Monday, February 21, 2005

Swatting a Fly with a Howitzer

As Greg Feeley will tell you, I am no critic (nor do I play one on TV). On the other hand, I've been wading in story for my entire life, and it rubs off on my kids. This has led to some fascinating discussions) but more often leads to me silently shaking my head at the movies and kids' shows that the girls watch. Sarcasm Girl is now above most such things (she had a babysitting gig last night and came home talking sentimentally about her sittee's attachment to Mary Kate and Ashley: "I remember I used to be obsessed with them!") but YG is deep in teen-movie territory.

So last night, as YG and I were home alone, she rented the latest Hilary Duff vehicle, Raise Up Your Voice. She has a great relationship with the terminally cool video store clerks (they of the multiple piercings and intriguingly colored hair) and there was some discussion about how YG didn't really like Hilary Duff, how Lindsay Lohan is infinitely superior, but this movie has Oliver James, who is kind of cute ("And British, which helps," the girl at the counter added). Assured by the Cool Kids that there was no shame in renting the movie, YG pranced home with her rental, and we had a Mom and Kid ice-cream-and-movie debauch. Only of course, I can't turn my brain off.

It's a amiable little nothing of a film (STOP HERE if you don't want to know the plot. As if.) in which Duff wants to go to a summer music program in LA; her father is dead set against it; her brother is supportive, and he dies in a nasty car accident in the first reel. Understandably depressed, Duff gives up any hope of going, but her aunt and mother connive to sneak her out of the house by pretending that Duff is visiting the aunt for three weeks. She goes. She learns. There are plot complications, mostly involving Duff's inability to fully commit to her talent and her work because she's so depressed--every time she sees a bright light (like, when she's on stage) she flashes back to the headlights of the car that killed her brother. Of course, by the last reel, everything will work out: her father will learn that he has been decieved, arrive right before the Big Recital, discover that he has been wrong to hold her back, and forgive all; Duff will resolve her minor romantic difficulties with the adorable Oliver James; and she will decide that her brother is watching over her and commit to her music and Wow the World. Move along, there's nothing to see here.

I kept my comments to my own interior monologue, as YG was enjoying this. But the chiefest problem with the film is that every single kid at the program has more talent than Duff; the pianist plays piano better than Duff sings; the violinist plays the violin better than Duff sings; her romantic rival sings at least as well as Duff does. Duff has a high, thin, pleasant little voice, and the final triumphant bring-it-all-together number is well enough. But the Big Recital is where all the students vie for a $10,000 scholarship. I was sitting there thinking, if this movie lets Duff get the scholarship it will undercut any shred of honesty it might have pretended to--but I didn't say that aloud. That's when YG turned to me and said, "her friend with the violin was much better. She should get the money." I said something tactful like, Uh huh.

And lo and behold, her friend gets the scholarship, and it's okay because Just Being Up There and Showing What She Could Do was enough for Duff. I did not discuss with YG the fact that the movie still has its cake and eats it too--her friend is the only student who mentions needing the money, and her friend is also the only visible African American in the group. But YG did note to me later that if the movie had given Duff the scholarship it would have been just wrong.

In a few years, when YG is old enough to see John Travolta get upset when he wins the dance prize in Saturday Night Fever, YG will know just what's up.


Blogger Ken Houghton said...

Thank you. My legendary (in Shira's mind) and mythical (in reality) fascination with Ms. Duff--who is, pace YG, so much more real than Lindsay "my tits are enhanced and my singing is a matter of production" Lohan (though The Parent Trap is a better movie than any Ms. D. has made)--would have forced many "do you want to rent this?" questions that can now be answered, "No. She doesn't win."

1:11 PM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

For my money, neither one of them can sing particularly well. Lohan wears minimally better as an actress. And her choice of material is slightly better. Spouse can hear the pitch correction on their voices from the other room--of course, Spouse can hear things that only dogs and other recording engineers hear.

Took SG to see The Merchant of Venice this afternoon, which yielded excellent conversation on the way home. No Lindsay or Hilary in sight. Very good stuff.

4:36 PM  
Blogger Gregory Feeley said...

Why do I get to be the poster boy for Mad's critical limitations? I have certainly never said, in public or private, that she was no critic.

I did, as I recall, recently discuss a story that I thought was engaging in moral cheating, one that (as it happened) Madeleine had nominated for an award. I certainly did not not name Mad when I wondered at its popularity. And the story, interestingly, does the same kind of thing that Mad perceives in the Hillary Duff movie -- tells us what the moral equation is and how it favors the protagonist, while manipulating events events beyond narrative plausibility to make this conclusion straightforward yet essentially cost-free.

But I wouldn't want someone reading this blogue to think I was a well-known disparager of Madeleine's critical acumen.

4:55 AM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

Ack. There was a typo in this post the first time around, and I couldn't get in and correct it. I had to delete it in order to fix it. Feh.

I wasn't accusing you of disparaging words, Greg. I'm sorry if it sounded that way. You're the only professional critic I know, and my point was only that while I generally don't watch to a movie meaning to critique it, it's now become almost impossible for me not to do so, given that I spend so much of my time wading in these concerns. But I am very aware of my limitations when I try to discuss why something works--or doesn't. I suspect, by the by, that given the discussion of that story elsewhere, I am now a little more finely attuned to issues of moral cost.

By the way, "blogue" has a nice baroque feel to it.

8:37 AM  
Blogger Gregory Feeley said...

Hey, I like "I had to delete it in order to fix it." (And after we fix it, they will welcome us as liberators!)

8:58 AM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

Well, this topic is about Swatting Flies with Howitzers. It appears that one can get rid of a post by choosing the "delete forever" option. But unlike one's own initial post, you cannot go in and edit a comment. You must destroy the village in order to save it--or at least to revise it.

9:59 AM  

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