The Unseen Destruction of Nations

The Unseen Destruction of Nations (photo)

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Kelly Reichardt’s “Wendy & Lucy” may be — in competition only with Lance Hammer’s “Ballast” — the best film of 2008, and both movies have been so underseen by the public that they could be said to have not been released at all. (Or, at least, not publicized at all.) Critics saw them, though, and none that I know of have walked away unamazed by the simple but torrential forces of intimate storytelling told with a correctly situated camera and a respect for real people. “Ballast” is the more visually stealthy of the two, but Reichardt’s film is almost a structuralist triumph: how to make the most emotionally wrenching indie of the new era with as little narrative as possible. Based, like Reichardt’s “Old Joy,” on a short story by Jon Raymond, “Wendy” is as simple as a real catastrophe: a young homeless woman loses her dog. And the film’s genuine power comes not from transcending or expanding that piddling premise, but making the situation burn on your eyes like sulfur. Returning again to the north Pacific coast, where the grim weather only reflects the economic dourness at hand, Reichardt is so patiently focused on her heroine’s plight in life that you sense it’d be an injustice to read her as a metaphor for the economically disenfranchised swarming under affluent America’s loud-mouthed middle class.

Of course, the film isn’t about Lucy the dog but Wendy (Michelle Williams), a young woman of indeterminate origin traveling alone in her old car with only a pocketful of carefully accounted-for cash, hoping to make it from the worn-out ‘burbs of Oregon, where she finds herself, to the salmon canneries of Alaska. She is rousted, gently, from sleeping in a Walgreens parking lot, but then her car dies — and immediately we feel the sky begin to fall on her, and we see the dead ends cropping up all over Wendy’s life. When she attempts to steal a few cans of dog food from a supermarket, she’s caught and arrested, while Lucy is tied up helplessly to a bike rack outside. Hours tick by — the suspense is agonizing to a degree the makers of modern thrillers could only dream about — and when she finally gets released, dumping a chunk of her savings on a fine, she returns to find the dog gone.

05052009_wendyandlucy2.jpgOn foot and friendless in the middle of nowhere, Wendy hunts for her companion, but the seeming impossibility of the task — and of Wendy’s predicament in general — is so convincing and upsetting the movie takes on the flavor of a personal trauma. The intimacy we share with Williams’ lost girl is breathtaking, managed as it is simply by an attentive soundtrack (you remember the sound of her breath long after the movie’s over), a camera placement strategy that somehow avoids agendas, and the actress’ formidable grip on her time and place and exactly how little emotion such a luckless woman would show the world in the worst of times. Williams has proven to be a faultless, often bruisingly naked actress, and here she is as completely submerged into a four-dimensional real person as any performer we’ve seen this decade. Which means, frankly, you could walk by her on the street and take no notice.

But “Wendy and Lucy” effortlessly evokes a larger reality — this is the reality of 99% of United States communities: decaying infrastructure, Wal-Mart sustenance, gone-to-weed neighborhoods, lives ruled by petty commerce and hollowed out by poverty. There’s not a fake moment or image anywhere, and the everydayness of the story becomes, in effect, its own tragedy. It’s fair to say, from the most objective standpoint, that the movie tests the tensile strength of your own innate empathy, and if you’re unmoved, the failure is yours. Which is, inevitably, over-hype: like its heroine, Reichardt’s movie is a vulnerable, small-boned, fragile thing in a world where digital hyper-editing and bullet-time violence command attention. By today’s standards, it’s virtually an anti-movie, a glimpse of a snapshot of a minor occurrence. But it’s far closer in its way to what movies are fundamentally about than 10,000 “Wolverine”s and “Hannah Montana”s.



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.