April 29, 2005

Isn't this the Rosie O'Donnell movie you've been waiting for?

Virginia Heffernan writes:
[L]ike Tom Hanks's Forrest Gump in "Forrest Gump" and Sean Penn's Sam in "I Am Sam" and Juliette Lewis's Carla in "The Other Sister," Beth is mostly a constellation of misfit affectations - funny clothes, bipolar outbursts, a forced, garbled voice - and goofy physicality. Beth seems to be wrapped in a loose, superfluous layer of flesh, a symptom of some kind of metabolic disorder (she also gobbles sweets). As a character, she doesn't make sense: she's socially awkward, but not consistently disabled. She's less poignant or tragic than merely clamorous and bothersome.

But if she bugs you, it's your problem. This underhanded movie makes Ms. O'Donnell into an appalling cartoon only to pretend innocence - or, no, moral superiority - when the viewer is appalled. Is Beth's voice deafening on your television set? Is her lumpy form in a Tweety Bird T-shirt depressing? Is her nascent sexuality hard to contemplate? You must have no heart. And you will have to come around to her innocent wonders.
Maybe we can finally draw the line and say if it's just an actor playing developmentally disabled -- a well-known Oscar/Emmy-begging strategy -- we may -- we must! -- level our harshest judgment.


Alan Kellogg said...

It's much too soon for Labor Day, so it can't be "Make Fun of the Handicapped Week". Maybe Rosie's following the "If it aint obvious it can't be great acting" school of dramaturgy?

Contributors said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
price said...

I've had this movie programmed on my TiVo for two weeks now. Ann, here is how it works when it comes to Hollywood's portrayals of the retarded: liking these films is like level one criticism. Not liking them is like level two. LOVING them for how amazing they are, this is the higher plane of criticism you should be seeking!

Rosie O'Donnell. Handicapped. Next movie I pitch will start off like that.

Contributors said...

"...a constellation of misfit affectations - funny clothes, bipolar outbursts, a forced, garbled voice - and goofy physicality. Beth seems to be wrapped in a loose, superfluous layer of flesh, a symptom of some kind of metabolic disorder (she also gobbles sweets)..."

How can playing yourself be an "Oscar/Emmy-begging strategy?" I think you're being a little hard on her.

Robyn said...

Excellent opinion Ann. Anyone who is not, at least midly, irritated by Hollywood's exploitation, of this portion of humanity, deserves to be shown them over and over and over again. But please, don't tell Hollywood, they think they're doing everyone a favor by presenting this "amazing, touching, heart-filled, piece of empathy to see how condecsending it truly is.

Ron said...

Isn't this the Rosie O'Donnell movie I've been waiting for?

Why, yes! Yes it is!

When I'm sitting in the green room...

of Hell!

price said...

Speaking of amazing, has anyone been reading Rosie's blog as thoroughly as I have? www.rosie.com

Her Flickr account is pretty life-changing as well.

Ann Althouse said...

Price: good head's up about the blog we'd all forgotten about. It gives a nice preview of what the Huffington Post might turn out to be. I see Rosie's broken up about Constantine getting ousted from "American Idol." And look at all the comments! Anyway, you've got to give Rosie credit for taking the trouble to write all her posts in poetry. Those of us who are just laying out prose must really feel like slackers.

Too Many Jims said...

"Anyway, you've got to give Rosie credit for taking the trouble to write all her posts in poetry."

Maybe it is all part of a vast Camille Paglia conspiracy.

price said...

I've read two of Paglia's books and I think she's the cat's pajamas, but I really don't get this poetry thing. Most poems aren't worth our time, and the few good ones make me wish the author had just gone ahead and written a song instead. If there's no music, I'll take my ideas in the form of complete sentences, thank you.

Unless they are ideas about doing press junkets with Andie McDowell in which case, write on lady!

The Commercial Traveller said...

I can't stand movie portraying the mentally retarded--they never show what life is really like with a retarded person in your family. Besides What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, I can't think of a film that comes close to the truth.

I particularly hate films that, in order to make retarded people acceptable, they have to make them financially valuable (Gump, Rain Man) or independent (The Other Sister, I Am Sam).

They never sympathize with the families--it's all about learning the life lesson that, really, if we just all understood better . . . if we were just less embarrassed and judgmental.

I'll try to remember Rosie's heartwarming portrayal the next time my retarded cousin has a seizure, loses control of her bodily functions, and we have to get her changed for the 12th time in a day.

Films like these have about as much realism as Star Wars.

Kingsley said...

It's just a variation on the Magical Negro genre; I prefer my uplifting movie retards to be played by Robin Williams.

Irene Done said...

I blame Shaun Cassidy and the producers of "Like Normal People."

anonymous said...

If Rosie appeared in blackface to play the title role in Oprah's biography we would be appalled. Hamming it up as a mentally retarded person is just another form of minstrel show.

KCFleming said...

Two of my brothers are retarded (in our family, we never use the PC term, mentally challenged, except when referring to each other). I have always, always, always hated these movies. They completely ignore the ugly side of their brain disorders, and as such make them less than human. In the end, they are merely another form of mockery. ("Gilbert Grape" was an exception, I agree).

It's quite obvious that these filmmakers never had to live with any retarded children or adults, or rarely worked with them. Pity. The stoicism shown by their parents is illuminating, yet is never noticed.

Ann Althouse said...

C. Schweitzer, Pogo: Thanks for sharing your experience.

Kingsley: I agree. The black person/retarded person/mentally ill person in a Hollywood movie is not so much a real person as a device to help the main character understand life more deeply. Women are often used this way too. Not only is it a problem to treat a type of person as a device (as if the healthy white male is the real person), it's also just such a cliché by now.

Finn Alexander Kristiansen said...

I view films like this as Hollywood's effort to tap into some level of spirituality- clearly they lack the insight to pull this off in a meaningful way.

Here the mentally handicapped individual stands in as a representation of purity and simplicity, and if we only watch and observe, and see deeply, we can derive some wisdom that makes us better (or so the producers hope, while discussing the film over lunch at Mortons..."Oh yes, and we have Rosie, this is so Rosie").

Others have mentioned that blacks have often served this role in film, existing as plot devices to lead the main character (usually white) toward a more righteous life or perspective.

But then again, we see this in the western world's worship of "simpler" cultures, whether Native American mysticism or the verbal "deep simplicity" that flaps from the lips of the Dali Lama: in all cases it is truth so pure, that we are stupid not to see how deep and powerful it really is.

Hence, if Bush, or one's mom, or Ann says, "All we need is love" we say,"Oh please, take this dollar and by some sense", but if we hear it from a Native Shaman, a Tibetan monk, Forrest Gump or a suprisingly wise black maid, we are smitten speechless, knowing that these people- and the disabled too- are somehow closer to the earth (as though God lived right there in the that very dust from which they sprung, whispering the way to happiness).

Someone once said to me that Forrest Gump was such a great moral example and that the film was powerful due to his ability to make the right choices. I just looked at this person. "Wasn't he a retard?" I said, rather irritated (and perhaps inappropriately).

It seemed to me that the same film, but depicting a person with all his mental faculties and an ability to reason out right and wrong, would have been a more profound statement. For me it was like watching a toddler romp through life, getting lucky along the way, and there was nothing in there that I could directly apply to my own life without considerable extrapolation.

It is just a sign that Hollywood in general (with exceptions of course) has an inability to craft films that give us characters who use their minds and hearts to navigate complex life issues in a moral or courageous manner.

They condescend to sub-groups in order to make the masses feel good about themselves, and it is a sickly sweet goodness that fails to offer any long term nourishment.

(Back at Mortons: "I'll take the sushi, ... yea, this could be Rosie's breakout Emmy, she really IS the essence of retarded, and I'm not just saying that")

miklos rosza said...

Jane Campion's SWEETIE is the all-time best film about having a sister who's crazy and retarded, sexually voracious and quite fat.

Sweetie's boyfriend is also quite a lot of fun.

Ann Althouse said...

Wizard: You make many great points, but your post also made me think about how it is not just a Hollywood imbecility. There is also something deep in our culture, even if Hollywood cheapens it. Let me quote you the gospel:

"At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" 2 Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, 3 and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me."

That is something very profound, and whether we believe that or not, we need to know that it is part of the Western tradition. Hollywood may be desecrating that tradition, but there is an important theme about the innocent child -- and the mentally retarded person seems to be the equivalent of a child. That explains the power of Gump. It hits a chord.

Finn Alexander Kristiansen said...

Ann, that is very true about the power of Gump (as much as it irritated me), and even Tom Hank's "Big" was sort of a slight variation on the being as a child theme (in terms of how the woman in the film is attracted to his innocent qualities).