The Shape of Family

Karina sat outside the principal’s office, kicking her feet against the wooden bench.

The Shape of Family, Shilpi Somaya Gowda, Harper Collins 2019

This probably pulled me in with its promise of ~dark~ family problems, but it turns out that the problems are dark in the most sad and depressing way and as a reader you’re just the bystander of seeing trauma tear a family unit into half-drowning islands.

The thing is: it’s not unrealistic that people that have bad things happen to them continue to have bad things happen to them. Sometimes they just seem to be magnets. But it is written in such a focused way that it seems only to be about scoring sadness points. {this is were mild spoilers follow} From death to separation to self harm and relational abuse: a large part of the 300 pages is just heaping it on. What am I reading this for: to learn how bad things happen?

Besides that; if it would have been written wonderfully and mind-blowing: okay. There’s no original idea in the world left anyway. But this just felt like we were going through the motions in hope of attaining some emotional response. I honestly should start writing down where I get my recommendations from.

Fighting With My Family

108 min.

Can you call a story clichéd if it’s based on a true story? Because Fighting With My Family goes through several well-used tropes (unlikely hero, successful comeback after a lowest moment), but uh – guess it all really happened, so do you judge a story on it?

The family mentioned is a boxing family from Greenwich. All four are in the ring (the fifth is in jail), but the children aim for the gold: becoming a part of WWE. The family expects the son to get it (at least), but it’s the daughter. This causes a rift.

One that will be mended through True Familial Love, after some solo hardships and end with a successful comeback. It’s marketed as a comedy, but I’d say “slice of life”/”coming of age” with both siblings learning what they want and can expect from life. With some laughs, that’s true.

High on the Hog

Dan-Tokpa Market, Catanou, Benin, West-Africa – I visited my first African market with my mother three decades ago.

High on the Hog, Jessica B. Harris, Bloomsbury 2011

It hardly can be any clearer how much this author loves her people, their culture and their history. This isn’t just a book about food or (for) black people: it’s the history of eating and about every continent is involved in some way.

This combination of travel, research and family stories taught me several new things about black history, without ever feeling preachy or as an information-dump. I’ve also learned of many things I want to eat.

High on the Hog travels from slavery to American contemporary day, and sometimes that’s a lot to take in. But Harris’ way of light, loved writing makes it feel like you’re listening in om someone’s stories while they’re preparing you a scrumptious meal. As I said – I really just want to try so many things.

Minding the Gap + Betty

Minding the Gap is a 93 minute documentary

Betty is a two season TV-show, 12 episodes of 30 minutes

And both of them involve skating, why I combined the two. Minding the Gap is a sober documentary about life in a small town with an even smaller amount of possibilities to get out of the rut your ancestors created for you. The documentary maker returns after a time and goes looking for all his (skater) friends. Not all of them got out – mentally and physically.

This might all sound terribly depressing and it’s definitely not a fun, cool watch, but director Bing Liu manages to make you feel for these strangers like it’s your own set of friends.

Betty keeps things (most of the time) a lot more lighthearted. It’s based in reality with the skateboarders having been plucked from the street and allowed input to stories (according to the credits), but HBO puts a very cool, glamorous, quick-living sheen over it. It’s a group of diverse female teens in New York that skate. There are a few (teen-related) problems, but mostly it’s just cruising: little goes permanently wrong.

That also turns it into brightly coloured wallpaper pretty quickly. Or maybe I’m just too old and not cool enough.

Either way, I still want to get a skateboard and try my hardest to master it now.

Shoplifters

121 min.

One of those films you miss the theater-run of, slightly forget about until they pop up somewhere and trigger the “Didn’t I want to see this?”-thought. Maybe I should start a To Be Watched list.

The shoplifters don’t just shoplift goods. This is a mild spoiler that won’t make sense until the end of the film. In the beginning of it, it’s just a poor family adopting a neglected toddler. Like in 10 Minutes it is shown that you can create your own family – this one is just built on much less sturdy foundations.

The funny thing is that for a long time little seems wrong with those foundations. Yes, some dodgy things happen and what are the exact relationships between everyone but by golly: at least they try t stay upright in a society that doesn’t even notice that it keeps kicking them down.

I’m also impressed by the acting and the thin balance between sharing and silence – it never gets annoying that we don’t know everything (yet). Except for that one story line; I must have missed the clues here. Or it was simply shoplifted from the story: everything and -one can clearly be.

Stuntwomen: the untold Hollywood Story

85 min.

Kinda started this out of boredom, decided to stick with it because it told me a lot about Hollywood (history) I didn’t know yet. And showed a lot of cool stunts (which are usually also very dangerous, shouldn’t be reenacted and there should probably be a conversation about how it’s time to CGI stunts before anything else).

It’s the untold story, but at the same time and all too familiar one: women aren’t as appreciated in their job as men (in the same function).
Starting out, it was more women than men doing stunts. Then it turned out that money was to be made, and men came in in droves. Women have to be a carbon copy of the actress they replace: men are done after putting on a wig. Men are hired for every job (background victims, for example) with little experience, women didn’t because they “didn’t fit the bill completely” or “I don’t like to see women shot” – director’s quote.

Yet they – as in any other job – persevere(d). Sometimes by doing the too dangerous job (an interviewed stuntwoman broke her back twice), but they have so much passion for what they do that it’s hard to stay away.

Inspirational and motivational – both about standing your ground in the work place and I really want to pick up all kinds of martial arts, boxing and trampoline jumping right now.

Parachutes

I lie in bed listening for the shuffle of my father’s slippers.

Parachutes, Kelly Yang, Katherine Tegen Books 2020

Just to showcase that the element of immigration and immigrant characters can create very different stories (of course). Because this time there’s more Filipino characters (but they’re not the immigrants), but the real immigrants (although temporarily) are the so called parachutes: Asian teenagers that are dropped at prestigious American high schools so they can get an international diploma.
That was a lot of brackets used.

This is a good YA novel. It’s clearly written for a teen audience, (yet) manages to discuss subjects teenagers may experience yet know little about – sexual assault and rape, in this case. There’s even a warning about it in the front of the book, which caused me to kind-of-nervously count down to when things would happen.

That doesn’t mean that Parachutes is an after-school-special disguised as a novel: it’s the troubles of high school life, worrying about fitting in, crushes and clamouring to be older/out of there. Besides that there’s a class difference: Dani is a daughter of a single mum, working alongside her and on a scholarship, while Claire is a parachute who gets an unlimited credit card in her luggage to make sure that “she’s safe in the USA”. You read along with both of their stories.

All written super smoothly, making Parachutes a novel to stay up late for, wonder how the characters will develop further and gush about it online.

Yellow Rose

134 min.

And then there’s the last rose (although I could go looking for what other flowery shows and films Netflix has to offer, of course).

Another protagonist who wants more (music-related things) from life as well. This time she isn’t tried down by kids, but by an immigrant mother. We’re still doing country as a soundtrack, though.

Real life throws an ugly wrench in those dreams, underlining that dreaming big is harder in unwelcome surroundings (think about aliens and borders).

This rose is a bit sleeker than the previous one (maybe an UK/US difference?) but still shows that American films can be contained and without any sentimental circus to pull at your heart strings. There’s enough drama without, after all.

Poor Rosario just wants to sing and make music, and the way Eva Noblezada plays it you wish her the world. A lovely conclusion to my rose-trilogy.

Lupin

10 x 50 min.

I’ve talked before about how I like (some parts of) French cinema, but I’ve got little experience with French television. But I’ve yet to find something Omar Sy does that I don’t care about so yes, sure – I’ll watch a show based on a French gentleman thief.

The series aren’t about Arsène Lupin (the gentleman thief), they’re about Assane Diop who uses his stories as inspiration and motivation to set a wrong from the past right. But as we’re in the twenty-first century now, things go a little bit differently.

And Lupin didn’t have an ex and a child – as far as I know, or the series tell us.

It’s a fun, smooth, charming caper that sometimes even gets some comments on society in: because why is the black man in a suit more suspect than the black man in a cleaner’s overall?

It also made me want to visit all kind of spots all over France; not something that’s usually on my mind. A third part is already in the making and even though Diop can’t take on the entirety of French corruption, I’ll watch him try for at least two more parts.

Break in Case of Emergency

“It’s hard to reproduce those kind of results if — oh, sorry,” Jen said, realizing a beat too late that the rest of the room had gone quiet.

Break in Case of Emergency, Jessica Winter, HarperCollins 2016

Good gods, absolutely everything and everyone about/in this story is/are annoying. I’ll own up to my responsibility though: I borrowed a book described as a satire.

Break in Case of Emergency tries to merge two different stories, which leads to all of that annoyance. One story is about a start-up, probably the satire part. It’s about ‘feeling’, ‘expanding’, ‘dreaming’, but no-one can give the protagonist a clear assignment because that would just be limiting. The lingo used is straight out of every #GIRLBOSS/life coach-pamphlet, so well done on that. But good gods, how annoying.

The other story is the wish for a child and all the hubbub to get one if it doesn’t come naturally. Of course, stress at a weird work place doesn’t help with that, but it’s the language used that’s so confusing that it took me several chapters to even understand what was going on.

On top of all that, the protagonist has such a bad view of herself that is just plain exhausting. As a reader I can’t fight satire and drama without finding support somewhere.

Often in a story, there’s too little plot or it’s spread out too thinly. This could easily have been two novels with plenty of moments to breathe added.