Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Fireworks and the Crummily Cautious


I've been too hot and blocked to write from the acidemic heart lately, but wanted to check in. Reading one of my old influences, Pauline Kael, I came upon this brilliant description of De Niro as Johnny Boy, the reckless gambling addict in MEAN STREETS, which I would like to share:

His madness isn't explained (fortunately, since explaining madness is the most limiting and generally least convincing thing a movie can do). When you're growing up, if you know someone crazy daring and half-admirable (and most of us do), you don't wonder how the beautiful nut got that way; he seems to spring up full-blown and whirling, and you watch the fireworks and feel crummily cautious in your sanity."


Now, I never really felt that way about Johnny Boy in MEAN STREETS. I guess it's the German in me that hates to see someone be financially irresponsible (scenes seem to drag as he hems and haws about paying his debts). BUT I do feel that way about Angelina Jolie in GIRL, INTERRUPTED! I just re-watched that movie the other night and fell in love with Jolie's crazy girl Lisa all over again. And yes, Pauline, I must be still growing up because I know people like her, and I LOVE them, their insanity, their craziness, their wild sickness. It thrills me. That's why it's so painful to watch Ryder's character, who has clearly fallen in love with Lisa, enact this faux rebelliousness after they are seprated, lipping off to stoic nurse Whoopi Goldberg, singing racist camptown songs, etc.

I recognize my own ersatz "crazy daring" in Ryder, her inability either as a character or an actress to access the depths of sociopathic delirium plumbed so effortlessly by Jolie; the "imitation sincerest form of flattery but you can never pull it off because its not spontaneous enough" sort of faux daring that has led some critics to question the validity of Ryder's mannered performance. But is Ryder just not up to the challenge of the role, or is she a brilliant actress who conveys the confused narcissism and mood swinging self-indulgence of her character so well we forget they are not the same person?

Either way, it's Jolie who brings the alcohol to the party, so to speak. It's a shame she's so tied up in her starving millions that she can't afford to get down and dirty with a James Mangold type any more. But irregardless, her prime lunacy endures forever in GIRL INTERRUPTED, which I suggest you see again if you only saw it once. I know people who watch this movie over and over and over (the crazy ones). I love them. I love Pauline Kael. I love you, dear reader. So why can't I get the bugs to stop crawling around in my skin long enough to get back into writing my book?

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