Another Week: Number 17
Indoors, our flat screen has suddenly bloomed with new (and mostly final) seasons of well-known, popular shows that we have followed from their beginnings — Ted Lasso, Succession, Barry, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. While these are all high-quality entertainments, Barry gets a special gold star for continuing to tiptoe over the edge into madness.
Meanwhile, my sister Karen has been sorting a billion things at our mom’s house, and this week I received two manila envelopes packed with paper from my past — report cards, photos, newspaper clippings, and a ton of greeting cards.
It’s strange and unsettling to confront random scraps of your past and try to reintegrate them with your self-image after so many years.
Alex Borstein: Corsets & Clown Suits
Borstein has a new comedy special on Prime Video called Corsets & Clown Suits.
It’s not a conventional standup comedy special. During her talk with Marc Maron on WTF, he called it “cabaret” repeatedly, although she didn’t seem to concur. In a Variety story, she calls it “a filthy TED talk with music.” Whatever it is, it delighted us for 81 minutes.
Filmed at the Wolford Theatre, the same fictional burlesque club constructed for Maisel, the show stars Alex Borstein plus two backing musicians from Barcelona, where she has lived. She jumps from topic to topic, to song, to topic, quickly creating a righteously funny camaraderie between herself and the audience, which includes her parents. You laugh while thinking “Goddamned right!”
It’s a good time.
Rye Lane (2023)
Amy likes the British stuff and I had heard some positive things, so on Wednesday night we watched Rye Lane on Hulu.
The story is a fairly standard kind of romantic comedy, but its characters are unconventional and its cinematography is striking.
Both are smart, young, and striving — but while Dom is reserved and unsure of himself, Yas is bold and assertive. Their dialog is rapid and accented and witty enough that I needed to turn captioning on right away so we wouldn’t miss anything.
Visually, the movie is a continuously moving odyssey through the south London districts of Brixton and Peckham, which sort of blur into a kaleidoscopic background. Each shot is carefully framed, and lots of colors continuously swirl through wide-angle lenses as the couple gets to know each other — and collaborate in schemes involving each other’s ex.
Rye Lane is fun, vibrant, and a pretty quick 82 minutes.
Tiny Beautiful Things
Tiny Beautiful Things is new, limited series on Hulu released in its entirety on April 7. The show is adapted from the 2012 book of the same name, a compilation of essays from Cheryl Strayed’s “Dear Sugar” advice column for The Rumpus. We have seen three of the eight half-hour episodes so far. It stars Kathryn Hahn, who has appeared in a whole bunch of well-known things we did not see — and also ten episodes of Parks and Recreation, which we loved.
Three-eighths in, I do not love this show. Clare Pierce (Hahn) is a yelling, sloppy asshole with substance abuse problems. At age 49, she’s crashing at the elder care facility where she works because her husband and daughter no longer want her living with them.
That present-day story is interspersed with the story of Clare as a young adult (played by Sarah Pidgeon) whose loving mom dies after a short encounter with cancer.
So there’s tragedy in her past, plus some choices, and now she’s a Tasmanian Devil of frustration and chaos, with awkward tension and arguments swirling around her down every hallway, and a husband and daughter who are done with her fucking shit.
But then an old acquaintance from her days as a writer reconnects with her and offers to let her take over his advice column.
This means that while most of each episode is reckless, discomforting chaos shot in confined spaces with a shaky, handheld camera, the last act imparts a soothing life lesson/aphorism infused from Clare’s column with the sort of Meaningful Song that ends many primetime ABC dramas.
So this is basically a mediocre, one-hour network drama jammed into thirty minutes with the same sappy ending and a lot more fucking swears.
Boom! Boom! The World Vs Boris Becker (2023)
Three and a half hours about 1980s and 90s tennis champion Boris Becker? Sure — why not.
Boom! Boom! The World Vs Boris Becker is a two-part documentary by Alex Gibney. Gibney was Oscar-nominated for Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, and we also enjoyed his Scientology and Elizabeth Holmes docs. This latest film arrived on Apple TV+ on April 7.
Boris Becker had a phenomenal career in professional tennis. He won Wimbledon at age 17 — one of six Grand Slams and 64 overall titles over 15 years as a pro player.
Becker has also coached Novak Djokovic, been married three times, and was convicted of tax evasion — then later served eight months in prison for failing to surrender assets and trophies during bankruptcy proceedings.
This documentary is a straightforward, chronological telling of Becker’s life story, with high-quality footage of the key moments of his tennis matches, and talk-to-the-camera commentary from Becker himself, his wives, and a number of his coaches and competitors — Transylvania-born billionaire Ion Țiriac, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Mats Wilander, Michael Stich, Brad Gilbert, and the legendary Nick Bollettieri.
Each new competitor to challenge Becker is introduced as a new gunslinger, with lettering and music from spaghetti westerns. And they just keep coming — the names above, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Roger Federer.
Becker is fairly matter-of-fact in commenting on his tennis success. One of the main things that struck me was the extent to which psychology factored into victory or loss — especially as exemplified by a match against Agassi that turned once Becker started making eye contact with Agassi’s wife, Brooke Shields.
Becker is understandably embarrassed and a bit less forthcoming about his post-tennis failures. Basically, it seems he continued to spend like a champion after he was no longer earning that kind of money. Factor in a big loan with 20% interest and a few other things and poof — pretty soon it’s all gone.
Ah, well. That’s life. That’s what all the people say.
This is an interesting story, cleanly told.
Jason Isbell: Running With Our Eyes Closed (2023)
In our house, we love Jason Isbell.
We love Drive-By Truckers, the band that eventually fired him. We love his wife Amanda Shires.
The newest installment in HBO’s Music Box series tells Jason Isbell’s story to date, as he prepares to release his new album Weathervanes on June 9.
We see him in the studio and we see him on stage. We see him at home in Nashville with Shires and their daughter, and their chickens. We hear bits of songs.
The film, directed by Sam Jones, jumps around a bit in time to tell Isbell’s story, because the throughline in that story is a bit of a bank shot.
One inflection point is his parents’ troubled marriage during his teenage years. Isbell plays his electric guitar loud to drown out the sound of them arguing.
His outstanding guitar skills as well as his heartfelt songwriting get him invited into Drive-By Truckers when he’s barely old enough to drink, and drink he does — so much that they eventually uninvite him.
Isbell continues performing and continues drinking until finally — and we see that footage too — the drinking has to stop.
Fiddler/violinist/singer/songwriter Amanda Shires befriends and then marries him. And he hits it big on the music charts.
But now, instead of happily ever after, we hear that Isbell didn’t sleep one night and that he was not at home. Then we hear that his marriage had come very close to ending for a few days there.
It’s all a work in progress — adulthood, sobriety, marriage, parenthood — with each album expressing the mileposts along that road, and in turn, creating new challenges. Isbell and Shires both appear to have their hearts totally invested in this great project.
Jason Isbell: Running With Our Eyes Closed is a significant piece of storytelling and a refreshing dose of openness in a time when many showbiz bios seem to be cranked out by PR departments.
We loved it.