BINGE-R #44: I Love Dick + Three Weekend Movies
I LOVE DICK S1
Streaming Service: Amazon Prime Video
Availability: All eight episodes now streaming
Adapted from Chris Kraus’ 1997 memoir/novel, which detailed her obsession with the titular man, I Love Dick is a juicy concoction that satirises academic theory, enjoys the deconstruction of male iconography, and most of all immerses itself in the female psyche. Chris Kraus (the perpetually great Kathryn Hahn), is a struggling New York filmmaker who accompanies her husband, Sylvere (Griffin Dunne), to his fellowship in a small Texan town. There, creatively and sexually becalmed, she becomes fascinated by Dick (Kevin Bacon), a famous conceptual sculptor who founded the Institute of Marfa and now moves through it with the laconic poise of a gunslinger and the arrogance of a shaman. “Most films made by women aren’t that good,” he casually tells Chris when the trio have an introductory dinner.
The concise Amazon series was put together by Transparent creator Jill Soloway and playwright Sarah Gubbins, and there are eminent traces of the former’s remarkable comic-drama, most notably the ability to summon a sense of lives that are teetering on the brink of change without being aware of what is happening. Chris is offended, aroused, and creatively unleashed by Dick’s presence, and she starts penning letters to him – the format used in the book – that use desire as a device to remake herself. Read aloud the confessions reignite Chris and Sylvere’s sex life, although when she decides to present them to Dick her husband’s ardour quickly dissipates.
The difference between I Love Dick and Transparent is that – based on the first three episodes – the former doesn’t reach the bittersweet acceptance of the latter. Chris is a roiling, defiant presence, expertly played by Transparent veteran Hahn, and her back and forth can be both combative and comedic. If Dick is all Marlboro Man surfaces, Chris runs deep, although the show is not afraid to take note of her selfishness; “that is ours,” she righteously affirms to Sylvere holding one of the letters, less than a day before she deposits them all at Dick’s office.
The baffling claim that the characters lack likeability will be bandied around, but the unpredictability and craven self-interest makes for so much of the friction that underpins the narrative. The digs at the town’s expatriate artists and theorists are droll, and there are characters in the supporting cast that come into sharp focus, particularly an academic prodigy with her own agenda, Toby (India Menuez), and the Institute’s local jack-of-all-trades, Devon (Roberta Colindrez), who is inspired to write a play about a Chris-like character’s identity crisis. It flows smart and swift, and I Love Dick never bothers with the humour of cringe-inducing behaviour. It lets everyone be who they are, or at least who they think they need to be.
>> Bonus Binge: If you haven’t watched Jill Soloway’s masterful series Transparent, which documents the complex lives of a Los Angeles clan with a transgender father, please do. Both Stan and Amazon Prime Video have all three wonderful seasons.
THREE WEEKEND MOVIES
If you want a tense science-fiction thriller…
Midnight Special (Netflix, 2016, 111 minutes): Possessed of a gripping urgency that telescopes emotion into immediacy, the first studio film from American independent filmmaker Jeff Nichols (Mud, the recent Loving) is sparse with information and ultimately rich with familial love. Crossing America’s rural south, two armed men, Roy (Michael Shannon) and Lucas (Joel Edgerton), are escorting a boy with otherworldly powers, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) to an unknown destination. They’re wanted for kidnap, and pursued by both the U.S. government (Adam Driver makes a great geeky scientist) and a cult, but it’s obvious that they’re protecting Alton in a story which takes its cues from Starman and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Michael Shannon has been in the movies for years, but it’s only recently that his shattered intensity has been freed up from playing the heavy. In a film about wonder, his devoted Roy is the film’s lasting special effect.
If you’re after masterful dissection of the male mindset…
Chevalier (Stan, 2015, 101 minutes): Detached in tone but daring in execution, Athina Rachel Tsangari’s comedy is one of the great films of the Greek Weird Wave, a loose cinematic movement broadly rooted in the filmmaker’s fascination with society’s wilful acceptance of the untoward. On a yacht in the Aegean Sea six middle-class men sharing a holiday decide to formally judge which of them is “the best in general”. They compare sleeping positions and their reading voices, and it’s not too long before what sounds like a dick-measuring contest actually becomes a dick-measuring contest. There’s a surreal tinge to their interaction, which means that even as the stakes rise there’s no place for sentimentality. It’s a beautiful, bizarre film – some of the tableaus are the perfect etching of modern masculinity.
If you prefer a comically black war movie…
Full Metal Jacket (SBS on Demand, 1987, 112 minutes): Stanley Kubrick films have rarely filtered through to streaming services, so the arrival of his second last feature, one of the definitive Vietnam War movies, is a welcome development. Working in his adopted home of England – a derelict gasworks doubled as the war-torn city of Hue – Kubrick captures how the military system depersonalises the individual, beginning with his raw recruits undertaking United States Marine Corps basic training under the vituperative control of a drill instructor played by former drill instructor R. Lee Ermey. Sent to war, the soldiers can’t complete their missions – Matthew Modine’s Private Joker is a military reporter who can’t report anything – unless it involves dying. They get by on logistics and firepower, which would have appealed greatly to Kubrick, one of the cinema’s most demanding filmmakers.
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