Thursday, September 12, 2013

Plimpton & Swanberg at the Roxie

I saw two films at the Roxie recently.

Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton As Himself; documentary; directed by Tom Bean & Luke Poling; (2012) - Official Website
Drinking Buddies starring Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick & Ron Livingston; directed by Joe Swanberg; (2013) - Official Website

I recall watching Paper Lion (1968) on television around the time I was 10 years old.  Alan Alda played George Plimpton.  I was surprised that he could play a role other than Hawkeye Pierce so well.  I'd be very interested in seeing Paper Lion again to see how it holds up to a second viewing 30 years later.

For those who are unaware, the late George Plimpton had two careers.  He was the long-time editor-in-chief of The Paris influential literary journal.  Paper Lion was based on his other job - he would compete in professional sporting events and write about his experience.  Frequently he was on assignment for Sports Illustrated but he published several novels from his experiences.  Paper Lion was about his experiences at the Detroit Lion preseason training camp.  Not a particularly gifted athlete, Plimpton wrote from the perspective of an amateur and these works were quite popular evidenced by the fact that his association with Sports Illustrated lasted several years.  He called this "participatory journalism."

Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton As Himself sheds light on the man behind these stunts.  He was born to a prominent New York family.  He went to the ultra prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy before being expelled his senior year.  Despite this stain (the details weren't too clear), Plimpton was admitted to Harvard.  It was probably there that he met Robert F. Kennedy.  It turns out that Plimpton and the Kennedy family were great friends.  In fact, Plimpton's brother speculates Plimpton dated Jacqueline Kennedy (née Bouvier).  Plimpton was present at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles when RFK was assassinated and is credited with helping to wrestle Sirhan Sirhan to the ground after the shooting.

It's clear that Plimpton led a fascinating life.  His parties in 1960s and 70s are famous and the photos show a Who's Who of literary greats of the era.

The film, like the man, is enjoyable and clever but seems to be superficial and a waste of talent.  Although his work at The Paris Review is discussed, most of the film focuses on his athletic endeavors and famous acquaintances.  I doubt that people unfamiliar with Plimpton would be interested in the film although I suspect that if forced, tricked or wandered into watching the film, most people would say they enjoyed it.

Earlier this year, I saw four films directed by Joe Swanberg at the Roxie.  Swanberg was in attendance.  I enjoyed those films and at the time, he mentioned his latest film starred Olivia Wilde.  Roxie programmer Mike Keegan chimed in that the film would play at the Roxie.  That film was Drinking Buddies and it opened at the Roxie the Friday before Labor Day.

Filmed in Swanberg's homebase of Chicago, Drinking Buddies follows two couples.  Olivia Wilde & Ron Livingston are Kate & Chris and the other couple is Jake Johnson & Anna Kendrick as Luke & Jill.  Kate & Luke are co-workers at a microbrewery.  They are close friends; actually they are closer than "close" they are comfortable and intimate (in a non-sexual way) with each other.  I'd be suspicious of them if I were Chris or Jill.

The two couples spend a weekend together and tensions develop.  Chris is attracted to Jill and the attraction between Kate & Luke has been established since the opening scene.  I thought they would switch partners but Swanberg takes the film in a different direction.    After the weekend getaway, Chris immediately breaks up with Kate.  It is alluded to that he makes tentative moves towards Jill but she isn't ready to move on.  Jill wants to get married and Luke is dragging his feet.  Trying to force a decision, Jill decides to take a trip to Costa Rica or somewhere.

This leave Kate & Luke alone for a week.  Kate doesn't seem to mourn her relationship with Chris.  The next day, she sleeps with one of her coworkers and this bother Luke.  Ostensibly it is because of various other reasons but you must suspect it bothers him that Kate slept with a co-worker not named Luke.

Ever the loyal & dependable friend, Luke helps Kate move from her apartment.  She hasn't even cleaned up her apartment much less prepared for a move.  If Luke was the irresponsible one in his relationship with Jill, he is the responsible one in his relationship with Kate.  I think this is very telling about him.

Anyway, Kate seems offended that Luke has not taken any opportunities to sleep with her while Jill is away and they have a fight.  When Jake returns home, he finds Jill has returned early from her trip.  It is deliberately left vague as to the reason for her return.  One interpretation is that she was actually meeting Chris and it didn't work out.  Regardless, the events during their separation seem to have renewed their relationship.  The film ends ambiguously with Jake and Kate at work, sharing food and seemingly poised to renew their oddly intimate friendship.

This film reminded me of my youth.  It explores the boundaries between various types of relationships young people of opposite genders have.  Kate & Jake have been cheating on their significant others but rather than sexual betrayal, they have engaged in emotional betrayal.  In some sense, they got from each other what they couldn't get from their respective partners.  Looked at rationally and politely, the two are simply friends but given a glimpse their partners are not afforded, it is clear Kate and Luke are more than friends.

You see these kinds of intergender relationships frequently in school.  At least, I did in college and high school.  As one ages, this kind of behavior seems juvenile and unhealthy.  It usually evolves into something else where the sexual act is consummated or banished or the two parties stop having contact with each other for various reason.  As the film ends, my first thought was that Kate should get a new job; preferably far from Chicago.

Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson are tremendous in their roles.  Childish and at times selfish, you get the sense both will turn out to be great spouses in five years time (Luke more than Kate).

Drinking Buddies rang true to life which I'm sure was Swanberg's goal.  Another spot-on detail which I recognized was the copious amounts of beer they drank.  Out of school, most young people can drink amazing amounts of beer...amazing to someone my age.  Older and allegedly wiser, I have to wonder how much of their relationship troubles would be solved by not being in a constant beer induced haze.

Olivia Wilde's fiancé Jason Sudekis (Saturday Night Live) has a small role in the film as Luke and Kate's boss.

Drinking Buddies has enhanced my opinion of Swanberg's work.

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