The Genius of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”

Okay, so I know I’ve made this blog almost exclusively about movies, but I feel compelled to talk about one of the most original, creative, and fun shows on television currently. As you know if you’ve read my previous posts, I’m a huge fan of old school musicals.

In the past few years, there’s been a slew of shows with singing, most notably Fox’s Glee and NBC’s Smash. However, there’s something different about The CW’s Crazy-Ex Girlfriend. Rachel Bloom’s totally original and creative show doesn’t surround a world with a built in reason for musicality. Glee was about a high school acapella group and Smash took us behind the scenes the making of a broadway show. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has no reason, like the best old school musicals.

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When the show began back in October, many critics believed it couldn’t sustain itself over the course of several episodes – Rachel had said there would be at least two original songs in each episode. Funnily enough, it sustained itself and then some. With Aline Brosh-McKenna (the screenwriter behind The Devil Wears Prada), the show has commented on something real and relatable – the delusions we all have surrounding romance and how a person can “complete” us.

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Rachel’s Rebecca Bunch moves across the country to follow an old high school camp boyfriend she runs into in NYC. She thinks it’s a sign that they’re supposed to be together. The fact that he already has a girlfriend – just a small obstacle. Never mind that Greg, the hunky bartender, likes her despite the fact that he knows she’s in love with Josh. Side note: Greg is played by Santino Fontana – aka Prince Charming in Broadway’s original cast of Roger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. 

The songs in the show are different because many times, they’re ironic and dark. They’re also extremely catchy. This carries over from the music videos Rachel created before Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – which, incidentally are how she got noticed in the first place. One of her best ones is “Fuck Me Ray Bradbury.”

One of my favorite moments in the show is in episode four, when Rebecca is being courted by Greg. Greg sings to Rebecca, “Settle for Me,” a song reminiscent of all the old Hollywood musicals I love – most notably Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The black and white was a nice touch.

The show does all kinds of music. The opposite of an ode to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, “A Boy Band Made Up of Four Joshes” stars the object of Rebecca’s affection, Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III) singing like NSYNC or The Backstreet Boys. It’s a song any girl born in the 90s will understand.

“You’re a Stupid Bitch” might just be the most poignant song Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has tackled. Rebecca sings it right after she gets caught in a lie by Josh and she feels horrible about herself.

Greg (Santino Fontana) has become one of my favorite characters.This song is everything. Greg’s ode is so, so relatable. Watch “I Could If I Wanted To” and tell me you don’t agree.

Later in the season, Rebecca starts dating Greg, which led to one of the best numbers the show has had: “Oh my god, I think I like you!” I literally can’t stop listening.

One of the things that has separated Crazy Ex-Girlfriend from other television, especially from other CW shows, is that every character looks like a real person. No one is a stick thin, perfect looking model. The cast is diverse, talented and relatable. It all comes back to Rachel Bloom who despite playing a character who makes a lot of bad choices, is intensely likable.

Bloom worked extremely hard to get where she is and her Golden Globes award speech reveals her to be humble and appreciative of the opportunities she’s been given.

Her original pilot of the show which was made for Showtime was not picked up. Brosh-McKenna and Bloom thought it was over, but The CW swooped in and gave the show a home, embracing all its quirkiness. It’s truly an accident that something this original and different got made and I just hope it continues to get renewed. Bloom is an inspiration to me because she knew what she wanted to make and she didn’t conform. The show is all her – we need more original voices like hers!

The CW is starting to rebrand itself. So, don’t be put off by the fact that it’s on the same network responsible for things like The Vampire Diaries and 90210. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is THAT GOOD and if you give it a chance, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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Why I Now Appreciate Mike Nichol’s “Working Girl”

Now, this is not a joke. I grew up making fun of Mike Nichol’s 1988 film, Working Girl. As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, my mom and I don’t always see eye to eye, movie taste-wise. And as a kid, I saw this film over and over and over again. My brothers and dad routinely poked fun at the film, much to my mom’s chagrin.

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I didn’t understand why my mom would keep coming back to it. She knew what was going to happen. She knew where the bony ass line was…even though she could never correctly quote it. When I was in my last semester of college, I came across the film while searching for something to watch – procrastination at its finest. I almost went past it, but, looking for something I could watch while pretending to study, I thought Working Girl would be just innocuous enough to work.

I. WAS. WRONG. I got absolutely no studying done that day – not even pretend studying. I was too busy watching Working Girl, really watching it for the first time and I found myself relating to it….A LOT. That semester, I had been interning at a company and essentially been an assistant to the assistants working there. I know it’s not the only reason I saw the film in a new light, but it certainly helped. I was Melanie Griffith’s character Tess McGill, ultra driven and a little bit naive. I don’t think I’d ever have the gumption to go where she goes in the film, but I could certainly see why she made the choices she made.

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For those who don’t know the film, Working Girl follows Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith), a driven secretary who thinks she’s found the perfect position. Her boss is a woman, Katherine Parker (Sigourney Weaver) who says she wants Tess’s ideas and that she wants to help her get where she wants to go. However, when Katherine breaks her leg in a skiing accident, Tess finds out that Katherine intends to purport one of Tess’s ideas as her own. As such, Tess takes matters into her own hands, pretending to have her boss’s job. She meets Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford) who helps her start to make the deal and also maybe falls in love with her…

The film is interesting in the lens of the current discussion of feminism in this country, of the wage gap and truly equal rights for women. Tess McGill’s predicament is still relevant today, sadly. The film is really about her empowerment and her realization that if you want something, you sometimes have to take it without being asked. She has to work to be taken seriously and her boyfriend at the beginning of the film, played by Alec Baldwin, doesn’t seem to understand that.

There are many reasons I love this film as just pure entertainment. The performances are wonderful. Whoever got Harrison Ford involved, kudos to you! He is truly at his swoon worthiest – equal parts tough and lovably vulnerable. If you need evidence…

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I was never Melanie Griffith’s biggest fan, but I’ve since come around to her in this film. As Tess McGill, she is all of us.

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Sigourney Weaver should really get an award for being such a lovable bitch in this film. She makes you laugh and pisses you off at the same time. Quite a feat.

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And not many people mention her, but Joan Cusack is also fabulous. She plays Tess’s friend and though she wears WAY TOO MUCH makeup, she’s still the Joan we all know and love!

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Side note – Kevin Spacey is in one scene as a coke addled wall street guy trying to take advantage of Tess. Let’s just say he makes the most of it.

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Additionally, I love the music of this film. I used to be turned off by how 80’s it all was, but now I can’t help feeling elated, listening to “Let the River Run” by Carly Simon. I don’t want to give away the end of the film if you’ve never seen it, but let me just say, you’ll feel good. Check out Carly’s music video for the film:

If you’ve never seen this film or you’ve just discounted it as I did for many years, I’d consider giving it another chance. I think this film does require some experience and maturity to fully appreciate. It’s become a favorite of mine and now, years later, I can apologize to my mom and finally say, I understand why you watched it to death. And now, we can watch it together.

The only criticism I might make of the film is that they made Jack Trainor way too perfect. He set unrealistic standards for all men everywhere. Not that I didn’t love it…

Vintage trailer below:

 

The Legacy of Frances Marion

A few years back, in a community college film class, I saw a documentary called Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Power of Women in Hollywood. The TCM-produced documentary was based on a book of the same name by film historian and Vanity Fair writer, Cari Beauchamp. It was about one of the most prominent screenwriters in early Hollywood,  Frances Marion.

My impression of the industry up until that point was that it was always male dominated, at least behind the scenes. Nothing could be further from the truth as the early film industry was very much female driven. Prolific female filmmakers like Lois Weber, Alice Guy-Blache, Anita Loos and June Mathis were hugely successful.

But, there was something about Frances’s story which stood out to me. She started as a journalist in San Francisco and worked her way up as a writing assistant to Lois Weber, another prominent female filmmaker. Frances was also an actress in the silent days, something she definitely could have pursued given that she was gorgeous.

She wrote over 100 films and was the first screenwriter to win two Academy awards, one for The Champ and one for The Big House. But while all of that is amazing and super interesting, it’s her personal life which intrigued me the most. She was married twice before entering the industry and was on her own for the first time in her adult life at 26 years old.

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At the forefront was her friendship with famous film star, Mary Pickford. They were first introduced by Owen Moore who was Pickford’s husband at the time.

Their mutual sense of ambition united the two women immediately and, although Mary was initially more reticent than Marion, they quickly established that they had both been married a few months shy of their eighteenth birthdays and shared a sense of failure in their respective marriages as well. – Cari Beauchamp, Film Historian

Their friendship was so close that Mary had it written into her contracts that Frances would write the scripts. They both worked hard and were very independent and driven. They went on to collaborate several times, making The Poor Little Rich Girl, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and The Little Princess.

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She was a true film pioneer and wrote up until her death in 1973. She stood out as a writer among both men and women. We owe her a debt for paving the way and inspiring all the female filmmakers who have come after her.

 

Adrienne Shelly’s ‘Waitress’: A Modern Classic

Okay, so this post is a little out of the ordinary. I want to discuss a movie and a filmmaker that (IMHO) are extraordinary. Waitress, written and directed by the late Adrienne Shelly is one of my favorite films. Since TCM killed it last month with their Trailblazing Women in Film programming, I thought I would bring attention to a very underrated female actress/writer/director. But, first a little background.

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The late Adrienne Shelly got her start as an actress in the late ’80s. She starred in films directed by Hal Hartley (Trust, The Unbelievable Truth, etc). They were quirky and strange and its very easy to see how much Hal influenced Adrienne when you watch Trust and Waitress back to back.

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I was introduced to Shelly’s work when I saw Waitress in theaters at 15. It made an impression on me for many reasons. On a purely cinematic level, I was amazed at not only the poignancy of the writing but by Shelly’s directing choices. She had many sequences where her main character played by the lovely Keri Russell took whatever she was feeling and created a new pie in her head.

Waitress follows Jenna Hunterson (Keri Russell), a small town waitress with a bad husband (Jeremy Sisto). Her only escape is in inventing new pies at the shop she works at. She gets pregnant which puts a dent in her plan to escape her husband. As such, she feels apathetic about her pregnancy and starts to write a letter to the baby. In it, she puts the whole truth, about how broken she feels and that she doesn’t know what she has to offer her child. Its resolution is about empowerment and the overall message that it’s never too late to start over.

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I love the film because it is simple and genuine. It doesn’t have some fancy high concept. It is just a little story about a small town waitress. The heart of the film is so clearly the heart of Adrienne. One of the things Adrienne said inspired her to write this film was the feeling of self-doubt and apathy she, herself, felt when she found out she was going to have a baby. She felt like no one had addressed that feeling in a movie.

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A few months before the film’s premiere at Sundance, Shelly was murdered in her Greenwich Village office. I remember coming out of the movie and seeing tears in my father’s eyes. When I asked him why he was crying, he told me about Shelly’s death and also about her three year old daughter’s cameo at the end of the film. Shelly was only 40 at the time of her death and she never lived to see the movie succeed. If she had lived, I have no doubt she would be doing very well.

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I’m very much of the belief that you should judge an artist not on a career, but on specific projects. Yes, Shelly’s untimely death was horrific and extremely sad. But, she left behind a piece of herself with this film, a film which will continue to inspire filmgoers and hopefully aspiring female writers and directors. Her husband, Andy Ostroy, established the Adrienne Shelly foundation, which offers grants to female filmmakers or female actresses trying to transition to directing.

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The film is so many emotions at once. It is a true women’s film, very clearly directed from the female perspective. If you’re committed to the movement #52filmsbywomen, then you should consider adding this masterpiece to your list. Also, as an added note, Waitress the Musical is set to open on Broadway in March 2016. Sarah Bareilles wrote all the music so you know it’s going to be amazing!

P.S. – If you’ve never seen the film and are planning to watch it for the first time, buy yourself some pie first! Just a suggestion. I can guarantee you’ll want some.

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