Spoiler Alert: the Hero Dies

Our relationship was over before it began.

I’ve read another memoir. Maybe it reads easier when you don’t know the person writing it, or the recent ones just were written entertainingly and well. I’m guessing the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Michael Ausiello is an entertainment writer, and this story is about how his partner dies. With a title like this there’s little surprise to the ending of his story, but Ausiello manages to write it in such a way that you start to doubt that title – the man knows what works to keep your reader compelled, after all. So there’s chapters about the highs and lows of their relationship, the beginnings and (almost) break ups. He writes himself down while his partner is plucked from the heavens, even when he’s being quite terrible.

It’s a story very close to someone; and to recognise that these people are(/were) really alive makes it sometimes terribly uncomfortable. Should the reader be around of another round of bad news or self-doubt? Is it not too close, to follow someone’s mourning on this level?

Because Spoiler Alert is about love and loss and other four letter words, but also very much about Michael Ausiello.

Spoiler Alert: the Hero Dies; a memoir of love, loss and other four letter words, Michael Ausiello, Atria Books 2017

Heartburn

6 hours (approx.)

Read by Meryl Streep, so yes, another audio book! Good gravy, does the woman has a recognisable voice. No need to get into her acting skills here, but her reading fits this story very well.

Kind of well-off woman on her second marriage and second pregnancy gets cheated on. A lot of love for New York and little for other parts of the USA, she writes cook books, he’s involved with media and/or politics, a lot of dinner parties.

It’s juicy, rich people problems with sometimes a recipe added. Meryl Streep’s voice makes it sound like you’re listening on the traumas of a rich, eccentric aunt who – when she’s isn’t full of self-pity – has some snarky oneliners and a nice eye for details (this audio book definitely painted a lot of pictures in my mind). Here, the addition of the right reader, definitely elevated quite a common (but entertainingly written) story.

So, if you want to enjoy an Ephron-production just a little bit more, try an audio book.

Heartburn, Nora Ephron, Penguin Random House 1983 (first edition)

In Five Years

Twenty-five.

It’s not often that you don’t know what you would have wanted when a story doesn’t go the way you want to. Usually I’m sure how things could have been better: this time I just knew that this wasn’t what I wanted.

I like ‘what-if’ a lot, and that’s a large part of In Five Years‘ starting point. Dannie has a premonition/hallucination/dream about herself in five years in an absolutely different situation from which she’s in right now. And she likes this situation, so she doesn’t want that other one.

Rebecca Serle doesn’t feel like using filler and jumps almost four years to get to that dream/premonition/hallucination, but in the meantime the protagonist doesn’t evolve or become a person. Dannie feels like she came from a character generator, and her boyfriend doesn’t fare much better.

Besides the key element, there’s little development that excites as well. The first twist can be seen coming from afar, and the second turns this magic realist pondering about in what ways we can influence our futures into something.. the Hallmark channel would love for their tearjerker category.

After that, all strength is gone and it’s a good thing there never was much investment in the main character(s).

In Five Years, Rebecca Serle, Simon & Schuster 2020

The Lovebirds

86 min.

Sometimes you have to experience a few duds before you can enjoy film time. Neither Berlin, I Love You nor Last Night managed to do it for me. The Lovebirds saved the night, easily.

Lovebirds filmBoth plot and tropes used are familiar. Squabbling couple gets involved with crime. I can remember some Tina Fey/Steve Carrell-thing I don’t even feel like looking the title up for. When the material used is (very) familiar, it’s up to the actors to carry it.
I mostly know Issa Rae from Insecure, while Kumail is only familiar for The Big Sick and some scary tweets. I like the first much more than the latter, so it says a lot about Rae and the writing that the male protagonist won me over as well.

Another pro is the speed of the film. Nothing feels like filler, while at the same time not pushing you into anxiety because everything is in a terrible hurry. It ebbs and flows, and there’s so many laughs that it’s a good thing you’ve got time to breath.

Originally, this film would have been in theaters and it would definitely have been extra fun with the right crowd. But this film doesn’t necessarily need a crowd to be more entertaining.

The Lovebirds, Netflix 2020

 

An American Marriage

There are two kinds of people in the world, those who leave home, and those who don’t.

Layers upon layers to uncover and think about in a book that could just be summarised by its title: yep, it’s about a marriage. Between Americans. But these Americans are Black, one of them is wrongfully incarcerated and what is a marriage if it’s largely between people of one is in prison?

This way, Tayari Jones looks at the prison system, racism, the institution of marriage, the first ones in families to go study and the burden that comes with it. This is a story that creeps under the skin, leaves you staring in the distance afterwards – empty and fulfilled at the same time.

Because what would have happened if Roy wouldn’t have been locked up? The marriage wasn’t perfect, but which one is? What if they would never have married? What if they would have grown up in another state or even another country? In what ways is the USA to blame for this entire situation? How is ancestry to blame (if so)?

It’s a testament to Jones’ writing that none of this adds an essay-like feeling to the novel: it’s a story first. A painful one, with glimmers of hope.

An American Marriage, Tayari Jones, Harper Collins 2018

Two Night Stand

86 min.

I have to admit that this was much more fun than expected, but maybe it just hit me at the right spot at the right time. It’s not like the plot was mindblowingly original, but it did give some creative spins to the well-used trope of Unwanted Company becomes Much Wanted Company (good thing I’m not paid to give tropes names, I’ll explain).

film poster two night standMain character suffering of mediocrity and a very early mid-life crisis decides to try an one night stand to help herself out of her funk. Alcohol is involved.  The one night stand happens, she tries to escape, she’s snowed in. They try to keep their distance, they get overly honest with each other, the honesty hurts. And still all that snow.

The chemistry between the two helps a lot, but then there’s also the little sign of creativity when it comes to backstories and motivations. It’s also nice that not everything is sickeningly sweet and unbelievably dumb: for a romantic comedy these two main characters are kind of realistic.

So, it’s not all that. Maybe quite little. But what it is, is fun and sweet.

Two Night Stand, Entertainment One 2014

 

The Half of It

105 min.

And that’s how you do a coming-of-age, finding-your-way film for teenagers in a way that isn’t bubblegum colours, dubious voice-overs and an aggressive soundtrack.

half of it posterThat might make The Half of It dull for some people. Protagonist Ellie goes through life in the shadows and not in the Everyone Notices The Wallflower-way but really: in the background of everything. Her fellow pupils only notice her because of her essay writing skills, and one of them decides to use those skills for a more romantic endeavour. ‘Romantic’, as this is a teenage story and Cyrano de Bergerac-ing a relationship is never a good idea.

But that’s what happens, and Ellie is confronted with things that hang out with her in those self-chosen shadows. Do I make it sound too much like a horror film like this? I swear it isn’t!

Although looking at the poster.. that’s a bad poster.

Anyway, focus. The Half of It is a film for the children of immigrants, the half-orphans, those who have ever been confused with their identity, and those that didn’t view high school as the highest point of their life’s experience. It’s sweet in a cool way.

Worry it’s all too teenager for you? Watch Saving Face by the same director.

The Half of It, Netflix 2020

Isoken

98 min.

Terwijl westerse filmmaatschappijen romcoms en romantische films maar blijven afschuiven op kleine feestdagen (Moedersdag, Valentijnsdag) met een klein budget en D-niveau acteurs, is er een plek waar de liefhebber van zachte, oppervlakkige, (absurd-)grappige romances nog terecht kan: Nigeria.

Isoken posterWant Isoken en The Wedding Party zijn niet de enige films in dit genre: misschien is het zelfs een subgenre: men moet trouwen maar oh jee [x] gebeurt! [x] kan hier vervangen worden door ruziënde families, bittere exen, rampzalige wedding planners of een combinatie van drie.

In het geval van Isoken is het De Liefde. Moet je gaan voor De Liefde of voor zekerheid? En in hoeverre moet je daarbij ook aan je familie denken (die is zéér belangrijk)?

Of het zelfspot van Nigeriaanse filmmakers is, of dit gewoon Nigeriaanse humor is, weet ik niet, maar al de slapstick-achtige situaties en karikaturale personages zorgen voor een lekker melig zooitje tussen de zoete momenten door.

Dus, kijk niet voor de veertiende keer Love Actually of Bridget Jones’ Diary maar zoek het eens zuidelijker.

Isoken, Tribe85 Productions 2017

To All The Boys

102 min.

It’s easy to judge this on many different levels and scoff a bit, but remember the target audience, and try to find some joy in your heart. I did.

2 all the boys This is the sequel to To All The Boys I loved Before. Mild spoilers for that one follow.

How long can a happy ending last? As everyone involved here are teenagers, the question might be a rhetorical one. Another crush shows up, and he seems much more nicer and attentive than Lara Jean’s boyfriend, oh no!

When not dating, worrying about dating and thinking of how to keep her boyfriend happy, Lara Jean has to deal with friendship, family and school as well. Actress Lana Condor makes sure she carries it well, even with those eye-rolling moments in which you just want to shake every teenager involved.

All of it is very cute and bright and sometimes very quirky, and all of it completely fits the bill and the people this has been made for. And – I admit almost with shame – for me as well.

To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, Netflix 2020

How to Hack a Heartbreak

Never trust anything you read on the internet.

First romantic comedy of the year! Although both genres are just slightly represented; How to Hack a Heartbreak is mostly about being a woman in the tech world, and about dating online. The comedy is a tad sharper than you might expect, but both these subjects deserve some attention that isn’t just tongue-in-cheek.

That doesn’t mean that How to is a severe novel about the endless sexism both these worlds entail and a detailed deconstruction of it – it’s still a romantic novel after all. Still, the more realistic angle on the subject and of the protagonist’s thinking is pretty refreshing.

It makes the story of Melanie learning something about herself, her abilities and her (lack of) self-confidence easier to swallow. There might have been just one or two situations through which I rolled my eyes, and I’m pretty sure that was an expected reaction. All this, and a well-balanced happy ending, makes this a romance for the ’20s.

How to Hack a Heartbreak, Kirstin Rockaway, Harlequin 2019