Friday, April 9, 2021


I’ve never been the biggest fan of Sofia Coppola. She’s a talented filmmaker but at the end of the day her films are just not for me. And that’s ok. Honestly, I think more folks need to adopt that way of thinking when it comes to filmmakers they dislike. While there are some universally egregious examples of bad filmmakers that deserve harsh criticism, more times than not a person’s disdain for a director’s work comes down to them not being the target audience for said director’s work. Greta Gerwig’s movies aren’t for everyone. Terrence Malick isn’t for everyone. Neither is Sofia Coppola.

The thing is, I subject myself to all of Coppola’s movies whenever they come out so it’s difficult to not hold my tongue when it comes to her work (with the exception of The Virgin Suicides, I’ve seen all of her films in the theater). Like a lot of cinephiles with common sense and an appreciation for history, I’ve never been a fan her rewriting actual history to make things fit her ideology (from removing the Black maid character from her remake of The Beguiled to make racist southern whites ladies look more sympathetic to some of the liberties taken in Marie Antoinette, and the overall lightly sympathetic tone towards the spoiled brats in The Bling Ring).
I don’t want to dwell on her overall theme of; “it’s so hard to be a privileged white lady” because I don’t want to be incorrectly labeled as a misogynist. While I do think that the overall theme in almost all of her films is absolutely “it’s so hard to be privileged”, I have no problem falling back in to the idea of these movies are just not for me. Plus, these types of criticisms I just listed above could be debated forever so it’s almost pointless to keep going. 

It’s really Coppola’s unique diehard fanbase that bugs me more than her movies. In certain circles she’s made out to be one of the unofficial posterwomen for feminism in film and that really concerns me considering some of her ideologies play in to the negative stereotypes associated with what some condier to be “white feminism” (the erasure of Black women in The Beguiled, the unfair criticism of the “ditzy” woman stereotype as portrayed by Anna Farris in Lost In Translation, etc). But I recognize I am a man so I’ll tread lightly when it comes to women’s business...

Gender still does play an interesting role when it comes me and Sofia Coppola's movies. It’s no coincidence that I think Somewhere and On The Rocks are her best films BY FAR. I imagine some of you just looked at this like I said Martin Scorsese’s best movies are The Color Of Money or The Departed, but as a Black man raised in a middle-class Black household, movies like The Virgin Suicides and Lost In Translation just don’t relate to me. Again - that’s ok.
And it’s not like Somewhere or On The Rocks are completely relatable either. They still play in to some of the “rich people problems that really aren't problems” stereotype that comes along with Coppola’s films. But as a diehard fan of Olivier Assayas (Demonlover, Personal Shopper, Summer Hours, Boarding Gate, etc) I really have no right to complain about a director dwelling on rich people problems.

What stood out so much to me in On The Rocks was the portrayal of fatherhood. I think mothers and fathers are equally important in life but I’ve always been extra critical when it comes to the portrayal of fathers in movies. We aren’t going to argue that, for the most part, moms have it good on the big screen while dad characters are either dysfunctional psychos or useless paperweights. Occasionally we get a dad character that’s meant to be positive or realistic, but generally speaking - dads are often one dimensional. 
The fathers in Sofia Coppola’s later work are a beautiful mixture of loving, caring, immature and selfish. 

In On The Rocks, Bill Murray's Felix is an older womanizing, cheating playboy that loves his daughter. While he clearly didn’t appreciate or respect his ex-wife (something that I assume has been worked out over the years), he still loves and cares for his daughter Laura (Rashida Jones). He cares for Laura so much that he aids her in investigating as to weather or not her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) is cheating on her.
On the surface, On The Rocks is a mature comedy caper in the style of Judd Apatow meets Claudia Weill. When you dig beneath the surface it’s a very autobiographical story for both Sofia Coppola (elements of Felix’s character appear to be based on Francis Ford Coppola) and Rashida Jones (her father Quincy Jones is a known womanizer with controversial opinions about women).
Who knows complicated rich men better than Rashida Jones or Sofia Coppola. I think their pairing is the perfect combination. 

The father/daughter caper in On The Rocks is also a weird form of bonding mixed with therapy in that Felix is witnessing what he put his wife through back in the day by observing his daughter’s insecurities about her own relationship.

As many folks have already pointed out in various reviews and on twitter, On The Rocks is kind of like a spiritual sequel to Somewhere.  There’s even a not-so hidden Easter egg as the daughters in both films dress alike...

Somewhere / On The Rocks

It’s as if Stephen Dorff’s Johnny Marco (Somewhere) matured a bit (a lot of the negative & positive qualities that apply to Felix apply to Johnny).

I don’t normally like the kinds of characters in On The Rocks (well-off people that need something to do so they create drama in order to fill some void), but like Olivier Assayas (and occasionally Wes Anderson), she makes typically empty characters seem interesting. I’d like to see Sofia Coppola tackle more complicated male characters as it seems to work the best in my opinion. I feel weird drawing a comparison between Sofia and Claire Denis (not so much because they’re both women but because Denis is my favorite filmmaker), but they’re both much better at showing complicated male characters than they are at showing female characters.
Similar to how Somewhere and On The Rocks are spiritually connected, Alex Descas’s portrayal of Fatherhood in 35 Shots Of Rum is a callback to his roll in I Can’t Sleep.
Sofia Coppola has claimed to not be familiar with Claire Denis which would indicate she isn't influenced by her, but they're portrayals of men (specifically under the umbrella of fatherhood) makes for an interesting pairing.

Thursday, April 1, 2021


Occasionally I come across a review, tweet or opinion from a woman about I Care A Lot that paints Rosamund Pike’s Marla Grayson out to be a total badass boss or whatever. This bugs me for a moment but then I remember how many men idolize the shitty main characters from stuff like Scarface, Goodfellas, A Clockwork Orange and countless other classics that mislabel men as charming flawed anti-heroes when they're really just terrible. And I guess that’s fair. Both men and women should have the ability and opportunity to be dumb when it comes understanding movies and some of the praise for I Care A Lot is no exception.

Now...I don’t want to hold this movie accountable for doing something that filmmakers have been doing for a very very long time. Take Charlie Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux (a movie that also has a lot in common with I Care A Lot). When it first came out it was met with protests and picketers, but in the last 10-15 years history has kind of been re-written about that film's legacy and Chaplin’s Verdoux is treated like a charming anti-hero. Folks see Chaplin’s charming grin and the physical comedy gags and they forget that he kills innocent women for their money. But it’s “ok” because he’s doing all this for his sick wife and daughter and he gives an impassioned speech at the end. 
There’s a similar tone in I Care A Lot. Marla Grayson is bad, but the tone of the film could lead some easily swayed people to think she’s “cool” or even the hero of the story. 

At one point in the movie Marla narrowly escapes death and raises her arms in triumph after beating the odds.

This moment is clearly meant for the audience to cheer and applaud. But Marla Grayson is terrible. She scams old people out of their money and indirectly plays a part in some of their deaths. I wouldn’t even call her a sociopath because that term comes along with a scientific analysis which can be leveraged towards some kind of understanding which creeps in to forgiveness. No. Marla Grayson is evil. And I worry that some folks just don’t get that.

I did enjoy I Care A Lot overall. I want to make that clear. The first half is solid, the middle gets quite silly (and I don’t mean that in a good way), and the ending is phenomenal. Movies that are a combination of solid, silly and phenomenal are the best to dissect and write about!
This is the story of an ice-cold grifter/scammer of elderly people who gets in a little over her head with her most recent victim/mark (Diane Wiest). Rosemund Pike is great as always, Peter Dinklage makes for a fun “villain”, and it’s always nice to see Diane Wiest in something current.
But I didn’t enjoy this movie for any of the characters. I don’t want to give too much away but they’re all bad. From one of the “victims” right down to Grayson’s sidekick/lover that people can’t seem to stop fetishizing (I understand you all find her attractive but I get the feeling some of you didn’t pick up on the fact that’s she’s a terrible person just like her boss/girlfriend).
On one hand I want more modern films like this where we have terrible characters across the board and no one to “root” for. The only problem with that is it brings on the dumb opinions of today’s bratty keyboard critics who feel empowered by a character like Grayson...

I came across one particular twitter comment in response to a scene from I Care A Lot that really bugged me...

I understand the guy in the scene (played by Macon Blair) is physically intimidating, but given the circumstances (Marla had his mother falsely committed to an assisted living home and took all of her money) I don’t know if he’s the bad guy that people think he is at this point in the movie.
I also understand that Marla absolutely has a (general) point about being beaten by a woman and how some weak men can’t handle that. Sure. But in this particular case I think it’s pretty cheap to bring gender & misogyny in to things...

I don’t know if I’m understanding the logic. Is it because men have been terrible pieces of shit in movies since day one that it’s women’s turn (even though we've had great female villains in movies since the beginning of cinema)? 

According to some folks on Letterboxd that seems to be the case...

This shit is weird to me because when you watch I Care A Lot, Marla's victims are other women. Is that girl power? Are those girl boss vibes?? Did you see that?
The selective moral code that folks have for (some) movies these days absolutely kills me. It’s very telling. Please stop this bratty hot-take bullshit. You aren’t as clever, funny or edgy as you think you are...

(these letterboxd and twitter assessments I'm posting could also very well be ironic which is another issue. It's impossible to tell who is being genuine or not these days...)

Again - I’m fine with terrible people being the main characters of a story (especially an actress like Rosemund Pike who plays the part so well and effortlessly), but they don’t have to be cheered on, rooted for or propped up like a lady boss under the umbrella of weird misguided girl power. I think if more folks just outright admitted that they want to cheer for a terrible person then I’d be fine with it but instead some hide behind the facade of warped feminism thinking that propping up a shitty person is progressive or something. But this is the thought process of so many folks today when it comes to film analysis.
Is it just me, or did letterboxd usher in a whole generation of unfunny online personalities that can’t decide if they want to be open mic comics or (cynical) film critics? Pick one and be mediocre at it because most of you aren’t very good at doing both. I’m telling you - most of these new snarky one-liner punchline film critics can all be traced back to letterboxd with shit like; "top 10 horniest Al Pacino movies" or "here's my list of favorite Adam Sandler movies next to my list of favorite Bergman movies. I'm so random, right??" I recognize the site itself is really cool and is an important tool/platform that has brought together friends & communities, but the average user these days seems to be more obsessed with getting off jokes than sharing genuine thoughts about a movie. 


Between certain specific scenes, various elements of the plot and Rosemund Pike’s presence, there’s a natural urge to compare I Care A Lot to Gone Girl.

I’ve certainly done it...

Gone Girl /
I Care A Lot 

Gone Girl /
I Care A Lot 

Gone Girl /
I Care A Lot 

The score for both films are also incredibly similar. Before looking up composer Mark Canham, I assumed Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross did the music.

The biggest difference between the two films for me is that I have bit more sympathy for Pike’s Amy. A bit. She is revealed to be evil but when it comes to the relationship between her and Nick (Ben Affleck) - I’m team Amy. Nick not only took her money to fund his lifestyle, but then he had the nerve to cheat on her. Amy is completely in the right to screw him over as far as I’m concerned. I don’t know about setting him up for murder, but Nick isn’t the “good guy” of the story.
Marla is not the good guy or misunderstood or the edgy anti-hero of I Care A Lot. She’s an evil person that happens to be the main character. Again - that’s fine with me. I encourage more prominent movies like this. But there are certain scenes in the film that do kind of hold the audiences hand to cheer for Marla in a kind of twisted way. Throughout the film men try to harm her physically and people underestimate her because she’s a woman. But considering what she does for a living, none of that matters. She’s called a bitch a few times and we’re supposed to side with her? Another issue I had with this movie had to do with the presumed main victim of the movie (played by Diane Wiest) not really being all that innocent. This bugged me because it felt cheap. It's like by making everyone in the movie bad made Marla Grayson less evil and I just don’t buy it.

Please understand I think there are enough people out there that get the intended moral code of this movie. If you’re a rational-thinking person then you should be able to understand you can watch and enjoy something like I Care A Lot without having to “root” for someone. Unfortunately meme culture and shit like (bad) letterboxd criticism has ushered in this forced-edgy way of digesting and (mis)understanding film.


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