Wednesday, December 30, 2015

LIZ SMITH: Reading, Enjoying and Agreeing

Happy, Merry, Holly Jolly ...
by Liz Smith

David O. Russell Presents the "Joy" of Jennifer Lawrence ... The Best and Worst in Magazine Covers ... Reading, Enjoying and Agreeing With Alexander Woollcott.

Alexander Woollcott and Harpo Marx.
"OSCAR LEVANT came and went like a tornado, accompanied by his pregnant bride, and staying here at the Fairmont because I had suggested it. As it is extremely expensive, he grew more bitter with every check he had to sign. My major triumph was seeing to it that his telephone call to Harpo Marx, which he made from my room, was charged to his."

That is the great and delicious drama critic Alexander Woollcott, in a letter to screenwriter/director Charles Lederer in 1940.

I came across this — and so much more! — in a book that had lain dormant on my shelf for some time: "The Letters of Alexander Woollcott" published in 1944, a year after his death. Now that I've read it again, there will be no shortage of Woollcott in this space! More on that later.
WHAT HAPPENS when you mix a melodramatic telenova with Donna Summer's "She Works Hard for the Money" video, throw in some Cinderella and Snow White and a pinch of a director's adamant admiration for one particular actress?

You get David O. Russell's "Joy" starring Jennifer Lawrence. (What Bette Davis was to William Wyler, Marlene Dietrich to Josef von Sternberg, Grace Kelly to Alfred Hitchcock, Ann-Margret to George Sidney, so is Lawrence to Russell in their third movie melding.)
Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Mangano.
"Joy," which also stars Robert De Niro, Isabella Rossellini, Bradley Cooper, Virginia Madsen, Diane Ladd, Edgar Ramirez, and Elisabeth Rohm, is a fantastic hot mess of a movie that has so many disparate elements it will surely take more than one viewing to adequately admire or dislike it.

The movie is based, more or less, on the true story of an oppressed but strong-willed housewife, Joy Mangano, who invents the famous "miracle mop" that becomes a big seller on QVC — back in day when QVC was "new."
Joy Mangano.
Joy has to fight for every bit of, well, joy in her life. It's up and down and up and down. She is an empowered woman with a crazy family who simply won't back away from bettering herself, proving herself. Jennifer Lawrence, as Joy, is essentially miscast — too young, too inherently optimistic. But she triumphs nevertheless. She is a deeply invested actor, whose future right now seems limitless. It's Oscar-nomination time, again.
There's not a bad performance in "Joy," and some are quite brave. (Rossellini, as a wealthy, mean-spirited widow who has the ability to finance Joy's miracle mop dream.) There is also a mind-bending cameo by Melissa Rivers, playing her mother, Joan. I'm still thinking on that one.
Isabella Rossellini showing no joy.
Melissa Rivers playing her mom.
The movie seems, at first, one thing, then another and then pushes hard as a feminist chronicle. It is an uneven work and not as uplifting as you might imagine, but there is so much that is fascinating and admirable. I can't see how anyone interested in cinema can ignore it. It's an overstated soap opera and a grim fairy tale, wrapped around a character who wants nothing more than to wring the most out of her life and her mop.
KIM KARDASHIAN remains oppressive — I mean, omnipresent! — in popular culture. But perhaps the bloom is off the booty? Adweek reported that Kardashian's cover stories on Life & Style and Star magazine were among the year's worst-sellers. I know, like she cares?
Others whose name or face didn't attract readers include Pope Francis on People and Sarah Jessica Parker on Cosmopolitan and Harpers Bazaar. Among the best-sellers were the People magazine divorce cover on country music's Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert.

Also, Stevie Nicks' Rolling Stone cover was one of the top three of the year for that magazine. We love Stevie, too.
"IT struck me that when you're really rich, you can never be sure whether you're truly charming, sexy or funny. I'll bet the rich lose a lot of sleep over that. Right."

That's from a nifty 2003 thriller, "Private Sector" by Brian Haig. (People know my love of thrillers and history, so I often receive books I've missed from thoughtful friends.) I liked this one quite a bit. My one complaint was author Haig's constant use of the word "ass." It seemed to come into every conversation or musing. I suppose it's better than an over-abundance of the F-word, which I really find tiring. Not offensive, just unimaginative.

Otherwise, "Private Sector" was a lot of fun. Haig, who was a real military man before he became an author, had a new one this year, "The Night Crew."
THIS will be my last column for 2015. It has been quite a year, especially in the world of politics. Next year will be cataclysmic, one way or another. (Both parties are fighting for their very lives!)

I've been taken to task by some readers for being "too political" in 2015. But that is nothing new. I recall, back in 2007, people writing in swearing they'd never read me again if they had to endure one more word about Hillary or Obama. Most of them are still reading me.
I don't exist in a showbiz bubble of current or past celebrities, as much fun as all that is. I am a real person with real concerns, an American who thinks America is still the greatest place to be. Not a perfect place, but perfection is a ridiculous concept. How can I avoid, for instance, commenting on presidential candidates attending a convention that degenerated into a "kill homosexuals" rally? (I mean you, Ted Cruz.) Shall I really not ever refer to climate change or racism or sexism and misogyny or the crippling over-abundance of political correctness?
I do want this space to be an escape, most of the time, from the grim reality of lives that cherish juicy movie close-ups, exclusive quotes, special screenings, Botoxed faces, extramarital dallying and nostalgic history. But I can't escape reality, and I wouldn't want to. This is my outlet, and sometimes I must have my own fling.

In that spirit, I will share a portion of a 1935 letter Mr. Alexander Woollcott wrote to Cream of Wheat, the sponsor of his radio program, "Town Crier," after they insisted "You will agree to refrain from including in your broadcasts material of controversial nature which, in our opinion, would be offensive to individuals or groups in the audience."

Woollcott responded in part: "Now, in these broadcasts the Town Crier has for several years been freely reporting his likes and dislikes on the books, plays, pictures, prejudices, manners and customs of the day. In undertaking such a column, he could not with self-respect agree in advance never to take pot shots at such targets as Hitler or Mussolini. Or, for that matter, any other bully, lyncher or jingo whose head happened to come within shooting distance. If he did embark upon a series thus hamstrung in advance, his own interest in the broadcasts would so dwindle that they would deteriorate in short order."

Happy New Year, dear readers. Fasten your seatbelts. It's gonna be a bumpy 2016!
Contact Liz Smith here.