So, how’s everyone getting their serotonin these days? The video of Steve from Blue’s Clues reassuring his now-adult fans was a big one this week, although it probably won’t work if you were born before 1990. (Who knows? Maybe you were 25 when Steve “went to college” and you still cried. No judgment.) The new trailer for The Matrix Resurrections should make the transmitters tingle as well, especially when you’ve got Grace Slick belting out “FEED YOUR HEAD! FEED YOUR HEAD!” over footage of Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Ann Moss, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II doing their action-hero thing. That chick has some pipes, man.
Speaking of, I personally have been getting into The Mamas And The Papas after stumbling on a really lovely Cass Elliot song called “Does Anybody Love You?” that a friend of mine posted on Twitter. That’ll inject some sunshine into your veins, as will our own Marah Eakin’s interview with another childhood icon, Raffi. There’s a ray of hope for the #FreeBritney brigade this week as well, as Jamie Spears has petitioned to end his conservatorship over his grown-ass daughter who’s been supporting her entire family for years, so she should be allowed to go shopping without having to run it by her dad, thanks.
In short, I’m feeling weirdly—optimistic? is that the word?—this week. If you’re feeling more like Keanu in the bath up above, then this week’s highlights from The A.V. Club have all the excitement, energy, sweetness, and charm you need to lift you up. We’ll be back to depression memes and doomscrolling soon enough.
Yeah, I know, a Zoom movie where no one gets yanked offscreen by a ghost. Gross. But we’ve all loved Natalie Morales since her role as Lucy on Parks And Recreation, right? Well, Language Lessons, which I first reviewed at this year’s virtual SXSW, marks her directorial debut—that or Plan B, which was released on Hulu in May. (The timeline is fuzzy thanks to pandemic delays.) And Language Lessons is a pandemic-era film, about an idle househusband named Adam (Mark Duplass) who bonds with his online Spanish teacher (Morales) after being blindsided by a devastating loss. It’s a thoughtful film with a lot to say about online friendship, but more than that it’s a wholesome and charming vehicle for its stars, who also co-wrote the script. It’s coming out in theaters this weekend, but honestly this one is just fine experienced on a smaller screen.
“Sharing their innermost feelings under the guise of conversation practice en español, Morales’ characters know each other’s hopes and dreams, but they don’t know the basic facts of their material lives outside of a safe, strictly defined rectangle on their computer screen. In Language Lessons, a webcam is both a confessional and a smokescreen… It’s a platonic love story, exploring the things we reveal and the things we keep hidden when we start a relationship with someone new. Luckily, Morales and Duplass have the chemistry and the acting chops to carry this unexpectedly moving film.”
In LuLaRich, the team behind Fyre Fraud takes apart the leggings empire built on a pyramid scheme. Directors Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason sit down with LuLaRoe co-founders DeAnne and Mark Stidham, who sold the dream of upward mobility through leggings sales to mostly working- and middle-class women, and the retailers who were left holding the moldy bag. The four-part documentary recalls Showtime’s Love Fraud, as the victims of the Stidhams’ alleged swindling find each other online before taking definitive action. Saloni Gajjar calls it a “riveting docuseries,” which you can now stream on Amazon Prime Video.
“LuLaRich has done the impossible: make leggings uncomfortable—on screen, at least. The fascinating documentary series juxtaposes snapshots of flashy pants and other colorful clothing with the dark story of the increasingly malicious actions of DeAnne and Mark Stidham, co-founders of the clothing company LuLaRoe. Their products are popular for unapologetically vivid patterns, but the most sought-after item are leggings with colorful prints and an initially “buttery soft fabric.” The clothes might be bright and snug, but LuLaRoe’s success story is marred with lawsuits, heartbreak, and jaw-dropping levels of emotional manipulation. LuLaRich charts the company’s upsetting practices that caused upheaval in the lives of its middle-class retailers. In trying to match its subject, the docuseries is sometimes more showy than needed, but it is effective in capturing Stidhams’ horrifying leadership, and the financial ruin it caused for their employees.”
Kanye and Drake are sucking up a lot of the oxygen online this week. (The A.V. Club reviewers liked Drake’s Certified Lover Boy well enough, and thought Donda was a mess.) But our own Baraka Kaseko—in an exciting foray into music writing from our trusty web producer—makes a solid case for why Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, the fourth studio album from British rapper Little Simz, runs laps around the big boys of hip-hop.
“Going up against the two biggest releases of the year might spell doom for most rappers; thankfully, Little Simz isn’t most rappers. She’s one of the best working today, and her new album bolsters that claim. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is as ambitious and intimate as anything the North-London MC has ever done, and an easy contender for the best rap album of the year, let alone the week ... Simz raps with purpose and ferocity about racial politics, womanhood, and the challenges of artistic expression, while regular collaborator Inflo gives her plenty of room to spread out on the lush soundscapes he creates.”
In the different, less kind world of 2012, Guy Fieri was a laughingstock, a punchline whose flame shirts, wraparound sunglasses, and earnest excitement for roadside greasy spoons made him an easy target. Now, he’s an online folk hero on par with Keanu Reeves. But, as Matt Schimkowitz writes in his analysis of Fieri’s rebirth:
Fieri didn’t change; the culture did. He’s still the same spiky-haired, bowling-shirt-clad junk food carnival barker he’s always been. After a handful of years that have seen #MeToo unearth some Very Clearly Shitty Men, many have determined that maybe wearing sunglasses on the back of your head isn’t the worst thing in the world.
The piece goes on to list the many ways that Fieri has injected his public image with goodwill like melted cheese inside so many cheddar burgers, including cooking for fire fighters battling wildfires in California. But it’s more complicated than that, as Matt gets into in the piece. Naturally, an interview with comedian Shane Torres, whose 2017 defense of Fieri really turned things around for the celebrity chef, is included.
And here’s sweet, troubled, dearly departed Cass, here with a love song for the lonely. Be gentle with each other this weekend, everybody.