So this is what independent film has come to, has it? After years and years of struggling to get it the respect it deserves as a valid art form, this is what we get? “Junebug”? I really don’t see how this does any justice to the advancement of the medium of independent film or how it can be remotely confused with the “art” part of “valid art form”.
If I have to see such annoying, melodramatic, middle-class angst again I might have to demolish something significantly large. “About Schmidt” was bad enough; why do we have to be tricked into this type of viewing under the guise of so-called independent cinema? I’m sorry, but I really could not care less about the lives of these ridiculously petty people and their ridiculously petty problems, or the ridiculous simplicity of their sheltered, padded lives masqueraded as what human complexity really looks like.
“Junebug” is part of a pattern I’ve seen emerge in the field but have not, until now, been able to articulate. Other notable examples are “Sideways” and “The Baxter” (which I previously gave a good review; I am blinded by good comedy, but this does not make null my review).
I am unable to see past the fact that these people are culturally and economically privileged in ways that they are pitifully unaware of (which is, hugely, the point and the success of privilege, but I won’t go into that right now), and that this totally invalidates their whining on so many levels. And before you ask, yes yes I know that everyone has problems and just because someone’s privileged in one or more ways does not make their problems less important. To them, perhaps, but must we all suffer through them?
I myself have had lived multiple economic lifestyles and can honestly say that no time was more intense nor my problems so real as when I was struggling to eat, pay bills, live in livable conditions, work shitty jobs with enough enthusiasm to fool people, not hate myself for wasting away my life, all while suffering physically and emotionally, largely due to said problems. I have used this as a way to comfort myself when having issues now (“Well,” I tell myself, “at least you’re not back where you used to be, and no matter how bad it gets now, at least you pulled yourself out of that single-handedly”). And though I know I have this privilege now, I didn’t always, and in that sense my privilege can never blind me to the real troubles of life.
And that’s why I can’t stand middle-class angst. It’s like “Catcher In The Rye” which- good points aside- may likely have started all this mess. And it’s not that I don’t want to like these people- I do, I honestly do- it’s just that I can’t take them seriously.
Class stuff aside, I’m really getting tired of films portraying these utterly unlovable people, and telling me that I really ought to love them in spite of their idiosyncrasies and fucked-up ideologies. In fact, I’m supposed to love them because of their idiosyncrasies and fucked-up ideologies. I should love them for who they are, because no one’s perfect. Ok, no one is perfect, but if someone is just plain fucked-up, shouldn’t they be expected, or at least encouraged, to change?
And that’s another thing! There was no arc in “Junebug” or “Sideways”, no real frickin’ story! Not in the strictest sense, anyway. You can argue how these films supposedly are more of a “slice-of-life” than the traditional beginning-middle-end story-line, and how postmodernly and liberatingly wonderful that is, but I’m not buying it. Because I love slice-of-life stories. Love ’em to pieces.
But there’s slice-of-life and then there’s just plain bollocks. There’s using the term as an excuse to cover up a shoddy narrative. Because slice-of-life stories offer insight into the human condition through mundane, every-day events, where the focus in on the character. And by character I don’t mean pointless quirky traits like “Junebug”‘s “he always cheats at car games”. I mean real, spiritual, philosophical, psychological insight.
Harry Belafonte said that “the purpose of art is not just to show life as it is, but to show life as it should be”, and I agree with him 100%. The traditional narrative form allows us a heightened view of reality which can “show life as it should be”. The newer and more rare slice-of-life form can “show us life as it should be” by nakedly displaying every-day existence and offering it up for a critique. (Two of my favorite examples being “Chicago Cab” and “The Same Side Of Rejection Street”.)
This new pattern of cinema (for the love of god, please do not let it become an era) does neither. I’m not quite sure what it does, except act as navel-gazing or circle-jerking to the whiny, spiritually unhappy, materialistic, “bohemian” bourgeoisie.