Good Sunday morning to you, my sweet Sternal Journalists!
I know some of you thought, "Is he really gonna do this every week? He's made a lot of promises to me personally that he hasn't kept."
And you're not wrong, but you're missing one vital detail. Promises to individual dear, old friends? Of course I'm gonna have trouble keeping those!
Promises to a large group of people I'm trying to impress and build as an audience? That's a whole 'nother story. Friends are there for you no matter how many times you let them down.
But audiences? In my experience? You can let them down 1-7 times total, dependent on their proximity to an exit.
Which brings me to a story about how this week, I was a terrible, awful, no-good audience member to one Greta Gerwig, writer and director of this year's critical darling, Little Women.
I've never seen a Little Women, I've never read a Little Women. I am pretty sure, up until the beginning of this year’s Oscar buzz season (which is unfortunately not a hunting season), I thought the Little Women lived in the Little House on the Prairie.
They do not.
But even so, I really wanted to watch the 2019 Little Women for two reasons:
I’ve been great this year about seeing Oscar movies, which is not actually important, but people in Los Angeles tend to equate it with (a) a quantifiable love for movies (a concept that is made-up) and (b) the will to be good at movie-makin' (a concept that, while technically not made-up, is counterproductive because: time spent wanting to be good at something is time not spent practicing being bad at it, and the latter is much more useful than the former, I can tell you from experience with both.) And,
I really fuckin’ loved Gerwig’s 2017 thang, Lady Bird. For a movie about a girl (which I’m not) at a Catholic school (never been) undergoing a cathartic falling out with with her mother (never did that neither), it felt incredibly personal, and I was wowed.
So there I was, quite desperate to see Little Women, for both the performative value of having seen all the Oscar movies, and the secondary actual value of watching a movie I was expecting to possibly really love.
And what did I do, Sternal Journalists? Just a little while before we popped the movie in, low-stakes self-saboteur that I am, I foolishly and giddily ingested what the 20- and 30-something year-old kids of Los Angeles like to call a weed gummy.
Here’s how weed gummies work. Step 1) Person A says, “I kinda wanna get high, but I don’t wanna get too high.” Step 2) Person B says, “You could just take a gummy. These ones are low-dose.” Step 3) Person A says, “Well, I don’t know if I want to get that not too high. Maybe I’ll take two.”
Step 4) Person A proceeds to get REALLY HIGH.
Now, to be clear, two of these little 5-milligram weed gummies would not get your typical weed-taker very high. But I have a generally low tolerance for weed (I save most of my tolerance for alcohol and self-flagellation), and also I hadn’t smoked, tooted, or chewed a weed in a few months.
So guys. The movie starts. I’m watching it. I’m pretty much loving it. I’m thinking, this is not what I expected and I don’t know exactly what’s happening, but it’s very cool and I love what The Gerwig is doing with this source text (reminder: I had never read the source text).
And, friends? Fellow journalists? This is when I realized that the thing on the screen I was responding to was:
THE COLUMBIA PICTURES TITLES CARD!
THE MOVIE HAD NOT STARTED YET.
DO YOU GET WHAT I’M SAYING?
What I’m saying is, I was in for quite a wild ride.
Here are things that did happen over the course of my movie-watching experience:
I had to pause the movie (not in a theater thankfully. My girlfriend Kristen, my friend Chris, and I were watching an industry screener in the comfort of our home) to ask whether the characters were “talking like in old times or like we do now because I can’t tell.” I'm still not sure if I know the answer.
Chris, who was doing laundry at our apartment said during that pause that he was going to go “swap out," meaning his clothes from the washer to the dryer. I incredulously asked, “ARE YOU SAYING YOU'RE GOING TO POOP?!” because the only meaning I could think of for “swap out” was that he was going to swap his insides with his outsides. Not what he meant, but that is how we're using the phrase going forward.
I went to the fridge to get hummus, lost the hummus on the 5-second walk back to the couch, and only found it the next morning fully inside of the closed silverware drawer. I can remember the essence of how this happened—it involved me getting stuck in a doggie gate—but I cannot put to words how I did it.
Here are things that did not happen:
I did not get a single sense of what was happening during that movie. I remember liking the colors. They were great. That's all I got.
End of list.
"So what," is what you're asking because you are an intrepid Sternal Journalist. I got too high to understand what was going on in a movie. Most of us have been there once or twice. What’s the point?
For one, that swap out thing is very funny to me.
For two, I’ve been thinking about Little Women and my experience with it all week. I felt I had sinned! But what was my sin? I consumed it in a way different than it was intended to be consumed?
Okay, well here’s the thing about that! Even if I was of sound mind and body, yeah, I would be consuming Greta Gerwig's movie the way it was intended to be consumed. But I would also be consuming Louisa May Alcott's book in a way that it was NOT intended to be consumed.
Sure, I'm setting myself up to not understand the movie, but I'm already setting myself up to skip so many layers of understanding of a book I never read, not to mention the other adaptations of it, which include: six other movies, seven plays (not counting musicals), three musicals(!), seven television events (not counting musicals), one television musical(!!), and two animes! TWO ANIMES(!!!)!
Basically, I think adaptations should maybe be illegal (or at least government regulated) because: if an adaptation is great, shouldn’t that mean the source text was great and if I really want to appreciate the adaptation, I should go read that first? And if it’s bad, that it shouldn’t have been made at all?
One needs look only so far as the people who are “big fans of Harry Potter, but just the movies” to know that some film adaptations of books directly result in a downtick in reading of the source text, which I think is really fucked up. (and to be clear: you cannot be a fan of Harry Potter if you've only seen the movies. You are just a fan of the Harry Potter movies).
And I therefore think, especially after doing my research and seeing how reverent of the original book Greta Gerwig is, it is fucked up of me to watch her movie before reading the book.
Which is why I’m saying the most respectful thing I could have done, to both Greta Gerwig and much more importantly Louisa May Alcott, is pop those two weed gummies and nullify my viewing, thereby giving me a chance to go to the library, pay my pretty exorbitant fines I racked up in 2019, and read the dang book.
Which is what I intend to do. (Before February, obviously, so I can watch the movie for real this time and then tell everyone at my Oscars party, “Yeah, it was tough, but I saw them all this year. It was really worthwhile though. I definitely feel like I have a broader cinematic vocabulary.")
And you should do the same! Or some version of it. My recommendation for the week is to go pick up a book that a movie you love was based on. But also check out this instagram that is maybe the only form of adaptation I can really get behind.
And if you're in LA, I'm doing a tiny bit a' stand-up at a mostly music show at Bar Lubitsch 8pm Monday. Ten bucks, come on out and have a drink if you're round!
Aaaand last but certainly not least, as it is MLK weekend, a lot of people will talk about progress and arcs bending towards justice and love for your fellow man and all that jazz over the next few days. If you're looking for ways to nudge such concepts along, consider a donation to Shower of Hope. It's a great organization I volunteer with who provides mobile showers to unhoused people of Los Angeles. They're also always looking for volunteers, so hit me up if you'd like to get involved!
And please! Have a Sternalistic week.
P.S. I know that last time I told you these would be shorter in the future and this one is longer, but I had to break some promises or else you wouldn't know it's actually me!