Tag Archives: novel

Beauty in the Movies: I Capture the Castle

I Capture the Castle is one of my favorite books ever, and thankfully this 2003 film adaptation actually gives Dodie Smith’s much-beloved novel its due respect.

Cassandra Mortmain (Romola Garai) is an 18-year-old girl living with her eccentric family in a crumbling castle in 1930s England. Her father (Bill Nighy) wrote one incredibly successful and important novel, but has since produced nothing, leaving the family in utter poverty.

Cassandra’s beautiful-but-shallow older sister, Rose (Rose Byrne), is desperate to escape their hopeless existence, so when two American men show up on their doorstep having just inherited the land on which the castle resides, she finally sees her chance. With the encouragement of their nudist, muse-like, stepmother Topaz (Tara Fitzgerald), Rose sets about entrapping a wealthy husband.

Simon (Henry Thomas) and Neil (Marc Blucas) Cotton are rich, attractive, young men, and upon their arrival the Mortmain family is instantly thrown into turmoil. What follows is a story of class, family, coming-of-age, and romance. Cassandra is confused not only by her feelings for the Cottons but also for Stephen Colley (played by Henry Cavill, the new Superman). Stephen is the incredibly attractive son of the Mortmain’s former chef who acts as a handyman to the family and is deeply in love with Cassandra.

Isn’t he just way too handsome? Cassandra’s rejection of sweet, noble, gorgeous Stephen can be somewhat frustrating, but it serves to make her character much more interesting.

I Capture the Castle is a unique story, so don’t expect a typical romantic comedy or predictable characters. Cassandra is an unusually uncommon character. If I would make one criticism of this film as compared to the book it would be that she is even more of a creative, smart, young woman than the movie portrays, especially as compared to Rose whose main appeal is her beauty. In the book Rose is less likeable, and Cassandra’s relationship with her all the more complex because of it—as is often the case with family.

I Capture the Castle depicts perfectly what it feels like to be a confused teenage girl. The heartbreak of first love, the obsession of it, and the humor too, all make this a timeless tale. There is so much beneath the surface of this story, and in some ways it is a direct response to the novels of Jane Austen.

Rose seeks the traditional solution out of her impoverished life—a wealthy husband. Cassandra however, is of the first generation of women who could make their own destiny without a man by supporting themselves. Though some might find it lacking in romance, it was a very new idea for its time, and it holds an allure all its own.

This film is so beautifully shot, acted, and adapted I just can’t recommend it enough. It’s a story about growing up, finding inspiration, and living in a family that others might not understand. The Mortmains are unconventional to say the least, but they support each other’s choices and love one another in a way that transcends the drama they find themselves faced with.

Cassandra describes the characters around her with such wit and insight we can’t help but be drawn into her world. She is a modern woman, but she is only just coming to that realization, so the true pleasure is witnessing her figure that out for herself.

Flare dress
$1,308 – farfetch.com

Charles Anastase ivory ruffle dress
830 GBP – matchesfashion.com

Closed pencil top
249 EUR – stylebop.com

Nick Mo pencil top
$63 – modcloth.com

Paul Joe rabbit coat
1.240 EUR – stylebop.com

Norma Kamali ruched bathing suit
$350 – net-a-porter.com

MEI SILK GOWN
175 GBP – toast.co.uk

Cosabella
$51 – journelle.com

T bar shoes
6pm.com

Belle noel jewelry
$25 – endless.com

Cashmere hat
39 GBP – black.co.uk

Brixton browning hat
40 GBP – urbanexcess.com

Beach sun hat
15 GBP – mylabel.co.uk

Penhaligon’S Bluebell Bath Oil
36 GBP – harrods.com

Advertisements

11 Comments

Filed under Beauty in the movies

Beauty in the Movies: Sense and Sensibility

A few weeks ago I featured the film Clueless an update of Jane Austen’s Emma, only to realize that I’ve never featured a direct adaptation of an Austen novel into film. So this week I feature Ang Lee’s beautiful Sense and Sensibility which may not be as true to the novel as some Austen fans would like, but no doubt makes up for it with stunning visuals and amazing acting.

As Mr. Dashwood passes away, his last request is that his only son, John, will promise to take care of his step-mother and sisters who will inherit virtually nothing due to England’s Primogeniture laws which stipulate that land is passed down to only male heirs. Unfortunately, John’s greedy wife Fanny convinces him his sisters will do perfectly fine on their own. As a result Mrs. Dashwood (Gemma Jones) and her three daughters, Elinor (Emma Thompson), Marianne (Kate Winslet), and Margaret (Emilie François) become strangers in their own home and must seek a new place to live.

Fanny’s brother Edward comes to visit while the Dashwoods prepare to abandon their home. Edward is nothing like his shallow, cruel sister and soon he and Elinor form a close friendship. Fanny, or course, disapproves and fearing the friendship will blossom into love makes sure Edward leaves before any such thing can happen. When Mrs. Dashwood’s wealthy cousin, Sir John Middleton, offers the women a cottage on his estate they are finally out of danger. Like most Austen, there are way to many characters and way too many plot twists to cover any more of the plot here, you’ll just have to check it out yourself, it’s worth it.

Sense and Sensibility was Jane Austen’s first published novel, in 1811, and was written under the pseudonym of “A Lady”. She was just 19 when she began what would become her first full length work, and some believe it is partially based on her relationship with her own sister Cassandra. While Elinor represents “sense” or a restrained and courteous disposition, Marianne’s character is representative of “sensibility” what we today would think of as sensitivity, or an overly emotional personality.

Both sister’s traits have their positive and negative aspects, but it does seem that Elinor’s restraint and patience win out while Marianne’s impulsive, sometimes inappropriate, behavior results in heartbreak and distress. Many Austen Biographers have argued over which of the two traits Austen saw as superior, or if she was ever sure of that answer herself. It is generally believed that Austen saw herself as free-spirited Marianne, and her sister as the more practical Elinor whom she looked up to greatly.

During this period in history, as well as many others, a woman’s search for a husband wasn’t what we think of it as today, it was an essential part of life. A woman being a spinster wasn’t awful because it meant she would be sad and lonely, but because she would be poor and most likely spend the rest of her life living off her relation’s generosity. Austen’s novels, though they deal heavily in romance, are also about the struggle to persevere.

If you were a woman born into the middle or upper classes you couldn’t simply go out and get a job, you had no options. The bechdel test fails in Austen, and in other places too, because the need for a husband was so much more than simply romance, it was in many ways a woman’s only hope and therefore a major part of the conversation among women at the time.

To think Austen reveled in the predicament women were in during her time is to completely miss the point, her characters are often in complete turmoil over their own fate, and Emma Thompson does a wonderful job of highlighting this aspect of female life in her adaptation (and in her performance as well). No one could read the novel, or watch the film, and believe that Elinor wouldn’t choose to go out and support her family if she could, but she is utterly repressed by the futility of her position.

Ang Lee’s naturalistic scenery, Jenny Beavan’s gorgeous costumes, and Emma Thompson’s insightful, funny, writing make this adaptation standout from others. There may be few of Jane Austen’s original words in the script, but the spirit of her characters and the cleverness of her storytelling are unmistakable and charming as ever.

Burberry Prorsum sleeveless dress
$1,006 – theoutnet.com

Proenza Schouler short sleeve dress
$1,150 – lagarconne.com

See by Chloe pleated dress
334 GBP – farfetch.com

TopShop cotton tank
$45 – topshop.com

DAY Birger et Mikkelsen cropped jacket
149 GBP – my-wardrobe.com

Lace jacket
23 GBP – republic.co.uk

Thierry Colson robe
400 EUR – colette.fr

Alaïa flat shoes
$283 – theoutnet.com

All Black flat shoes
$66 – endless.com

LK Designs metal necklace
101 EUR – pret-a-beaute.com

Fedora hat
$195 – barneys.com

Modstrom blue scarve
30 EUR – welikefashion.com

Gold hair accessory
$28 – nordstrom.com

John Lewis Women satin glove
15 GBP – johnlewis.com

Pashmina wrap shawl
$5.99 – amazon.com

5 Comments

Filed under Beauty in the movies

Beauty in the Movies: The Secret Garden

Most kids have a book (or series of books) that opens up such a world of wonder it becomes a near obsession. For some it might be Little Women, or Harry Potter, but for me that book was Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. Maybe it’s because growing up in an apartment gardens were foreign and fascinating, or maybe it’s because I’m a Capricorn,  but whatever the reason, I found the story pure magic, and I still do.

The Secret Garden is the story of Mary Lennox (Kate Maberly), a 10-year-old girl, born and raised in colonial India by neglectful parents. As a result, Mary has never had friends and grows up incredibly spoiled and bitter. When her parents die suddenly in an earthquake (in the book it’s a cholera outbreak), Mary finds herself shipped back to England to live with a tortured and often absent uncle (John Lynch) whom she has never met on his sprawling country estate, Misselthwaite Manor.

Not only is the house mysterious, it has an air of melancholy, as though “a spell has been cast upon it”. The housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock (Maggie Smith) keeps Mary locked in her room and refuses to coddle her. The sole kindness Mary encounters is from Martha (Laura Crossley), one of Medlock’s servants who is able to calm her violent temper. It’s only when Mary discovers a secret passage in her room, that she begins to unlock the secrets of the house.


Mary stumbles on a key in the room of her deceased aunt, and learns that it opens the door to a beloved garden left neglected after her aunt’s death. As Mary, and Martha’s animal-charmer brother Dickon (Andrew Knott), set about restoring the garden to its former beauty, Mary finds there are more mysteries to be discovered at Misselthwaite.

Early spring always makes me think of The Secret Garden, the world slowly thawing and coming back to life after a harsh winter. There’s magic in the budding of trees and the blooming of the first daffodils—it’s hope, it’s renewal, not just for the earth, but for ourselves as well. The Secret Garden is a metaphorical story with a heavy dose of magical realism. As the garden blossoms so does Mary, and the effect it has on her is contagious, setting off an awakening throughout Misselthwaite.

Not to sound like an old biddy, but I worry that with all the technology available to kids today they’re missing out on the freedom and enchantment of the outdoors. The Secret Garden highlights such an important part of childhood, not just bonding with friends, but the liberation of being outside and making your own discoveries, even if it’s in your own backyard.

While there are a few small deviations from the original novel in this adaptation by Polish director Agnieszka Holland, it’s by far the most visually beautiful and emotionally effective of the many attempts to bring this story to the screen.

The Secret Garden is a gothic tale, almost Jane Eyre-like with the desolate moors and the ghostly wailing in the night. Holland really captures the darkness in the story and pushes the symbolism as well, Mary’s Aunt’s room is not only vacant, but overgrown in vines like a scene out of Sleeping Beauty.

Frances Hodgson Burnett never saw the success of The Secret Garden during her life, her other novels enjoyed much greater popularity in their time. Over the years the novel began to emerge as her most beloved story, it has a deep resonance, it doesn’t feel like a story for children, but for everyone.

Burnett suffered the loss of her 18 year old son and never really recovered from it, The Secret Garden in many ways was a very personal story for her. It’s about the triumph of hope, of life after loss. It reminds us that even when all the world seems dead, if you’re willing to love, just beneath the surface there is new life waiting to grow.

Sonia Rykiel bow dress
310 GBP – farfetch.com

Isaac Mizrahi turtleneck top
601 GBP – net-a-porter.com

Lace top
7 GBP – houseoffraser.co.uk

One Vintage vintage top
950 GBP – net-a-porter.com

Paul Joe wool blend coat
335 GBP – theoutnet.com

Karen Walker pleated skirt
$352 – shoplesnouvelles.com

French Connection full mini skirt
$32 – usa.frenchconnection.com

Ribbed socks
25 GBP – brownsfashion.com

Cydwoq lace up ankle booty
375 CAD – gravitypope.com

Hunter shoes
56 GBP – johnlewis.com

All Black t strap shoes
$58 – endless.com

Just Female necklace
18 EUR – welikefashion.com

Rag Bone wide brim hat
$175 – shoptwigs.com

Ribbon hair accessory
$2.95 – omnicheer.com

Skull beanie
$15 – amazon.com

Pinafore Dress (22”)
55 GBP – harrods.com

Vintage Moss Be a Secret Box
$25 – modcloth.com

2 Comments

Filed under Beauty in the movies

Beauty in the Movies: Orlando

I have featured a lot of mainstream films recently, so I decided this week I should go with a film that might not be as well-known, but definitely deserves attention. That film is Sally Potter’s masterful retelling of Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando.

Orlando is a difficult film to describe, but I’ll do my best. The year is 1600, Orlando (Tilda Swinton) is a young man of noble birth chosen by the elderly Queen Elizabeth I (Quentin Crisp) as her favorite. The Queen gives Orlando an estate and the promise of fortune for his heirs, on one condition; he must never wither and fade, he must not grow old. The queen soon dies and in the frozen winter of 1610 the young Lord falls in love with Sasha (Charlotte Valandrey) the daughter of the Muscovite ambassador, and learns of the pain of heartbreak.

Time marches on and Orlando remains the same, a century passes as he dabbles in poetry only to be laughed at for being a man of wealth without talent. To escape his loneliness the young man agrees to act as ambassador to King Charles II and soon finds himself in Constantinople. On his journey to self-discovery he learns that engaging in battle, a requirement of men at the time, is unbearable for him. One morning Orlando awakes to find he has metamorphosed into a woman. He is exactly the same person, simply a different sex. What follows is a look at the absurd gender biases the now Lady Orlando must face. I’ll leave it at that, and hope you watch the film yourself.


Orlando is born an innocent child of the natural world. As a nobleman he does not behave as such, but rather looks at life with the curiosity and naivety of a child. Orlando’s nobility is directly responsible for his melancholy and loneliness. While he has a magnificent house and title, he spends most of his life in solitude with his servants and dogs. He, and later she, is entranced by beauty and desperate to experience love. The poets whom she worships and the characters she meets are sometimes disappointing, but from her experiences she learns the ways of the world and comes to understand humanity. It’s through this understanding of life that she eventually discovers the happiness she has sought for hundreds of years.

This isn’t a story about suspense or action, in fact there are moments of silence where the camera simply holds on Orlando conveying so much meaning it seems other films move much too fast. In order to enjoy the story you really need to suspend disbelief, put aside any questions of logic, and just except what is happening as easily as the characters do. Orlando is an epic of individuality, it doesn’t tangle itself in plot or shove the meaning down your throat. It’s an art film, so maybe it’s a bit abstract in places, but that’s what makes it so enjoyable.

Whether the story makes sense to you or not, this film is a feast for the senses. It’s a visual knock-out, each new setting different from the last, but equally stunning. The costumes are gorgeous, as is the scenery which was almost entirely shot on location rather than on film sets. The result is a film that is an ode to nature and makes you wish more films would utilize of the world around us rather than re-create it.

I don’t believe this film would have been possible without Tilda Swinton, she slips so easily from male to female making what could have easily been an awkward performance into something understated and believable. She is truly hypnotizing to watch, not just because of her unique beauty but also her incredible ability to express emotion through the most subtle changes in her expression.

This film is exceptional because it is a work of art, a study in gender, and so different from anything else out there. Sally Potter is a visionary and I cannot stress enough how important it is to support female directors since there are so few out there considering that we populate half the world. Orlando is the sort of film that sticks with you, not because it has a surprise ending or explosive action, but because it makes you think about life and identity while providing you with thrilling beauty. Give it a try, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

GMS 75 leather jacket
$895 – mytheresa.com

Bringhurst Shirt
49 GBP – aubinandwills.com

Dorothy Perkins harem pants
30 GBP – dorothyperkins.com

Sternlein opaque tight
24 GBP – fashion-conscience.com

Knee high boot
585 CAD – gravitypope.com

Purplow low heels
$208 – yesstyle.com

Embroidered canvas bag
atelier-mayer.com

Conroy Wilcox garnet earring
$1,720 – stuartandwright.com

Victorian brooch
$1,599 – westonjewelry.com

Lanvin choker necklace
$760 – barneys.com

Bridal earring
atelier-mayer.com

AZ Collection flower brooch
$219 – forzieri.com

Garnet ring
$169 – amazon.com

LK Designs metal necklace
82 EUR – pret-a-beaute.com

Kate Spade post earring
$45 – zappos.com

TopShop faux fur hat
$55 – topshop.com

Sashes | Shop | LaDress.com
35 EUR – ladress.com

Scrap – Page 10
encatimini.centerblog.net

Mark
classicpartsltd.com

3 Comments

Filed under Beauty in the movies

The Twilight Saga: Hate It, Love It, Deal With It

Let me start by saying that I love vampires. I started reading Anne Rice novels at age eleven (even though I didn’t understand half of them, especially the dirty parts) and I might be the biggest Buffy fan you’ll ever meet. I’ve always loved stories about vampires, fantasy, and supernatural stuff, so I had to read Twilight. I tore through those books in about a week, and I enjoyed them, they’re great escapist fantasy, and the real pull (as with a lot of good fiction) is finding out what happens next. They’re predictable, but if you’re like me, sometimes you can’t help but want to see if you’re right about your predictions.


On Friday my fiance and I were supposed to go see Inception, but he surprised me and bought tickets for Twilight Eclipse instead. I’ve made him sit through the last two movies with me, and I really wasn’t going to ask him to see the third because upon re-watching, the second film New Moon is incredibly slow-moving and at times painful in its awkwardness. Eclipse is better, and it has prompted me to write a Twilight post, because it just had to happen. I’m not going to say I think Twilight is brilliant, but I’m also not going to say it’s total crap, because I really don’t believe either of those things are true. It is however, no matter what you think of it, an undeniable phenomenon, and although I know it has been talked about, and talked about, I’m going to talk about it some more. There are spoilers below, but only if you haven’t seen the first two films, or if you care to see the films at all.

The Twilight Saga is a series of four books written by Stephenie Meyer, the novels are world-wide bestsellers with over 100 million copies sold. If you have managed to avoid the news stories, the tabloid coverage of the film’s stars, or the television in general, let me give you a brief summary of Twilight giving as little away as possible.

A boring, typical, teenage girl, Bella Swan, moves to Forks Washington (the rainiest town in America) to live with her father, Charlie, who is the sheriff.

Bella likes headbands and Romeo and Juliet, and I’m not sure what else because what she really likes, more than anything is Edward Cullen, a boy she meets on her first day at Forks High School. Edward is a vampire, he is beautiful, and brooding, and he can read people’s thoughts, everyone’s—except Bella’s. Oh, and he sparkles in the sunlight, making him not so much a scary vampire.

After lots of intense staring, some lip-biting, and heavy breathing, they fall deeply in love and he introduces her to his vampire family. They like to dress in color coordinating outfits, specifically in shades of blue and gray.

The Cullens love Bella, they don’t eat her (or anyone else) because they subsist on large animals, which makes them friendly vampires. There are vampires who kill humans though, the leaders of these vampires are called the Volturi, they also like to dress in matching outfits.

While Bella is dealing with loving a vampire, she finds out her best friend Jacob Black is a werewolf, as are some of his peers in the Quileute tribe of which he is a member. Jacob also loves Bella and can’t wear shirts because they make him itchy.

There is a love triangle, more intense staring, and loads of teenage yearning while Bella gets herself into trouble over and over, constantly needing to be rescued. Werewolves hate vampires, and Bella is caught between, and that’s pretty much what you need to know.

So, now that we’ve covered that, let me get down to it. Bella is often called an anti-feminist character, she shows little if no strength, she is constantly being saved by, or in need of saving by, a handsome dominating male. The only real thing we know about Bella is how much she loves Edward. Of all the characters in Twilight she is given the least dimension. Everything she does is motivated by her love for Edward, she is willing to give up anything for him, her body, her life, and her soul. In the process she is knocked around and fought over like, for lack of a better word, an object. It’s obvious why she isn’t a great role model for young girls. The story isn’t really about Bella anyway, it’s about the fantasy of being “special”.

I truly believe that Twilight is a teenage girl’s fantasy. The daydreams I had as a teenager, and I think were shared by many, of meeting someone who plucked you out of the masses, who was interesting themselves, and declared you different and interesting too. Really the whole idea of Bella is that she is somehow special, despite being completely ordinary and otherwise uninteresting. There is no other evidence or reason for Bella’s specialness aside from Edward’s interest in her.

We know that Edward plays piano, we know that Jacob is an amateur mechanic, but Bella doesn’t seem to have a hobby. She cooks for her dad and she does her homework. On the HBO series True Blood, which is based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris, Sookie finds herself in a very similar situation to Bella—but she fights, she’s tough, and she learns how to take care of herself, in other words, she has a personality. She is driven by far more than her love of her suitors, and the love triangle she is stuck in is partially because she gets pissed that both men treat her like an object, so she’s conflicted about both of them. The character of Bella is like a void, she is a blank slate that any girl can project herself onto, and I think that is part of what has made Twilight the phenomenon it has become.

I don’t think it’s that Sookie is braver than Bella, or that she is saved any less than Bella, but she is fully flesh to us. It’s that Sookie talks about her life, all the little details of it, in a very personal and realistic way. Of course she is supposed to be about seven years older, but there are plenty of teenage characters who manage to feel real to us on paper. For a story that is told in a first person narrative, Bella’s decisions and inner dialogue seem to repeat a loop of “Edward, Edward, Edward“. Bella loves Edward so deeply that she is fully prepared to give up her life and family—fake her own death essentially, in order to be with him.

In the film Eclipse there is a scene where Bella, who at this point is expecting to be bestowed eternal life by Edward, says her last goodbye to her mother (although her mother has no idea). While watching the scene I was surprised by the ease of it, It touched me only because I was thinking how difficult it would be for myself in that situation. The scene isn’t an error in translation from book to film, the treatment of Bella’s determination to be made vampire is almost glossed over with just a few—”oh, I’ll miss my parents” thrown in there. I’ve read a lot of fantasy, and usually when a similar choice comes about (which it so often does) the protagonist chooses against it, because it’s just too painful and wrong somehow, or they have their hand forced and live to regret it, but Stephenie Meyer gives the teenage girl inside of us that forbidden choice, and barely even takes note of the hardship that truly comes with it.

It’s lovely to live in a fantasy where you can give yourself over completely to another world, forgetting those you leave behind, or better yet, managing to have it all at once without consequence, but there is something about it that just rings false. Life is painful, and the decisions we make when we’re young can sometimes be so damaging that we spend the rest of our lives regretting them. There is so little real threat in the Twilight saga, the werewolves and the vampires warm up to each other almost too quickly (too bad Capulet and Montague didn’t have to battle an army of vampires) and it’s nice that they work things out, but it’s just too easy.

Feminism is all about choice, so I can’t call Bella an anti-feminist character, I may not agree with the choices she makes, but she (and Stephenie Meyer) have the right to make them, and that right should be protected rather than condemned. I still couldn’t feature Twilight in my weekly Beauty in the Movies post, because although though the films can generally pass the Bedchel test, I can’t get behind Bella as a role model, I’m a child of the Buffy generation, and I think there is more to being a woman than just choosing who to love, even if it can be fun to read about it.

I tried for a long time to justify Twilight as a valid piece of literature with a real message, just because I wanted to believe that a story that resonates so deeply with so many people must be more than just a happy accident. But here’s the thing, I really think that’s all it is. I think Stephenie Meyer stumbled on something, and though she is obviously talented in that she could  sit down and write four novels (all her haters, where are your bestselling novels, huh?) I don’t think the real message of Twilight is useful for anyone. As much as I’ve heard fans of the series try to justify the message as meaningful—the vampires and werewolves show tolerance for each other, or Bella finds acceptance in a world where she feels like an outsider, the message that really, undeniably jumps off the page, is that when you love someone you sacrifice everything, even if it changes who you are—just because you love them, no matter the consequence. We all love happy endings, but the stories that resonate deeply are the ones where something was gained and lost, or at least learned. I can’t say that Twilight gives you any of those things, but that doesn’t make it crap.

Twilight taps into a part of our collective unconscious, or at least mine and loads of teenage girls. It seems to resonate in some way, it’s deeply escapist and obviously romantic. It’s a love triangle, a battle of fire and ice, vampire vs. werewolf, chastity vs. sin, and of course Edward vs. Jacob. More than anything it’s a good story, but it’s not Romeo and Juliet, or Harry Potter, or Buffy, all those stories involve complex sacrifices, growth, pain that can’t be mended, and choices that are so hard it’s almost unbearable—and that’s what makes them transcend the realm of fantasy, what makes them human, and what makes us feel a part of them.

Oh my gosh I could go on about this forever, but I’m not sure if people are interested. So let me know if you are—hate Twilight so much you’re pissed I even brought it up? Let me know! Love Twilight so much you hate me for saying anything bad about it? Let me know too!

Also, why is it that the werewolf has a waxed chest and the vampire who is supposedly made of stone, has very visible chest fuzz? Thoughts? Anyone?

8 Comments

Filed under celebrity

Beauty in the Movies: The Secret Life of Bees

Happy Friday everybody! I’ve chosen a nice summery film for this week since it is, after all, the first week of summer. I’m noticing a trend, a lot of movies with strong female leads are about strong southern women, including The Secret Life of Bees (shout out to Alison Jajac for the recommendation!), which is an excellent film based on the novel by Sue Monk Kidd.

This is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read forever but just haven’t gotten around to, I know I shouldn’t have seen the movie first but it happens, I’ll probably still read the book anyway, I’m crazy like that.

The Secret Life of Bees is the story of 14 year old Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning), a white girl living in South Carolina with her neglectful and abusive father in 1964. Her mother is dead, and the only female figure (and caring relationship) she has is with her housekeeper Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson). After Rosaleen is beaten by white men in town for attempting to register to vote, and Lily’s father T. Ray (Paul Bettany) reveals that her mother abandoned her before she died, Lily sneaks Rosaleen out of the hospital where she is being held, and they hitchhike to Tiburon, a town not far away that was written on a “Black Mary” picture which belonged to Lily’s mother. Seeing the same “Black Mary” image on a jar of honey once in Tiburon, the two are directed to the home of the honey-maker, August Boatwright (Queen Latifah), who agrees to let them stay in her idyllic pink house.

August lives with her two sisters, June (Alicia Keys) and May (Sophie Okonedo). The three are financially comfortable, well-respected, educated, cultured, and un-married. Unfortunately this was a rare combination to see in Black women during the 60’s. Set amidst the height of the civil rights movement in the south, during what is known as the “freedom summer”, the movie captures the feelings of change, hope, and fear that people living during that time experienced everyday.

Suddenly Lily and Rosaleen, two women beaten down by life, find themselves in a sanctuary, and for the first time in either of their lives are given the freedom to explore, and come to know, who they really are. Lily is so motherless it’s gut-wrenching, she wants so badly to be loved and is so utterly neglected, your heart can’t help but go out to her. In the Boatwright sister’s home both she and Rosaleen learn that women can be strong, and they each find that strength within themselves as well. It is lovely how throughout the movie the characters blossom, both mentally and physically, simply from love, encouragement, and friendship.

I don’t want to give anything else away but as you can imagine this is a story about women, more specifically mothers, and the search for the mother within, which teaches us how to take care of ourselves, and how to cope with what life gives us.

On another note, did Dakota Fanning ever have an awkward stage? Seriously, I wish I was that well-adjusted at her age. She plays the stifled desperation of this character exceedingly well, in this role she breaks out of any “child star” box she might have been trapped in, it’s such a reserved performance which makes it all the more moving, and it’s great that she is exactly the same age as the character, she fully embodies Lily.

I have to point out how amazing Paul Bettany is in this film as well—plus points for him for saying he wanted to do this film because it is “about women” and that “there aren’t enough films that are about women”, that actually isn’t a direct quote, but it’s the gist. He does a fantastic job of keeping the odious character of T.Ray from being one-dimensional. We hate his character, while at the same time Bettany finds some little shred of humanity to grab on to, which keeps the character slightly gray.

It’s interesting that three of the main Black female characters in this film are portrayed by singers—they all do a spectacular job don’t get me wrong, but it does draw attention to the fact that there are very few Black actresses out there who are considered big enough names to headline a movie. And that’s a shame.

The Secret Life of Bees is a beautiful female coming of age story which we don’t see too often. Two others that I could think of both feature young women in search of information about a mother who has died, both My Girl (I guess more the sequel My Girl 2, but they both deal with this theme) and Stealing Beauty, I’m sure there are others too (let me know if you think of any!). The connection between mother and daughter is exceptionally strong, and when broken, leaves a gaping hole. This film speaks to anyone seeking understanding in a situation they have no control over, and even if you can’t relate directly to the characters, all of us can understand the need for family, for acceptance, and for freedom.

I’m a geek and I love listening to commentary on movies (especially while I paint) so when I was listening to the director, actors, and producers talk about this film I found it moving how close this story was to their hearts. It’s mentioned over and over how low the budget was for the film. You would think with such big names attached, and the pull of a bestselling novel as well, it would have received better backing. Once again the message is that not enough people want to see films like this which are specifically made for women,  I find that so depressing.

Some critics called out the story for being too “icky-sweet”, we hear that a lot about films made for women. It was also criticized for not having strong enough male characters, which I think is pretty funny because it passes the Bechdel test in reverse for men, despite being a film largely devoted to its female characters. I also think the male characters are far more fleshed out and 3 dimensional than most women usually are in heavily male dominated movies, or even male characters in your standard big budget film. Maybe I’m sensitive, but both of these critiques just scream “eww, chick flick, gross”. Men can keep making the same boring action/bromance movies over and over again, but this gets referred to as a “tired fable” when I can barely think of two movies that are remotely close to it.

So, put it on your Netflix queue, and support films made for, by, and featuring strong women characters! You might also need a box of tissues, but you won’t regret it, I promise.

I do want to talk for a minute about this “strong southern women” thing. When I typed in the term to Google I got hundreds of thousands of results. When I typed in the term “strong northern women”, Google asked me if I meant “strong southern women”. So why is this such a dominant archetype? Is it more unusual to have a strong, independent women in the south which in turn makes the character stand out more, or seem more compelling in her strength? Are northern women (or western or eastern) already thought of as “strong” making the archetype less of an anomaly? I’m trying to think of movies that feature female characters that fit into an archetype of another location. Strong New York woman? Meh, all I can think of is Lost in Yonkers for some reason. It seems that if that archetype ever existed it has been overshadowed by the ladies of Sex and the City, who unfortunately don’t appear nearly as empowering or interesting as the representations of their southern counterparts. I’m not from the south so I don’t know, but I’d love to hear if anyone has some ideas about where this model of feminine power comes from. It’s interesting that although the south is usually considered more conservative than the north (or at least the eastern and western seaboards) they seem to trump us in this respect. Maybe it’s a paradigm grown out of repression? I’d love to know other people’s opinions on this, especially if there are any southern ladies out there!

Have a great weekend, and get out and enjoy that sun!

6 Comments

Filed under Beauty in the movies