The three youngest were at Grandma's this weekend, and the house was quiet. Too quiet. In the silence I had to face the disturbing fact that if I only had two children who were 9 and 8, there would be little to goad my natural laziness into action. Secure in the knowledge that the big girls could take care of themselves and weren't likely to fall off the piano bench or write on the walls (I wouldn't put it past them to drag chairs into the pantry to get on the high shelves, but at least they can do it safely), I took the opportunity to read three biographies of the Marx Brothers, simultaneously. They mostly bore each other out. Sometimes they bore each other aloft. Aloft to ask you to leave if the dialogue doesn't improve.
'Atsa no good.
And because we didn't have to spend vast swaths of the evening settling small fry, we watched movies. The girls had been clamoring for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban -- not a bad outing, if you have to watch a Harry Potter movie. They finally kicked out the director of the first two soppy movies, and found someone who understood tone, and pacing, and how to let young actors act and not mug.
You know what's lousy? When you re-watch a movie that you thought was kinda okay, and it turns out to be a real dog. I hadn't seen You've Got Mail for about 12 years, and I had remembered as being sweet and fluffy. I remembered wrongly. Underneath its fantasy veneer of life on the North Upper West Lower East Side ("I'll lose my job and have to move to Brooklyn!" one character wails) there's an undercurrent of sleaze so palpable that I couldn't wade through it without a drink to brace me up. The spectacle of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan cheating on their live-ins as glibly as possible was appalling. I turned to my Manhattan as a corrective measure after the jokes about cybersex at the five-minute mark.
Apparently, nothing in romantic comedies has any consequences except being a big-business capitalist who delights in screwing small operations out of a living by opening big box stores in liberal enclaves. I found it difficult to suspend disbelief so much as to buy Tom Hanks' nice guy act when his character was schtupping the most self-absorbed, shallow, high-powered publishing exec. (In the words of Groucho, "What do you think of in bed at night, you beast?") Never do we see Meg Ryan all hormonal from her birth-control pills, even though she's sleeping with a luddite newspaper columnist but declares she doesn't have children because she's not married. Or maybe they use condoms, because the columnist is all righteous about the detrimental effects of new-fangled technology. Tom Hanks and his father make familial banter about how many times Dad ran off with the nanny, with no undercurrent of bitterness or accusation. Both Tom and Meg are able to cozily roll up their old significant others, even though we see no hint of the sniping, weariness, and jabbing that usually accompanies the death throes of a relationship. You never saw a more bloodless breakup than Meg Ryan and Greg Kinnear being chipper about the other's new prospects. Oh, my aching teeth.
As a corrective, the next evening we watched The Best Years of Our Lives, the 1946 best-picture winner about the very current topic of WWII vets readjusting to their previous lives and relationships. The raw honesty of the movie was heart-wrenching, especially in the thread that focused on Homer Parrish (Harold Russell). Russell was a real-life veteran who'd lost both his hands in a training accident, and he received two Oscars for his role as a maimed sailor trying to prove his family or the girl next door that he can manage just fine with his prosthetic hooks.. Fredric March plays a banker who's been away for so long that he has to become reacquainted with his wife (the wonderful Myrna Loy) and grown children, and Dana Andrews is a skilled pilot who returns to find his brief marriage disintegrating and his former job as a soda jerk demeaning. I am no softy, but I found myself crying through the entire movie.
Now we're back to the grind. The house is full of noise, and we'll probably find time this week to re-watch Horsefeathers and Animal Crackers before we ship 'em back to Netflix. That's quality entertainment.
Here's each of the Marx Brothers singing "Everyone Says I Love You", from Horsefeathers.
Think it's too late for me to strike up an anonymous correspondence with Groucho and his cigar?
Fall of Rome & Schooling
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