Monday, July 8, 2013
As Cool as I am 
As Cool as I am  (directed by Max Mayer, screenplay by Virginia Korus Spragg, based on the novel by Pete Fromm) is an appropriately R-rated "coming of age" film (but Parents note that for BOTH better and worse, it is IMHO about much more than about just that). The film is about a teenage girl named Lucy (played by Sarah Bolger) growing up in a small nondescript town "somewhere out West" in the United States. It played recently at Facets Multimedia theater here in Chicago.
A key to understanding a good part of the story is its tag-line: "How do you grow up when your parents haven't." Indeed, Lucy's parents Lainee (played by Claire Danes) and Chuck (played by James Marsden) had her when they themselves were 16-17 and as the story begins Lucy is approaching that age. So Lucy's initial voice-over sets the stage, suggesting that some long-put off arguments are about to play themselves out.
When Lucy's parents had her, both obviously very young, both with their own back-stories involving still unresolved (and perhaps unresolvable) difficulty and pain -- there's hint Lainee came from a somewhat abusive household and in any case was awash teenage hormones at the time, Chuck had been raised at a (presumably Catholic) orphanage -- they set-about to do (and largely did) the right thing: They got married, Chuck got a job (as a lumberjack, a job that also somewhat conveniently required him to be away from home for extended periods of time) and Lainee stayed home to raise Lucy.
But now Lucy was 15 approaching 16. Chuck/dad's extended times away from his wife Lainee and daughter Lucy begin to really wear on Lainee, who's now in her early thirties and is probably tired of staring at the walls of their nice if smallish house somewhere near the edge of the nondescript town where they live. So with Lucy "growing up" or approaching "having grown-up" (though all of us who are adults in the U.S. today would know that at least in our society a 15-16 year old is not anywhere near having grown up...) and perhaps even a little jealous of the opportunities (Life) opening up for Lucy and perhaps having unresolved issues regarding those "teenage hormones" that she had to surpress when she had to _quickly_ "become an adult" after becoming pregnant with Lucy, Lainee decides to get a job. Said job opens up an entirely new world of opportunity (and temptation...) for Lainee who had been largely "away" from the world since Lucy's birth.
So this sets up a really uncomfortable dynamic in which both Ma' and daughter are acting like teenagers, when daughter Lucy could have really used a Mom.
What about Dad? He's not portrayed as evil either. There's no suggestion that he's been unfaithful to Lainee when he's away doing his lumberjack thing. It's just that "being away" enabled him to not have to deal with the reality that he has to be a father/husband for more than a week or two at a time between extended forest cutting "gigs up North" (presumably in the Pacific Northwest, Canada or even Alaska).
So Lucy finds herself navigating her mid-teenage years (15-16) largely on her own. Her support system? Her childhood best-friend Kenny (played by Thomas Mann), yes two rather clinical improvised visits to Planned Parenthood though in neither case for an abortion (Parents again take note...), and the apparently soothing/ordering Presence of a cooking show host on the cable Food Channel. (Lucy takes up the basically/certainly salutory hobby of "gourmet cooking.") Much remains to ensue and begin to be resolved ...
Wow ... so what would a "representative of the Catholic Church" have to say about that? ;-)
Well, a good part of why I like going to Facets Multimedia Theater in Chicago and why I chose to review this film, as perhaps provocative as the story is, is that like so many of the films shown at Facets, THE STORY IS INTELLIGENT. And at its best the Catholic Church (it's been around for 2000 years after all ;-), it doesn't seek to run away from difficult reality. Instead it tries to proclaim the Good News of God's Solidarity (God being "with us" [Matt 1:23, Matt 28:20]) in the midst of often difficult and painful reality (in the midst of a "valley of tears").
The Second Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World  began with the words: The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the [people] of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of [people]. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for [everyone]. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with [humanity] and its history by the deepest of bonds (GS #1).
From my years serving as a Catholic Priest (and even before that when I was discerning whether or not to enter into the Servite formation program) I have known for certain that life is often very hard and the circumstances of all three of the central characters in this story are familiar to me. And while I understand the somewhat snickering "subversive joy" present in comparing God [TM] to the soothing/ordering "presence" of a random "cooking show host on the Food Channel," I would simply respond that it honestly isn't the same.
For I can definitely say that life is often difficult whether one believes in God or not. But IMHO it is so much easier to bear if one does come to believe that there is a Loving God who bears it _with us_ and promises, if not in this world then in the next, to set things right. Without God, the pain remains in any case. With God, there's always hope... (1 Cor 13:13)
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