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Monday, April 4, 2011

Full-Frontal Nudity Only Excuses So Much

We watched the HBO version of "Mildred Pierce" the other night. We've never seen the Joan Crawford version, nor did we know much about the movie, but we figured that, with Kate Winslet in the title role, we could at least count on some good full-frontal nudity. (DIGRESSION: We assume Winslet has a clause in her contract that requires her to do full-frontal nudity in any movie she appears in--which should make her inevitable remake of "Mary Poppins" very interesting. We further assume, given that she is an Academy Award winner with plenty of clout, that she is the one who insists on doing full-frontal nudity. Our point is that we are not being lecherous; we are merely supporting a talented actress in her career choices. EOD) Anyway, although we had to wait through nearly 3/4 of the film, we were not disappointed. We were, however, bemused by the film itself. Specifically, we find ourselves wondering what the point was. Again, we've not seen the original, but we're willing to bet that this version was, if anything, more faithful to the original novel, which makes us feel that the novel was equally pointless. If you're not familiar with the movie, here's the story: Mildred Pierce is a housewife in California in 1931. At the beginning of the film, she throws her philandering husband out of the house. With two young daughters, Mildred has to find employment, but, being that this is the Depression, jobs are hard to come by. Mildred can find work neither as a receptionist nor a sales clerk, and so she must ultimately degrade herself by accepting a job as a ('shudder') waitress. Now, we realize that this was a different era, and, indeed, both Winslet and the director, Todd Haynes, do a good job of conveying clearly the idea that, for a woman of Mildred's background, it was embarrassing to take a "service" job--particularly one that required a uniform. Still, especially in today's economic climate, it's a little hard for us to get too distraught about a woman who must "demean" herself by working as a waitress. Not to worry, though: It isn't long before our gumptiopn-filled heroine is able to pull herself up by her sensible shoe-straps and open a restaurant of her own. On her last day of waitress work, Mildred waits on the table of a dashing stranger played by Guy Pearse. He invites her to run off with him for a passionate weekend. Since Mildred has packed her kids off for a weekend at the grandparents, she accepts the invitation (hence the aforementioned full-frontal nudity). Upon her return home, however, Mildred finds a distraught neighbor who informs her that her youngest daughter has taken ill and, "since there was no one at home," she has been taken to the hospital. Mildred arrives at the hospital where her ex-husband and former inlaws are waiting. They are told that the young girl, Ray, seems to be doing all right. Mildred says she'll stay at the hospital, so everyone else can leave. The next morning, Ray takes a turn for the worse and dies. So. . . .is the point that Mildred has been punished for daring to pursue individual happiness with Guy Pearse? We doubt it. After all, the kid got sick; even if Mildred had not been off gallivanting, we fail to see how she would have prevented the child's illness. Is this merely meant to be a "naturalistic" drama, wherein things just, sort of, happen? Maybe, but we still feel there should be some clear point. After all, real life provides us plenty of opportunities to experience things "just sort of happening." Fiction should provide us with a clearer feeling of resolution.

1 comment:

  1. James M Cain was a visionary writer who could, literally, see into the future. He also had an abiding faith in the fact that, if he could educate, even, one. let's say, teacher of, let's say, the arts, in even, one, let's say, area of those arts, he would be proud. And so, in the 1930s, he wrote a (not very good, admittedly) novel about America after the crash and (unrequited) motherly love, knowing it would be made into a wildly melodramatic movie that ignored everything he had to say about America after the crash, and that, finally, it would be made into a turgid, ooooooverlong, BUT faithful, miniseries just so you could, while ogling the voluptuous Ms. Winslett, LEARN TO SPELL GUY PEAR(C!)E"S name! He failed.