Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Movies: Conservative(?) Donnie Darko vs. Liberal Adventureland: Those Greedy 80s

Donnie on  a date with a girl and Frank the Bunny
Hollywood seems to have been nursing the cliche of the Greedy 80s.

The 80s were greedy.  Know how you can tell?  Prosperity generally went up, unemployment generally went down (paving the way for Bush I's victory and for the bizarre 2010 attempts to compare Obama to Reagan).    Yes, people's situations improved, particularly black people's, but something was still not right... Lot of people got filthy rich at the same time.  Those jerks.
1988 Pres. Debates in Donnie Darko "You tell 'im, George!"
Anyway, several 80s period pieces have been made and here I want to compare two. . .

Donnie Darko is a very interesting movie anyway, but particularly noteworthy because the family you are meant to feel sympathy for is well to do and Republican.  The father is particularly conservative and the film makes him a very sympathetic character.  There is also a character who is particularly dogmatic and religious.  Of course, you say, the Christian lady.  Actually, the thing this woman is dogmatic about is a self-help ideology that is arguably more liberal than conservative (if it correlates with politics at all), and the self-help guru she worships is a hypocritical phony.  Yes! Can you believe they didn't go for the cheap shot of making him a fundamentalist?

The Darkos do not conform to the tired (and, to me, strange) representation of conservatives as conformist sheep that love simplicity.  The Darkos are an unruly, rebellious lot.  Donnie, in particular, openly challenges a bunch of psychobabble and presents some arguably conservative thinking in the process.

Rose Darko in anguish over her son's inner turmoil
And let's pay special consideration to Donnie's mother, Rose Darko.  Rose (played beautifully by Mary McDonnell) is not presented like the Adventureland stepmother even though she too is well-to-do and lives in a large (even by movie standards), beautiful home and has a husband who plays golf with the affluent men of the town.  She worries about her family and will do anything for her son.  She is nice to people and tries to make peace but is anything but shallow.

The Darko parents are authority figures, setting the rules of their home and expecting them to be followed,  but their family seems anything but reserved, uptight, or authoritarian.  They are the all-American family, imperfect but in each other's corner.  The family bickers but clearly love each other.  The parents are obviously in love with each other and in love with their children.

Has there been as sympathetic a portrayal of a explicitly conservative or Republican family in the last 40 years?

This is not to say that there are no ideas in the film that may be interpreted as liberal.  But I think it is more noteworthy that the film almost seems pro-conservative for daring to not be anti-conservative.

Now, let's consider Adventureland.  Good writing, good acting.  But a more typical, even hackneyed,  political orientation.   The female protagonist (played by Kristin Stewart) goes out of her way to be nasty and humiliating to her stepmother.  You see, she's angry about her mother dying, naturally, and she takes it out on this interloper.  But if you watch the film, this woman is presented as a shallow, materialistic, phony woman -- presented as such in a shallow, superficial way -- and this is part of why our leading lady hates her so.  Gotta hate those money-lovin' Republicans.  If this affluent woman is getting a lot of nasty treatment she probably deserves it.

Another bit of character exposition takes place when she stands up for a socially awkward literature-loving boy that's become part of her circle of theme park friends.  Another girl who works at the park likes making out with and/or sleeping with this geeky kid, but suddenly stops because she doesn't want her Catholic family giving her a hard time about seeing a Jewish boy.  Because she stops seeing him because her family disapproves (instead of a good reason, like finding him too boring or ugly for a long-term relationship), our leading lady confronts this horrible racist and tells her off, and insinuates that maybe someone as bigoted as her hates gays as well.  Yep, probably a gay-basher too.  She formally revokes her friendship with this awful bigot.  You see, this was a dark era before it became popular to shame people out of eating at Chik-fil-A and popular for large corporations to come out in support of same-sex marriage, before schools could force students to watch films that promote alternate family lifestyles without parents' consent.

<spoiler> Now, this female protagonist is falling in love with a boy who is obviously sensitive and has more integrity than the average joe, she knows this, and she continues a torrid affair with a married man anyway.  She is breaking up with this jerk anyway as she is found out, so you know she's not that bad.  She gets forgiven, of course. </spoiler>  But she never has to face her ex-friend and apologize for being a self-righteous phony, because her ex-friend was so much more awful than being a slutty, two-timing phony.  (I said a bad word!  Maybe Obama can call her and ask her how she's holding up!)  There is no resolution after all that self-righteousness.

Life has imitated art, as shortly after making a point of her willingness to make out on with either a man or a woman on live tv (MTV awards?) Kristen Stewart shattered her image of storybook love with Patterson by having a torrid affair with a director on the set of Snow White and the Huntsman.  But I bet she supports all the right causes (i.e. the left causes) in Hollywood.

I wonder if Stewart would have passed up a role in Donnie Darko... it is a little questionable to make Republicans look good, after all. 'Cause if you were watching the 2012 'New Tone in Washington' campaign, you know that Republicans want to make the poor poorer, oppress women and punish women with babies, and hate gay people.  (Thank you, Barry, for your leadership in setting the tone.)

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