Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Lurlene McDaniel and Liz Wakefield Go to the Garden State: My Life Without Me

I'll say it right off: I like Sarah Polley. I was a huge Avonlea fan in fifth grade when we first got the Disney Channel, especially once I realized that Sara Stanley was also Ramona Quimby in those old videos! (Probably one of the first times I recognized an actor from something else--and this was before IMDb.) Beverly Cleary and Lucy Maud Montgomery were probably my two favorite authors in childhood, and the fact that Sarah Polley played characters from both worlds made her doubly cool in my book.

I like how proudly Canadian she is, and how she got blacklisted by Disney as a teen for wearing a peace sign while sitting at their table at some awards ceremony or another. I like only chooses roles she finds interesting, regardless of how high or low-profile (fun fact: she was the original Penny Lane in Almost Famous. I still think she would have been way better than Kate Hudson). And I'm all about more women screenwriters and directors--she does both, most recently and notably directing the critically acclaimed Away From Her.

Granted, I'm well aware that if interviews are any indication, I'd probably find her insufferable in person. Doesn't mean I respect her career any less.

So I rented My Life Without Me, a tiny 2003 film starring Polley and featuring two other actors I've always liked: Scott Speedman (whom I remember most as Ben from Felicity, though he's also in the Underworld movies) and Mark Ruffalo (when he was still fairly unknown). I was also pleased to discover that the always-stellar Alfred Molina had an uncredited cameo! Really, you can't go wrong with Alfred Molina. He's awesome.

If the end credits are to be believed, the director of this film is one "Isabelle Coixet."


Lurlene McDaniel, I know you directed this cheese-fest. So will any viewer who read your books in junior high and got pissed that the girl in Six Months to Live was never actually TOLD that she had six months to live. Your Chester Cheetah paw-prints are alllll over this schlock. Next time, just woman up and put your name on the project. Or at least pick one that isn't French because you're not fooling anybody.

And while you're at it, credit your ghostwriters Francine Pascal and Zach Braff. No one does sanctimonious skinny girls and indie paint-by-numbers, respectively, better.

Here's a brief breakdown for the uninitiated:

Lurlene McDaniel: author of trauma-porn that captivated junior-high girls long before Edward Cullen was an extra-sparkly twinkle in Stephenie Meyer's eye. Her books have titles like Don't Die, My Love and feature TONS of girls with terminal illnesses, mothers who are severely judged for stepping out of traditional roles, and hot sensitive boys (who are usually also dying). Once in a while, ol' Lurlene will step out of her comfort zone and try to tackle "issues" such as female predators, e.g. her awful, awful novel Prey. Just...no. Not even ironically. There are fantastic books about young men's sexual coming-of-age, and about inappropriate student-teacher relationships (Barry Lyga's Boy Toy for one). Prey...is not one of them. It is an abomination.

Francine Pascal: creator (NOT author, silly, that's why God invented ghostwriters) of the Sweet Valley franchise. For twenty-plus years, countless MFA's set aside their dignity to chronicle the squeaky clean adventures of twins Jessica and Elizabeth, with their golden hair, eyes the color of the Pacific Ocean, and "perfect size six" bodies. (Note: the latter description appeared in every. freaking. book. Sometimes several times.) The Wakefield twins are identical yet soooo different (Jessica is a sociopath, Elizabeth is a paragon of sanctimony) and live in the hallowed hamlet of Sweet Valley, California, where parents are never around, yet no one drinks and has sex unless they are fat, poor, or mean. (Granted, I wasn't a super badass in high school, but I at least told dirty jokes and menstruated.)

Zach Braff: actor on Scrubs (which despite not liking, I won't trash because my college friend had a recurring role last season and I'm very proud of her) and maker of films that are trite, cliche ridden and so stereotypically indie that it gives the genre a bad name. I will say one thing for the guy: he makes a hell of a mix CD. I do own and enjoy the soundtracks of The Last Kiss and Garden State. I will VERY GRUDGINGLY admit that it was indeed Garden State that introduced me to to the Shins. Still, the guy needs to stick to making high-concept mixes rather than perpetuating the stereotype of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (oh you know the archetype--she of all things cute, perky and most of all quirky that captivates our sad-sack hero, who in real life would be either mentally ill or just too annoying for this planet. Yet every dumb hipster filmmaker now insists on MPDG's. UGH).

Let's imagine a development meeting with this Terrible Trio, shall we?

Lurlene: So there's a young woman...

Francine: PERFECT SIZE SIX?????? Eyes the color of the Pacific Ocean? Golden hair?

Zach: No way, dude. Blonde girls aren't deep. She has to have long brown hair that's messy because she just doesn't care. I totally heard an Iron and Wine song about that once.

Francine: *breathes into paper bag* Fine. Brown hair. But she's really rich, right?

Lurlene: Um, no. She lives in a trailer behind her mother's house with her two little girls and her husband, who was her boyfriend in high school until he knocked her up with daughter number one.

Zach: And she's a janitor because that's UNEXPECTED for a pretty girl. But not just any janitor, man--she's a janitor at the UNIVERSITY where she was never a student, which is SYMBOLIC because life is PASSING HER BY! *lights bong*

Francine: *nervously pacing* Poor? The protagonist is poor? Shitshitshit, I did not sign up for POOR! Give me that damn bong! *takes hit* Okay, fine. She's poor, but she got knocked up when she was 17 and has a crap job, which makes sense because poor people are BAD and do STUPID THINGS like have premarital sex. So she's also an alcoholic, right?

Lurlene: No! She finds out that she has a rare form of ovarian cancer...

Francine: Because she's poor...

Lurlene: Um, yeah, whatever. Oh right, and her dad's in jail and she and her mom hate each other for no real reason at all. ANYWAY, she pukes one morning, thinks she's preggers again, goes to the hospital--

Francine: But poor people are too POOR to go to the hospital!

Zach: Bitch, we're in Canada. Universal health care.

Francine: Poor people don't DESERVE health care! *rocks back and forth*

Lurlene: Zach, take the bong away from Francine, she's getting paranoid. Anyway, she waits for hours only to find out from a really ugly doctor that she has a rare form of ovarian cancer and because she's so young her body won't bounce back, and she has THREE WEEKS TO LIVE.

Francine: Really? 'Cause I read your book Six Months to Live and that girl was still kickin' three sequels later.

Lurlene: I mean it this time.

Zach: I'm bored. *puts on the Shins* You guys have to listen to this band, they will change your life, I swear.

Lurlene and Francine: Shut up, Zach.

Zach: *whining* But I have feeeeeelings! Why won't you liiiiiisten? *perks up* So the girl goes home and tells her family, right?

Lurlene: WRONG! She goes to a cafe, writes up a bucket list--part of which are totally filmable things like "smoke and drink" and "go on a picnic with my family" that we will NEVER actually see her do--and makes the decision not to tell anyone.

Francine: Ooooh yes! Because now that she's dying, SHE KNOWS WHAT IS BEST FOR EVERYBODY! Never mind that her husband and mother will be denied their right to start preparing financially, psychologically and emotionally for her death! Never mind that her four- and six-year-old girls will need years of therapy when Mommy DROPS DEAD without warning! Never mind that any real form of cancer probably has much worse symptoms than conveniently mild nausea! Dying twenty-three-year-olds know all, as long as they stay pretty. She doesn't lose her lustrous hair or get gray skin, right?

Lurlene: Oh hell no. Haven't you read my books? Death involving young attractive women is always pretty. Always.

Zach: Ummmm, why am I here again? Because there's a Postal Service concert I really need to get to.

Lurlene: No! We need you for the sappy soundtrack, and--because she takes an EMO LOVER.

Zach: (claps his hands like a little kid hopped up on Pixie Stix) Ooh ooh ooh! I know this one!

Francine: Oh right, her husband's HORRIBLE because he's POOR! Is he a drinker? Because in Sweet Valley utopia, the poor people are also addicts.

Lurlene: No, actually her husband's hot, an involved dad, and overall a pretty great guy other than the fact that he's a little doofy.

Francine: Whatever. It's not cheating if she still loves him.

Zach: Huh? That makes no sense. If she sleeps with another guy, that's cheating.

Lurlene and Francine: Shut up, Zach.

Lurlene: Or I'll take away your Death Cab CD. Anyway, she got knocked up at 17 by the only man she'd ever even kissed, so she married him, and now she wants to screw around with other men just to see what it's like. Though she never sleeps with other men besides the Emo Lover. Zach, the reason I've brought you here is because you and only YOU can help us define the Emo Lover. I'll put on some Dido aaaaaand....GO!

Zach: Okay. He reads Middlemarch, so he's DEEP!

Lurlene: Good start! Keep going...

Zach: He wears a long coat! He has scruff! He doesn't have any furniture in his house, only books that he reads out loud! He's a surveyor, which is symbolic because he sees EVERYTHING! (starts panting) Oh, my God...I never thought this would happen, but I'm...running...out...of...cliches!

Francine: Nooooooo! Here's a picture of Natalie Portman in a stupid helmet, Zach! You can do it!


Francine: Good boy! You get a cookie if you give us the soundtrack!

Zach: *squinches eyes shut* I'm thinking....old-school jazz and big band on mix tapes his sister sends him!

Lurlene: Yes...yes...yes! You did it, Zach! You are the Indie Boy Wonder! Bon Iver tickets for everyone!

Zach, Lurlene and Francine: YAY!


In other words, don't waste your time.  Track down Avonlea on DVD.  Is it on DVD?  It should be.


  1. This is awesome and I am sending it to a bunch of my friends.

  2. Aaaagh laughed so hard reading this dialogue. Nicely, nicely done. Also ADORED Road to Avonlea and Ramona Quimby, but we never got the TV show of Ramona out here.

    You're right, she would have made a great Penny Lane.

  3. "Zach: No way, dude. Blonde girls aren't deep. She has to have long brown hair that's messy because she just doesn't care. I totally heard an Iron and Wine song about that once."

    I love it! I think this is your best post yet--it rocks so hard. And yeah, I know what you mean about those manic pixie dream girls, UGH.

  4. Yay, thanks! Feel free to send it to everyone you know!

    @Sadako: There are a lot of hair stereotypes in movies that, frankly, piss me off. I know that for a long time blonde was the end-all be-all...that said, now it seems like "brunette" is synonymous with "quirky" which is SO obnoxious. And blonde is either sexy or bitchy. That's it. Um, blondes can be smart, goofy, etc. too! And can we talk about the fact that no woman movie character has hair shorter than shoulder length anymore?

  5. Love it!

    I will shame-facedly admit to loving Garden State. Despite the fact that while I was watching it I totally recognized that it was a complete indie cliche. What can I say? I thought it was a well put together cliche at any rate. It just goes to show how a kick-ass soundtrack can totally elevate a movie.

  6. I think I forgot to tell you I love this post!

    I almost watched Garden State *because* it had the Shins in the soundtrack (and Zero 7 also, I think?), but it didn't seem like my kind of thing...

  7. Thanks, Bryn!

    Yeah, get the soundtrack. Skip the movie. From what I hear, this also applies to The Last Kiss.