Issue #25: The Wonders and Little Black Book

It's a avocado! Thankssss.

Happy New Year, my good fellows,

‘Tis a brand new year and a brand new opportunity to convince yourself that you could be better than you are now. But the truth is—and I will borrow the wise words of Ke$ha here—ultimately, “We R Who We R.” And me being crazy horny for Adam Sandler’s character in Uncut Gems is therefore beautiful and worth celebrating because it is, simply, me! No resolutions, just gonna keep being hot, horny, lazy, and bloated.

(But actually, if anyone could explain to me why this image does truly so much for me, I would appreciate it. My family is worried).

ANYWAYS, we’ve got a brand new year of HB/LB coming up. And though I will not make the mistake of actually committing to a publish schedule, I will say that my INTENTION is to get us back to bi-weekly. 

So, with that empty promise out of the way, I now give you HB/LB, numéro 25.

HIGHBROW

So, I don’t particularly like New York all that much. I grew up mostly in California where the weather stays litty and you can say “fer sure” and still be considered an intellectual. In New York, people have “discourse” and “depression” and all anyone can talk about is praxis and/or Mitski. It’s like, for one second in your goddamn life, can you loosen up your Everlane pants and think about something other than “Duane Reade”???

So why do I even live here? Because there is one experience that is so magical and so singularly New York that it makes me willing to put up with some of the rudest Sephora employees in the country (and perhaps even the world). I make the 45+ minute journey from my corner of Brooklyn to Lincoln Square in Manhattan. I ascend the escalator to the Walter Reade Theater. I use my college ID to scam my way into a cheaper movie ticket. I pick a seat in the dead-center of the usually empty theater. And I surrender myself to the cinematic experience. 

The film programmers at the Lincoln Center have introduced me to some of my favorite movies over the years. But one stands out as a particularly powerful movie-going experience. And that is Alice Rohrwacher’s Le Meraviglie (or The Wonders in Inglese). I’m telling ya, I’m a sucker for a European, femme-driven coming-of-age arthouse film. 

The Wonders tells the story of a family of honey producers living in the Italian countryside. The women of the family—a mother, her sister, and three young daughters—live under the authoritative charge of a curmudgeonly patriarch. Day in and day out, they tend to the bees, harvest their honey, sell their honey, and not much else. One day, as the girls are playing at a nearby beach, they stumble upon a TV shoot. They learn of a televised competition to find the most impressive Tuscan farmer, hosted by timeless hottie Monica Bellucci. What ensues is a touching tale about family, adolescence, sisterhood, love, and the desire to be seen. 

For me, the undeniable standout is Alexandra Maria Lungu, the then-fourteen-year-old protagonist of the film. She carries a quiet strength and the kind of guarded optimism that feels so unique to early adolescence. Her character Gelsomina is a classic eldest sister, a “good girl”—diligent, obedient, responsible, but she still finds moments to carry out her own little rebellions. Plus, she lets bees crawl all over her face which is baller to the maximus. We stan talented teens in arthouse films!

One of my favorite details about the film has to do with its production. In an interview for… um, Interview, the film’s director talks about the challenge of shooting with live bees and her very creative workaround—just do it illegally while the police are on holiday:

“There are a lot of laws, and it wasn’t always possible to observe laws to the letter. You aren’t supposed to shoot with bees because then the insurance won’t cover you, because bees are considered a wild animal, and they cannot be put down right away, so they’re classified as dangerous. In Italy there is a day when no one works—including the police—which is August 15, so we shot all the scenes with the bees on August 15.”

The Wonders is such a beautiful and moving film. It’s worth it for the setting alone. Just let Rohrwacher drop you in the middle of the Tuscan countryside, listen to the wind rush through the tall grass, watch the vats of honey glisten, and surrender yourself to the cinematic experience.

You can stream The Wonders on The Criterion Channel or rent her for $3.99 on iTunes and YouTube.  

LOWBROW

Okay, this one might legit make me cry. Because it stars the late, incredibly great, the one-and-only Brittany Murphy.

Ms. Murphy was THAT MID-2000s BITCH. I mean, you can’t ignore the filmography—Clueless, Drop Dead Gorgeous, Girl, Interrupted, Riding in Cars with Boys, 8 Mile… Daniel Day-Lewis WISHES. But one film that stands out to me as being especially transformative for tweenaged Simone is the 2004 romcom, Little Black Book.

And though Brittany Murphy is a massive draw in her own right, she is also flanked by an all-star cast. Well, maybe that’s a little generous. She’s flanked by stars Kathy Bates and Holly Hunter as well as others (such as Ron Livingston and Rashida Jones, such as). 

The film takes place mostly in Jersey (ok, chic!) at the studios of The Kippie Kann Show, a Jerry Springer/Maury type show hosted by A WOMAN (Kathy Bates). Brittany Murphy plays Stacy Holt, a new Associate Producer at Kippie Kann. And, as a character, Stacy falls into all the rom-com tropes: she’s White (love that for her), she’s thin, she’s got big pouty lips and wide, pleading eyes. She is basically like 🥺for the whole movie and I have to say, I really respect that acting choice. Stacy is a charmer—she’s career-oriented (her dream is to work with Diane Sawyer), which in rom-com speak means she’s not an idiot. But she’s also imperfect: she’s unprofessional at times, she’s very clumsy, she does cartwheels in a mini skirt. That’s rom-com for “she’s sexy in an approachable way and also not a bitch.” She lives with her boyfriend Derek and his dog Bob (because naming something “Bob” was the height of comedy in 2004), and they live a seemingly perfect life together. That is until Stacy’s coworker Barb (played by a smoking hot Holly Hunter) suggests taking a little peek into Derek’s little black book—his palm pilot. Yes, his palm pilot! Did someone say Paul Frank three times in front of a mirror? Because it just got hella naughties in here!! 

Romcom hilarity obviously ensues (though no one gets fucked the entire time—sad!) but what REALLY sets Little Black Book apart is the final third of the film. Now, it’s hard for me to tell you anything about it without completely spoiling it, but I will say it builds to the most insane, GENIUS climax and then resolves in the most satisfying and surprising way. And though the entire movie is basically about White women shitting on other White women over RON LIVINGSTON(‘s character), the politics of it are ultimately palatable because of where the movie ends up. Argh, I so want to tell you what happens!!! Just go watch it, it’s so so worth it.

I rented Little Black Book on Amazon, but it’s also available on iTunes and YouTube. I’ve noticed that lately, I’ve been forgoing the endless sifting through a streaming platform’s library and just started renting movies à la carte. I’m into it. Just something to consider.

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Okay, folks, that’s the first HB/LB of 2020 in the books! As always, thank you for your patronage.

Peace and health to you all in the new year!

Love and light. Stay in the positive, bitch.

xoxo,

Simone

P.S. If you were worried about I*ZONE after the last issue, fret not—it’s looking like the girls will continue to promote as a group! Let’s hope for more I*ZONE in 2020!