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…..Or Treat

December 28th, 2008

I just watched Trick for the first time in nine years. Well, pregnancy by watched I mean flipped through to the scenes that I remember from that first time I saw it, anesthetist which was on what turned out to be my first date ever. I recall few things about that day, treat or even the other guy (despite dating him for a month or so, I now cannot picture his face no matter how hard I try) which worries me as I ought to be able to remember these things and the only other dates I have been on are with my first, only, and current boyfriend….but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The truth is I expected to be appalled at how bad the movie is. It’s been my experience recently that certain things that brought me tremendous joy in childhood or my teenage years fail to arouse even nostalgic glimmers of happiness because now, with adult eyes, I see that they are in fact TERRIBLE. Certain phases I went through in high school spring to mind as being particularly embarrassing, (Pokémon, for example), and even some of my favorite CDs that I would listen to over and over I now cannot stand. (Bernstein’s Mozart Requiem – what is up with the fucking Lacrimosa?)

This turned out not to be the case at all, although it’s a strange feeling to watch it because in a way I am also watching myself nine years ago watching it. What’s even weirder and meta-er (whatever) is that all those years ago I was literally experiencing that same newness, longing, and anxiety that the movie’s protagonist was, which made for a very maudlin reaction I’m sure. (I can imagine the frantic arm-flailing that must have accompanied my re-telling of the story at the time)

All my memories aside though, it’s not as bad of a movie as I remember…plot-wise it’s pretty straightforward – boy meets boy, they try and hook up but end up having a night of misadventures instead. Gabriel, the protagonist, is a musician: a philosophical soul uninterested in the tecno-and-poppers gay lifestyle and its bear-/boarish ways. He is essentially a platonic form of innocence that is frighteningly easy to graft onto yourself if you’re not careful. (needless to say I was not) Tori Spelling as Gabe’s friend essentially plays herself (a ditzy, two-bit actress) and the slutty go-go dancing love interest, Mark, is quite the hottie. Let me rephrase that: he’s SMOKING hot. The roommate and her boyfriend comprise a forgettable subplot, boring in their heteronormativism, but there are two minor characters who essentially act like the muses in Classical myth: they impart their wisdom and then vanish. And it was these that I took more notice of this time.

The first is Gabriel’s teacher. We find out in an opening scene that Gabriel is writing a musical (which unfortunately means that one of his songs occurs throughout the movie like an annoyingly catchy leitmotif) but can’t quite figure out the love bits. His teacher encourages him to search the world for experience, to “grab life by the balls,” which he proceeds to do. Hence the story. Surprisingly, the teacher reappears later in the movie, and tells the pair about his relationship woes. It seems that despite his devil-may-care attitude, he is upset over his recent breakup. They’d been together three years, which is said in italics as though a plaque ought to have been made, and he thought it was over. When, however, they encounter him on the street, a blubbery and oddly touching reconciliation takes place, and witnessing it brings Gabe and Mark a little closer together. This wisened, though imperfect, figure shows Gabe what he wants to see – that romance and a real relationship can be difficult, but is certainly attainable.

Then there’s the drag queen. She encounters Gabe in a bathroom (mirroring another pivotal scene in a bathroom later on….as though all gay transactions happening in public bathrooms is a stereotype we need to reinforce!) and proceeds to describe to Gabe the other, more menacing side of the picture. It seems she, too, had taken a fancy to Mark, and in telling how they met describes pitch-perfectly the scene where Gabe encounters him for the first time. This is the first real evidence that Mark might really be what he seems: a flirt just looking for a quick score and nothing else. She then dramatically relates the whole of their encounter and, well, maybe I’ll just let her do the talking.

This scene was burned (no pun intended) into my memory for years, and still remains sharp even now. It is also probably the best acting in the movie – I dare someone to do it as a monologue.

She turns out, luckily, to be wrong about Mark, who appears by the end to be interested in more than a one-night stand – whether he changes as a result of the events of the movie is unclear, but it is comforting to think that he did, and that the young innocent with no knowledge in the ways of love converted him. While the budding romance of the film’s main characters is what caught my eye all those years ago, I find myself now thinking about these two older, experienced characters: the gaytriarchs, if you will. They both desire the same thing, but have approached it from different ways, and in the end the teacher appears happy while the drag queen is an object of laughable pity. We are led to understand that you reap what you sow, and if one seeks affection and romance without having it first one is ultimately burned. BURRRRRRRNED. (did you watch it? you should. at least start at 3:45. doesn’t she look and talk just a a little bit like Lucille Bluth? It’s funny because she had a brief cameo in Arrested Development as a wig shop owner….but I digress)

Rather than the young, naïve musician with whom I had so much in common nine years ago, I now find myself empathizing with these two – and thankfully, more to the teacher than the silly cuckholded drag queen. I find myself, like them, looking back on people like Gabe with a vague smile, as though they’re telling me a story I’ve already heard – I don’t cut them off, correct them, or finish it for them, but I let them tell it to me again so I can try and remember what it was like to hear it for the first time. I’m not looking forward to the inevitable conclusion with wonder like I was years ago, but hearing it again allows me to reflect on my own story and realize just how lucky I am. I would never have imagined nine years ago that I was only three years, three quasi-sexual encounters, two major crushes, two rejections, and only one graduation ceremony away from the day I found what true love is.

But back to Trick. Would I reccommend it? I think so….there’s a certain charm to it which is undeniable, and while not Oscar material it’s a good deal better than most “gay” movies I’ve seen. (All Over the Guy was also very good, if I remember correctly) Although the end is satisfying and the overall effect is uplifting, I wish there was a wedding or something at the end like in other romantic comedies, where you get a chance to see all the little characters and be assured that they’re just as happy as the now-hitched protagonists. I can just picture the teacher and his equally cubbish boyfriend, their matching sweaters a perfect reflection of their love. And the drag queen, snarkily demeaning someone’s attire at the reception, when lo and behold the bouquet lands in her manicured hands and she breaks into tears of joy and hope. Tori Spelling meets someone at the wedding who gives her the break she wanted, and the roommate is still off shagging her boring boyfriend, happily off-camera. It might just be this movie’s particular specificity in the story of my romantic development, but perhaps it really is a funny, gay, feel-good movie that can help you believe in love again. Or, if not love, than just the power of a nice set of pecs on the dance floor.

Is this really the last chance to get it right?

November 19th, 2008

I should have done this a few days ago, capsule but here goes.

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I feel like an alcoholic at the beginning of a twelve-step meeting, but I went to see High School Musical 3 last weekend. To say that I was dragged there not of my own volition is a half-truth at best; having Netflixed the first HSM last week, I was simultaneously horrified and intrigued, and enough of the latter to make it worth the $10 to see how the new one stacks up. Although the original bore all the hallmarks of a made-for-Disney-Channel movie, it managed to get more things right than it deserved (and I’m not just talking about Efron’s boyish charm) and so my enjoyment of the film managed to tread that dangerous line between ironic and genuine. I’m not sure I can say the same for HSM 3.

The setting is again Albequerque, NM, and the movie begins with the trademark East High Wildcats in the middle of a fast-paced championship-basketball-game-cum-musical-number, as the twinkish Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) and Chad Danforth (Corbin Bleu, another alumnus of my high school) sweat their life away and grimace as much as possible. The end of the game thankfully also ends the direct involvement of basketball in the plot (further separating it from the first, where it played a major role in the primary conflict) although to take it’s place is the well-worn trope of college applications and the accompanying separation anxiety. This in turn brings into play such hilarious plot points as Juilliard recruiters doleing out scholarships like Halloween candy and an early-decision honor’s program at Stanford that yanks students out of their last semester of high school to come to the campus to do nothing more than ride bicycles, wear flowy skirts, and have adult-sounding cell phone conversations with their friends back home (not to mention forcing their parents to come with them and sell their house in I’llbequirky) It’s decided that the spring musiCALE will be about the students’ own lives at East High, which causes some musical confusion I’ll discuss later. Problems arise even without the help of show-stealing meddlesome diva Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale), and as the show seems doomed to failure the phoenix rises clumsily from the ashes on opening night, and all are satisfied. I’m glossing over the relationship troubles of Troy and Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens), partly because it’s more than a little hackneyed and partly because it gets in the way of my fantasies. There’s also more focus on Troy’s inner conflict between theatre and basketball (is this really such a big deal?) and by extension his conflict with his father’s desires and his own.

Now to preface my opinions: one of the things which I think was a failure of the first movie was never seeing the show-within-the-show. In my experience this is always the best part: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Babes in Arms, Singing in the Rain (not counting the stupid treadmill dream sequence), the Producers….not to mention Noises Off or Waiting for Guffman! Musicals within musicals are well-enough trodden ground (Kiss Me, Kate or the musical of The Producers) and it’s easy to disambiguate the impromptu singing and the “scripted” singing of the inner show. Cabaret is another good example of how these two can interact and comment on each other while still remaining fairly distinct.

HSM3, however, totally fucked with this in an unacceptable way. Some of the numbers started in “RL” and then transitioned into a rehearsal of the musical, or made their way into the musical later. (this reminded me of the end of Singing in the Rain: how preposterous was it that Velma and the orchestra knew that song that Don sang to himself on the rainy street weeks earlier? It just doesn’t add up….) And just when I thought I’d figured it out, Efron and Bleu broke into their choreographed machismo number “The Boys are Back” (homoerotic does not even BEGIN to describe it….) and when the dancers came in from the wings and the set instantly lost all trapping of reality, I imagined we were now in the rehearsal of this number for the show. Except we weren’t. This might have been an attempt at whimsey, but it left me even more confused.

I was pleasantly surprised with the plot: again, I didn’t see HSM2, but 3 was definitely a step up from the first one, which was a confused muddling of clichés hastily stitched together with middling musical numbers. It managed to surprise me a few times (in a good way) and I continued to enjoy the outrageously one-dimensional characters, despite the fact that they tried to take the two characters that might have been gay (Ryan, the snazzily-dressed choreographer, and Kelsey, the brooding composer of the shows) and threw them together to make us try and believe that everything was on the up-and-up. (I mean, they share a love of terrible hats, but that’s not enough to overcome their obvious sexual proclivities) I also completely loathed Troy’s rage aria, not only because it was so poorly acted, but the rain of CG basketballs would not even have passed muster in 1994. Oh, and did I mention that the recipients of the Juilliard scholarships (which were being awarded based on the applicants’ performances in the musical) were announced during the musical? What?? The climax at actual graduation (not fake graduation during the musical, when the awards were announced) was decidedly anti-climatic and probably the worst ensemble number in the movie.

Knowing that I went to an arts-oriented public high school, you might think these types of movies make me nostalgic. I haven’t seen Fame, but Camp is another good example of a movie that supposedly sums up my high school experience, but it doesn’t. And that’s just it: no one went to East High. It is at once our best and worst memories of the high school experience, as defined so eloquently then and since more by society and its depiction in the media than by our actual surroundings. High school is about learning to cope with the massively complex realities of life which had been theretofore suppressed or ignored, and every movie, book, play, or TV show set in high school attempts to reconcile one aspect of this reality through the lens of what we perceive as a culturally shared experience. (Even though there were no jocks at my high school  – there were no sports – the idiom is one which I understand) I thought the first movie had a direct (and horrificly transparent) message: it’s OK to dabble in various already-socially-acceptable forms of expression, but they still (even in a plurality) define who and what you are. I’m not sure that HSM3 was so worried about continuing or updating this message, but it leave me questioning how many decisions I’ve made and how many have been made for me.

So can I reccommend HSM 3? Not completely, but don’t deny yourself the hilarity of at least renting this fantastic trio of films. Don’t watch them alone, as you might find yourself enjoying them at face value. Rather, if you can’t go to a theater and sit behind nine screaming girls while simultaneously laughing at the movie and them, as we did, see it with a few friends and some drinks, and feel free to discuss it openly amongst yourselves – you will not be talking over gripping or important dialogue.

And after you’ve seen them, head over to www.southparkstudios.com and see last week’s episode “Elementary School Musical.” Genius.

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