Film: Glorious Imperfection – In A World… (2013) & Francis Ha (2012)

I’ve always been a little jealous of women.

When two women connect, they form a connection that’s so deep and intricate it borders on the romantically intimate. Being a man with an admitted “feminine” side, I’ve always connected more with women as friends because women don’t hesitate to get real. Men, meanwhile, keep everything very superficial. Not all men of course, but the overwhelming majority of my male friendships rarely go beyond a real base level of intimacy. I’ve been craving more from my friendships recently and on looking back at my most intimate friendships, they’ve almost always been with women.

But even though I connect with many women as friends, I could never develop the level of intimacy that two women form when they become close friends. And, I’ve always envied that. Obviously, I have that with my wife but I’d really like more of my male friendships to be like that. I find that I do find it with men that share my more “feminine” tendencies but not so much from my more typically male friends.

This week, my wife and I watched two movies that did two things: they effectively portrayed the intimacy that two women can develop through a close friendship and they celebrate the imperfections of their main characters, as opposed to portraying them as characters that need “fixing”.

The first was In A World (Dir. Lake Bell, 2013) whose main character, Carol Solomon, struggles to make a career in the Hollywood voice-over industry. She is discouraged by not only the male-dominated industry, but the looming shadow of her father, who is a voice-over legend and obsessively competitive. What I liked about this film is that its main character was obviously stumbling through life, struggling to make a living, crashing with various friends and family members and not really advancing much in her career. But, through it all, she has this deep, intimate friendship with her sister. Their bond not only gives Carol strength and guidance through various pitfalls but Carol, despite her flaws, helps guide her sister through the various relationship pitfalls that her sister faces. It’s a symbiotic relationship but is also flawed. Carol annoys her sister with her lack of responsibility and goofy demeanor and Carol’s sister makes relationship decisions that Carol can’t get behind. Yet, through it all is love, support and a sisterly bond that’s so beautifully and humorously portrayed.

The other film was Francis Ha (Dir. Noah Baumbach, 2012). In this film we follow Francis through her late 20’s as she struggles to find her place as a dancer living in New York. While Frances and her coming-of-age is certainly the focus of the film, the undercurrent is the relationship she shares with her best friend Sophie. At first they’re roommates and besties, inseparable  sharing their own sense of humor, at first it’s unclear whether their lovers or not, but what I loved about this film is it left that vague. The film instead decided to focus on their love for each other without having to justify it or explain it. It just was there and it was deep and it was theirs. And, once again, we find a character that’s flawed but the film doesn’t seem to feel like it has to “fix” her. Eventually, she figures it out, like we all do in that time of our lives. The problems remain but they don’t define her.

The idea of imperfection, of difference has been looming large in my mind recently. Last weekend, my wife and I were downtown Seattle with our son and noticed a sort of flash mob style dance performance happening in Westlake Center. Our son wanted to check it out so we went over and watched. And what I saw moved me deeply. There were a few very obviously gay boys beautifully dancing and expressing themselves I found myself quietly getting choked up realizing that we live in a time where these boys can so proudly display their homosexuality in such an open space and not be called out or humiliated. I thought of the world that I grew up in, the time that I grew up in, when these boys would’ve had to face ridicule and homophobic slurs for being who they were, but here, now, they’re celebrated, and doing exactly what they want to do.

And then these films, that display women, not as objects of desire or airheaded bimbos, but strong and driven women who are flawed, imperfect and strange. The film didn’t make their strangeness or imperfections the focus or insert a male character to help guide them. It just left them to be their own imperfect selves. Strong, autonomous women that revel in their uniqueness. If anything, men played a secondary role in their lives.

As someone that grew up in the late 70s and 80s, I love that we’re coming closer to a world where the oddballs are celebrated. That wasn’t the case for me and I’m proud of humanity that it seems to be shedding that bullshit. I know I live in the liberal bubble that is Seattle, but it wasn’t always that way here. I was called a “fag” on the streets of Seattle for wearing makeup and dressing strange, and that wasn’t that terribly long ago. That we’ve evolved this far in a couple decades is impressive to me.

The world is changing. It actually is. Crazy.

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