Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Celebrity Almost-Encounters: Amy Poehler

Greetings, Unpro-ites!  Hope your Memorial Day weekend was everything you hoped it would be.  So far, I have gone to IKEA with my parents.  And it was really funny seeing my truck driving ex-football player dad get all excited over a little table.

Also, I scored a paid blogging gig with RedEye, a supplement of the Chicago Tribune.  I'm blogging about movies in my neighborhood of Lakeview.  Check it out here!

So this week's post is all about celebrity crushes.  No, this is not another Joel McHale post.  As I am an equal opportunity crusher, I want to talk about my almost encounter of yore, with a woman I am in serious lady-love with: the divine Ms. Amy Poehler.

In college, I was all about TV sketch shows.  Kids in the Hall rocked my world.  I was still mourning the loss of The State (this was before most of the gang resurfaced in Wet Hot American Summer and Reno 911!).

And then there was the Upright Citizens Brigade.  Three hilarious dudes and one tiny, crazy, spazzy chick.  They'd originated in my very own city, Chicago, and my sophomore year of college, came back for a show at ImprovFest.  I took my then-boyfriend as a birthday surprise.

When the show started, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh came in from the back of the theatre.  Ian Roberts ducked down right beside me and my boyfriend, looked directly at us, and made the "shhh" sign.  A very cool moment.

I have to admit, I don't remember much about the show.  I know it was a mix of the long-form improv UCB made famous, plus a few of the sketches from their Comedy Central show.  Of course they were all incredible, but Amy was transcendent.  I once heard an interview with a comedian who said, "Amy Poehler is, without a doubt, one of the best improvisers in the world."  I wholeheartedly agree.

After the show, there was a buzz in the audience: the UCB just might be at ImprovOlympic (now re-christened iO because the actual Olympics got mad.  I'm not kidding).  My boyfriend and I eagerly got our asses in gear.  We were standing in line outside iO when...there she was.

Standing in the doorway, just ten feet away from me, animatedly chatting with another woman.  I was an openmouthed groupie in a stretchy pink dress, nudging my boyfriend and muttering "Look!  Look!"  Because even then, before Saturday Night Live, before Parks and Recreation, before UCB became two theatres and a training program all its own, even just standing there talking . . . Amy gave off this energy.  She was cute and blonde and chirpy, but she was also funny and intelligent and clearly gave two whole shits about what anyone else thought.  She was a miniature powerhouse, and you could follow or get the hell out of the way.

In other words, she was everything I wanted to be, then and now.

I've talked about this before, but it bears repeating: it's not easy being a short yellow-haired female.  I started swearing at twelve for a reason: it gave me an edge and was unexpected from someone who looked like me.  (Hey, at least I don't have a perm anymore.)  I've been called loud, aggressive, pushy and intense, and if I were a guy?  I'd just be called confident.

In my late teens and early twenties when I was still like this but way less secure, I had found a role model.

A year later, I was at a friend's apartment watching the season premiere of Saturday Night Live, which had been delayed for weeks because of 9/11.  In the opening credits was none other than the lady who had recently rocked my world as a summer camp drama coach (which had been my job that summer a swell).  I think I gasped, "Omigod, it's Amy Poehler from UCB!  I looove her!"

And as Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation, she shows a whole new side.  Leslie's silly but capable and professional.  She likes candy and Gossip Girl AND earns respect from her colleagues.  She's a feminist who's not a bitch.  And whether she's hilariously stalking a high school vandal or sadly choosing between her relationship and her hometown loyalty, Leslie is always, always genuine.  Just like Poehler.

That same boyfriend who accompanied me to the UCB show said this to me once: "You're always genuine.  You never act like someone you're not.  And most people can't say that for themselves."  I'm a Leslie Knope.  I'm proud of it.

And maybe someday, I will be an Amy Poehler.

Do you have any celeb role models?  Any funny celebrity encounters?  Leave a comment!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Not Another Superhero Movie: Bridesmaids

In 2007, my friend and I stood up in the wedding the woman who'd been the third of our college Three Musketeers.  We'd been asked nearly two years prior.  Having not been in a wedding since I was eleven years old, I had little to no idea of what I was getting into.

Ah, bridesmaid-ism.  You never forget your first time.

I was fortunate, in that the bride was absolutely wonderful (and I'm not just saying this because she reads my blog).  She was conscious of everyone's body types and budgets, both of which varied greatly from woman to woman.  She let us wear our own shoes (mine were $12 numbers from Payless) and enlisted me to help pick out her wedding shoes (which, unlike throwing bachelorette parties or showers, was something I was comfortable with).  She also gave each bridesmaid a really nice gift, which I still use four years later.  Bride win!

Still, I became intrigued by bridesmaid culture, fascinated by those who had way worse (and more expensive) experiences than my own.  As my broke-ass roommate and I somehow got the We channel, I avidly watched Bridezillas (oh, the screeching!  oh, the judgmental rhyming narrator!  oh, the old-school theme where the bride breathed fire!).  I was fascinated, not just by the harpy brides, but their equally crazy attendants.  What is it about a wedding where spending exorbitant amounts of money and treating your nearest and dearest like dog poo suddenly becomes not only acceptable, but expected?

I have never seen a movie that captures the insanity--not to mention the class warfare, friendship dynamics, and life uncertainty--as skillfully and hilariously as Bridesmaids.

Annie (the phenomenal Kristen Wiig, who also co-wrote the film) is in a slump.  Her bakery business collapsed due to the economy, and now she's stuck in a dead-end job at a jewelry store while sharing a crappy apartment (genuinely crappy, not movie crappy aka still nicer than my apartment) with two odd roommates.  Oh, and her friend-with-benefits Ted (Jon Hamm: yes ladies, he's naked) doesn't like it when she spends the night.  When Annie's best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph, who really should have a better career) announces her engagement and asks Annie to be her maid of honor, Annie's confronted with financial concerns, life questioning, and the other bridesmaids, who range from Disneyphile newlywed (Ellie Kemper) to desperate housewife (Wendi McLendon-Covey) to just plain weird (Melissa McCarthy) to "I'm a more awesome friend than you" one-upper (Rose Byrne).

Can I just say how all the articles expressing surprise that Bridesmaids is doing so well at the box office just kiiiill me.  Everyone is SO surprised that women who aren't named Tina Fey can actually be funny.  That Yet Another Silly Wedding Movie is raking in almost as much buckage as the latest dumb superhero popcorn flick.  (Don't get me wrong, I love a good superhero movie.  What I don't love is when every other damn new release is about superheroes.)  That--gasp!--both women AND men are turning out in droves and really enjoying themselves.

Well, Hollywood, this is what happens when you greenlight a movie that's actually good.

Because all hilarity and hijinks aside, Bridesmaids is a solid film.  Everything from the Milwaukee setting to the actual wrinkles (!) on the thirtysomething actors to the re-enacting of 90's pop songs (I don't know about you, but I have some sort of dorky dance inside joke with most of my friends) feels genuine and straight out of real life.  Sure, some sequences of defiling expensive gowns and bad reactions to prescription drugs on airplanes are over-the-top, but they're balanced out by scenes dealing with class warfare, dreams deferred, and jealousy of new friends.  There's an early scene, largely improvised by Wiig and Rudolph, where Annie and Lillian are having brunch, which so accurately captures close friends catching up that I felt like I was watching a re-enactment of brunch with any one of my pals.

Just...see this movie.  If you've ever been in a wedding, see this movie.  If you've ever played the comparison game (money, relationships, what have you) with others in your peer group, see this movie.  If you've ever dealt with how a friendship has changed over time, see this movie.  If you want to see the funny overweight lady stereotype turned on its ear, see this movie.  If you like to watch really darling Irishmen be really darling (Chris O'Dowd, I loved you on The IT Crowd and I love you now--I'm single!), see this movie.  If you want to laugh and laugh and laugh while also wanting to cry a little, see this movie.

If you're like me and you're sick of bad comic-book adaptations and silly rom-coms with Katherine Heigl, see this movie.

Just see this movie.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Change Would Do You Good: Everything Must Go

I know it's all marketing and hype, but I'm an absolute sucker for a good tagline.  Four or five carefully chosen words can be all it takes to transform my moviegoing mindset from "maybe, if I'm bored" to "definitely, first week it's out!"  I know I'm being manipulated, but when it's done well, I happily submit.

Not long ago, the poster for Everything Must Go, the second film in the genre of Will Ferrell Can Be Serious, Y'all, went up at my friendly neighborhood indie theatre.  The tagline?  "Lost Is a Good Place to Find Yourself."

Me?  Sold.

In 2006, I graduated from law school and accepted a job at a Chicago firm.  Exactly two months after I started, I was let go.  I went from being the textbook young urban professional to a girl adrift, without a plan or a way to pay my rent.

It was one of the best years of  my life.

I walked around a lot, reacquainting myself with a city I'd left five years before.  I hung out with my struggling actor/waiter roommate and scavenged for cheap eats, drinks, and entertainment.  I worked temp and retail jobs (luckily, this was before the economy collapsed).  I reevaluated everything, and ended up changing my career focus entirely.

To an outside observer, I was never more lost.  To my close friends, I was never more excited to be alive.

Based on a short story by Raymond Carver, Everything Must Go is nothing particularly new or groundbreaking, but it explores the liberated lost soul in a quiet, lovely manner.  Will Ferrell is at his craggiest as Nick Halsey, a former top salesman and recovering alcoholic who quickly relapses after he is fired for inconsistent job performance and a questionable business-trip escapade.  On the very same day, Nick returns home to find his wife has left him, changed the locks, and thrown all his wordly possessions on the lawn.  When Nick's sponsor and neighborhood cop (Michael Pena, also very good in the middling The Lincoln Lawyer) informs him that Nick has five days to vacate his front lawn, Nick decides to hold a yard sale, much to the curiosity of a pregnant neighbor (Rebecca Hall) and an outcast kid who just wants to play baseball (Christopher Jordan Wallace, son of Faith Evans and the late Biggie Smalls).

Sure, there are a lot of indie tropes at play here: the lovable loser, the pretty artsy chick, the renegade youngster who teaches everyone an important lesson.  There's even a happy-go-lucky blast from the past in the form of Laura Dern, who has a sweet if slightly cloying cameo as Nick's former high school classmate.  That said, even the most predictable cliche of predictable cliches can be incredbly effective if done well.  (Many argue there are only five stories to be told anyway: the magic is in the telling.)  I appreciated how Nick wasn't a pure victim of circumstance: he'd been in and out of rehab several times, and let himself get into a sticky situation with a female colleague.  It's not surprising that he wasn't a good husband, and he's not instantly redeemed.  There's an edge to Ferrell's performance: the humor is sharp, the anger and bitterness palpable.  Many comedians have sad, dark undertones as performers, and Ferrell plays these to the hilt.

What I also appreciated was the film's ending: I won't spoil anything, but let's just say it doesn't wrap up neatly with a bow on top.  Nick still has a ways to go and a lot to reevaluate.  However, I believed he would be okay.

I'm grateful not to be lost anymore.  I'm even more grateful to be employed, to be able to pay my bills and stay afloat in a world where many are struggling.  That said, I'm most grateful for the time I got lost.  Like the ever-effective tagline said, it was the best place to get found.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Little "Something Borrowed" About Love Triangles

I'll own it: I read a lot of YA and chick lit.  Regarding the former, I'll descend into Hipsterville and say I was devouring teen books way before Twilight blew up (just ask my ex, who thought it was really funny to follow me into that section at Borders).  And as for the latter, I'll be a bad feminist for a second and say that I think the cutesified term for women's fiction is, well, cute.  And unlike the early 2000's, chick lit (or women's fiction, if you're a good feminist) is less all about men and shoes and more about real women dealing with real issues.

Such as falling in love with the last person you're supposed to.

The love triangle is a tale as old as time and one frequently visited in YA, chick lit, and romance (another genre I adore).  The thing about the love triangle?  It is very, very hard to write.  Sure, the stakes are really high (something I constantly struggle with in my own fiction), but how do you NOT make everyone seem like assholes?  You've got the girl who's crossing a major boundary (person/point one), often at the expense of her friend who in lesser love-triangle stories is portrayed as a cartoonish meanie (person/point two), with a guy they may both be better off without (person/point three).

See what I mean?  The potential for a crappy story where the reader hates everyone and ends up throwing the book across the room (um, not that I've ever done this, Chicago Public Library, I swear) is huge.

Last year I reviewed Something Like Fate, a YA love-triangle story by the darling Susane Colasanti (whose new book, So Much Closer, just came out last week).  I won't rehash the whole review here, but this was a love triangle done right.  The friendship between the two girls was believable.  The boy was simply awesome, if a bit idealized (but hey, who didn't idealize a boy in high school?  If you're like me and grew up surrounded by asshole jocks, it was hard not to put the nice guys on a pedestal).  The sense of "this is so wrong yet so very right" was palpable.  Also?  I didn't want to smack anyone.

Later in the year, I read another YA love triangle, Elizabeth Scott's The Unwritten Rule, and had the very opposite reaction.  Now, Scott's books are hit or miss for me.  I tend to like every other one (Living Dead Girl; Love You Hate You Miss You; Something, Maybe?  Oh yes!  Bloom, Stealing Heaven?  Not so much.)  The Unwritten Rule fell into the unfortunate latter category.  I couldn't stand the protaga-dude and dudette.  I felt like he was a shallow jerk and she was a selfish bitch masquerading as a "good" girl.  I felt that neither of them gave the best friend enough respect or credit: yes, she could be mean, but she also had a pretty terrible home life.  Now, Sarah of Smart Bitches Trashy Books disagrees with me, but even for teenagers, these two were acting pretty horrible in the name of "love" (and I gave them about three months anyway).

Which brings me to a very recent chick-lit read: Emily Giffin's Something Borrowed.

I've seen this book on shelves for years but was never tempted to pick it up.  I think I was turned off by the cover (yes, I'm that shallow).  But Jezebel's been posting the shit out of the new movie version starring Kate Hudson, Ginnifer Goodwin, my husband John Krasinski, and some guy who played Erica Kane's aborted fetus on All My Children.  And I was sick at home one day with only my Nook for company, so I figured, why not?

I don't know if I'll see the movie, but I really, really enjoyed the book.

As a "good girl" who struggled to break out of that shell for a really long time, I could relate to Rachel, who spent her life trying to do the right thing (good college, law degree, career), only to end up sleeping with Dex, a fellow law school alum and the fiance of her childhood best friend Darcy.  Sure, Darcy's bitchiness comes off as cartoonish at times, but there's also so much of a history between the two women that I understood why Rachel still considered Darcy her best friend, and vice versa.  What I loved best about Something Borrowed was Rachel's palpable struggle with the whole situation.  She had, in fact, introduced Darcy to Dex when she herself didn't feel worthy of such a great guy.  She knew falling for him in the months before his wedding to Darcy was all kinds of ill-advised.  She had a believable mix of love, loyalty and loathing for her best friend.  This angst, combined with Giffin's breezy writing style, is why I'm currently rereading Something Borrowed.

(Plus, Rachel quotes Creedence Clearwater Revival, one of my favorite bands because I think I'm actually a 50-year-old man.)

Growing up, we're often inundated with "girl code"--you don't go near your friends' boys, even after they've broken it off.  As grown-ups, however, many of us realize that people often meet and fall in love under less than ideal circumstances.  A good love triangle book reminds its readers that what sounds so black and white when you're a kid morphs into shades of gray when you're a teen or an adult.  Either way, there will be tears and scars, but the lucky and genuine ones can emerge with relationships relatively intact.