Saturday, 18 February 2012

Is it just me or are the MILFs getting younger? (Timberlake x 2)

Mother, Wife, Daughter. In Time (Niccol 2011)
Watching a pair of recent Justin Timberlake films brought to mind Philip Larkin’s poem On Being 26:

I feared these present years,
   The middle twenties,
When deftness disappears,
And each event is
Freighted with a source-encrusting doubt,
   And turned to drought.

I thought: this pristine drive
   Is sure to flag
At twenty-four or -five;
And now the slag
Of burnt-out childhood proves that I was right.
   What caught alight

Quickly consumed in me,
   As I foresaw.
Talent, felicity—
These things withdraw,
And are succeeded by a dingier crop
   That come to stop;

I’d imagine these sentiments might have wrung true for Andrew Niccol. After selling the screenplay for The Truman Show for something around $1 million before he was 30, his directorial debut Gattaca garnered little more than a film maudit cache and subsequent projects Simone and Lord of War have done little to increase his reputation.

His latest, In Time, quite neatly illustrates the post-adolescent despair fingered by Larkin. It is the future, and now, for reasons the filmmakers seem reluctant to explain, 25 is your limit. After that you’re on the clock - 365 days to be traded or spent before it’s lights out. And so we have a Hollywood film in which looking over 25 is a psychical impossibility, rather than the normal sad inconvenience.

Like another recent Thanatos themed crowd pleaser, 50/50, In Time probes into the narcissistic morbid fantasy world of pretty, pain free death. Neatly, the film speaks to the mummy complex in both the Bazinain and the Pound-shop Freud sense. Not only do we have a tidy example of what Bazin called the ”object freed from the conditions of time”, we also have on our hands (with Timberlake’s mother being played by Oliva Wilde, 27, quadrupling the reverse mother-son age gap of Cary Grant and Jessie Royce Landis in North by Northwest) a rather nice oedipal drama.

Or maybe we would, but she snuffs it at the end of Act 1.

However, Niccol does go on to look at the practicalities of inter-generational love making in a world without aging. When Timberlake spots a prospective partner (Amanda Seyfried), his adversary (Vincent Kartheiser) verbalises the crisis: “Confusing times. Is she my mother, my sister, my daughter? You hoping she’s not my wife. Things used to be simpler once, so I’m told.” She is revealed as his daughter, but quite what difference it would make if she was his mother or sister isn’t really questioned. When Milfs (or for that matter Gilfs) are on a level psychical playing field, surely experience would count for something, no?

The subject of Milfs crops up again in the dirty hook-up comedy, Friends with Benefits. In this film aging is real, and a real problem. Timberlake’s father (Richard Jenkins, 64) has dementia which manifests itself in a dislike for trousers. Timberlake’s acute embarrassment at his pant-dropping dad is mirrored in his fuck-buddy’s equally troublesome mother. Mila Kunis’ mother (Patrica Clarkson, 52) may have all her marbles, but her free-spirited sexuality is a cause for concern for her erotically pragmatic daughter. She stores her number in Timberlake’s phone under Milf, and wastes little time in feeling up his SexyFront.

Clarkson’s sexuality is messy, complicated fun. Whereas for all the transgressive talk of the younger pair, sex for them is merely a transaction, a form of pain relief comparable to visiting the chiropractor. If in Niccol’s film time is currency, in Benefits it’s genital fluid that sustains the economy.

All this makes Timberlake’s recent support for the Real Men Don’t Buy Girls campaign all the stranger. Benefits is all about eliminating the emotional cost of sexual relationships, a very mid/late twenties concern, and not one that seems to trouble the milfish older generation. The 70s bohemian grass, glue and a bit of what you fancy  sexuality, has given way to a more rigid, compartmentalised, iPhone to-do-list version of free love.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised, as a recent academic study (Sexual Economics: Sex as Female Resource for Social Exchange in Heterosexual Interactions, Baumeister and Vohs 2011) showed:

A heterosexual community can be analyzed as a marketplace in which men seek to acquire sex from women by offering other resources in exchange. [...] The sexual activities of different couples are loosely interrelated by a marketplace, instead of being fully separate or private, and each couple's decisions may be influenced by market conditions. Economic principles suggest that the price of sex will depend on supply and demand, competition among sellers, variations in product, collusion among sellers, and other factors.

It's the economy, stupid.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Drinking/Fucking/Fighting (notes on Haywire and Shame)

In the opening scene of Stephen Soderberg’s Haywire, Mallory (Gina Carano) is joined at her window diner booth by Aaron (Channing Tatum). Off screen, a waitress asks for his order. “You don’t have beer?” “No, I wish.”

Soon we flashback from icy, sober Upstate New York, to the warmer, boozier world of Barcelona. Mallory and Aaron are agents for hire, involved in a plot too complicated to fathom, let alone recount. As Mallory dispatches various unlucky adversaries she never seems far away from a bottle of wine (red, white, still, sparkling; this girl isn’t encumbered by any restrictive poison fetish like her dullard prototype, Bond). In Haywire, characters chug it back like extras in a Hong Sang Soo movie. Perhaps Soderberg was aware of Carano’s party history when casting, but whatever the reason the film is no doubt enlivened by having it’s characters refreshingly refreshed. And as we all know, getting beaten up doesn’t hurt half as much when you’re a bit pissed.


Later, in Dublin, she is set up on a fake date with Paul (Michael Fassbender), an Irishman happy to ditch the pints of the black stuff when the situation demands it. Peter Bradshaw wagged how the best way to enjoy Haywire was to imagine that Fassbender is still playing his character from Shame, but I’d have it the other way around.

The scene in which Mallory and Paul go at it in a hotel bedroom (see clip) is livelier, more guttural, and, dammit, sexier than anything in Steve McQueen’s flat film. Haywire is, thankfully, shameless in depicting people getting their kicks. And Carano is right in her likening of fighting to sex:  "If you think about it, it's a very real interaction between two human beings, and it's like an energy. You have a real energy, and I have an energy, an energy that nobody else is going to share."

Perhaps it’s this very real interaction that’s missing from Shame. Talking about sex addiction in Sight and Sound Fassbender noted that “it’s not all a terrible affliction. There are definitely moments of fun, and that’s why it’s such a powerful drug.” But where are these moments? Watching Fassbender smothered between the thighs of Carano tells us more about human sexuality than the parade of monotonous humpings in Shame.


Also, in Haywire nobody wears a really annoying scarf.