Sunday, October 20, 2013

Back To Skool: Suburban Utopia

I attended my first Midnites for Maniacs screening in six months in September.  Much has changed since then.  The triple features used to be held at the Castro Theater.  Now it's a split venue.  The first two films are screened at the Castro and the third film or midnight film is screened at the Roxie.  Host Jesse Hawthorne Ficks called it a theater crawl à la pub crawl.  I envision a procession of film-goers walking from the Castro to the Roxie although I have been told it is largely distinct audiences...only the most hardcore make it to midnight much less the trek between theaters.

The theme for the evening was "Back to Skool."  I only saw the first two films at the Castro.

Can't Hardly Wait starring Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ethan Embry, Charlie Korsmo, Lauren Ambrose, Peter Facinelli & Seth Green; directed by Deborah Kaplan; (1998)
The Rules of Attraction starring James van der Beek, Shannyn Sossamon & Ian Somerhalder; directed by Roger Avary; (2002) - Official Website


Can't Hardly Wait is a big party movie.  The movie takes place over one evening and most of it occurs during a high school graduation party.  I know there are many films that have used this plot device of having a large party be mechanism by which the characters can resolve long standing issues such as unrequited love and hidden resentment or finally reveal character flaws.

The main characters in Can't Hardly Wait are:

Amanda (Jennifer Love Hewitt), the prom queen who has just been dumped by her boyfriend of four years.
Preston (Ethan Embry), the nice guy who has been in love with Amanda since their freshman year.
Mike (Peter Facinelli), a jock, bully, BMOC, ex-boyfriend of Amanda (he dumped her so he could spend his summer before college having sex with yet to be identified women.
William Lichter (Charlie Korsmo), the class nerd who has been bullied and embarrassed by Mike for years and now has plans for payback at the party.
Denise (Lauren Ambrose) is Preston's gal pal who largely did not enjoy high school but goes with Preston to the party to morally support his effort to profess his love to Amanda
Kenny (Seth Green), a wigger and poseur who main purpose at the party is to lose his virginity.  He is also a former friend of Denise who ditched her in high school because she wasn't cool enough.

When I read those character descriptions, I recall that the film deals with some serious issues but it is a teen comedy.  Due to missed opportunities, Preston does not get a chance to reveal his love for Amanda (who doesn't know who he is anyway).  It's only through outlandish contrivances that Amanda finds his note which expresses his true feelings.  Denise and Kenny get locked in a bathroom together and come to terms with their past.

Lichter stalks Mike all night and gets drunk in the process.  After singing an impromptu but rousing rendition of Guns N' Roses' "Paradise City," Lichter becomes the life of the party.  Mike notices him and apologizes for the years of bullying.  In fact, they almost kiss which would imply that Mike's abusive behavior is a form of self-loathing.  He has to put on a hyper-masculine front in order to mast his homoerotic desires.  However, that's far too dark for the film to depict although I thought it was all but spelled out.  The kiss would have upset the target audience for the film.

As far as teen comedies go, this one was pretty good.  Peter Facinelli is great in the thankless role of Mike, a jerk whose insecurities are always just under the surface and Facinelli has to add a comedic take on his portrayal.  Facinelli has a long list of credits in films I haven't seen (mostly the Twilight series).  Lauren Ambrose also stood out but although she has a long list of credits (Psycho Beach Party), I remember Ambrose playing a sexually active, mentally retarded woman in particularly memorable Law and Order episode from 1998.


I was excited to see The Rules of Attraction which was based on a Bret Easton Ellis novel of the same name and directed by Roger Avary.  Avary (along with Quentin Tarantino) won an Oscar for the Pulp Fiction screenplay.

Like The Rules of Attraction (the film), I will jump back and forth in time while discussing it.  I liked the film so much that I read the book.  After reading the book, I liked the movie less.  Bret Easton Ellis has written two novels which have been adapted into well known films.  His first novel was Less Than Zero.  I have not seen the film adaptation in many years but would very much welcome a local screening.  Ellis' other well known work is American Psycho.  The 2000 film adaptation of that film was Christian Bale's breakout role.  Although the film nor Ficks explained this, the book makes clear that The Rules of Attraction occupy the same fictional universe as Less Than Zero and American Psycho.

James van der Beek's character in The Rules of Attraction is Sean Bateman.  He is the younger brother of Patrick Bateman, Bale's character from American Psycho.  The novel makes reference to a college student from California.  The Californian is Andrew McCarthy's character from Less Than Zero.  These cross reference add depth to the story if one is familiar with the works of Ellis.

After The Rules of Attraction, I was left with a sense that I had witnessed something extraordinary.  Set at the fictional Camden University, the film follows three characters who form a dysfunctional love triangle.  Van der Beek's Sean is a drug dealing college student who is the ambivalent object of Paul Denton (Ian Somerhalder) affection while simultaneously attracted to Lauren Hynde (Shannyn Sossamon).  There is a lot of sex and drugs in the film...much more than I experienced in college.  Told in a nonlinear fashion, we see the relationships develop and disintegrate over the course of a fall semester.

Lauren is a virgin (maybe she is simply celibate waiting for her boyfriend to return from Europe).  Sean is receiving anonymous love notes in his mailbox and he attributes them to Lauren.  Paul mistakes Sean's desire to make beer run as having homosexual overtones.  Sean, not too smart and frequently under the influence of drugs and alcohol, is oblivious to Lauren's disinterest and Paul's interest in him.

The film is this delirious mélange of cruel, clueless, selfish, stupid and immoral behavior; much of it centered on sex, the acquisition of drugs and repeated miscommunication.  It's funny, it's sad, it shocking at times.

Everything I wrote in the previous paragraphs applies to the novel also except the novel has a harder edge and the sex is amped up.  In the film, Sean and Paul consummate their relationship...repeatedly.  Similarly, Sean and Lauren become a couple.  Lauren has long since lost her maidenhood (although she does lose her virginity in the manner depicted in the film).  Paul has slept with Lauren's ex-boyfriend and Lauren as well.  Much of the book relates to how the character misinterpret each other's actions and words.  There is one seen where Sean is playing the guitar for Lauren.  She begins crying.  He interprets this a proof that his sensitive love song is having its desired affect.  The preceding chapter made clear that Lauren was crying because Sean's guitar playing was horrible and she was hungover.

My favorite scene in the film involves Paul asking Sean to go for Mexican food (their first date).  When Sean asks if Paul is buying, Paul responds "Totally buy" which is a double entendre for "totally bi."  That retort is not in the book although the reader does get the tidbit of knowing that Paul misheard Sean's question "Do you want to get a case of beer?"  Paul thinks Sean said "Do you want to get quesadillas?"

Anyway, the three lead actors are tremendous.  Although I know who James vad der Beek is, I cannot recall any of his film performances.  I don't believe I have seen Sossamon or Somerhalder before.  The Rules of Attraction is a dark comedy which made me laugh and cringe at the same time.


Also notable was Fick's introduction of The Rules of Attraction.  He said words to the effect that as you get older, the activities that used to give you pleasure no longer do so.  It could be construed as his own waning interest in the Midnites for Maniacs series.  I don't know if that is the case but his cryptic comments could be interpreted that way.  If my memory serves correctly, I believe he also lamented the death of 35 mm prints and single screen movie houses.  What happens when the Maniac hits middle age?  Matinees for Maniacs?

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