August 28, 2004

Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle

I've always had a soft spot for the stoner/dimwit buddy film, going back to Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Even today, I've been known to voluntarily tune into Beavis and Butthead when I want a little background noise. Sure, they can be pointless, but they can also use their heroes' lack of common sense as a great wedge to open the film's world to surreality, and their celebration of the simple joys of life (playing air guitar, greasy hamburgers, hanging out with your best buddy) is often incredibly appealing.

Whether I can enjoy one of these films depends on (a) whether the boys are basically good at heart and (b) the proportion of gross-out jokes to goofy ones (the higher it is, the less likely I am to like it). Harold and Kumar pushes my limits on gross-out (one or two fart jokes isn't so bad, but some day, the Farrelly brothers are going to pay for making them the primary focus of the silly comedy), but it's essentially a good-humored little comedy with enough laughs to justify the ticket price. It also deserves the praise it's gotten for its radical message that non-Caucasian twentysomethings get the same agita from post-graduation life as their white quarter-life-crisis compatriots do, just in slightly different flavors, and they long to escape in much the same ways. If Don Quixote and Sancho Panza were junior analysts and med students, they would probably have gone hunting after sliders around midnight, too.

Posted by Sarah T. at 05:35 AM | Comments (0)

August 04, 2004

Henry James, The Spoils of Poynton

I am perpetually, if slowly, rereading James' novels. It's only as you get older that you start to appreciate the advantages of having been acquainted with an author for (what is now) almost half of your life; it allows you to measure your shifts of perspective and preference in a way almost nothing else can--like a wall on which your mother has pencilled a mark representing your height at various dates, only, of course, not linear. James novels will appear here in the spirit of note-taking, not review.

I can tell I'm in the midst of James when I feel the impulse to elaborate analogy and metaphor. I rarely do otherwise.

At any rate, Poynton. This novella is about the conflict which arises when a prosaic-minded young man inherits the great house and collection of Poynton, leaving his aesthete mother to face the prospect of his marrying a dull girl with tremendously bad taste. The mother has just met a poor young woman of much better taste, a young woman who promptly falls in love with the son, and how that girl struggles to reconcile the competing claims of self and friends and art is the heart of the story.

I remember when I first read Poynton, at 18 or so, that the first page struck me as a note-perfect, sympathetic rendition of a particular state of mind--an irritation produced by a ruffled sensibility assaulted at every turn by someone else's cherished ugliness--that I had never seen reproduced anywhere else. Reading it now, I thought: if this were any other writer, I'd think it the most savage satire. The sense of an unintentional betrayal of pomposity, of a perverse narrow-mindedness, were so much present to me. And to tell you the truth, I'm really not sure which is the correct reading (or if they somehow both are). James is always doing odd things with point-of-view, but Poynton stands closer to his middle period, with its omniscient third-person narrator's voice slowly blending into the characters', than to his late, where the third-person point-of-view can be insanely tight for a person writing in the beginning of the twentieth century.

What's more, right to the bitter end, James maintains an earnest, a pious respect for Sensibility that is only defeated by his even earnester regard for an all-encompassing and illuminated Propriety which makes me feel that whatever the date, he can't quite have meant to make such fun, or visit such a damning criticism, on poor Mrs. Gereth. And of the things I took away from my last rereading of Portrait of a Lady was a pointed critique of the very concept of a life as a work of art, much more pointed than I recalled from the reading before that, and Mrs. Gereth pursues the similar ideal of life for a work of art, her great house.

I'm puzzled. Lately I've come to think less of James' almighty earnestness, which appealed to me so at 16. If it turns out that there is a greater vein of black humor in him than I recognized as a teenager, it may help end the coolness between us.

Posted by Sarah T. at 07:41 PM | Comments (0)