Sunday, August 14, 2016

Pop Culture Review Bonanza: “Suicide Squad” and “Lady Dynamite”

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD, I AM NOT KIDDING. I’ve never been a comic book person. The whole DC vs Marvel thing is completely lost on me, I don’t know any of the characters or stories, and in general, I’m not a fan of comic book culture. I’m not actively opposed to it; it’s just never been my jam. But it was 90 degrees yesterday, so Mr. Typist and I decided trundle off to a matinee of “Suicide Squad” in a nice, air conditioned theater. I was certain I was going hate it or at least roll my eyes at it repeatedly. As it turns out, I loved this movie. And I didn’t love it ironically--I truly loved it. I enjoyed every second of it. It was such a blast. I just let go completely and allowed the whole chaotic, joyous mess of it roll over me in all of its lurid techno-color glory. I was agog and amazed and delighted throughout. I didn’t even care that the dialogue was stilted and aspects of the plot were completely senseless. I loved Harley Quinn. I loved Killer Croc. I loved June Moone/The Enchantress and her insane ritual headpiece. And I loved Katana’s darkly romantic story: Her murdered husband’s soul resides in her sword, so if she dies in battle she will be reunited with him again, which makes her a fearless warrior.

And now to Harley Quinn: I was a little worried she was going to be portrayed as nothing but a hyper-sexualized cream puff. But Margo Robbie brought a lot of depth to the role, and her character was surprisingly complex. For one, she doesn’t let Diablo off the hook for torching his wife and kids. She calls him out on it forcefully in front of the Squad and tells him to own it. She doesn’t try to dance around it or protect him from it, unlike the rest of the Squad. She revels in Katana’s skills and character instead of seeing her as competition. I know I shouldn’t congratulate Hollywood on such a basic thing as not having the two main female characters in a chronic cat fight, but there you have it. (Side note: I would have liked more interaction between Harley and Katana, but Katana seemed too distracted for that. Also, they are on opposite teams.)

Finally, Harley has a weirdly vulnerable moment where she is mourning the death of the Joker. The team comes to get her. She takes a pause, turns to them, and very deliberately puts on a big smile and manages a cheery “Hi, boys!” It’s as though she knows on some level that the morale of the team rests with her, and she doesn’t want to bring them down with her grief. There was also an aspect of self-awareness to it--she understands her own "performance" and that she is playing the role of "sexy crazy chick" with at least some deliberate irony. Rather than psychopathic manipulation, it felt like a moment of maturity and self-sacrifice. And best of all, she tricks the uber-evil Enchantress into letting her guard down, then sneakily rips her beating heart out with a sword. Yeah! Harley Quinn is kind of my kind hero.

In other pop culture news (It’s Opposite Day, in which I’m suddenly on the bleeding edge of the zeitgeist), I really want to like Maria Bamford’s new show “Lady Dynamite” more than I do. “Lady Dynamite” seems to be another version of several of Bamford’s previous series, following the plot of “comedian returns home to rebuild her life after a severe mental breakdown.” I love Bamford’s stand up and I admire her as a person. But I find her new show’s brand of over-broad, manic wackiness exhausting. (I realize that’s a ridiculous statement to make after just having waxed poetic about “Suicide Squad”, but I contain multitudes.) I’ve watched several of Maria’s previous series and this style has always been a feature of her work, but Lady Dynamite goes so over the top with it that I find it almost unwatchable. I’ve made it through episode 3, and I’ll probably try to wade through at least a few more before I give up. The last episode I watched featured a very confused, muddled message about race and the media and comedians and censorship, and it just sort of puzzled me. I couldn’t tell if there were satirizing the whole thing or if they were trying get some sort serious message out there. I’m hoping that the show finds a more even keel as it develops. I love me some Maria Bamford, and I’m resisting the idea that I don’t like something she’s produced.

Whew, well there you go. There are now officially two pieces of pop culture I am somewhat current on. In five years, I’ll post a review of “Stranger Things” and “Orange is the New Black”. Stay tuned!

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