Movie Monday: Finding Mike Birbiglia

As I embark on my comedy-writing journey, I’ve been on the lookout for comedians whose work challenges and inspires me.

A while back, a friend suggested I check out Mike Birbiglia. I forgot about his recommendation, until one day, I heard a Terry Gross interview where Birbiglia was discussing his new film about improv, “Don’t Think Twice”. It was one of those serendipitous moments: I remembered the conversation I’d had with my friend, I remembered I’d been meaning to check out Birbiglia’s standup for months, and, I’d recently fallen in love with improv.

That NPR interview was my red pill, and I went down the Birbiglia rabbit hole. Later that day, I listened to the This American Life episode featuring Birbiglia’s story. That night, I watched “Sleepwalk With Me” on Netflix. I fell in love with his storytelling style and penchant for clean, deadpan humor.

I’ve been considering a lot lately what makes a comedian funny. Often, it’s because we can relate to some aspect the storyteller is sharing– we find the truth in comedy. Birbiglia’s autobiographical story, and the resulting visualization of it, “Sleepwalk With Me,” is relatable. “Sleepwalk With Me” boils down to the hero’s journey as Birbiglia fights his demons and recognizes his goals. We can all relate to that.

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Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Movie Monday: Swooning for Swanberg

For today’s edition of Movie Monday, I want to highlight a director whose work has been inspiring me for the last few years: Joel Swanberg.

My Swanberg obsession start with my sister’s recommendation of the movie Drinking Buddies. I had less than high expectations: just seeing the cover image on Netflix brought to mind frat boy comedies and overconsumption. And then I watched it, and I was happily surprised by the dynamic relationships it explored and the unexpected choices characters make.

Since then, I’ve watched Digging for Fire and Win It All, and his films continue to present the complex relationships that I enjoy seeing actors dive into. They are dialogue heavy, which is a personal preference of mine, especially when the dialogue feels like it could be taken from everyday conversations. Swanberg also has a skill for bringing together entertaining groups of talented actors: Jake Johnson (most known from New Girl), Brie Larson, Mike Birbiglia, and most recently, Keegan-Michael Key. I’m already looking forward to his next work.

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Image from Win It All, taken from the avclub.com, via Netflix

 

 

Movie Monday: Creation of Classics

I watched Annie Hall for the first time today. I enjoyed it for myriad reasons: Diane Keaton’s humor and style. Woody Allen’s jokes (which I now see have influenced so many other variations on the romantic comedy). The literary references. The pokes at the extravagance of Hollywood and the neurosis of New Yorkers.

When I make the time to watch a movie or tv show these days, I’ve been trying to focus on those that inspire me and have inspired countless others: classics, whether that be the Criterion Collection or a new classic. Last week, I watched Chinatown. I loved the mystery, the cinematography, shots of California, and seeing a young Jack Nicholson.

Watching these movies gave me a new connection with my mom: these are two of her favorite movies, and she recommended them both to me.

Then I remembered what the directors of both movies, Woody Allen and Roman Polansky, are most known for today: their infamous (and  in Polansky’s case, illegal) relations with women. Of course, when my mom watched them, Polanksy and Allen hadn’t yet committed the acts that would put one in exile. Still, I started to wonder, does their behavior outside of the studio take away from their art?

3722583121_f310d53c98_oI’m not so much trying to answer this question as to present it for discussion. Maybe there are two lenses through which we can approach any creation: as independent of its creator, appreciated solely for what it represents to us, and secondly, as a backdrop for the person who has created it.

In Defense of the Breakup: when romance doesn’t work out on the bigscreen..and everybody is still (mostly) ok

If there’s a pattern we are happy to see repeated in art, it’s the culmination of a romantic relationship: the moment when the girl gets the guy, the wedding, that heart-wrenching scene when the characters realize they are in love with one another in the same moment, and will live happily ever after. As much as we might say we enjoy surprise endings, there’s a lot of comfort to be found in a story where our expectations for the characters are met, and a relationship is forged in cinematic eternity.

So it’s rare to find movies, especially those that fall into the ‘romantic comedy’ genre, where characters don’t (gasp) end up together. And I’d like to make an argument for this story. Because in ‘real life,’ we don’t always end up with the guy, and you know what? It is ok. We are ok. As much as I do want movies and tv to represent a glorification of real life– a glossier, high-def version of what I am experiencing, I also like it when a movie reflects my own experiences in romance. So, here are some movies to check out when you need a reminder that romance doesn’t always end in a trip to the church, and sometimes for the best. “Just because something good ends doesn’t mean something better won’t begin.” 

5 not-so romantic Romantic Movies:

5. 500 Days of Summer

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I’d watch this movie simply to gaze at Joseph Gordon-Levitt and emulate Zooey Deschanel’s wardrobe. Hip as hell, the both of them. Not to mention an addictive soundtrack. And to be honest, I did not like this movie the first time I saw it. It was one of the first romantic movies I watched where the protagonists don’t end up together, and I think I struggled with the concept. I was also a little in denial about my own relationship at the time, and the possibility that it might not work out. I ended up watching it a while later and I realized how great this movie is exactly for those reasons: accepting the reality that not every relationship is going to work out, and as challenging as they experience might be, you can learn so much about yourself through it.

    4. Begin Again

Focal point on music, and being true to yourself. Spoiler alert: Keira Knightley doesn’t end up with either Adam Levine or Mark Ruffalo. And she is (another gasp) ok. In fact, you get the feeling she’s better off for finding her independence and following her heart, not in the arms of a dude, but in her career aspirations.

     3. Drinking Buddies

Man, director Joel Swanberg loves his sexual tension. He is so good at depicting the pivotal situations we find ourselves in and the choices we get to make about our relationships in those moments. As adorable as Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde are in their exchanges, I was really satisfied that they remain, in fact, drinking buddies, and not romantically entangled. Hey, Harry and Sally: guys and girls can be friends.

     2. Her

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I did not think I would fall for a movie about a man falling for a piece of technology. As much as I enjoy perusing Instagram, Snapchat, and other people’s blogs, it also bums me out how entranced people become by all of it– when I’m at a restaurant with friends and we are all looking down at our phones. And that’s exactly why this movie is worth watching. It’s a reminder both about how our desire to be loved and seen and heard is so intrinsically human that we might be willing to find it in any form, and how important it is to cultivate the relationships right around us, whether romantic or otherwise. The dangers of technology, at its rawest. Also, Joaquin Phoenix is pretty lovable, even at his most desperate moments pining after his computer operating system.

  1. Celeste and Jesse Forever

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“It recognizes that the hardest part of breaking up is losing a partner” – Gyan Yankovich, via Buzzfeed

I love Andy Samberg and I love Rashida Jones, and so, of course, watching them together is delightful..even if very early in the movie, you learn this is not a ‘girl met boy’ story. This is a ‘how do you deal with the unwinding of a relationship when you still care about each other,’ kind of story. Of all the movies on this list, this one resonated with me the most. Having been in a similar situation (and really, who hasn’t?), I could relate to the pain you feel as a relationship is ending, but also starting to recognize the possibility and room for growth that you give yourself when you end a relationship that isn’t functional. This is a well-written (Jones is one of the main writers) and relatable story that anyone struggling with a breakup can find perspective in. Buzzfeed summed it up well: It doesn’t have a perfectly packaged ending, “and that’s important, because not everything does.” Whoa.

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Christmas with palm trees

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Having grown up in a desert climate with 4 full seasons, I always thought Christmas would not feel complete without cold weather and ideally, a bit of snow. Not anymore. Turns out I am more than happy to have the holidays sans snow and plus beach, sun, and sand. I’ll take Christmas day beach runs, body-surfing and sunsets any holiday.

This year, I got treated to all of those things in the Sunshine State. Yes, Christmas in Florida. No coats, barely even the need for a sweater, and beach-time. For those of you in the cold, I’m not trying to invoke jealousy, and I hope I can warm you up a bit with some of the sunshine in these pictures.

Having all traveled from much colder regions (winter isn’t coming, it is here- GOTR reference, anybody?), my family and I spent as much time as possible outdoors, finding nature reserves in abundance, exploring mangroves, and watching beach sunsets.

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Happy Holidays!