Melissa McCarthy – Happy Living Women’s History

Melissa McCarthy takes a bath every evening. This is something my sister-in-law Shami advised that I do when I first had children. I love this advice. A bath is a great way to unwind. Ya know, ‘Calgon, take me away!’ and all that.

Today, let’s celebrate McCarthy for Women’s Living History Month. I know it’s International Women’s Day and McCarthy is from Illinois. Well, so am I. Yet. Her humor (and mine) is international. Like a Monty Python comedian, she is not afraid to play a variety of good-natured, but unattractive and clueless characters — Sean Spicer, anyone?

She’s real. It’s bizarre that I have to say this but for a woman to appear less than perfect in the media is an act of courage in this crazy era.

I love to watch someone who just goes for it and isn’t worried about whether it’s silly or awkward or unflattering. – Melissa McCarthy

Me too! I love the silliness of McCarthy’s humor. She was so good in Can You Ever Forgive Me? I have an affinity for movies about writers and movies about alcoholics and this is a good one. Although I could quibble with the way that alcoholism is portrayed, I do appreciate her characterization of Lee Israel as a fun-loving, hard-working, criminal loner. Writing is a lonely business — we get that from the movie. Like Lee Israel, I think every good writer has seen their income decline. I know, I relate to the present-day financial slump of a writing career.

McCarthy is a major Hollywood producer. I would like to shine a light on other amazing women performers who produce too — looking at you, Reese Witherspoon. But I chose McCarthy because she is so prolific and her production company is, according to this New York Times magazine article, an assemblage of good-natured and varied women.

McCarthy brings warmth to all of the characters she portrays, such as the fun mom in the movie where she goes to college, Life of the Party. So funny. I can totally relate to that character too — as I try not to be an embarrassment to my kids, in my trying, I become an even bigger source of “Oh My God, MOM!!” (Endearingly so!)

McCarthy is every woman — or maybe she’s just me — smart, sassy, multi-faceted, funny, enthusiastic. Her movies are a balm to my soul. McCarthy, take me away!

photo courtesy of wikipedia By Mingle MediaTV – Melissa McCarthy DSC_0812, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33233911
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Boyhood

I saw this movie the other day and it unhinged me. The boy grows up too quickly. Right? That’s the reality around my house too.

One of my classmates said this movie changed her parenting. She no longer yells at her kids because she realizes that life goes by in a blink of an eye. And she is trying to savor her children while they are home.

The film was shot over 12 years with the same cast.

I was particularly moved by the mother’s plight, played by Patricia Arquette. She has to hustle so much to provide for the family. And yet, the kids idolize their father who only shows up occasionally. I relate. So many times I feel like a workhorse. In my quest to provide for the kids, emotionally and financially, I may miss out. I may not always make the best choices. I may not get all the fun.

My heart breaks that the sister, Lorelei Linklater, has to grow up. The most spirited child, she becomes a surly, monosyllabic teen. Ugh. I worry this will happen to my spirited children.

There are scenes of an alcoholic stepfather. As moviegoers, we want our preteens to rise up as heroes in their alcoholic families, defending one another or speaking out against injustice. But children cannot mount a mutiny over the tyranny of an alcoholic leader. Their helplessness’s heart-wrenching.

Families are going to be okay. Much as we worry, endlessly, about our kids’ possibly embarking on drunk driving or texting when driving or excessive Xbox use or getting pregnant. All that. There’s a message throughout the film of resilience. It’s going to be okay. Our family is good enough.

When I went into the movie theater, the ticket collector, an older gent, told me, “I love this movie. Everyone loves this movie.” I do, too.

I just wish boyhood would last.

2 Great New Movies about Mental Illness

Silver Linings Playbook
Silver Linings Playbook

Just in time for the holidays, there are two awesome new films about mental illness.

I just saw Silver Linings Playbook and The Master. Both of these films show the journey from destructive madness to precarious sanity. The films show the impossible internal tide as Pat, Bradley Cooper, and Freddy, Joaquin Phoenix, descend (ascend) into their altered states and try to get back to life again.

The movies made me wonder about something I read a long time from Carl Jung. I am paraphrasing, but the idea from Jung, is that: Maybe it’s not these individuals who are mad, but their societies are insane.

Maybe madness is the only sane response to an insane society. Coping is hard enough in life, without the stigma and consequences of mental illness, brought on by intense stress or some biological deficiency.

Both lead actors in these films chew up the scenery. Oddly, during a few intense moments in Silver Linings, the director cuts away from the Bradley Cooper character, a manic-depressive, to get the reaction shots of Jennifer Lawrence (from The Hunger Games).

The title of Silver Linings refers to the benefits of positive thinking to overcome difficulties. I am fan of optimism. Here are my other take-aways from Silver Linings.

  • Dancing and running help heal obsessive minds
  • Beat craziness with more craziness
  • Two messed-up people can make a sane thing
  • Find the silver lining in every crazy moment
  • Mental illness runs in families

The Master

Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams are incredible in The Master. There is never a cutting away from their faces during intense scenes. If anything, the close-ups just get closer. Tormented minds reveal themselves through dialogue and action. Actions have consequences.

Here are my take-aways from The Master

  • Every one serves someone (the master?). (Did Bob Dylan say this too?)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder is real, especially for wartime survivors
  • Communal living is healing (and destructive)
  • We may be better than we think we are
  • Don’t give up on love
  • Talk therapy works (hypnotherapy too?)

Overcoming mental illness is no joke, although, turns out, these two films depict the efforts to overcome mental illness as entertaining and compelling.

Joaquin Phoenix in The Master
Joaquin Phoenix in The Master

After the characters of Freddy and Pat slide into their dysfunctional moments, they seem always at war with themselves, trying to reign in their destructive sides and crawl back to lives with family or community. They look for a state of grace. Or at least, they seek connection with others and a state of normalcy. Balance eludes them.

Just in time for Christmas and New Year’s, you can see these movies and contemplate having more compassion for your family members who may have diseases or mental illnesses.

Even though I loved these films, I hope to see a mainstream movie about a woman with a mental illness, preferably depression, which is far more common in women than men.

In the newly-released Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln denies her depression. Her mental illness is only viewed as an impediment to her emotional closeness to her family. For women in films, like Mary played by Sally Field, relationships matter most. For men, it is the journey to wholeness. But surely, Mary’s depression could be a fascinating feature-length film, not just a subplot in Lincoln’s life.

Maybe I’ll write more about Lincoln later. I just saw it yesterday and am still reeling from those performances and the immersion in a time of history when men and women fought to knit the country together rather than to pull it apart. To unite us.

PS I modeled this blog post from my previous post on 2 great new movies about alcoholism

2 Great New Movies about Alcoholics

Just in time for the holidays, there are two awesome new films about addiction and alcoholism. I just saw Smashed and Flight. Both of these films plot the journey from stupor to sober. They show how fun it is to drink and how crazy the consequences of that night of fun can be.

The acting in both of these films is awesome. Denzel Washington is a genius. I never tire of watching him. The man is unafraid to take his emotions to the edge. (Love that in a man!)

Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Smashed is playful, lovable, out of control and fricken’ scary. And you feel scared for her. You feel like one her kindergarten students, asking yourself, “Is she okay?” And then you think, “Oh, whatever. She’s funny!”

I love a subgenre of movies — movies, I dub, learning how to love again. As someone who’s loved my share of alcoholics, I can attest to the wild ride of fun and despair in loving an alcoholic (or, I imagine, in being one).

Overcoming the disease of alcoholism is a compelling story line — after the slide into despair comes the crawl into a state of grace.

Of course there are other great movies about alcoholism, like Leaving Las Vegas or Clean and Sober. I loved Clean and Sober because the whole second part of the plot revolved around the Michael Keaton character’s obsession as he substituted his addiction to cocaine to his attachment to his girlfriend.

If, like me, you can identify with the life of a codependent, attached to another person’s dysfunction, these are good holiday movies for you. Both films left me shaken and stirred, just in time for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, when I can toast these two new movies. I recommend that you do too. Make yours a double (feature) and take it neat with a twist.