though Goddess and God and all the powers are not literal beings but rather representations of an underlying divine energy, I don't even believe in that divine energy. I'm an atheist, not in the "I know there are no gods" sense (I know nothing of the sort) but in the "I find no evidence for gods" sense, and that includes divine energy that isn't empirically verifiable. I don't believe in reincarnation or in souls either. I'm with Stephen Hawking—when I die, that's it. I'm gone, like entering a dreamless sleep. Since I don't think there is any divine energy pervading the universe, my magic isn't very magical. I do use tools like visualization to change how I look at things, and I think that sometimes that can change the world around me, but I'm not ready to attribute that to any literal movement of energy.

I'm a squib!

And yet it's a curious thing. My rituals are quite meaningful to me. God and especially Goddess provide a focal point for my thoughts and feelings. The idea of Goddess resonates with me. I love the symbolism. I love being in tune with the seasons of the earth and the cycles of the moon. And the Wiccan Rede, which ends with "an it harm none, do as ye will" is a form of the Ethic of Reciprocity, and that works for me. I apply the Rede to my interaction with other human beings, with animals (although I am not vegetarian—yet) and plants, and with the earth itself.

I find myself in an odd balance between hard-nosed scientific empiricism and the world of magic and mystery. The scientific method has shown itself again and again to be a reliable way of determining what reality is. I find the evidence for evidence-based investigation to be overwhelming. Yet I am also a lover of the arts, of music and drama and literature. Human beings engage in scientific investigation (and did so before they knew they were doing so), but we also make up stories and create worlds of our imagination.

The world of imagination is a kind of reality. When I was young, I had a stamp that printed "Frodo Lives!" Of course he does. Anyone who doesn't get that is missing out on an essential part of human existence.

There is a well-known quote from Albert Einstein, which in full goes like this: "I believe in intuition and inspiration. Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research."

I know the difference between fantasy and reality. My deities are imaginary. So is what I practise. Yet it has real-world effects. It brings me psychological benefits. In fact, I'd say that's what happens with any religion, at least the ones that aren't overtly harmful. I just happen to know that mine is imaginary. And no less powerful for that.


More than a little more awesome

I jokingly refer to this blog as the "my boring life blog." That's why I don't write in it often enough. I need more topics! Or a more exciting life. But this past weekend my life was anything but boring. From Friday through Sunday, I helped put on the first ever Ladies Rock Camp Vancouver!

Many of the girls camp organizations also run camps for women as fundraisers for the girls camps. Portland, the mothership, runs two a year. Sweetie and I were campers last October. This past weekend, we were on the other side of things, taking up residence at the Waldorf Hotel, an amazing place with lots of rooms and nooks and crannies.

LRC is a lot like GRC except it's compressed into only three days. Just like the girls, the women come in, possibly with no musical experience, meet each other, form bands, learn instruments, write a song together, and by Sunday evening play in a showcase. As much as I enjoyed being a camper last year—and learning to play drums!—it might have been even more amazing to help 15 women to blossom into rock stars. And man, did they ever!

I volunteered to teach guitar. Guitar instruction was in the morning, so I figured I could do my thing and maybe have some afternoon time off. I did manage to get away to do the grocery shopping on Saturday, but mostly I was far more involved than I had expected. And I felt really good about that. I had not wanted to be part of the organizing team. I'm not very organized. But I'm a good worker bee, with occasional logistical insights such as which room each band should practise in to minimize equipment hauling. As well, being married to one of the organizers (Sweetie was volunteer coordinator), and being the family driver, I tended to arrive early and stay late.

I helped set up for instruction. I taught guitar. I helped move equipment after instruction so the bands could practise. I fetched ice and water for the Saturday night karaoke party. I folded programs. I even played tour guide for a couple of older men who had wandered down from the hotel itself with their coconut drinks, curious as to what was going on. I pitched in wherever I was needed. Even though I was exhausted by Sunday night and through most of the day yesterday, I have rarely felt more satisfied.

I was officially a guitar teacher, but my tag read "I can help with any instrument." That took me aback at first, but it's true that I play all of the usual rock instruments at least passably. We joked that I could help with cello and tuba and oboe and glockenspiel too.

The best part about hanging around in the afternoon was that I could sit in on loud band practices. I would run up and down the stairs between the two that were going on at any one time. So while I made sure not to interfere with the band coach, I was there in case any of my students had a question or concern about their instrument or an effects pedal they were using. I listened. I encouraged. And by Sunday afternoon I was sitting back feeling very impressed by what those women were doing. I get emotional about this stuff, and the waterworks started kind of early.

The showcase was amazing! Freed from equipment hauling (mostly), I dressed up a bit. It was celebration time! I was asked to be the band wrangler. I was responsible for making sure the next band was in position and ready to go as the previous band left the stage.

After much nervous anticipation, the bands went on. First up were the Lunettes, who called themselves that because they all wear glasses. They played a really catchy breakup song that had me bopping on the dance floor. So how do you split a couch, a bed, and a goldfish? The second band was called C4PO, which started as "classic four-piece" but morphed into a play on the Star Wars robot character C3PO. Thus, the band's tag line: since they were four, not three, they were "just a little more awesome." And they really were as they rocked hard through a song called "Tiki Bar Menu (Cocktails)" that was taken from the bar menu of the Waldorf. I had no idea that was what they were singing until I saw the lyrics! The third band was Annie in the Zone, named after the singer and the initials of the instrumentalists. They played a wonderful pop song called "Back in the Day." My heart was so full watching them play like pros, with great stage presence! The final camper band was the Star Whackers (if you don't know where that comes from, you aren't keeping up), who did a really different song called "Objectified." It was kind of punk poetry about the objectification of women but done with a really sharp sense of humour. The singer had the crowd in the palm of her hand. I was seriously crying by that time. I was so proud of all of them!

Sweetie was pretty sick with a cold, I wasn't that well either, and I had to get up for work yesterday, so unfortunately we didn't get to see much of Joyce Collingwood or any of White Lung, but it was time for us to wind down. My eyes were leaking for most of the drive home (thankfully I could still see the road). I was sad for it all to end, but really I couldn't have been happier.

Major shout-out to all the organizers, to my fellow volunteers, to those who brought delicious food and snacks, to the Waldorf for hosting us, to other support people like the women who did songwriting and silk-screening and stage craft workshops and those who did hair and makeup for the bands before the show, and most of all to those 15 awesome women. You have no idea how much you gave me.


The hangover

My class was cancelled last night, so I came home to watch the election results come in. It was like a punch in the gut. I had hoped, and polls had indicated, that the worst that could happen was another Conservative minority, this time probably with a New Democratic Party opposition. Instead, almost 40 percent of those who bothered to vote looked at the first government in the Commonwealth ever to be found in contempt of Parliament and gave them the keys.

At one point before I went to bed, I broke down and cried. I woke up at 3:30 this morning and had trouble getting back to sleep. I almost got up then to write this post, which my brain was keeping me awake with.

For those who don't know, when a party wins a majority (155 or more) of seats in the House of Commons, it forms a government that basically can do what it wants, within constitutional limits. It can pass any bill, including budgets. It controls every committee. It handles all appointments. And it can do all this for the next four years, uninterrupted.

Within those next four years, three Supreme Court judges will retire. As Prime Minister, Stephen Harper will appoint their replacements. He packed the Senate, a body he claims to want elected, with partisan appointments. Who can doubt he will do the same with judicial appointments? He has to appoint a new Auditor General, the person who watches government spending. The current AG has been a thorn in the side of the government. Will the new one be a lapdog instead of a watchdog?

We will see the end of public funding of political parties. Many people claim not to like using public money that way, but when it's taken away, only the Conservative Party will have the kind of money needed to run a modern election campaign, unless donation patterns change drastically. We might well see the end or at least the decimation of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, an institution widely known for providing truly fair and balance reporting (without having to claim so).

As for the rest, we'll have to wait and see. I am not comforted by Harper's assurances that he won't do anything radical. What he's been doing so far is quite bad enough.

Stephen Harper is a one-man show. He micromanages everything. One slight hope is that it's more difficult to clamp down on a larger caucus. With more MPs, there are more backbenchers. With a majority, I bet there are plenty of Conservative MPs who are feeling somewhat freed up. And some of them are wingnuts. Harper might have trouble keeping them all in line. There might even be backbench grumbling.

The NDP is now Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition for the first time ever. They actually have only one more seat outside Quebec than they had at their previous high in 1988. The rest of the seats come from a remarkable sea change in Quebec. MPs from Quebec now dominate the NDP caucus. All bets are off as to how that will play out. Sadly, however, in a majority government situation, the best the opposition can do it snipe at the government. It can try to get media attention, but it can't actually affect the running of government. As well, at this point I think NDP support is a mile wide and a millimetre deep. It will be interesting to see if the party can change that.

The NDP gains in Quebec came mostly at the expense of the Bloc Québécois, which went from dominating the Quebec federal political landscape to becoming a rump of four seats. Leader Gilles Duceppe lost his seat and resigned as leader. Lest anyone rejoice over the near death of the separatist party, consider this. The next provincial government is almost certain to be formed by the Parti Québécois, led by Pauline Marois, an ardent indépendentiste. The provincial Liberals are mired in scandal and have been in power for too long. Quebecers will vote for change. Marois is already making plans for another referendum. With a majority Conservative government that has most of its seats west of the Quebec-Ontario border, how difficult do you think it will be for Marois to convince Quebecers that Ottawa is out of touch with Quebec's interests?

And then there are the Liberals. I am a card-carrying member of the Liberal Party of Canada. My beloved party, the party of the Wilfrid Laurier, MacKenzie King, Louis St. Laurent, Mike Pearson, Pierre Trudeau, and Jean Chrétien, has been decimated. Leader Michael Ignatieff lost his own riding of Etobicoke-Lakeside and resigned as party leader. Curiously, much-reviled former leader Stéphane Dion handily won his Montreal riding.

Harper is on the record as desiring to destroy the Liberals. Between the Conservative attack ads on Ignatieff and the "orange crush" of the NDP, he has nearly got his wish. The old Progressive Conservatives came back from winning a mere two seats in 1993, but then they were absorbed by the Canadian Alliance, which rebranded itself the Conservative Party of Canada. The PCs really exist only at the provincial level. I don't know if the Liberals can come back from this devastating loss or if they will become like the Liberal-Democrats in the United Kingdom, once mighty as the Liberal Party (think William Gladstone) but now a perennial third party (although currently in coalition with the Tories). Without the Liberals in Canada, there would be no centrist party. That would leave voters with a choice between left and right, such as they have in the UK.

I'm feeling as devastated as my party. I migrated to Canada in 1994, a year after the Liberals had formed government. The governments of Jean Chrétien were socially progressive and fiscally responsible. The sponsorship scandal was bad, but nowhere near as bad as it was made out to be. It's nothing compared to what has happened since.

I'm glad that Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, won her seat, defeating Conservative incumbent Gary Lunn. The Greens now have a seat in the House for the first time ever. It was a night of firsts, some good, some bad.

I'm no good at prognosticating. I might be all wrong about Quebec. But I do expect there to be more independent activism in Canada. With Harper holding the only real power and the opposition parties unable to do much, some people at least are likely to hammer away at the Conservatives from the outside. I wouldn't be surprised to see more street demonstrations and other visible forms of activism. But I also expect a lot of whining from people who voted for the Conservatives but will end up not liking what the government does. "I told you so" won't be very satisfying. Harper has already done a lot of damage. He can do a lot more in four years with very little to stop him.