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DID YOU READ

“Stephanie Daley,” “Everything’s Gone Green”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: Amber Tamblyn in “Stephanie Daley” Regent Releasing, 2007]

“Stephanie Daley”

As I watched “Stephanie Daley,” I was overwhelmed with the notion that I was watching a “Sundance movie.” I’m not sure if such a concept has been fully delineated yet within the critical community; if not, it may be time. The closing credits indicate that writer/director Hilary Brougher workshopped her film at the Sundance Institute, and the finished product won a screenwriting award at the 2006 festival, which sort of feels like someone giving themselves a pat on the back, but never mind. From a purely technical standpoint, this is a “Sundance movie,” but even before I knew that concretely, I could feel it just by watching it. So what is a “Sundance movie?”

Author and scholar Thomas Schatz wrote in his book “Hollywood Genres” that as we watch more and more similar movies, “we develop expectations which, as they are continually reinforced, tend to harden into ‘rules.'” A few pages later he adds, “A genre, then, represents a range of expression for filmmakers and a range of experience for viewers.” And as I watched “Stephanie Daley,” I could feel those rules hardening around me.

If there is such a thing as a “Sundance movie,” then, and “Stephanie Daley” is such a picture, these would be the elements that apply. The basic plot is intensely melodramatic, but it is not played for melodrama: it is played for character study. The screenplay is very serious and almost totally free of any humor. The cinematography, by David Rush Morrison, is absolutely gorgeous, but it is also absolutely minimal, with a limited number of colors in the palette and a heavy emphasis on natural, realistic lighting. One could argue that the range of expression, both emotionally and visually, is somewhat narrow.

“Stephanie Daley”‘s raw narrative materials could quite easily make a very traditional Hollywood film. Its title character (Amber Tamblyn) is first seen leaving bloody footprints as she stumbles through the snow; we soon learn her condition stems from the fact that she’s just delivered a baby in a public bathroom stall. Months later, a pregnant forensic psychiatrist named Lydie Crane (Tilda Swinton) is assigned Stephanie’s case and tasked to uncover whether she murdered her newborn, as prosecutors claim, or whether the baby was, as the accused claims, stillborn. As a construction, it’s just about perfect and it’s easy to conceive of where a major studio would have taken the material, possibly as some kind of psychological thriller that would have turned Lydie into an investigator uncovering her subject’s dark secrets (think “Fargo” with more hot button-y birth rights issues).

Brougher takes an entirely different tack. Her “Stephanie Daley” is a mystery story that’s not really about its mystery — it’s rather a presentation of an air of suburban malaise and a certain kind of moral relativism (traits that also struck me as particularly “Sundance movie”-like). I will not say what Lydie learns about Stephanie or herself, but I will observe that whatever that might be is less important than what both characters ultimately come to see about themselves. Their own truths are more important than ours.

The range of experience for the viewer depends largely on that viewer’s own knowledge and expectations of Schatz’s rules. I certainly can’t fault the filmmaking craft involved. “Stephanie Daley” is powerfully acted — Tamblyn was justly nominated for a Spirit Award for her performance — and shot with a sort of cool, gloomy beauty. Me? I enjoy a good soapy melodrama now and then, and would have preferred a slightly more passionate take on the material. Ironically, such a movie would probably feel fresher now than Brougher’s, which was born of a place designed as an alternative to the mainstream that has now become a sort of mainstream all its own (if we called it “alternative” filmmaking instead of “independent,” a comparison to rock music in the 1990s would be particularly apt).

There was a certain disconnect between what I wanted the movie to be and what it actually is, but that doesn’t mean others won’t feel different (the rest of the crowd at the screening I attended seemed a good deal more enthralled than me). And anyway, criticizing what a movie isn’t is kind of dirty pool. No doubt Brougher made exactly the movie she wanted. It is a “Sundance movie.”

“Everything’s Gone Green”

When I spoke with author Douglas Coupland about “Everything’s Gone Green,” his first work as a screenwriter, at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival, he interrupted our interview and asked me how old I was. When I responded “26,” he grinned and told me, in all seriousness, that I was headed for “The worst year of my life.” Though I’ve (so far) found this not to be the case personally, Coupland clearly believes this statement to be true, because I just watched “Everything’s Gone Green” and there it is again. After he’s lost his job, his girlfriend, a potential fortune in lottery winnings, all in one day, Ryan (Paulo Costanzo), who is only a couple years my senior, is told by a buddy, “Your twenties suck, the worst period of your life. You’re lonely. You feel like your head’s being blowtorched from the inside. And you don’t even know what it is because we were never even taught the words to describe it. So you feel like an idiot and a loser.”

Listening to “Everything’s Gone Green”‘s dialogue, and judging from my brief but very amusing interview with Coupland himself, it appears that a lot of the characters are speaking for the author. All of the major characters go off on rants about their surroundings and their inherent flaws and idiosyncrasies, though they are almost entirely of a very laid back “D’ja ever notice?” variety. As such, the film, directed by Paul Fox, doesn’t adhere to the popular show-don’t-tell rule of filmmaking, but a lot of these mini -lectures about bacon-wrapped scallops or summer office cruises are very funny, at least in a very laid back “D’ja ever notice?” way.

After he loses his job and most of his financial and sexual prospects, Ryan winds up working for the lottery itself, where his job is to interview winners for the free circular the company has to provide to prove that the whole operation isn’t just one big Ponzi scheme. And so the relatively broke Ryan gets to document financial success of a kind with which he will almost certainly never find himself up close and personal. It should go without saying that the movie will ultimately prove (over and over again) that the happiness brought on by massive influxes of undeserved cash is hollow and very short-lived.

Ryan’s love interest is an intriguing woman named Ming (Steph Song) who works as a set decorator on the many American film productions that roll through their hometown of Vancouver. Her job ultimately comes down to disguising British Columbia so that it looks like Anytown, U.S.A., which gives Coupland the opportunity to poke fun at American movies as well as to observe how after a while they all become completely interchangeable. And, to an extent, “Everything’s Gone Green” is sort of an anti-movie. There is a plot, but it is not pushed forward with any sort of muscular intensity, and any deterrents that stand in our heroes’ paths are deflated for big laughs before they can actually do them any harm.

The artwork on the wall of Ryan’s apartment in the beginning of the movie — the one he gets kicked out of when his girlfriend dumps him — reads “small, manageable dreams,” an idea echoed by a road sign that Ryan drives past in the closing shots that says “choose not to lose.” Ryan doesn’t really grow, then, he finds his earlier beliefs tested and then affirmed. He should aim low, why the hell not? Coupland certainly obeyed his own dictum here: “Everything’s Gone Green” is far from revolutionary, but it is light and fun and won’t tax you too much in exchange for ninety entertaining minutes. Ryan comes out the other side of the worst year of his life in pretty good shape. I hope for my sake I do the same.

“Stephanie Daley” opens in New York on April 20th (official site); “Everything’s Gone Green” is currently playing in New York opening wider on April 20th (official site).

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SO EXCITED!!!

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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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.”

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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. 

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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-Craft

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?”

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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).

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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.

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