Found a rant in my drafts. Thought it would be appropriate since my blog’s been a little quiet lately.
I call myself a writer. But in privacy. I call myself a writer but I am afraid to say it out loud. I want to give an elaborate explanation to the world that the act of arranging words into sentences – often ambiguous, seldom meaningful – is a craft. I am a writer and saying that should be simple. It’s not something I get paid for. It’s not something I’m forced to do. It’s not a full time job. It’s not a part of some religion. It’s nothing but who I am. I write, therefore I am, right?
I find that all of my writing is ingrained in a deep sense of grief, inexplicable and a continuous sorrowful feeling, tragedy and insurmountable sadness. I don’t know how to be any other way. Having had my share of depression, having had my troubles with leaving my room for days, having had all of those things you don’t talk about once they’re in the past. I still feel like sorrow lingers long after the reasons for it are reconciled with. It lurks in the corners of the smile you fake when you get asked if you’re doing okay on a completely disorienting day. It scrambles and settles inside the pockets of a jacket you wore too much but couldn’t get rid of. It reappears in the late hours of a party when you’re too tired to keep up with people and all you wish for is to leave, to have simply not been there to begin with. But that’s something for everyone every once in a while and that doesn’t make me a writer.
The stories I love most and even the books I cherish to an obsessive level are all rooted in layers of tragedy and loss. I feel like grief is so goddamn beautiful and to find words fit to describe it is an art that few possess. But for some reason, every person between 20-35 years of age in the 21st century who has access to a keyboard and knows how to type is a writer. Being a writer is the simplest thing in the world from what I’m seeing. Nothing says it better than the words “Writer” in your Instagram bio. Followed by a link to your Tumblr. Tell me it gets any easier than that and I will cry.
So I shy away from the part where I ought to be describing myself as a writer because maybe I’m not. Maybe I have urges to pen down stuff and maybe it’s my safe place and maybe as Didion once wrote that I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking about and what I fear. I battle these thoughts and I feel that self-esteem as a writer is more difficult to attain than I hoped. I envy the people who confidently dish out the part where they freelance and are able to pay monthly rent for luxurious apartments and buy extra-large coffees with bagels and other side dishes every morning. I never question my writing. But I often question the label and what it entails. I don’t know how to separate one from the other. Is there a point where you suddenly go from not being a writer to being one? For the life of me, ever since I started reading I’ve wanted to write. Ever since I realized I could write sentences I wanted longer sentences and perfect sentences and I wanted many of them, lined up one after the other. Because when I sit down to write and when I talk about my blog with someone, it’s just so much easier saying I am my writing and honestly I couldn’t elaborate even if I wanted about there being any distinction between the two.
I’ve often said I’m not big on the comedy genre in movies and that it takes a very sharp, witty and often satirical take on humour for that genre to seemingly appeal to me at all. I feel like lately I’ve been stepping out of my usual indie movie flavours and experimenting with a random dash of humour and getting rewarded for my courage.
Appropriate Behaviour is a humorous, at times audacious yet thoroughly amusing take on several issues ranging from being an immigrant in modern day New York to living with a queer sexual orientation, coming out of the closet, dealing with heartbreak, growing as a person and simply being in your 20’s and what that entails. While all of this could easily be made into a five season long television show on HBO with a studded star-cast and a strong soundtrack, Desiree Akhavan – the writer, director and lead actress in the movie successfully wraps it all up in about 80 minutes.
Starring as Shirin, an Iranian immigrant living in NYC, Desiree effectively puts forth the bubble of her world as a bisexual young woman simply trying to get by. The movie flows back and forth to her relationship with a white girl named Maxine – that is, to be honest – doomed from the start. Post this devastating break-up with Maxine, Shirin is a big, hot mess. Shirin, although very spontaneous, upbeat and perky is a sensitive person under all that and wants Maxine back so bad.
The underlying reason for the break-up that Shirin can’t seem to shake off is the fact that she couldn’t come out of the closet and tell her parents. Her Iranian parents, with Iranian values and an Iranian straight elder son, set out to marry a girl from his medical profession. Shirin terms it as older child syndrome where the older kid wants to be perfect for his parents and do everything right but deep down is simmering and could one day pull out a gun in a public place. Shirin made me laugh and reminded me a little bit of me and that made my day.
Shirin’s the obvious centre of this story and even though the movie felt so familiar – I later figured out why – she does a stupendous job at keeping you gripped start to finish. She has a strong camera presence, lovely set of expressions, much grace in her acting and a whole lot of gumption that makes you love her but also sometimes pity her.
The issues Shirin faces trying to find in Brooklyn – an apartment, a decent job, the right partner – will strike a chord of commonality in anyone, in any part of the world. What I love is how Appropriate Behaviour doesn’t dwell too much on a particular problem, doesn’t poke humour too hard at say a scene between her potential employer and herself wherein he reacts to her Iranian origins in the most clichéd way imaginable. It’s refreshing when comic elements are in the slights and not all over the place in that metaphorical slapstick manner. It’s even more appealing when characters try to keep their sense of humour even in their darkest days.
Appropriate Behaviour is clearly an achievement as a debut film and is definitely a movie worth watching with your bunch of friends on a Friday night sleepover. If you’ve watched Blue Is The Warmest Colour (and loved it as I did) you will find that Appropriate Behaviour is actually a superfluous take on that same film. I don’t know if this comparison has been drawn by anyone else before but certain scenes, dialogues between the lead lesbian couple and arguments brought back distinct flashes of that movie in my mind. Which makes it tough for me to love Appropriate Behaviour as much as I would like to. Nevertheless, a movie that grips me from start to finish, resonates with my personal understanding of human nature and sneaks in a good few laughs is definitely a depiction of good cinema.
I sat down last evening, thinking to myself that I need to go back to watching movies and writing about them. Sometimes I push myself. I force myself to put on reviewer’s glasses and absorb everything. Even before I reach the halfway point in a movie – the part where things should be making sense, the part where you think you know how you’ll end your review, the part where a critic’s eye becomes almost unnecessary – what I mean is, the process becomes effortless. And my god do I love that. You’d imagine a change of surrounding would do so much more for your writing. But my inspiration is a big ball of wool that I can’t quite unravel. I’m getting there. Undoing knots a few layers at a time.
I went back to my list “To Watch, And Probably Review” which at this point has over 63 movies. If only my ambition could translate into reality. Anyway, missing so many movies that got nominated for the Academy’s, I watched it halfheartedly. I declared that Boyhood should have won all the awards. I tweeted about what the stars wore on the red carpet (I’ll admit in retrospect, I’m a bit ashamed now) and the jokes that were cracked. I dismissed the awards and that they didn’t hold anything for me. Who was I kidding, I just wasn’t prepared for them like every year. So to redeem myself, I’m going in the ascending order of my list and somehow The Heart Machine happened to be the oldest record on the list. I will try my best to review the less heard of movies because at this point I’m too late to review the likes of Birdman, Selma, Life Itself, etc and say anything that you don’t already know.
Honestly, I was so afraid going into this movie. Somewhere at the back of my mind I knew exactly where this was going to take me when the first scene panned into perspective. Hazy, discotheque lights, a hum of music that is borderline annoying, strobe lights, bodies rubbing against each other (or what you may call a form of dancing?), and finally an ordinary looking man, sitting alone in this dimly lit, party place with a phone in his hand. Key word here being ‘alone’.
The man in question is Cody (John Gallagher Jr.), an average 20-something living in Brooklyn, at a crossroads in his life, working on commission basis which also sometimes means not really working at all. Cody comes across as a person with a fairly simple understanding of things and doesn’t have any shining characteristics that I can possibly outline to make him seem different from your regular 20 something year old. Cody is a part of the generation that relies heavily on the Internet for communication and information as a means of finding semblance in his life. He meets a beautiful, doe-eyed girl named Virginia (Kate Lyn Sheil) on an online dating website and after a pleasant initial encounter they plan to go steady with each other. What this movie emphasizes on, that I find a bit ridiculous is how Virginia being in Berlin and Cody in New York is such a huge, huge problem.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for long-distance-met-the-man-of-my-dreams-on-the-world-wide-web scenario. The Heart Machine weaves in a very great ambiguity about this distance that honestly makes no sense to me.
So Cody and Virginia have faith in their relationship and commit to each other. They share the normal Skype sessions and there is a lot that they talk over the internet that I don’t find many couples talking about when they see each other on a regular basis. We take for granted proximity, we assume that people will always be around and that that funny incident from earlier in the day can wait until there are more listeners. Long-distance relationships put that all in perspective.
Virginia on one hand has dirty secrets of her own. She’s far from faithful to Cody and has herself up for grabs on various other online media. There are hook-up apps and missed connections and somehow the ways and means of getting someone to come to you at any given time of day are endless. None of this feels like I’m spoiling anything for you. The timeline of the movie is not linear and that comes to light soon enough. So there’s no surprise when you find Virginia roaming streets that seem less like Berlin but more like New York.
I believe the movie being shown from the perspective of Cody may put all the harsh light on Virginia’s promiscuity. But for the life of me, I couldn’t stand him. I just couldn’t. Cody soon begins to doubt that maybe Virginia isn’t in Berlin. Instead of questioning and cross-questioning her, he stalks her social media to figure out for himself. He goes to obnoxious lengths and exhibits crazy stalker behaviour. All of this, for someone who he’s in a committed relationship with, Skype video calls daily, loves and you’d automatically assume, trusts.
And that’s why The Heart Machine frightened me. Love need not be synonymous to trust and like Cody puts it, “It’s the not knowing that kills me”.
I’m unsure about the message Heart Machine is trying to project. It doesn’t so much as warn about the perils of online relationships as much as determines that obsessing over someone you love and constantly doubting them is not healthy. That not always knowing things is okay and that the digital age is constantly trying to counter that. I fail to see why The Heart Machine could be compared to brilliant pieces of cinema such as Spike Jonze’s Her, the movie trailer is misleading and unlike Her there are no heart-wrenching moments, beautiful cinematography or likeable characters. The Heart Machine drags and lulls and tries very hard to not be a cliché and in the process ends up being exactly that.
I will say to its credit that the movie ends as it should and I wouldn’t change a thing about the ending. Yes, it’s tragic but nonetheless quite appropriate. Watch The Heart Machine keeping in mind it does not have much to its credit except that its an indie movie and that even if it doesn’t do great things for you, you won’t really be able to make yourself forget it.