brad’s status–a lot of us can relate, i’m sure

brad's statusWe might all learn a thing or two from the new film Brad’s Status. The movie explores middle-class discontent and the way comparing ourselves with others in this world of ubiquitous reminders via Facebook posts and Instagram stories can drive us to be miserable, when most of us are way more fortunate than we think and maybe more than we deserve.

In the movie, the middle-class Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller) contemplates/overthinks what he deems to be his boring, unassuming life. On first look, Brad has it pretty good. He runs a nonprofit and his wife, Melanie (Jenna Fischer), is likable, smart, and has a decent, busy career herself. His son, Troy (Austin Abrams), is not only a good kid, but bright enough and musically talented enough to be applying to and interviewing with top-notch East Coast universities, including Harvard. Brad lives in a tidy Craftsman home in a nice neighborhood of medium-sized Sacramento, California. So, what’s not to like about all that? Let’s ask Brad.

The audience learns through Brad’s voice overs just how unhappy he is. To Brad, his life pales in comparison to his college buddies’, one a successful movie producer featured in Architectural Digest for his lavish home; another a hedge-fund owner with an equally wealthy wife, four blond, rambunctious kids, and one private jet; a third who made it big in the dot-com craze and is now retired and living with two young girlfriends in Maui; and a fourth who is a successful pundit and author who is pulled in many enviable directions.  What’s prompted Brad’s over analysis is his and Troy’s East Coast trip, where Troy is to tour and interview at some of the schools on his radar, including prestigious Harvard. We learn that Brad hadn’t been accepted into his first-choice school, Yale, and see that he’s surprised (and envious) that Troy has a good shot at Harvard.

On the trip, Brad finds out how out of the loop he has become. He wasn’t invited to his L.A. friend’s opulent wedding, for one, and he feels his status, already teetering,  has not plummeted.

Of course, our Everyman does get a rude awakening, when he, of course, discovers that his friends’ perfect lives are really not so much. But the slap in the face comes late and one gets the sense that Brad may end up dipping back into the pool of despair on occasion but, for the most part, will stay on dry land.

A show of hands on who can relate to this scenario? Although we are witnesses to how good Brad has it–for God’s sake, he should be happy alone that he has just one kid to worry about and one college education to fund–we can see where he gets off feeling in the dumps about his life. Haven’t we all scoured Facebook pages, drooling over photos of our friends’ European vacations, their kids’ graduations from great schools and with exemplary grades that got them a choice of several jobs to turn down in order to take the one with the most amazing pay and benefits, and the new house/grandkid/car/kitchen–fill in the blank–that we wish we had? I know I have. Looking at my life as a married, college-educated homeowner and parent of four healthy and good kids, I think quite a few people would be envious, but the way you hear me talk of it on occasion, you’d think I lived on skid row and had a mountain of insurmountable problems to climb up and over each day. Truth be told, if we have a roof over our heads, our good health, and someone to love and be loved by we’re doing OK, my friend.

If we’re to learn anything from Brad’s Status it’s this: Be happy with what you have, be thankful for what you’re given, and stop envying those you think have it better than you. Everyone has his or her own problems or internal demons to work through even if on the surface they look like gods and goddesses.

 

 

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schmaltzy movies are sometimes just what the doctor ordered

internI love movies. But not every movie. I have my preferences. They all require good acting, a believable and well-written story, and oftentimes something I can either relate to or something I can take away with me.

I have seen plenty of films that have actually won Academy Awards that I couldn’t stand, shaking my head as the credits were rolling and wondering what the eff? And just because something is popular is no indication of how well I’ll like it. I’m not the big-action and fireworks kind of movie fan. (No, I have not seen the latest Star Wars movie, or the last three for that matter.) There have been some pretty good action thrillers, of course, and I love a good gritty movie now and again (Manchester by the Sea, for one), but it’s the films that evoke a warm-hearted feeling that I love. Yes, there may be a heart-wrenching dilemma to be solved, like a widower whose son wants him to find a new wife or a man whose wife is on life support searching for the man his wife had had an affair with, but the problems are not insurmountable and there is a satisfying ending. A little humor doesn’t help either, but no Jim Carrey, please. Ever!

I write this as I’m watching one such film, The Intern. It never won any awards that I know of, but it’s got the right formula for having moved me to see it in the theater, purchase it, and return to it many times since. There’s good acting, without a doubt. Who can beat De Niro in anything? And Anne Hathaway is quite good too, proving once again that a movie doesn’t have to be Oscar worthy to be satisfying. Throw in a few great actors, and voila!

Other movies I return to again and again include:

  • Sleepless in Seattle (my favorite!)
  • You’ve Got Mail (Hanks and Ryan again!)
  • Silver Linings Playbook (De Niro, with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence thrown in and a true-to-life portrayal of mental illness; plus De Niro so reminds me of my Uncle D here)
  • The Descendants and Up in the Air (never knew I was a Clooney fan until his movies started showing up on my most-loved list)
  • While You Were Sleeping (if I were to cast someone as me in a movie, Sandra Bullock would be it)
  • Steel Magnolias (who can’t relate to–or wish she had–that kind of female camaraderie?)
  • Finding Neverland (Depp and Winslet and some amazing British children)
  • Dan in Real Life (Steve Carell really is good at lightheartedness and sincerity)
  • The Family Stone (Christmas movies are always a plus)
  • Baby Boom (more Keaton)
  • The Family Man (love this movie’s statement that success doesn’t always equal how many zeros are in one’s paycheck, and Nicolas Cage is great too)
  • The Love Letter (the perfect New England town in the summer, with plenty of humor)
  • I Don’t Know How She Does It (not the best on the list, but can every mom relate, or what?
  • Terms of Endearment (the first movie I saw that started me on loving this genre–and this one did win an Academy Award!)
  • The Intern (see above)

OK, so some might say they’re all chick flicks, but that diminishes their importance and they are much more than that to me. They are like being in the presence of friends or family you love or being “home,” whatever that image might be for people. They are pleasant, thought-provoking, mood-enhancing films. No, they might not win any awards, but they are still number one in my book.

meet me at luke’s diner in stars hollow on wednesday

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Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel aka Lorelai and Rory Gilmore in an autumn scene from Gilmore Girls

 

It’s like a TV miracle. One of my all-time favorite shows, Gilmore Girls, which died years ago, has been resurrected! Reborn via streaming services (namely Netflix), the mother-dauther/quirky-small-town dramedy brought in a huge following post mortem and will soon return to a TV near you. I’m giddy with excitement. Another reason to live another day! And to get a taste of what rubbing elbows with Lorelai and Rory, and Luke and Jess is like, small coffeeshops all over America are transforming themselves into Luke’s Diner this Wednesday, offering free java to customers. Can life get any better?

I was a Gilmore fan from the beginning, watching every season on the WB and then the CW, when the rest of the family and the majority of U.S. residents tuned in weekly to see who would become the first American Idol. I never saw a minute of season one of AI, never saw how Kelly Clarkson reigned over her competition, because I was too engrossed in the saga of a bunch of kooks in wacky, fictional Stars Hollow, Connecticut. What I loved about Gilmore Girls was not just its witty banter, and there was a lot of that, but its warmth. It was like checking in on your friends, cozying up to them in their living rooms (or the local diner), and catching up on the latest. I’m a huge fan of small towns and wished I could transport myself to this one, especially when life got tough.

On November 25, 2016, thanks to Netflix, we fans will get to do what fans of TV shows of the past have rarely been  able to do: We will get to see what has become of our favorite characters many years after the show went off the air after seven seasons. In four ninety-minute installments spread over the year and coordinating with the seasons (GG always featured the changing seasons in its episodes, which added a bit of warmth and authenticity to it), Gilmore Girls will revisit the lives of our friends from Stars Hollow and environs–Sookie and Michel, Lane and Mrs. Kim, Dean and Jess, and Emily but sadly no Richard (Edward Herrmann passed away on New Year’s Eve 2014).

As a warmup, this Wednesday I’ll head to the pop-up Luke’s in my hometown, pull up a mismatched chair at a ’50s style table, and order a cup of coffee and a donut, just as Rory and Lorelai used to do. Maybe I’ll rub elbows with the girls themselves, see what job Kirk is working at these days, or check out what’s on special at Doose’s Market next door. Whatever I do I will be filled with some great memories of times past and times to come.

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The cast of Gilmore Girls (in foreground) “Rory,” (second row) “Dean,” “Luke,” “Lorelai,” and “Jess,” (back row) “Lane,” Michel,” “Paris,” “Richard,” “Emily,” “Sookie,” “Kirk,” and “Miss Patty”

if you film it, they will come

I went to the movies last Friday. This is not unusual. I try to get out to see something good every month or two or more depending on the movies that are playing. There have been dry spells in which nothing to my liking was playing and there have been times when I have the pick of the litter.

This past week a new batch of films came out but the one I wanted to see had been in the more arty theaters and was now in widespread release. It was Hello, My Name Is Doris, with Sally Field and Tyne Daly. It was appealing to me because of the quirky lead character and a story line I could get behind. Doris is a sixtysomething, single, working woman with some issues. She lives alone now that her elderly mother has died and because she had never moved from the house she grew up in, she has a huge attachment to what it is, what it’s meant, and what belonged to her mother, which has resulted in a hoarding habit. Because she lacks social awareness (which reminded me of someone I’m very close to, by the way), Doris falls for and fantasizes about a life with a new young executive at her workplace when she mistakes his kindness for something more.

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The movie got great reviews and with Sally Field at the helm I expected there to be some people in the theater with me (yes, I have at times been the only one there!), but I was taken aback by just how many folks came out to see this film on a day with much more popular films hitting the theaters for the first time, namely The Boss, with Melissa McCarthy (which I’d like to see; I’ve been a fan of hers since Gilmore Girls),  and others that have mass appeal, like Batman vs. Superman. I had to move over twice so my row could accommodate additional people. It was a smaller theater, but every row had at least ten people in it and some folks were forced to sit in the rows closest to the front.

So who was in the audience at this matinee? Mostly older people, either couples or senior women in groups. I thought it was telling that a movie with a longtime revered actor like Sally “You really do like me” Field, as well as a grown-up story line and some humor and warmth, can sell tickets. Hyped-up, big-budget fare like Batman vs. Superman, which got mediocre ratings, or the new Star Wars film, which is supposed to be good but which I’ve yet to see, are not the only films that will draw in viewers. And sure, the majority of filmgoers last Friday at the Doris screening did not fit into the typical 18-35 age group, the group that advertisers love because they’re the big consumers, but that’s my point exactly: If studios make mature, good films, they can bring out a wider audience and sell those precious tickets. And that’s refreshing news.

playing hookie at the movies

I love movies, especially good ones. I’m not the type to rush out to see the latest blockbuster that everyone is talking about.  I rather prefer films with thought, depth, and beauty, qualities oftentimes hard to find in American films, I’m sorry to say. And what I love more than seeing a good movie is seeing a good movie with my kids.

I basically have just one of those left  now, kids that is. The other three are over 18 and manufacturing their own lives. But my 12-year-old is still my captive audience. And I appreciate the fact that he enjoys going to the movies as much as I do, especially good movies with thought, depth, and beauty.

And so today I rushed through a work assignment so that my boy and I could take in a movie that we’d been wanting to see for some time. The movie, Hugo, just received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, so I was even more intrigued.

We rushed to the theater, about a 6-mile drive from home, arriving slightly after the previews had begun, which was good timing because it prevented us from having to sit through all those commercials, which is exactly what a movie preview is. In fact, when we saw our picture had not yet begun, we slipped into the very short concession stand line to grab a bag of popcorn, our favorite snack, to make our movie-watching experience picture perfect. We were still in time for the opening scene.

The film was everything we’d hoped it would be and filled with all those things a good movie should be. Ilove the fact that it delves into the imagination and confirms the viewers appreciation of books and movies. I moreso love that my son was able to take it in with me and enjoy it as much as I did.

I hope one day my boy will look back fondly on these little movie excursions of ours. I hope, or rather I know, that he will in the the same way that I know he appreciates a good film and a good book. And a good bag of popcorn.