Speed Reviews 4: Doctor Foster, Eleanor Oliphant, Taylor Swift…I paid homage to women.

Hello there! I inadvertently paid homage to women and the highs on lows of our life journeys with the selection of media I consumed recently. (By the way, this is a pretty long list). Here are the books, movies, and shows that have tickled my fancy from March-May 2021. 

Please pardon the different writing formats. I wrote these reviews in tidbits at different times. 

Books

Braised Pork, An Yu

Wu Jia Jia, a young artist living in Beijing found her husband Chen Hang dead in their bathtub. He leaves her nothing but a drawing of a “fish man”. Why did he die? What did the drawing mean? What would Jia Jia’s life be after her husband’s death? These were the questions that Jia Jia tried to answer as she goes on a journey to the last place where her husband went on holiday. 

I’ve read some novels written by Asian authors recently. Besides that, I grew up digesting stories with mysticism, symbolism and dream-like environments, and unexplainable events. I suppose this is a norm on this side of the world as we believe in the supernatural, and that these weird things happen because of some higher power or a result of not following superstitions. I guess that’s why I appreciate more of this book than what other readers feel about it (perhaps this stuff is not the norm in the West?). I suppose authors permit readers to interpret what a story means to us and for me, Braised Pork is a story of people’s experience with depression, loss of sense of self, and freedom through symbolism and metaphors. The title itself, I believe, symbolizes comfort and a reminder of a time in Jia Jia’s life when life was a little less complicated. There are many other symbolisms but I’ll stop there as I’ll end up spoiling the read. 

I applaud An Yu’s elegant and poignant writing ability. She was able to interweave the reality and the dream world well without making the novel all too fantasy-like.

Overall, Yu’s aim, I believe, is to take us into a journey to understand how we lose the people we love by “having them around”, how a person’s will and zest for life is lost and grieved like the death if they are caged into convention and convenience. 

Rating: 5/5

City of Girls, Elizabeth Gilbert, Amazon Kindle

-Inadvertently paid homage to international women’s month by reading this. 

-Richly described and detailed, as if she did live Vivian Morris’ life. 

-Celebrates women who chose to live non-conventional lives, and the non-conventional relationships, romantic, familial, or platonic 

-At one point, I told myself that she shouldn’t be involved in these kinds of things, but stopped myself. Knowing what we know now, a woman should be able to live her life the way she wants to, and she has just as much right to sexual gratification as men do. 

Rating: 5/5 

Milk Fed, Melissa Broder, Amazon Kindle

A young Jewish woman in her 20s forcibly confronts her eating disorder and body dysmorphic issues with the help of another young Jewish woman. This is not a love story that ends happily, but a journey to self-acceptance and discovery. As someone on a journey to better mental health, I resonate with the protagonists’ struggles. Although it kind of felt like it ended abruptly, In hindsight it was just right. Most of the time, we have to be our savior, and forgiveness does not necessarily come out of facing the people who hurt us and announce that we forgive them, but that quiet acceptance and moving forward with what happened to us, and let go of the past hurts. 

Rating: 5/5

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine, Gail Honeyman, Amazon Kindle

Eleanor is a simple woman living a simple life as a single woman with a desk job in Scotland. Not. I’ve read some polarising reviews about this book, like how unrealistic it is for someone to speak the way Eleanor does, how it trivializes mental disorders or very traumatic life experiences, or how boring the story/writing was. All of which I don’t get. I thoroughly loved the book. I don’t think the author meant to trivialize severe trauma or mental disorders, it’s just the style of writing. I think she was trying to put a different spin on how one woman deals with severe trauma weirdly. I liked it written this way, more refreshing than to write it with such a dark, intense, dramatic, and horror-filled tone. Second, although it is fiction, I find it refreshing how Eleanor sees things like having a social life, support system, or wants and needs in a completely innocent way. It made me realize how we should be grateful for the things we deem as normal, which are special, value-adding things in our lives, from simply having a friend to have lunch with to a loving family environment where you are supported and appreciated. 

Rating: 5/5

Movies

Private Life, Netflix

This was part of my Kathryn Hahn appreciation week last March. Private Life is a film about a Manhattan-based couple’s (Hahn and Paul Giamatti) arduous journey to conceive in their mid 40’s, with the help of their niece. As usual, the pair’s acting is superrrrrb. This is a type of story that doesn’t get enough attention in media, as the trend leans toward childfree life. This movie felt an authentic, unorchestrated depiction of the heartbreaks and challenges of conceiving, and how despite all those heartbreaks and challenges, we keep going. 

On a side note, this was a commentary from the director Tamara Jenkins (who was also in a challenging fertility journey), which I believe was also the internal motivation of the couple… and most people, albeit unknowingly. 

Having a child is a distraction from your own mortality

“When you have a child, you’re watching something thrive. It’s such an enormous distraction from your own mortality. You’re so focused on that life you’re trying to help you’re not looking at yourself.”

Rating: 5/5

Moonstruck, AppleTV

I love it. It’s so damn funny. Cher is an Italian-American widower who falls for his fiancé’s brother. She and Olympia Dukakis were phenomenal in this movie. I especially liked the ending scene where the whole family is in the kitchen, finding out the truth about everyone. Oh, and how can I forget the ever so memorable “I love you – *Slap, Slap!* – SNAP OUT OF IT!!”

PS: Of course, to enjoy this, you have to suspend your judgment that such family affairs (pun intended) will have a happy ending in real life. 

Rating: 5/5

9 to 5, Disney+

Such.a.Classic. This movie ignited my liking for Jane Fonda (my fantasy mother / grandmother), Lily Tomlin (such as kick-ass / witty / cool aunt), and Dolly Parton (A sweet, gentle southern soul). It’s both a surprise and sad feeling that the same rights they were fighting for in the late ’70s / early ’80s are still the same rights we are fighting for as women / as workers today (eg. Equal opportunities, sexism, work-life balance, etc.). This was such a revolutionary and fun movie for its time for me.This reminds me, I need to see at least a few episodes of Grace and Frankie as well (also starring Jane and Lily). 

Rating: 5/5

The Woman in the Window, Netflix

Why Netflix? Amy Adams is great. Julian Moore is great. Why did you sign them up to this 90’s style suspense B-movie???? I’m sure this movie was great as a novel but was executed poorly as a movie. 

Rating: 2/5

Belle Douleur, AppleTV

Here’s another story that tells older single women that they cannot be happy…or does it? Belle Douleur is a Filipino movie about a single woman (Mylene Dizon) in her mid-40s. She does not hate men, she is not a lesbian, asexual, etc. She just didn’t find a man in her life as she was busy with her career and caring for her aging mother. After her mother dies, she meets a single young man (Keith Thomson) and they got into a roller coaster of a relationship.

At first, I didn’t like how it ended. But after sleeping through it, I thought it was the right ending. In relationships, you can have a lot of differences, but you need to be onboard on major issues and life milestones together (eg. Getting married, having children, religion, filial pity, money, career, etc.). Oftentimes, one sacrifices for the other but not in this story, and rightfully so. In this case, Dizon knows Thomson’s happiness is not in her hands and lets him go so they can both forge the paths they will be happier with. 

Rating: 3/5

Between Maybes, Netflix

The girl was a has-been who takes flight to a foreign land to “find herself” with the help of a recluse boy. This is a Filipino film starring a controversial couple, Gerald Anderson and Julia Barretto. If there’s anything to applaud here, it’s the fact that they made the end realistic. Would they have worked out with their different paths of life? Not really. So I don’t know how Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts made it in Noting Hill. They are probably divorced by now. 

Rating: 3.5/5

Pieces of a Woman, Netflix

My first acquaintance with Vanessa Kirby. The movie tells the emotional fallout of a stillbirth. I know people have different ways of dealing with grief, and the difference is jarringly showed with the way Vanessa Kirby and Shia LeBouf’s relationship fell apart after that. I just feel like the telling lacked…. More meat? I guess I expected Kirby to be more dramatic with her loss but then again, people deal and come to terms with their pain in their ways, and hers just happen to be quiet suffering, which nonetheless doesn’t diminish the meaning of the suffering she went through. 

Rating: 3.5/5.

Shows / Documentaries

Doctor Foster, BBC / Netflix

I was an emotional wreck after watching this that I had to take some days to recover (a story to tell some other time). 

– Upset me and I couldn’t tell my partner about it (he’s not interested in this type of series). But I can’t not finish it either (when I start a movie/book/tv series, I have a sense of obligation to finish it). 

-If you’re willing to suspend your sense of reality, you will ride along to the flow of the story in this series. But honestly, all the manipulation and malpractice done here can’t be pulled off in real life without dire consequences. 

-The season 1 finale made me feel conflicting emotions. On the one hand, my mouth is frothing at the audacity and non-remorse of the husband, and feel he deserved his misfortunes. On the other hand, I feel like shaking the wife’s head for all that she’s doing just to get information/truth out, but what I hate most is what she (or they rather) to their son. 

But if I were to put myself into the wife’s shoes, I honestly won’t blame or judge her for all her stunts and the strings she pulled to find out the truth and punish her husband. 

The dinner confrontation felt saw awkward I feel like I was with them at the table, feeling awkward for all the parties. 

-Good acting from Surrane Jones, can empathize and feel her emotions as a cuckold (though I am not one!).

Rating: 3/5

Taylor Swift: Miss Americana, Netflix

Taylor Swift: Folklore – the long pond studio sessions, Disney+

Don’t come at me but I didn’t use to like Taylor Swift before. I could sense a strong mean girl / privileged white woman vibes in her, especially during that Katy Perry / Kim Kardashian-Kanye West feuds. I didn’t like as much of her songs as those of her contemporaries like Ariana Grande and Dua Lipa either. This year, I finally gave myself a chance to like her by listening to her latest albums and watching these two documentaries. If I can praise her, it would be for her talents, productivity (during a pandemic!) looks, and most importantly, her business acumen. (I suppose in addition to her natural gifts, she has a superb team who has a good foresight, pulse of the business, and the ability to listen to fan’s wants and needs.

I kinda like this era of hers (acoustic/folk / rustic / cottage core) better than her pop era (BUT I did like Lover, End Game, The Man, and Trouble from that era), and I look forward to seeing great things come out from her. 

Rating: 4/5

The Social Dilemma, Netflix

I had to repeat watching this as I was initially put off by the re-enactments. The Social Dilemma is a documentary about the adverse effect of social media on our lives. Two key takeaways from this documentary: 

  • Social Media is a monster created in a lab that has gotten out of control and made a life of its own that its creators do not want to control because there is money to be had from these monsters. It is in the hands of the government to regulate these monsters. 
  • Social Media is both heaven and hell, a place that can be either a utopia or dystopia and the monsters behind it take control of how it looks like to you. 

Rating: 5/5

Leftover Women, AppleTV

A documentary about 3 women who mirror the plight of Chinese women in China. While all three are well educated and successful in their careers, the stigma is that they are still incomplete and have not fulfilled their duty to their families and society because they are either single who have not found or don’t want to find men to marry, or they are overaged to be single. While their government is actively trying to get more couples to have children, they also actively shame women for their life choices. 

Themes of “selfishness” for remaining single and carefree, and showing filial pity by creating your own family are heavily seen in this documentary. I understand a lot of Western viewers do not understand these concepts. As an Asian, I completely resonate with these all too familiar concepts of “you need to continue our bloodline / family name / family donor by having children”, “we need more hands on deck to continue our business / lift us from poverty”. We’re a collective society with great concerns about what other people think of us, and that is something that will take generations to erase. 

Cheers to the Lawyer for pursuing what she wants. I hope she’s happy with her decision and in whatever her marital status is now. 

Rating: 5/5 

Friends Reunion, HBOGO

I loved Friends. This one was alright…but I didn’t think this was needed. I suppose this is just to satisfy the fans’ clamor for a reunion. I don’t need to see celebrities praise and patronize each other. But I think a lot of people need to have those warm, fuzzy feelings of nostalgia and good times that the show certainly elicits, especially after a year of havoc. It would also have been nice to get more supporting characters on the reunion instead of celebrities that had nothing to do with the show. Like, I would have loved Paul Rudd, Cole Sprouse, The Emma Twins, Chandler’s parents, Carol and Susan, Julia Roberts, Christina Applegate, Bradd Pitt…. Ok, I’m daydreaming now. 

Rating: 3/5

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