“Secrets are like margarine.” A Simple Favor and White Boy Rick

simple favor
[Image Source: Wikipedia]

 

We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.

– “We Wear the Mask,” Paul Laurence Dunbar

 

“Secrets are like margarine. Easy to spread but bad for the heart.” – Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick), A Simple Favor

“What can I say? I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy.” – Rick Wershe, Sr. (Matthew McConaughey), White Boy Rick

 

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[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Ah, American hustle and the dark truth of the Horatio Alger myth: you can be anything you want to be in America and have as much success as you can stand as long as you deny your true nature and, arguably, your humanity. If there is a through line in A Simple Favor and White Boy Rick, this weekend’s two big “fall films” (movies that lean into Oscar season and don’t star an alien Predator), it is that very truism and the resultant deception and self-loathing that accompanies it.

 

A Simple Favor is stylishly directed by Paul Feig, whose previous efforts Bridesmaids, The Heat, Ghostbusters, and Spy demonstrated a sure-handed understanding that women are, you know, people too. Based on a novel by Darcey Bell (think Postman Always Rings Twice author James M. Cain writing for The CW), Feig gleefully pulls a Brian DePalma (minus the gory misogyny) in an unrelenting homage to some of suspense cinema’s greatest hits: Vertigo, Charade, Diabolique (actually name-checked by one of the characters), Gaslight, and, yes, Cain’s Double Indemnity, and probably a dozen more I’m forgetting. Blessedly, Feig embraces the black comedy of it all, and the film is less Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct and more Mel Brooks-spoofs-Gone Girl.

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[Image Source: Wikipedia]

For her work in this film, Anna Kendrick now and forever will be my hero as her performance drives a stake into the heart of the insufferable DIY, cupcake-baking, Pinterest-stalking mommy vlogger (that’s vlogger with a “v” … as in “video blogger”). Her Stephanie Smothers is a hoot, one bad PTA meeting away from a nervous breakdown – a young widow whose  fixation on “home and hearth” may belie a darker (trashier) past.

 

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[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Into Stephanie’s life breezes fellow elementary school mom Emily Nelson, an icy Hitchcock blonde in divine Lauren Bacall-pantsuits. Blake Lively reminds viewers she’s more than “Ryan Reynolds’ wife” in a crackpot performance that is one part Carole Lombard, one part Veronica Lake, and one part Barbara Stanwyck … that is if those women were showboating, day-drinking, pansexual PR executives addicted to painkillers and stainless steel appliances. Oh, and she’s got secrets too … some doozies.

 

Emily and Stephanie meet cute in the rain, picking their sons up from school, and strike up the unlikeliest of friendships. The best parts of the movie are watching these two circle each other, realizing their respective “hustles” are as artificial as the day is long. Pretty soon, Emily disappears Gone Girl-style, and hunky husband Sean Townsend (Crazy Rich Asians‘ Henry Golding who is suddenly everywhere) is the chief culprit, which is compounded when he and Stephanie strike up a romance.

simple couch

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

I won’t spoil the twists and turns as they come fast and furious, but Feig and his stars have a ball indulging in and skewering the excesses of the genre. A fabulous supporting cast of pros like Jean Smart, Linda Cardellini, Rupert Friend, and Andrew Rannells all deliver zippy character turns. By the final twenty minutes, I will admit, I began to sour on the improbability of it all as the film veers into farcical War of the Roses territory. Nonetheless, for Lively’s gonzo performance alone, the film is essential viewing.

 

Across the aisle from A Simple Favor‘s flawless Dwell Magazine production design is the rough and tumble scruffiness of White Boy Rick, set in the nadir of Mayor Coleman Young’s mid-80s Detroit when the entire city looked like the back lot of a Mad Max movie and stopping to grab a Slurpee at 7-Eleven was a death-defying act.

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[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Based on the true story of Rick Wershe, Jr., the longest serving juvenile drug offender in the history of Michigan, White Boy Rick details Wershe’s descent into crime, his ascent as both FBI-informant and drug kingpin, and his eventual arrest and conviction. Along the way, Wershe (a haunting Richie Merritt) and his gun-smuggling papa (McConaughey in one of his best and most understated performances) meet a host of dodgy characters from the mean streets of the Motor City and in the mayoral Manoogian Mansion. (Legends Piper Laurie and Bruce Dern pop up as McConaughey’s parents – they are dynamite, and the biggest crime is that they don’t get more screen time.)

 

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[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Jennifer Jason Leigh is pretty much Jennifer Jason Leigh (which is fine) as an FBI agent using the boy to infiltrate the Detroit drug scene, and Brian Tyree Henry spins gold from his underwritten part as a Detroit cop in on the deal.

 

Director Yann Demange does an exceptional job capturing the sheer ugliness of this hardscrabble place and time without ever condescending to the moment nor its denizens. These characters are people who view the “land of opportunity” through a fun-house mirror where the only choices for financial stability are felonious. I will admit that I found the film’s point-of-view regarding its central figure problematically slippery. Are we to sympathize with him and his failings? Is he some kind of martyr figure? What does the film mean to imply about race in these circumstances? I’m at sea about the answers to these questions, and that leaves me just shy of fully supporting the film. White Boy Rick is well-done with a crackerjack cast, but I walk away with a bit of unease about what it is ultimately trying to say about race and class distinctions in America.

Matthew McConaughey (Finalized);Richie Merritt (Finalized)

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Regardless, both A Simple Favor and White Boy Rick (especially taken together) do an exceptional job holding a cinematic lens to the artifice of “success” in America: its false promise of fulfillment, its ephemeral nature, and its intrinsic heartache.

 

Why should the world be over-wise,

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

       We wear the mask.

 

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries

To thee from tortured souls arise.

We sing, but oh the clay is vile

Beneath our feet, and long the mile;

But let the world dream otherwise,

       We wear the mask!

– “We Wear the Mask,” Paul Laurence Dunbar

 

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Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital). In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by BookboundCommon Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

Papa Weeze presents Stand Up Fashion event May 21 and 22 – Where standing up for a cause meets runway fashion

2016 Stand-Up Fashion Show Flyer_Page_1Sharing on behalf of my pal Barbie Weisserman – sounds like a fun event! Don’t miss it!

DETROIT – Presented by Papa Weeze, Stand Up Fashion is an annual event that brings together artists of all different mediums into TWO illustrious nights of events, May 21 and 22, at 31440 Northwestern Highway in Farmington Hills. The event features an artists gallery and fine hors d’oeuvres (open and close in the lobby), an opening stand-up comedy performance, and a fashion extravaganza featuring local designers of all ages and experiences.  These are two days of fun and fashion you do not want to miss. 

 Now in its second year, Stand Up Fashion’s main event is a high-fashion show featuring local designers on Saturday night.  From stunning ball gowns to avant garde designs made from unconventional materials, the designers are sure to make jaws drop.  The first evening starts at 6pm for a wine reception and 7pm for the show.

Papa Weeze executive director Barbie Weisserman noted, “I can’t tell you how thrilled we are to see this event enter its second year. Papa Weeze’s mission to inspire and promote local artists has really resonated, and 2016’s Stand Up Fashion is even bigger, bolder, and more provocative than before. You will see it all: steam punk, cosplay. up cycle, vintage clothing and wedding gowns, costumes, wearable art, and more. Our emcee is the divine Ms. Lauren Jacobs. You are in for a treat!”

papa weeze collageSunday’s event is a breakdown of fashion trends, appreciating the art of clothing from all different walks of life – especially those often overlooked.  From cosplay to steampunk to drag, Sunday will inspire you to look at the unusual and unexpected in a different light.  Sunday’s proceedings begin at 1pm for refreshments and 2pm for the show. There will also be a silent auction, raffle, and opportunities for audience members to vote for their favorite designs.

Weisserman adds, “Earlier this year, our first short film, Getting Ed Laid, starring Ed Asner and Jean Smart and directed by Deborah Pearl, took the ‘Lou Costello Award for Comedy Short’ at the 2016 Garden State Film Festival. And now this event has grown from one to two days. I’m over the moon with the trajectory Papa Weeze has taken, and I invite everyone to come play with us!”

Stand-Up Fashion 2016 will take place Saturday, May 21st and Sunday, May 22nd at: 31440 Northwestern Highway Farmington Hills, 48334. Advance tickets ($20 for Saturday; $15 for Sunday; $30 for both days) are currently on sale at the Papa Weeze website: http://papaweezeinc.org/standupfashion/. (Tickets purchased at the door will cost an additional $5 each day.)

Design and artist gallery applications are still being accepted, also at this web address. If you are interested in modeling or have a vintage wedding gown to donate, please email Weisserman at papaweeze.inc@gmail.com.

 
About Papa Weeze:
 
There is no shortage of quality theatre companies in Southeast Michigan, but unlike other metro areas the success of “arts collectives” – marrying the spontaneity of theatre, cabaret, and improv with the abstract joys of movement and dance as well as the crafts of design, fashion and visual arts – has been more hit-or-miss.
 
PAPA Weeze” aims to “to provide collaborative opportunities for professional artists to create and display all forms of art, in an attempt to entertain, educate and expand.” The organization, led by long-time local theatre professional Barbie Weisserman, is named for her late father-in-law Harold Weisserman, an individual whose generosity and heart led him to support many creative and entrepreneurial efforts in the community.
 

The group’s flagship project for 2015 was crowd-funding/producing a short independent film Getting Ed Laid, written by Deborah Pearl (Designing Women) and starring Ed Asner (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Lou Grant) and Jean Smart (Designing Women, Fargo). Recently, the film received the “Lou Costello Award for Comedy Short” at the 2016 Garden State Film Festival.

2016 Stand-Up Fashion Show Flyer_Page_2

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89c5ae6d-f751-4b98-a71d-05a7775042f8Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital). In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by BookboundCommon Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan.  My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.