TeeVee does this to us all, and I am saddened by it.
Drama has a simple legacy: Tragedy where the mechanics of the story are in the world of the story, and Comedy where the mechanics are in the world of the audience. One is used to transport, the other to entertainingly affirm. Shakespeare’s last work (with Fletcher) was likely the first attempt to merge these at the root in the first so-called tragicomedy.
When done well, this has little to do with humour and everything to do with diverting attention from the profound in order to allow it inveigle itself further into our minds. TeeVee demands that we pretend to be profound while refining and polishing the form, but in a way that leaves the core vacant. Sweetened meat without the meat.
So we have a continuous parade of projects that devise ever new lightnesses, unchallenging wise humour over human pathos. The most striking in recent memory was “Secretary.”
In this case, we have a great example: absolute competence, thorough coordination of all concerned, including attuned, skilled actors — even a notable score. And empty — no whole, just parts.
In fact, the story — such as it is — recognises this fact. The family is portrayed not as a family, but as parts. One part in particular (the black girl) is incongruously placed. One sister makes models of a functional item (a chair) with incongruous parts. She later moves into being a cog producing casual images.
The mother is unhappy about her parts, and this seems to be the rubber-band engine of the project.
In the one scene that surely will remain in my memory, the surprising Emily Mortimer asks to have her parts evaluated. The wonderful self-reference is that she is an actress playing an actress judged by an actor playing an actor. It was a deft, breathtaking moment.
My heart breaks when I see such finely orchestrated talent used to such effect for such trivial ends. Give me Hal Hartley, or even one of Tilda Swinton’s excesses. We need nourishment.
Posted in 2004
Ted’s Evaluation — 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.