Sunday, February 03, 2008

Bam Bam & Celeste

Spoiler alert! Story details discussed

1) Fun low-budget movie written by & starring Margaret Cho, about a fag-hag / Gay Best Friend road trip quest. Likeably hokey story with some very funny parts. Familiar Margaret Cho mix of pop culture gags touching on themes of racism, conventions of beauty and popularity, gay & straight relationships, etc.

2) Note: I like movies that look like they were made over the weekend in a friend's apartment. The feeling that I can "relate to" the filmmaking process makes up for a lot of verisimilitude. Your results may vary.

3) Margaret Cho is likeable and believable in the lead role, but she knocks it outta the park in also playing her mother - SOOO funny, charming and loveable.

4) The gay best friend character in this movie gets laid constantly - at a gas station, at a hotel, in the car pulled over beside the road, etc. Seemed amusingly stereotypical to me at first, until it occured to me that the Gay Best Friend character never actually gets the guy in movies / TV. It's nice to see the flip side of the cliche.

5) Ugly duckling stories never quite work in film. Film tells the story visually, so the likeable characters have to be good looking one way or another, which leads to scenes where beautiful people complain about being ugly, which makes them annoying and the whole movie loses appeal. It's possible to make a character sympathetic and appealing without being conspicuously pretty, but it's tricky and filmmakers rarely bother. (John Waters has managed a few times.)

The awkward compromise is the "makeover movie", where the ugly-duckling character learns to groom/dress/present herself (rarely himself, unfortunately, until "Queer Eye") for flattering effect under the guidance of a mentor. I used to resent the genre as superficial, but I've changed my mind. We're all beautiful on the inside, but it takes some kind of guidance to effectively reveal it to the world the outside. (I could have used such a mentor in high school...) Better to learn at the second act turning point than not at all.

6) Several scenes show anti-Asian racism - and that's fair enough, since it does exist. It would be nice, though, to see a scene with a white guy who's hot over Asian women, for balance. It's just as common and, perhaps, also pretty annoying to the Asian characters.

7) Since race is already a topic: it's great to see John Cho (no relation - he played Harold in Harold & Kumar go to White Castle) in a role neither sympathetic nor race-specific. A less thoughtul film would have made all the villains white, or all non-white.

8) Beauty issue, specific: I thought Margaret Cho was adorable in this movie. Full disclosure - I thought Margaret Cho was way fucking hot when I first saw her as an SF comic in the early '90s (For better or worse, I wasn't alone - straight male fans got stalkery over her public appearances; see above comments about white guys who dig Asian chicks.) My responses have varied since then - she does indeed look different now, and the focus of her work has changed accordingly - but I thought she was gorgeous in character as a New-Wavey high schooler and her flamboyant later self in this movie.

Risky topic, since Margaret Cho's work attacks standards of beauty while also celebrating them. Am I reinforcing unfair standards of beauty by saying she looks hot? Or am I insulting her by saying "she looks great despite not being conventionally attractive"? Everyone loses in that argument. I thought she looked great.

9) Beauty issue, general: I truly believe that humanity is beautiful, and we're all human, so we're all beautiful. I like to think I see that when I look at people. But I get tired of declarations that standards of beauty are meaningless - because anyone who embraces such a pronouncement is considered humanitarian and open-minded, while anyone who suggests that appearances can mean something after all may be attacked as superficial, oppressive, encouraging of unfair standards and self-loathing behaviors, etc.

My brief take: self-love and self-discipline turn out to be the two sides of self-understanding. I get annoyed at well-meaning discussions of beauty, health, weight, body image, etc. that suggest that either quality (self-love or self-discipline) can be disregarded without painful consequences.

The real problem is that society does offer some discipline, in the form of unachievable standards of beauty, but society does not and cannot offer love. (Not in fair portions, anyway.) So those who gather their understanding of who they are and who they should be from the public trough will find themselves badly imbalanced, with a clear notion of who they should be but little respect for who they are. That's where the stream must be rerouted.

10) The DVD commentary is half about clothes. Margaret Cho also shares the "if you put the production into motion, funding will come" philosophy that served this production. I have mixed feelings about that, having relied on it seven years ago when I launched a tightly scheduled $6000 feature film shoot without having a script or a cast. I do believe in the idea of letting the universe offer its helping hand, however. I just learned the hard way that there are crucial caveats that demand certain kinds of planning, discipline, commitment, focus and ability to collaborate.

"Bam Bam & Celeste" got made, though. It can work.