By Emad El-Din Aysha, PhD
CONTINUED from yesterday…
Everybody’s ‘Bestest’ Big Sister
Now Christian Papierniak’s little masterpiece Izzy Gets the F*ck Across Town (2017), which he also wrote. I could write a whole book about the movie and still not get completely to the bottom of it. I get the distinct impression that this is more than an independently produced romantic comedy about chaotic personal relationships on the West Coast. The ubiquitous Izzy is trying to crash her best friend’s engagement party to win back her boyfriend Roger (Alex Russell), which her girlfriend Whitney (Sarah Goldberg) stole. The movie begins with a pink-tinted dream sequence in a Japanese type garden with Izzy speaking to an older woman (Dolly Wells) who is English, both armed with umbrellas even though it isn’t raining. Izzy tells her about Roger and how they’ve known each other since their teens and how he embellishes stories about his life. You hear him modifying such a story at the end when Izzy dumps his sorry ass – he is a bit of a beach wuss and takes orders from his mom, not his divorced dad – realising how everything with him is fake. I have a hunch, and it’s just a hunch, that this is an East Coast-West Coast problem, which would explain the old world English accent and the references to Europe (imported beer, eggs) in the story. (Dolly Wells looks like a female version of Jeremy Irons). It might also explain why Roger is connected to high tech, again a Californian type thing.
Izzy herself seems to be from Chicago and she’s the classic out of towner. The omnipresence of Christmas celebrations in the sunny city – Xmas without snow – and the presence of the wise old lady (Marcia Ann Burrs) with her East Coast accent clearly signify something, I’m just not sure what. Seeing the suburbs of LA from Izzy’s perspective is meant to give you a panoramic view of an ‘alien’ landscape, not so much of urban sprawl but of urban mania. People are so wrapped up in their personal problems, and personal paranoia’s, that some of them hardly go out anymore – as is the case with the wise old lady painting the outside world to encourage herself to go out. (Izzy’s car mechanic Dick, who is defrauding her, has corporate conspiracies on his mind; hence the European eggs. The painter likewise is a bit of a hypochondriac and everybody communes through social media). Izzy herself is an out of work musician that is heavily in debt and living with friends – Casey (Meghan Lennox) and Tom (Sheldon Bailey) – and quite literally on the coach. (Her life is very much like her car, as Dick more or less says). While trying to scrounge together enough money to hire a cab – Izzy refuses to take the bus and can’t ride a bike properly from her smoking – she meets Walt (Haley Joel Osment, of Sixth Sense fame). He’s got relationship trouble and she has a consultancy job in that area so she comes up with some touchingly romantic lines to help chat up a drunk woman drooling in his house, Agatha Benson (Alia Shawkat). This was one of the most profound scenes since it starts you on the long journey towards loving Izzy and her smooth as silk voice and temper tantrums and nail bighting nervousness.
I always wanted to have a kid sister while I was growing up and after this sequence I was transformed into someone who wanted an elder sister instead – to look out for you and teach you right from wrong and help you with girl trouble. You see this later when Izzy finds herself at her elder sister’s house, Virginia (Carrie Coon), who is anything but responsible, cheating on her boob husband (Rob Huebel) with his hairy cousin Leo; means lion, apparently. She was originally part of a band with Izzy then dumped her and got married to enjoy the benefits of economic security in the suburban hinterland. (That’s why she’s ‘doing’ it with his cousin, bored out of her mind with her predictable, gullible husband, missing the adventure and excitement of the musical career she once had). In the penultimate scene of the movie you have Izzy and Virginia singing Axeman, a rebellious girl song, and in the process they patch their differences up and Izzy makes it to the party in time, not that it does her any good in the end. (Poor, sweet thing).
The symbolism in these related scenes is exquisite. Izzy is wearing a white tuxedo whereas Virginia (isn’t that a name of a state?) is dressed in black, and when Izzy meets up with Roger at the party, he’s also in black, hinting that he might not be all he seems. When Whitney confronts Izzy at the engagement party she is dressed in pure white and looks very angelic. (They’re both equally blonde and had adventures together, so the implication is that Izzy is the person Whitney could have become, if she wasn’t in it for the money). There’s also black and white pair ups, such as the African American dude Izzy wakes up with at the start of the movie, and the African American car mechanic and the white girl he’s interested in (played by an Iranian, Salme Geransar); Izzy is very warm, chummy and maternal here too. Not to mention Casey and Tom, also a white-black couple. From a psychological perspective I’d say that Izzy fell into an emotional and lifestyle trap after Virginia left her because her elder sister is the more grounded and cynical and even in terms of musical talent, a musician always needs a counterpoint, so things went awry after the breakup so to speak. That’s probably when she drove Roger away, not being able to control herself and trying to be independent at the same time; not letting him into her secrets, fearing pity. I’d also wager that why she’s trying, unsuccessfully, to live the rocker Californian lifestyle, to compensate for these failures, something she clearly can’t afford to do.
As for the wonderful scene with the old lady painter, her lesson to Izzy is that there is nothing to be afraid of in being alone, if fate has decreed that. Provided at least that you’ve had the opportunity to have true love once in your life and can live off that memory for a lifetime. This is in marked contrast to the many maniacs on display who are deluding themselves by creating these ridiculously idealised images of their so-called soul mates. Izzy has fallen into this trap herself, putting her life and her creative potential on hold for Roger’s sake. You later learn that the dream sequence was actually an old ambition of Izzy’s, to write a song through a dialogue she has with her older and younger self. (Hence a second dream sequence with a young girl). Izzy has also been seduced by the Californian dream, which is why she has a sports car instead of taking the bus and doesn’t live a healthy lifestyle, and why she wakes up in the end and dumps Roger during the intermission of a really tacky play they’re watching. (He’s self-indulgently checking his mobile when she makes the fateful decision; clearly not the art type).
Kudos to the director-author for pulling all this off in such a fun and funky way in just under an hour and a half. (When Izzy goes to the door to find Roger there, she’s got a white bed blanket over her head, making her look like as innocent as Little Red Riding Hood or Snow White). This isn’t an art house or docudrama movie, although it has elements of both, it’s a proper drama comedy, all nicely compressed because of the superb and snappy dialogue and the incredible soundtrack. The feminism on display is also very nuanced and multifaceted. (I thought the toilet scene was a bit too ‘noisy’ along with the vulgar orgasmic language, but it trumps Bertolucci any day). Kudos also for Christian Papierniak’s casting of practically everybody, but especially Mackenzie Davis. I think this is her best role to date, both artistically and morally, and as my Sudanese friend pointed out above, it’s all in her eyes and how she uses her life to talk about her character.
MD doesn’t hide anything from you, about what Izzy is feeling. You can see it all, from the crease on her forehead from being stressed out to the way she bights her lower lip to the way she sucks her lips in when feeling insecure. MD brings the character to life, through her body language. Izzy is ‘so’ warm and gooey and catlike in her grace, after she beds with Roger, you find yourself as jealous as hell and dreaming you had a sensitive, considerate girl like her in your life; she kisses in a very similar way to Cameron, even kissing Roger’s nose. And her laugh is so childlike and crackly it’s heartbreaking. Without bragging Izzy is up there as the ideal soul mate-dream girl with the likes of Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Julia Ormond in Sabrina and Stalin, and Cameron Diaz in There’s Something About Mary.
MD’s is a tremendous vocalist too, the best in the business after Eva Green and Tom Hardy, and you don’t necessarily feel that she’s Canadian here and boy does she know how to vary her voice over the course of the movie to the point that you think you’re listening to another woman entirely. As said above, she takes bits and pieces of her life and infuses them into the character to make her roles more real and relatable, even for her as an actress. She’s more than an out of towner, she’s an immigrant to the US, and as a woman has probably had her fair share of having boyfriends stolen by supposed girlfriends. (I suspect this goes into her construction of Cameron too, noting how highly strung Yanks are in the business setting). You also see this in the scene with Roger, when she starts gasping for air, very much like you see in Halt and Catch Fire when her computer crashes and she loses all her work. (You also get the bad feeling that this is a problem MD has suffered in her life, but has learned to cope with). A final word of praise for the camerawork. The pink dream sequence accentuates Izzy’s eyes and gives them a doll-like appearance, while the panoramic visual style in the outdoors has a renegade documentary feel to it. The focus on MD’s face helps you realise what a natural beauty she is, especially after she washes off all that damn makeup – looks like a mask, on purpose I’d say.
With that final barrier removed Izzy becomes so much more beautiful, a facemask concealing her raw emotions. The camera also helps you notice how MD’s nose bends ever so slightly while she talks. (The tip of Cameron’s nose goes crimson in emotionally distraught scenes, and it’s downright delightful). The only other actress I know who does that is the gorgeous Blair Brown in Altered States (1980). With time, watching Izzy and Halt and Catch Fire, you realise that she has Elfin features, and that’s something very rare in blondes. (Audrey Hepburn was pretty Elfin too and especially in Wait Until Dark, and Blair Brown has the same species of toothy grin).
PHOTOSTOP: From left to right, Mackenzie Davis, Blair Brown and Audrey Hepburn. Spoilt for choice aren’t we!
But that’s enough of me blabbering, as a man and oldish geezer and analysis freak. Now it’s time to let the fans take over!!
To be continued, again. In the meantime, special thanks are due to Ahmed Salah Al-Mahdi for the photo montages, which more pics to come.