Nathan Rabin @ Sundance '09: Day Three 

Nathan Rabin @ Sundance '09: Day Three 

In my capacity as The A.V Club’s Wild Card/party correspondent here at Sundance I have devoted myself to cracking the inner sanctum of celebrity and delivering the Outside Scoop like the big homey Jackie Harvey. So far, I have done a piss poor job. Today, however I finally made it past the velvet rope and rubbed elbows with the rich, the famous and the infamous, or at least had Wesley Snipes brush past me in the second floor of Island Def Jam’s House Of Hype hospitality suite.

My guide to this exciting world was an awesome, frizzy-haired Def Jam publicist who hooked me up with a full battery of Nivea skin care products. Cause if there’s one thing the Nathan Rabin movement is all about, it’s clear, beautiful skin. The Nivea people employed generously endowed vixens dubbed “Huggers” and “Kissers” to, um, hug and kiss and generally get all up in various celebrities’ personal space for publicity photos as part of Nivea's hugging and kissing-based ad campaign. The celebrities did not seem to mind these lovelies in skin-tight Nivea outfits rubbing all up against them.

At the House of Hype I totally spied Jim Gaffigan and Laura Silverman, who astonishingly is even cuter in person. I must have stared a little too hard at Silverman however, because she waved to me, which made me feel weird and self-conscious. At least I think these fine folks were Gaffigan and Silverman. At one point I was semi-positive I saw character actor Timothy Olyphant until “Olyphant” began applying make-up to a woman’s face. I’m fairly certain Olyphant doesn’t moonlight as a make-up artist.

Downstairs I was shown a magical pouch with numerous different places to hide your weed by a guy who solemnly announced that he was Katy Perry’s best friend and that her next single will blow minds and change the way people see her. I had to resist the urge to tell him, “Yeah, that’s really not something to brag about.”

Downstairs I spied Wesley Snipes and Michael Jai White goofing around and posing for pictures and ran into my old friend Rob Siegel and his lovely wife Jen Cohn, both of whom were in town for Big Fan, which he wrote and directed and that I’m seeing tomorrow night. “Isn’t Wesley Snipes in jail?” Rob asked. I wondered the same thing. Apparently Snipes a-martial arted his way out of a lengthy prison term for tax evasion using the old “I’m a celebrity. I don’t need to pay taxes” excuse.

In addition to the aforementioned Nivea products, I scored a pair of sunglasses, a hat I can’t imagine ever wearing, Metallica-endorsed headphones and an alligator skin bracelet. If there’s one thing I’ve regretted other than everything I’ve ever done since leaving the womb it’s the shameful dearth of reptile jewelry in my collection. No more! I know animal skin anything might make some folks uncomfortable but alligators are notorious anti-Semites, not to mention racists and Holocaust deniers. Believe you me, if an alligator could pick up a free Nathan Rabin-skin bracelet at a hospitality suite under the sea it’d do the so in a heartbeat. Alligators=giant assholes.

Oh and I drank two Stellas and a glass of Absinthe that made me feel all woozy and fuzzy and warm inside. I was foiled, however, in my attempts to snag a free massage when the lounge shut down just as I was getting ready to have my doughy flesh kneaded and contorted in all sorts of soothing and satisfying ways. It was the worst thing that ever happened to anybody in America. On the downside, my segment for The Travel Channel got cut at the last minute due to clearance issues. D’oh! I probably shouldn’t have mentioned it in yesterday’s post. If you brag and boast about what might happen you run the risk of looking like an ass if your plans fall through. Me=ass. Now I know and knowing is half the battle.

But enough of my foolishness: onto the films! One last bit o’ business. Do you guys think I should go to the Def Jam brunch tomorrow morning? I’m undecided as to whether I should attend that or see some movies. What do you think?


Push:
On paper, the plot for Push reads almost like a parody of sordid hood miserablism. In a debut performance, Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe plays a morbidly obese, semi-literate incest victim with one mentally challenged child by her AIDS-stricken father and another baby on the way. At home Sibide’s angry, hate-filled mother (corpulent cut-up Mo’Nique) subjects her to a never-ending stream of verbal abuse, blaming her for driving her boyfriend/Sibide’s father away and telling her she wishes she’d had Sibide aborted.

Sibide’s life begins to change when she enrolls in a class for juvenile delinquents preparing for their G.E.D by an idealistic lesbian teacher (the luminous Paula Patton) intent on making a difference in her student’s lives and getting her Dead Poet’s Society on Mr. Holland’s Opus style. Sibide regularly escapes the unrelenting horror of her home life in daydreams that reflect the film’s Reagan-era setting without going overboard on eighties kitsch.

Yet as grim and melodramatic as Push gets it retains a grubby power thanks to powerhouse performances and a milieu seldom explored in movies or television: the lives of people at the very bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder for whom the American Dream of upward mobility is little more than a sick joke. It’s refreshing to see a film in which an obese dark-skinned African-American woman is the hero and not the butt of cheap jokes or sassmouth-mouthed comic relief.

Mo’Nique here plays a character I’ve been seeing an awful lot of lately in the films of Tyler Perry and the recent T.D Jakes adaptation Not Easily Broken: the wicked, bitter, abusive dragon lady intent on spreading misery everywhere she goes. Yet Mo’Nique reinvents this character through sheer force of will. She’s a volcanic force of nature with a devastating climactic monologue where the sadness, rage and bitterness of a lifetime of failure and self-hatred spills out in an orgy of self-recrimination. It’s similarly refreshing to see a film that makes almost no allowances for the tastes of white audiences except perhaps for the appearances of Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz in small supporting roles as a welfare case worker and hunky nurse respectively. Push isn’t entirely successful but I won’t soon forget it.
Grade: B


Spring Breakdown:
Poor Rachel Dratch. First she was replaced by Jane Krakowski on 30 Rock and given a consolation prize in the form of regular guest appearances. Then those guest appearances disappeared. Now Dratch hits the big screen in Spring Breakdown, a ramshackle comedy of regression she also Executive Produced and co-wrote.

Dratch stars alongside Parker Posey and Amy Poehler as a trio of proudly geeky best friends whose sad-sack existences are turned upside down when Posey is asked to look after Amber Tamblyn, the daughter of high-powered potential Vice President Jane Lynch, while Tamblyn is off at Spring Break.

Upon heading South for some debauched fun in the Sun, Dratch instantly reverts into a boy-crazy party trollop and Poehler ingratiates herself with a clique of sexy sorority types and begins speaking fluent Ebonics, leaving Posey to serve as the trio’s conscience and voice of reason. Though graced with a dynamite cast and an affable tone, Breakdown invariably lunges for the easiest, cheapest gags.

Can we please have a moratorium on running jokes where clueless, oblivious women fail to comprehend that their boyfriend/fiancé/soulmate is a screaming queen despite abundant evidence that this is the eighties and the fancy lads in question are not down with the ladies? In the past three days alone that dependable comedy chestnut has popped up twice: in Mary & Max and here, where Dratch doesn’t quite understand why swishy fiancé Seth Myers is so reluctant to have sex with her (here’s a hint: she doesn’t have a penis).

The casting of the great Jane Lynch as a gun-toting, flag-waving amalgam of Sarah Palin and George W. Bush should be a home run but here it’s more like a fielder’s choice. There is undoubtedly an audience for an easy-going comedy celebrating the virtues of girl bonding and embracing geekdom but does Breakdown really have to be so goddamned lazy? Is the world really aching for a poor woman’s Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion?
Grade: C-


Art & Copy:
I am borderline obsessed with advertising so I was the ideal viewer for Art & Copy, Doug Pray’s almost perversely uncritical look at advertising at its most mind-blowingly awesome. I even worked in advertising for a day. If I might tell a tale out of school, my pal and A.V Club colleague Claire Zulkey used to work as a copywriter for a mildly disreputable advertising agency whose most famous campaign was a commercial for a casino promising “the loosest slots in town” (insert crude double entendre here) that would sometimes pay people fifty dollars to pretend to work for them when they were showing a prospective client their offices. The idea was to present their workplace as a packed, productive little hive of worker bees chockablock with phantom employees who would disappear the very next day.

So I jumped at the chance to be a make-pretend adman, though I spent most of the day working on my Lauryn Hill Unplugged 2.0 review for The Onion. I am so addicted to workahol that I work even when I’m merely supposed to be pretending to work. Art & Copy acknowledges that a lot of advertising is crap but dedicates itself exclusively to advertising that aspires to, and often attains, the status of art.

Gorgeously filmed and slickly edited, Pray’s film looks at the advertising wizards behind a half-century of the world’s greatest and most influential ads, from Ronald Reagan’s “Morning In America” campaign ad to Wendy’s “Where’s The Beef” campaign to those infernal Budweiser frogs. I almost felt guilty about how much I enjoyed the film’s generous gallery of advertising greatest hits. Judging from the self-serving spin of the film’s subjects, advertising is primarily devoted to uplifting the human spirit and inspiring self-improvement rather than, you know, selling people shit they don’t need by manipulating their emotions and insecurities. There is a big difference between having a little sympathy for the devil and nominating the devil for Sainthood.

The film’s subjects unsurprisingly prove eloquent, funny, gregarious charmers adept at selling themselves and their homegrown mythologies but the stories behind the ads follow a predictable arc, with an idea emerging as a thunderbolt of creativity that is initially dismissed or disparaged but goes on to conquer the world.

I was entertained throughout but I also felt like I was being sold a bill of goods. I half-expected the film to end with the words “This film was brought to you by the advertising industry”. Perhaps a more honest title for Pray’s advertising infomercial would have been How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Advertising.
Grade: C+


The September Issue:
Is it possible to cover an utterly superficial world with anything approaching depth? That’s the question behind Perfect Candidate director R. J Cutler’s The September Issue, a skin-deep look into the fashionable world of infamous ice queen Anna Wintour and Vogue, the “fashion bible” she rules with an iron fist. The film chronicles the magazine staff putting together its September issue, an operation that apparently requires only slightly less planning, work and strategy than Operation Overlord.

Wintour’s perfectionism and chilly, autocratic style play havoc with her staff’s psyche as she tosses aside stunning, evocative photographs and layouts most fashion magazines would count as their crowning achievements. At first I wondered why someone as image-conscious and remote as Wintour would open herself up to the scrutiny of a documentary but The September Issue maintains a respectful distance from the loved and feared fashion icon. There is abundant comedy to be gleaned from the Vogue staff treating the frivolous realm of fashion with dour solemnity but September never finds a consistent or satisfying angle on its subject. I left fifteen minutes before the film ended in order to catch Art & Copy but didn’t feel like I was missing much.
Grade: C+

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