20 November 2012

Baby Brother, by 50 Cent and Noire, and Friends with Kids

I put in some good work today, and at some point decided to give myself the rest of the day off and indulge in some light entertainment. I ended up reading Baby Brother and immediately thereafter going to the movies to see Friends with Kids. Pardon my profanity, but what the fuck is wrong with pop culture these days. Friends with Kids features a long-running schtick about picking which awful fate you'd prefer (dying of disease yourself vs watching the love of your life die; getting eaten by alligators or sharks, etc), so taking a page from their book, I'm gonna say that if you have to pick one, go with Baby Brother. But neither choice is an entirely good one.

Baby Brother starts off with a nice dose of pornography (no doubt thanks to Noire, who has penned quite a few entirely decent one-handed reads). It's not the most eloquent erotica I've ever read, but it's graphic and steamy and kind of fun (except for the use of the term "gushy" to describe a woman's genitals. "Her warm gushy." Gross.). But the book isn't all happy sexy time, oh no, it's actually violent as shit and pretty disturbing. I don't know if credit goes to Noire or 50 Cent for this, but the same descriptive powers that bring you the thrills of pleasurable intercourse turn out to be just as vivid when describing rape and ultra-violence. If only they were anywhere near as potent in generating reasonable plot or psychological depth. But alas.

I will give the book credit though, the plot was not entirely predictable. I won't give it away, but about halfway through there's a twist that I was not expecting at all. Meanwhile though, the book suffers from some serious moral paradoxes. It's ostensibly a moralistic tale that seems to want to persuade the troubled youth of the world to get out of the game, but as so many of these things do, it also can't help but glorify some of the more horrific sides of it and basically engineer a state of exception where genuine morality is no longer an acceptable option - the 'monster' must emerge. Sure, he allegedly gets killed off once again and everyone can become upright citizens, but really, how persuasive is that? It's like telling an alcoholic that they can totally go clean, they just need that one last binge first to tie off some loose ends. Right.

Also, seriously, who is the audience for this book? Because for all its ostentatious use of dialect and slang, the language rings unbelievably hollow. It really feels like choice words are being thrown in to give it that "urban" feel, but without actually inhabiting the language. Is this a novel meant for people who actually talk like this? Or is it for suburban white kids looking for thrills?

Weirdly, in some sense the most disturbing scene to me is actually not the rape or ultra-violence, but this one really awful moment where a guy is in a hotel room with a woman he finds completely revolting, but who gives fantastic head. The narrator describes, with excruciatingly painful realism, how the guy is watching this woman and basically trying to get what he wants out of her while giving her as little in return as possible. It's so awful and unpleasant. And, incidentally, a totally unnecessary scene. Unfortunately, it's probably the most genuine moment of psychological portrayal the book has. I hated it.

But for all its flaws, and there are many, the book is kind of a page-turner. I was really sort of interested in what would happen next. I found it interesting as a cultural product, and enjoyed the puzzle of working out how a book like this got written. Not so for Friends with Kids, which I pretty much hated most of the way through.

To start with the strengths, there were some funny moments. They were mostly of the cringe-inducing variety, but in terms of comedies of manners, it has a few good scenes. If you were being really charitable, you could even say that it does a halfway decent job portraying one normal couple. Also, I love Jon Hamm. I can't help it. I just do. Even when he's being a shit. Maya Rudolph was more likeable than usual to me as well, and that dude who was the cop in Bridesmaids was pretty funny. Kristen Wiig, unfortunately, was  at best a wallflower, at worst a downer, for most of the movie. I guess this is because all the annoying aspects of her typical character got displaced onto Jessica Westfeldt, who was completely unbearable. Hated her in Kissing Jessica Stein, hated her in this. Her neurotic, insecure schtick makes me crazy.

The plot of this movie has exactly the same problems Kissing Jessica Stein did, namely, it takes an interesting and complex issue that is in some ways topical and imagines two unbelievably narcissistic characters who have no concept of complexity negotiating the problem. At first everything seems great, as if the world really were as simplistic as they had thought, but then over the course of the movie they come to realize that actually they were all wrong and the most conservative and stodgy line of reasoning is actually the correct one, thus seemingly solving the problem altogether, but actually just denying that it exists. Way to go.

I generally don't like Hollywood romance. But this one was interminable. By the last half hour, my friend and I were pleading with the screen for the torture to end ("Can't we just montage our way out of this?"). You know how it's gonna end, you just wish they'd hurry up and get there. And actually, for a movie that spans 6 years, they actually barrel through the basics pretty quickly, choosing to report on major plot points rather than actually depict them.

Overall - ugh. Mindless fun is not very fun. 

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