Tuesday, November 16, 2010

'One Day' by David Nicholls

‘One Day’ tells the story, ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ style, of two characters, boy and girl, who over the years go through many ups and downs, good and bad relationships, career highs and lows, who we know will end up getting together by the end. Despite its predictability, we engage in the story as the characters are likeable and well-rounded, and the trials that come their way throughout their lives relate to our own, and are told with humour, perception and intelligence. The structure is quite appealing, in that we are brought back to the two main characters, Dexter and Emma, on the same day every year over the course of twenty years.
Dexter, handsome, wealthy, middle class and arrogant, is a rather volatile character who doesn’t display too much of substance when it comes to true character. In fact, he succumbs to alcohol and drug abuse which plague him for much of his life, and his often despicable behaviour, while adding drama and comedy, isn’t as believable as it could be. His self-centredness come to light when he fails to show love to his immediate family, and also when he fails to truly see or hear Emma, as she tries to counsel him or simply be a friend to him. In fact, I often found myself wondering what Emma could possibly see in him. However, as readers, we know that it is the fate of these two characters to get together, so I found myself, against my better judgement, wishing for this outcome, and hoping that his character would somehow redeem itself.
Emma was a great character-not immediately noticeable to men, but funny, intelligent and loyal to a fault, as was put to the test by Dexter’s often despicable behaviour. She was always a good friend, and calls us to question the qualities of such…she often told him directly if he needed to mend his ways. A teacher of drama, her true passion is writing, and she struggles with this in the evenings, chiding herself often if she’s struggling with writer’s block-she “wonders if what she believes to be a love of the written word is really just a fetish for stationery.” While she’s certainly more grounded than Dexter, she’s not afraid of change, and is by no means boring. She has several relationships with unlikely partners, she takes on big theatrical projects in school and she leaves a secure career when she’s fed up with it. She’s from a working class background, and as such, understands what ‘work’ is and the value of money, unlike Dexter, who takes these things for granted and drifts along.
The setting of the story over twenty years, and in various locations is well done by Nicholls, who brings in elements from the culture of the time to make it believable. The prose is very accessible, but this is not a criticism-rather it is authentic in its simplicity, making the story more realistic, Much dialogue is used, which is not surprising for such a novel, and the third-person voice works well: we know then that we are ‘being told’ a story, and relax into a certain secure ’happy-ending’ expectation. Also, Nicholl’s descriptions are sharp and fresh, drawing us into the scenarios played out by these characters, showing his skill and talent as a writer.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Kids are All Right

Directed by Lisa Cholodenko, 'The Kids are All Right' offers a close-up encounter with an unconventional family unit in California (lesbian parents of a fifteen-year-old boy, Laser, and his eighteen-year-old sister, Joni). The plot involves a quest by the kids to meet their biological father, Paul, and the chaos that will inevitably ensue for the family.

Though unconventional in structure, the family behaves like any other family, handling problems in ways that are no more creative than any 'conventional' family. The 'moms' are both failing to influence Laser to terminate his friendship with someone they deem unsuitable, and end up rowing, shouting, etc. etc...not the cool, hip and wise approach that they no doubt want to portray of themselves. In fact, it is not until the appearance of their biological father, played by the charming Mark Ruffalo, that some of the problems rise to the surface, and actually get resolved. There is an implicit suggestion that the influence of an outsider can bring a 'freshness', or change of dynamic to a 'stuffy' family, where, as Jules points out, all the crap that people are dealing with gets projected onto each other. Despite the family's obvious desire to be all open, new-age and tolerant, this family too grapples with the pedestrian problems of feeling trapped, misunderstood and burdened with a vague feeling of stagnation.

Joni forms an immediate bond with Paul, and admires him in a slightly uncomfortable, 'flirty' way. She becomes a stronger person by the end of the summer, standing up to the strict, antsy mom, Nic (Annette Benning). However, Jules, the ditsy, dreamy lesbian mom also forms a bond with him-an impulsive sexual encounter that closes her consultation on landscaping his garden.

What ensues is the heavy, judging mindset of Nic being played out in the way she deals with such betrayal. She cannot, it seems accept any responsibility for the crisis that is erupting around her, a crisis that was clearly gathering force already, and that perhaps prompted Jules' 'fling'. She mopes about, hardened and bitter, aimlessly watching T.V. and disengaging with her family. What arises is some real communication, initiated by Jules, and that marks a new beginning, a 'clearing of the air' for the family. (This is her speech about relationships being hard work, and projections...) As Nic's tears silently flow, we know that something has shifted, they're going to be ok.

The film ends with the family driving Joni to college and bidding her goodbye. We get a sense of the shy Joni feeling a sense of relief at being able to explore things for herself, removed from the influences of home. As the moms tearfully drive back, comforting one another and floundering with this new feeling of loss, unsure of what the next stage of their life will bring, we wonder if they, in fact, are the 'kids' in this story.

Overall, it's a good film, one that moves slowly, and perhaps doesn't leave much of an immediate impression, but certainly one that gives a very real look at the 'stuffiness' and heaviness that can often dwell in families, if they are not willing to look honestly at what is going on inside themselves and gloss over the truth by focusing narrowly on petty issues, more often involving the 'kids' than the parents.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Social Network

The Social Network,” directed by David Fincher and written by Aaron Sorkin, is a quick-paced, in depth account of the inception of facebook, the social network. A melancholy paradox lies at the heart of this entertaining and emotionally gripping movie: in 2003, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), a nineteen-year-old Harvard sophomore, invents Facebook and eventually creates a five-hundred-million-strong network of “friends,” but Zuckerberg is so egotistical and work-obsessed that he can’t stay close to anyone. He ends up by losing his only real friend, Eduardo (Andrew Garfield), a fellow Jewish student at Harvard, who helps him launch the site, and who eventually sues Zuckerberg for the raw deal he was given as a business partner.
The movie opens with a scene between Zuckerberg and Erica, his date, and we are drawn into their intense stacatto conversation, whereby Erica fails to steer Zuckerberg away from his own obsessions, and engage in normal, more open conversation. Erica, as it happens, is the only female character presented in an intelligent, self-contained way. This was a great opening scene, as it gives us an insight into Zuckerberg's character but also sets the story in motion, when Zuckerberg, just dumped by Erica, blogs cheap lies about her, which spread through college in very little time. We learn how brilliant Zuckerberg is with computers, and through another programme he sets up, hacking into the Harvard database to rank female students in terms of their 'hotness', he comes up with the idea of 'facebook'. However, he is hired by a group of upper-class rowers, who have a similar idea, but who's snobbishness and derisiveness piss Zuckerberg off, to the degree that he blows them off, and proceeds with the work himself, taking financial help on occasion from Eduardo. He later becomes enthralled with the founder of Napster, Sean Parker, (played very convincingly by Justin Timberlake), who comes on board the business departure, leading to the betrayal of Eduardo.
The film is told through a series of flash-backs and forwards between the present courtroom drama (he's being sued by the Winklevoss twins and by former friend Eduardo), and the past events as they occurred. The pace at which 'facebook' became established is evident in the film, as we are rushed from scene to scene, back and forth in the mesmerising computer-savvy world that these characters occupy.
I was left wondering how accurately this film recounts the story as it happened, and why Zuckerberg would agree to being so exposed, as he seemed to be in this film. Certainly he's the world's youngest billionaire, with a very brilliant mind to boot, but there are gaping flaws to his character, not least, his inability to engage with society, which were laid bare in the film.
The closing scene effectively returns to Erica, whom we met at the beginning and only briefly in the middle, whereby Zuckerberg, all alone, requests her as a friend on facebook, and stares at the screen, in vain hope of a reply.