Heavenly Menages a Trois

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By Andrea Meyer

IFC News

The other night I watched “Days of Heaven” for the millionth time. An exaggeration, of course, but it is one of my favorite films, and I went through a period when I would watch it every time I was bored or in need of inspiration. With a new print currently screening at the Film Forum in New York, it was time to see Terrence Malick’s near-perfect film again. As the credits rolled, after thinking, as usual, that it’s one of the most beautiful films ever made, it occurred to me that there’s nothing more powerful in the movies than a love triangle.

In the film, Bill (Richard Gere), a factory worker, leaves Chicago to work on a farm in the Texas panhandle with his sister (Linda Manz) and girlfriend Abby (Brooke Adams), who poses as a family member to avoid gossip. When they learn that the farmer (Sam Shepard), who has taken a liking to Abby, is terminally ill, they decide to stay on when the other seasonal workers have gone, seizing an opportunity for a more comfortable life. Abby marries the farmer and the foursome live heavenly days until the triangle barely supporting them crumbles, pushing all three characters toward tragedy.

Terrence Malick is a brilliant writer and director whose breathtaking compositions (captured by über-DP Nestor Alemendros, who won the 1978 Oscar for the film), patient editing style and signature narration — Manz’s childishly innocent, funny and insightful narration is a masterpiece in itself — but let’s be honest: As far as subjects go, there are few situations — in art or in life — that are more loaded with potential for drama than the love triangle. “Days of Heaven” is one of the best, but the plot device has driven many other movies, many great, many small.

Most common is the simple story of a nice guy/girl who’s torn between two lovers: the wrong one, who likely has certain compelling attributes like parental approval rating or a real job, and the right one, a.k.a. the soul mate, who likely lives right under the lead’s nose but goes sadly unnoticed as she/he is busy being dazzled by Mr./Ms Wrong. Think: “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “Sabrina,” “Reality Bites,” Bridget Jones’ Diary.” Or alternatively, Soul Mate stumbles upon Nice Guy/Girl’s path unexpectedly, subsequently messing up plans often matrimonial in nature: “The Wedding Planner,” “Arthur,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “A Room with a View.” If this is a romantic comedy, and often it is, generally all’s well that ends well and Nice Guy/Girl winds up in the arms that are destined to hold him/her until death do they part. And mean/stupid/boring Mr./Ms Wrong runs off with someone suitably mean/stupid/boring — or into a hole all by his/her lonesome where he/she probably belongs.

Then again, some of the more interesting love triangles aren’t so warm, cuddly or predictable, often involving cheating spouses. In “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” Tomas loves both his wife (Juliette Binoche) and his long-time mistress (Lena Olin). Frederick in “Chloé in the Afternoon” toys with the idea of playing with a nubile young thing, only to confirm that he still loves his wife. In “Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself,” a young wife falls for the suicidal brother of her husband, whom she also loves. While generally these situations settle themselves in favor of one of the prospective life mates, in some unfortunate cases, when easy excision of one of the triangle’s sides is not a possibility, somebody winds up dead. See “Unfaithful,” “Diaboliques,” “Deathtrap,” “Amantes.”

And then there are the really interesting cinematic three-way love affairs, those that don’t fit into any particular mold, tapping into the emotions ranging from the jealousy to bliss to homicidal rage that can occur when she loves him but he loves her, or he loves them both, or she can’t decide which one she loves best, which brings us back to “Days of Heaven,” one of the most devastating love triangle tales on film. (Then again, as I mentioned, it’s practically perfect.) Other refreshingly genre-bending tales of three-way love include Stephen Frears’ “Dangerous Liaisons,” which stars John Malkovich and Glenn Close as bored aristocrats in 18th century France who play with people’s lives as if they were hamsters in a habitrail, often through the art of seduction. Close shudders with glee, for example, when Malkovich beds a blushing bride-to-be (Uma Thurman) whose fiancé she once loved. She licks her lips, too, when he prepares to seduce a devout married woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) — but can she handle it if her partner in crime and in bed falls in love?

Other atypically appealing love triangles include “Cyrano de Bergerac,” the poetic soldier with a warm heart and enormous schnoz whose heartbreaking story has been depicted again and again, most famously by Gérard Depardieu (and by Steve Martin in the comically uplifting version, “Roxanne”). Cyrano loves Roxanne, but she yearns for the fine-featured Christian, who woos her with letters written by none other than Cyrano. Nobody wins in this triangular tale. Lessons are learned in “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” in which two teenagers (Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna) embark on an adventure with a sexy older woman (Maribel Verdú) that leaves their friendship forever altered. And in what is often considered the greatest love triangle of all, François Truffaut’s “Jules and Jim,” which also has best friends falling for the same girl, the Bohemian lovefest must inevitably and tragically come to an end — as do the days of heaven.

What makes Malick’s vision as powerful as Truffaut’s is the compassion we feel for all the characters involved. Nobody is wrong — they just act from the gut and the heart. And there is no clear wrong man or right man for Abby. Both are handsome and kind and both adore her. So who does not empathize as Bill watches his Abby marry another man? Or feel the farmer’s rage when he witnesses a kiss between Bill and his wife that is far from brotherly? And what about the girl caught between them, who is less given a point of view than the role of emotional catalyst for a violent, almost primal battle between two very different men — one gentle, one rash; one rich, one poor; both passionately in love with her? How can we not feel for this woman who pledges eternal fidelity to another man at the behest of her lover, only to find herself falling a little bit in love with the one who provides for her? With no reasonable resolution in sight, what heart does not ache as three people in love hurtle themselves toward inevitable doom?

“Day of Heaven” is playing at the Film Forum in New York through April 27 (official site).



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.