Cool Girls and William Shakespeare
I watch movies like Gone Girl, and I think, “Why are these people all so scared of being alone?”
Being alone is great, actually. Would I like to be in love again some day? Yeah, probably, but in the meantime, there’s something satisfying about not having to think about another person’s spice tolerance when you’re making dinner. In the meantime, whenever I’m not-in-love with someone in particular, I’d pretty much always rather just be single than embark on a complicated vengeance quest which may or may not lead to my own death.
In case you, like me, have managed to get through this many years without having seen Gone Girl, Rosamund Pike is impressive in a way that’s truly unnerving if you mostly know her from Pride & Prejudice and Ben Affleck is a hapless, ineffectual, semi-charming douchebag in much the same way that paparazzi creep shots have lead me to believe he is in real life. Once Ben Affleck’s production company scouted the apartment I was renting as a set for a TV show. They didn’t end up using it, but I still feel like I have a special kinship with him because of it. It’s a good movie, is what I’m saying here, and if you haven’t seen it, and would like to do so without me ruining the twist for you, I’d skip over the next couple of paragraphs, because I’m about to get into it a little.
There’s something interesting about watching Gone Girl now, in a post-#MeToo era. I’m not sure 2014 (or 2012, which is when the book, which I have not read, was released) knew how differently setting up a character who simulates her own sexual assault in order to get boyfriends falsely charged with rape would hit with an audience just a half-decade or so later. There’s an element to the tone of Gone Girl that is, I think, the same appeal as how the upcoming Promising Young Woman is being marketed — an element of revenge fantasy — but in order to make the revenge fantasy happen, Gone Girl creates a main character who embodies all the anxieties around whether or not the #MeToo movement has gone, or is going, “too far.”
Before I watched the movie a few days ago, the only part of it that I was familiar with was the “cool girl” monologue — Amy, Rosamund Pike’s character, is out to destroy her husband because in order to be with him, she turned herself into the person he wanted her to be, the “cool girl,” and then when he was tired of her, he moved on to a younger model. (The Hold Steady’s song “You Can Make Him Like You” is also a version of the “cool girl” monologue, but, like the entire concept of the band Girls, even if one assumes the best of intentions and empathy for these lyrics, there’s something oddly accusatory about hearing them from a male singer/lyricist.) There’s a relatable quality to the “cool girl” monologue, for sure, there’s a sense of recognition that comes with it, but there’s also a strangeness in the fact that while the monologue itself is definitely a part of a bigger cultural pattern, the story it’s dropped into the middle of is bizarre in the way that only a psychological thriller can be, and should not be held to the same standard of relatability.
If you’re within the greater writer-sphere on the internet, you probably saw more than you wanted to going around twitter early on in lockdown about what Shakespeare did or did not write while under quarantine for the Black Death, and whether or not it’s realistic or humane for the rest of us to hold ourselves to the same standards. During that initial gush of conversation, I kept finding myself thinking that while certain of Shakespeare’s plays may or may not have been written during quarantine, none of them were about the plague — in fact, aside from turns of phrase which metaphorize (“a plague on both your houses,” etc.), the plague barely gets a mention. On the other hand, I’ve noticed a spate of notices on submission pages for literary magazines warning that plague stories and quarantine stories are unlikely to get published, implying that while Shakespeare didn’t decide to take on writing that particular aspect of what he knew, plenty of our current spate of creative writers are feeling inspired by current events. More than that, notices like this on literary magazines’ submission pages lead me to believe that plenty of people are writing about our current plague, but readers’ appetite for stories about it might be a bit less voracious.
One piece of work which took a chance on being about the pandemic is the web-series Staged, starring Good Omens leads Michael Sheen and David Tennant — or David Tennant and Michael Sheen, depending on who you side with in an ongoing argument about billing in the series. Sheen and Tennant play fictionalized versions of themselves, and ostensibly, the plot revolves around their attempt to rehearse a play over zoom during the early weeks of the pandemic.
If you liked Slings and Arrows and also that spate of literary adaptation youtube vlog series that sprung up after the success of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries in the first half of the last decade, you’ll probably like Staged. If you liked Good Omens for the dialogue more than the plot, you’ll also probably like Staged. If you liked that handful of early lockdown sketches on SNL when they did their best to use the medium of zoom with mixed results, you’ll probably still like Staged. If, on the other hand, you like to watch stories where things, like, happen, it’s possible that you won’t like Staged much, because at it’s best and strongest, it’s a fairly meandering story about affectionately tense work-friends having feeling, having conversations, and, sometimes, having conversations about those feelings. Since I love stories where all people do are feel things and say words, not always about those feelings they’re having, I liked Staged a lot.
Staged is, apparently, about to get a second season up on Hulu. I have no idea what phase of the pandemic it’s going to cover, but I have a strong suspicion that the show’s sense of humor is going to feel the most poignant now, rather than in a few years, even assuming we still have a world in a few years, so now is a great moment to check it out for a couple of reasons.
Bachelorette: This movie captures the fraught nostalgia of the way you love the girls you knew in high school so well I found myself pausing the movie part-way through to think back to the morning after a high school friend’s wedding, and the weird, uncomfortable extra slice of adolescence that is the moment when a high school friend’s mother wakes up to find you hunched over her kitchen counter in the gray early morning light for the first time in at least five years, and almost certainly the last. 10/10, do recommend.
Logan Lucky: Channing Tatum is one of those actors who would be better served if people didn’t think he was so handsome. He’s actually really funny and decently solid as an actor in other senses, and I just think he’d get a better scope for his talents if people didn’t think he was very good looking. Some day I’m going to do a themed double-feature of this movie and Little Miss Sunshine where the theme is “weird little girls in beauty pageants.”
Old Boyfriends: Actually probably an interesting foil for Gone Girl, Old Boyfriends presents a protagonist who has all of the megalomania of GG’s Amy, but none of the competence. It is the humble opinion of this reviewer and her family that the Criterion Collection should reconsider marketing this movie as a romantic comedy.
Sidney Dritz is currently reevaluating what to do with the rest of her life, which makes the angle to take in bios tricky. She finished her three-college tour of America at the University of Southern Maine, and her poetry has appeared in Glass Poetry Press’s #PoetsResist series, in Claw & Blossom, and in Measure for Measure: An Anthology of Poetic Meters.