Tag: review

Good Luck To You, Leo Grande Review: Emma Thompson’s Sexual Awakening Comedy Is As Seductive As It Is Heartfelt

No Comments


Good Luck To You, Leo Grande Review | Movie

No Comments

Retired teacher and widow Nancy Stokes (Thompson) hires handsome sex worker Leo Grande (McCormack) to help her achieve the sexual fulfilment long missing from her marriage. Over several meetings, Leo aids Nancy in working through her anxieties to find satisfaction while also trying to keep up conjugal appearances.

There is no shortage of sexual awakening stories centred on young ladies’ experience of the big O for the first time. Unfortunately, far too many women go through life without climaxing at all — and this is where comedian and screenwriter Katy Brand has stepped in to fill that orgasm gap. With Sophie Hyde on directing duties, this is an endearing, bubbly and heartening two-hander about female pleasure from a mature woman’s perspective. Together with Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack, Brand and Hyde have captured that particularly dry style of humour and matter-of-factness so typical of the British romcom, with a sex-positive flair.

Thompson gives us everything. An award-winning screenwriter herself, it’s abundantly clear the actor has invested both personally and creatively in her repressed ex-schoolteacher. Nancy is a flood of contradictions: vulnerable and assertive, liberally minded but sexually conservative, straight-talking yet easily embarrassed by phrases like “anal sex”. She might be the older woman, but early on Thompson plays her almost like a 16-year-old about to pop her cherry, wide-eyed insecurity and nervous energy vibrating off her body. Like Aubrey Plaza’s feminist teen lead in The To Do List, she has a catalogue of carnal pleasures to experience for the first time, and Leo is the man to do just that.

Brand’s script takes great care to dissect the ambiguities around sex and sex work without shame.

A calming foil to his tightly wound client, McCormack serves as a charismatic receptacle to Thompson’s anxious stream-of-consciousness, as well as a mirror to her more generational, mother-knows-best prejudices. Even as you empathise with the chaotic way Nancy unpacks her fears and sexual desires, the patient mask Leo wears rarely slips; it’s only her questions about his life, aspirations and reasons for being in his profession that cause his poise to falter. The underlying tension doesn’t quite rip but ripples as McCormark’s placid demeanour shifts, forcing a deeper interrogation for them both.

A Norwich hotel room sets the stage for this tête-à-tête; its beige decor of muted colours doesn’t pull focus and dulls any erotic charge. 
It’s not without its sensuality — at moments, the camera luxuriates in both their bodies — but naturalistic lighting grounds the encounter in the awkward, transactional reality. Navigating the power dynamic between client and sex worker, older white woman and young biracial man, Brand might have probed a bit deeper instead of tying up things so neatly. But in avoiding racial clichés and exploitative moments, her script takes great care to dissect the ambiguities around sex and sex work without shame, a lot of compassion and welcome comic relief. With bold direction, this is a healthy, relatable romp every man and woman should make time for.

Deftly handled direction from Sophie Hyde and a thoroughly impressive dual performance from Emma Thompson 
and Daryl McCormack enlivens an electric script, tackling taboo sexual subjects with wit, flair and welcome realism.


Categories: Reviews

Tags: , , , , ,

The Rite of Spring review – a bruising collision of life, sex and death | Dance

No Comments

In Lynn Garafola’s outstanding new biography of Bronislava Nijinska, she points out how little of the work of this important pioneer of neoclassical dance has survived. Only Les Noces and Les Biches have been preserved as she created them – and they are rarely performed.

It’s a problem the heirs of Pina Bausch face today. The choreographer, who died in 2009, undoubtedly altered the course of contemporary dance, but without her presence and in the absence of dancers who remember her requirements, how do you make sure that her significance and her repertory persist? More crucially, how do you keep her relevant?

Part of the answer is provided by this wrenching revival of her 1975 version of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring through a collaboration between Sadler’s Wells, the Pina Bausch Foundation and École des Sables in Senegal, which has recruited dancers from 14 African countries to introduce Bausch’s work to the continent for the first time and European audiences to a talented cohort of performers.

The production has been through hell and high water to get to the stage. Always an ambitious undertaking, its initial tour was derailed by Covid days before its premiere. A version of the piece filmed on the beach outside the dance school in Toubab Dialaw as the light faded gave a tantalising glimpse of the passion and power its new cast gave it, but all live performances were shelved.

Even now, when it is finally touring in Europe, it has been affected by the pandemic. Positive tests meant that only 24 dancers appeared on the Sadler’s Wells stage (normally there are a minimum of 26 to 28 out of a company of 36) and a companion duet for Germaine Acogny and Malou Airaudo had to be cancelled.

But even in a curtailed form, the programme packs a devastating punch. Choreographers have been making versions of Rite ever since Nijinsky’s first production for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes (another lost work) caused a riot in Paris in 1913. Sometimes they are a bit polite or too balletic. But Bausch catches the raw ferocity of the sound, with the downward thrust of arms that splice the air in terror and legs that stamp in relentless rhythm. The floor is covered in heavy brown earth, slowing the bodies that arch against it, making each step towards survival an effort of desperation.

She conveys, too, the way that this is a rite of sex and death. Renewal comes only with sacrifice. The dancers – women in white shifts, men bare-chested in black trousers – are separated and wary until the victim is chosen. Then they throw themselves against one another in messy, greedy jumps and lifts.

But it’s the work’s genius that this visceral movement is contrasted with passages of crafted beauty, of arched arms and delicately splayed fingers. It’s both real and a work of incredibly structured dance, and here the dancers endow it with deep humanity and supreme skill. When Anique Ayiboe becomes the chosen one, she dances as if her life depended on it and ends the evening, face down in the dirt, traumatised and finished.

It’s extraordinary. It’s a tribute both to Bausch and to the commitment of these dancers that it feels unbearable to watch and impossible to tear your eyes away. This Rite will live for ever.


‘The Lost Weekend: A Love Story’ Review: May Pang Tells Her Story

No Comments

The so-called Lost Weekend, when John Lennon, from late 1973 through ’74, separated from Yoko Ono and relocated to Los Angeles, where he became a hard-drinking rock-club night owl while carrying on an affair with the 22-year-old May Pang (who had been John and Yoko’s assistant), has long been part of rock mythology. It’s been covered by everything from E! documentaries to Albert Goldman’s “The Lives of John Lennon.” Like many Lennon observers, I’ve always felt like I knew the basic bones of it.

I knew that John and Yoko, after marrying in 1969 and seeming like inseparable soulmates in art and life, began to have problems as a couple. That Yoko, trying to save the marriage, made the decision to set up John with May Pang, basically instructing the two of them to have a romantic affair. That in L.A., John, for the first time since the breakup of the Beatles (and maybe since the Beatles began), let his hair down and began to enjoy a more relaxed, fraternizing, at times carousing rat-pack existence. That he became a fixture at the Rainbow Bar & Grill on Sunset Boulevard along with Harry Nilsson, Alice Cooper, Bernie Taupin, Mickey Dolenz, and others who became known as the Hollywood Vampires. That after 18 months of partying and soul searching, John returned to Yoko, commenting at the time (in one of the wittiest quips of his life, which is saying something) that “The separation didn’t work out.” And that his decision to go back made the entire episode look like Yoko’s version of a Jedi mind trick.

The central figure in the new documentary “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” is May Pang, who has told her tale many times (in her memoir, and on talk shows like “Geraldo” — in the film, we see a lot of clips of those appearances). The movie, directed by Eve Brandstein, Richard Kaufman, and Stuart Samuels, is told entirely from her point of view. It’s a portrait of the May Pang who grew up in Spanish Harlem as a second-generation Chinese-American (“a minority among minorities,” she says), and how she fell in love with rock ‘n’ roll and fell into fame with a kind of karmic destiny.

In the photos that we saw at the time of her and John, she always had a waifish beauty, and a certain mystery behind those tinted hexagon glasses. But in “The Lost Weekend,” we see that May Pang was a tough ambitious city girl, who spoke with a slight but blunt New York accent, and that after dropping out of college she had the chutzpah to talk her way into a job at the Apple Records offices on Broadway. She was a schmoozer, and when she began to work for John and Yoko, doing every makeshift task available — avant-garde film production assistant, costume designer — she had an ebullient smile and an easy-to-be-with vivacity. She was fun but circumspect (she didn’t drink or do drugs).

The documentary is Pang’s diary-like account of how the Lost Weekend played out, week by week, emotion by emotion, and on that score it offers a fascinating, revealing, and sometimes moving portrait of John Lennon unmoored, trying to find himself in a world that had caught up to him. The movie is also a portrait of Pang’s romantic passion, which as she portrays it was both innocent and deeply serious. To say that she was in over her head would be an understatement. She was 10 years younger than Lennon (and 17 years younger than Yoko), who was her boss and a Beatle. Once they were together, Yoko would phone her incessantly, wanting to know what was happening. It was all a lark; Pang was just going with the flow. But she relates, with a dailiness that’s convincing, how she and John became convivial and erotic companions, their affair rooted in a genuine affection and in Lennon’s discovery that he didn’t have to live in a way that was always so chained to his legend. (In the early ’70s, he’d become a real political scold; after the drubbing received by 1972’s “Some Time in New York City,” that was part of what he was letting go of.)

There’s amazing archival material throughout, and it gives you an unusually rich sense of what Lennon was like away from the limelight. The dark side is very much there. We hear Pang’s stories about how Lennon, in a drunken fit of confronting his demons, smashed up their place in L.A., and how he would hit her sometimes. And there are startling photographs that document the recording of “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” the album of early rock chestnuts that Lennon made with Phil Spector, who was entering his full mad-dog phase. But according to Pang, the fabled tales of Lennon’s misbehavior, as when he and Harry Nilsson, after too many Brandy Alexanders, got kicked out of the Troubadour nightclub for heckling the Smothers Brothers, were more the exception than the rule. It’s no coincidence that he reconciled with Paul during this period. In a way that’s as casually stirring as it it surprising, we see them bury the acrimony and rediscover their friendship.

The narrative that shapes “The Lost Weekend” is May Pang’s gently building insistence that she and Lennon were truly in love. And we have to take that on faith, since it’s all very subjective and not necessarily borne out by what happened. Did Yoko really set the whole thing up? According to May Pang, she totally did, walking into Pang’s office at the fortress-like Dakota, where John and Yoko had moved to feel more secure (Lennon, at that point, was being seriously harassed by the FBI, since President Nixon wanted him deported), and basically giving her an executive order: You’re going to have a relationship with John. Yoko had observed John’s infidelity, so she figured that she would let him stray with a woman she could control. It was, by any standard, a decision of seriously kinky manipulation.

Yet this was the bed-hopping, do-what-you-feel ’70s, so it all seemed a little less weird at the time. It wasn’t Yoko’s idea that the two of them move to L.A.; that was John’s impulsive decision. The documentary chronicles how after about a year there, they returned, just as impulsively, to New York, moving into a small apartment on E. 52nd St., where they lived through the first months of 1975. We see Pang’s photograph of Bob Gruen snapping his famous photograph of Lennon in a New York City T-shirt. One night, she and John saw a UFO from the rooftop (Lennon’s description and sketch of it are haunting), and according to Pang they were talking about buying a house in Montauk.

But Yoko had already re-entered the picture, showing up backstage to see John at the premiere of an Off Broadway show based on “Sgt. Pepper.” There are moments in the film when Yoko, to say the least, does not come off well — notably in Pang’s description of how Yoko attempted to cut off Lennon’s relationship with his son, Julian. Julian is interviewed throughout the film, and he (like his mother, Cynthia) maintained a close bond with Pang. That Pang helped to bring John and Julian back together, despite Yoko’s machinations, seems more convincing than not.

What doesn’t seem convincing, at least as the film presents it, is the final twist in this extraordinary rock ‘n’ roll soap opera. After John, seemingly out of nowhere, goes back to Yoko, and Pang confronts him about it, he says, quite simply: She’s letting me come back. Letting him? That doesn’t square with what the film has implied — that Lennon had drifted away from Yoko. His comment suggests that their separation was always contingent on an understanding between them. But that’s something we’d have to guess at, since the life of John Lennon remains, for all the ways it’s been chronicled, not quite knowable. “The Lost Weekend” is a compelling movie and a valuable puzzle piece, but it’s only pretending to be the whole puzzle.


Categories: Reviews

Tags: , , , , , ,

Review: ‘Nightcrawling,’ by Leila Mottley

No Comments

NIGHTCRAWLING, by Leila Mottley

To the long list of literary metaphors for youth’s disillusionment, Leila Mottley has added a swimming pool filled with dog poop. A crack addict’s vengeful ex gathered the feces from the dumpsters of East Oakland, Calif., and scattered them in the pool of the Regal-Hi apartment complex, which nobody ever swims in or cleans. For Kiara, a Regal-Hi resident and the teenage narrator of Mottley’s empathetic debut, “Nightcrawling,” this contaminated water is a daily reminder of the havoc this city has wreaked on her young life, and on the only place she’s ever called home.

It’s 2015 and Kiara is months behind on her increasing rent, “begging for shifts at the liquor store and counting the number of crackers left in the cupboard.” Meanwhile, money and power are bleeding across the Bay Bridge into downtown Oakland, where tech offices and Ubers and yoga studios and cafes and bartenders with all the same tattoos proliferate. The Temescal neighborhood “boasts its pistachio ice cream like they aren’t settling the land and calling it entrepreneurship.” There are no jobs here for Kiara, who was raised in these streets and in the dealers’ apartments that used to fill them, who uses the yellow pages to find a job because she can’t afford a smartphone or internet.

Not that she has much time to sweat the big-picture stuff around her: gentrification, the impending presidential election, the protesters shouting Freddie Gray’s name outside an Oakland precinct. There is too much responsibility on Kiara’s 17-year-old shoulders: She’s single-handedly supporting both herself and her crack-addicted neighbor’s son, Trevor, whom she’s known since the day he was born. At 9, he has become less a brother to her than a son.

The boy is Kiara’s chosen family in the absence of her own flesh and blood. Her father, a former Black Panther, died of prostate cancer after he got out of San Quentin. “Mama blamed the prison for Daddy’s death,” Kiara says, “which meant she blamed the streets.” Soon Mama is gone too: in prison after drowning Kiara’s baby sister in the same Regal-Hi pool, then trying, and failing, to kill herself, too.

Kiara saves perhaps her greatest disappointment for her older brother, Marcus, who refuses to get a job to provide for them both because he’s too busy trying to become a famous rapper instead. Since she’s underage and has no diploma, the only work she can find is in those same streets that killed her Daddy. A downward spiral of last resorts leaves her at the center of a sex-trafficking ring where the johns are the Oakland police.

Mottley writes about Kiara’s serial abuse frankly, without blinking: the feel of callused fingers on her bare skin; of a gun barrel “cold and threatening above my eye” as she’s being entered; of the “jerk in the socket above my stomach” when the cops summon her again and again, to take their turns with her. She prefers when one “presses harder” because “I just don’t like the feeling of him trying to restrain himself. Only thing worse than a man untamed is a man on the edge of it.”

The thing about some trauma plots is that even the grisliest ones can, unfortunately, be true. In an author’s note at the end of the novel, Mottley cites a 2015 court case in which the Oakland Police Department was accused of sexually exploiting a teenager and trying to cover it up. Kiara’s story is pure fiction, Mottley says, but her circumstances are disturbingly, statistically real.

Mottley writes with a lyrical abandon that reminds us she was once Oakland’s youth poet laureate. Some similes (a woman’s “cheekbones bob like apples in her hollow skin”; a body in labor is “gaping like the pocket of sky before the rain starts to pound”) land better than others (drowning is “kind of like your body overflowing with itself”; the cold air off the bay “like 7-Eleven slushies in the winter”). A confusingly underdeveloped romance between Kiara and her best friend, Alé, who “moves kinda like the Hulk” and mesmerizes Kiara by rolling a joint, feels unearned when it finally comes to fruition. But beneath this gratuitous embroidery, there’s a desperation — a reaching, through language, for some kind of salvation — a counterpoint to the carelessness with which the protagonist wields her body.

After Marcus lands in jail, Kiara is conveniently connected with a pro bono lawyer, Marsha, who wants her to testify against the police before a grand jury and make a deal to get her brother out. Marsha is a blond woman who wears cat-print shirts and avoids carbs and tells Kiara to stop cussing. “Marsha done looked up ‘how to be your best self’ and found some Cosmo article about actualization,” Kiara cracks, skeptical of her white savior. But her resentment softens into something like trust as Marsha does for her what no other guardian ever has: She continues to show up.

In a novel about sex work and displacement, there is somehow less pathos in all the moments of graphic violence combined than there is in a single, gutting passage of profound love. When Kiara is inevitably separated from Trevor — when she packs his few belongings into the knockoff Warriors backpack she bought him for his birthday; when she reluctantly peels his arms from her waist “like untying a knot”; when she carries him to the social worker “like you carry a small child to bed after they fall asleep on the bus” — we feel the final rupturing of Kiara’s childhood. She has survived brutal grief, poverty and sexual assault, but “this must be the hardest thing I’ve done,” she thinks: “being the adult for him.”

When Trevor too is gone, just like when Daddy and Mama and Marcus left the Regal-Hi before him, life doesn’t miss a beat. There’s still the trial, the grand jury, the filthy pool, the men, the bay, the disappointments. “Everything is moving, quick and relentless,” Kiara observes. “Like the city don’t know it should be stopping, should be kneeling, grieving for Trevor.”

NIGHTCRAWLING, by Leila Mottley | 271 pp. | Alfred A. Knopf | $28

Lauren Christensen is an editor at the Book Review.

Categories: Reviews

Tags: , , ,

Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes review – knotty and nuanced #MeToo play | Stage

No Comments

In navigating #MeToo era discussions around sexual consent and power dynamics, nuance is everything – a challenge Canadian playwright Hannah Moscovitch rises to in her incisive Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes. The play won the governor general’s literary award when it was first performed in 2020. It’s now playing at Belvoir Street theatre in Sydney – a transfer production of its Australian premiere in 2021 at the Melbourne Theatre Company.

Directed by Petra Kalive in a tight 80 minutes, this is a refreshingly charged and engaging take on a story of a teacher-student affair which – instead of offering easy answers – embraces the more complicated questions.

The story is told by middle-aged lecturer and author, Jon (Dan Spielman): quick-witted and lauded as a rockstar academic, but agonising over his failed marriages (three now). Set prior to the #MeToo movement, Jon is attempting to write his latest novel – we hear it’s about lumberjacks – but is unable to pinpoint why he’s so creatively frustrated.

Dan Spielman and Izabella Yena in Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes, which runs at Belvoir St theatre until 10 July. Photograph: Jaimi Joy

Enter 19-year-old Annie (Izabella Yena), a young undergraduate student of Jon’s who catches his eye with her striking red coat. She’s smart, and a huge admirer of his work. She lives close by, sits at the front of his class, calls him “cool”. There’s a budding attraction, but – as Jon insists – he’s never been tempted to pursue the college girl fantasy.

Jon and Annie’s forbidden sexual relationship – clouded by their age difference, the power dynamics and faculty handbook rules – becomes a source of Jon’s inner moral turmoil and an irresistible outlet for his emotional and creative satisfaction. In monologues, he narrates the affair in past tense as it plays out in the present (the play is structurally broken up by chapter titles, projected on a screen behind the stage), revealing a charming but self-consciously flawed man. He’s aware of how older male writers romanticise and reduce young women as objects of fiction, yet resists the idea that he could ever become such a stereotype (spoiler: he does).

Dan Spielman & Izabella Yena in Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes
‘The heavy emphasis on Jon’s inner thoughts invariably poses the question: is he who we should be hearing from?’ Photograph: Jaimi Joy

In a dizzying and captivating performance, Spielman expertly saddles this role – swinging between his realisation around the wrongfulness of the situation, and his justification that his relationship with Annie “didn’t feel bad or creepy – it felt good”. But the heavy emphasis on Jon’s inner thoughts invariably poses the question: is he who we should be hearing from? And Jon comes razor-thin close to dictating the story to the play’s disservice – until a turning point at which we realise that he may no longer be holding the cards.

Sign up to receive Guardian Australia’s weekend culture and lifestyle email

It’s here where Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes finds its spark. By framing the story through a male point-of-view, Moscovitch shrewdly steers away from a line of #MeToo revisionist pieces, in which female protagonists reclaim full control of their own sexuality and power (see: Promising Young Woman). Instead, Jon’s third-person narration adds layers of depth; Moscovitch uses it to gently skewer his contradictions, revealing his most acute moral realisations as brief and fast-forgotten. “He recognised this wasn’t good,” a chapter heading reads, just before he succumbs to the temptation: “So, he … yeah”, he admits to us.

Dan Spielman and Izabella Yena
‘Jon and Annie’s forbidden sexual relationship becomes a source of Jon’s inner moral turmoil and an outlet for his emotional and creative satisfaction.’ Photograph: Jaimi Joy

When the play fast-forwards into the wake of #Me Too, new light is cast on Annie and Jon’s relationship. Although the play pulls its punches in one of its most challenging conversations about consent and abuse of power – when Annie, now in her early 20s, dares to express her take on the affair – Kalive pulls enough from her lingering confusion to tap into the subtleties of what goes unsaid.

This is also due to Yena’s talent: Annie is self-assured, bright and funny – but with her wringing hands, shuffling feet and lumbering childlike movements, the actor leaves no illusions as to who holds the upper hand.

Marg Horwell’s multifunctional set grapples with her characters’ changing relationship through time, and Rachel Burke’s lighting design switches focus between Jon’s narrative authority, and Jon and Annie’s real-time dialogue – crucially taking the play to a final moment of catharsis for Annie and the audience.

To its strength – and to a smaller degree, its detriment – Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes asks more questions than it answers. But it shows us the complexities: Jon’s well-meaning but blinkered intentions, Annie’s young desire for approval, and the reflection brought with age and hindsight.

In fact, retrospection becomes the play’s most powerful tool – it lends it a sense of immediacy and pertinence – and asks us just who gets to control the narrative.


Maude Vibe Review 2022: This Is the Sex Toy I Didn’t Know I Needed

No Comments

Despite writing about sex toys for my job, I’ve personally struggled to find a vibrator that I really, really liked. The ones I’ve tried were distractingly loud, clunky in design, and with too many settings for me to focus on the experience itself. As a single person, sex toys for couples were nice to read about but did not get much testing from me. Plus, I had my hand, and I’ve always thought a hand was enough to get the job done! It’s intuitive and highly portable. It took a pandemic to make me finally break down and give vibrators a try again. 

After a two-year stretch sans intimate touch from another person, a global epidemic descended (remember that? Oh wait…) in which physical contact became a life-threatening offense. By the fall of 2020, like many solo people, I was incredibly sexually frustrated horny. I was horny, okay? I could hear my neighbors in the apartment above me going at it like unneutered dogs, and that didn’t help. The show Normal People definitely didn’t help (Paul Mescal, call me). In 2021, a shadow turned me on. That’s all I’ll say about that. 

As reliable as my hand was, my imagination began outpacing my fingers, so I bought a couple of different vibrator models; one that resembled a penis more accurately than felt comfortable, followed by a suction vibrator that was about as loud as a fighter jet (which led to using earplugs while jiggling my jelly bean—not sexy). Both vibrators left me teetering back in Hand Camp. That is until the Maude Vibe came into my life.

Writing about sex toys for SELF, I’ve covered Maude, an award-winning, expert-recommended sexual wellness company, at length, without trying its products myself. I was a teeny bit skeptical of such a trendy-seeming company, but when Maude offered to send a sample of its OG vibe—aptly named Vibe—I decided to give it a go, and… hoo boy. Y’all.

Right out of the pouch (because the Maude Vibe arrives inside a snug canvas carrying case with a small charging cord), I was impressed. What’s striking is just how sleek, small, and discreet Vibe’s design is. It’s shaped like a blend of an egg vibrator and a finger vibrator. The rounded base fits naturally in my hand and tapers to a soft tip. I hold it like a wand, and it makes my lady-bits go, “Lumos.” 

How does Maude Vibe work?

The minimalist in me appreciates how simple and to-the-point the Maude Vibe is to use. A long press of its single-button turns the vibrator on and off, and a quick press cycles it between three intensities. That’s it! But don’t be fooled. These intensities are each delicious in their own right—and very quiet. The lowest vibration is a warm, rumbly sensation; the middle ramps up in fluttering; the highest intensity is eye-poppingly powerful yet simultaneously gentle. The first time I used the Maude Vibe, the back-to-back orgasms were so strong that tiny vessels around my eyes burst, giving me freckles. I realize how alarming that sounds, but I promise, I was pleased. My whole body was pleased—and relieved—within under two minutes of contact.


Categories: Reviews

Tags: , , , , , ,

The Case Against the Sexual Revolution by Louise Perry review – a potent, plain-speaking womanifesto | Society books

No Comments

The title of Louise Perry’s first book makes it sound almost comically conservative: uh-oh, you think, expecting a manifesto worthy of some latterday Mary Whitehouse or Victoria Gillick. But don’t be misled. In this cultural moment, The Case Against the Sexual Revolution could hardly be more radical. It is an act of insurrection, its seditiousness born not only of the pieties it is determined to explode, but of the fact that it is also diligently researched and written in plain English. Did Perry, I wonder, struggle to find a home for it? Was her manuscript considered too hot to handle? I don’t know. All I can tell you is that while most mainstream publishers are seemingly content to publish feminist books that are both fact-free and clotted to the point of unreadability with jargon, her utterly sane and straightforward text comes to us courtesy of Polity, a small academic press.

Perry used to work in rape crisis, and it’s this experience – harrowing, but also highly, endlessly bewildering – that is her starting point in The Case Against the Sexual Revolution. It seems to her, as someone who has both talked to victims and run the kind of well-meaning workshops that are meant to reduce sexual violence against women, that 21st-century liberal feminism has backed itself into a corner so far as rape goes. Hellbent on the notion of freedom, and determined to minimise the innate differences between the sexes, such women have arrived at a point where they are not only queasy about using the power of the state to imprison rapists (those who disagree with them on this they call “carceral feminists”, a phrase that is only ever said with a sneer); they remain unwilling even to consider how women might best keep themselves safe, believing that to do so is simply “victim blaming”.

In combination, this takes the more unthinking among them to some pretty wild places – even when, ostensibly, they’re trying their hardest to be furious about male aggression. Perry cites the (admittedly extreme) example of a 2020 book of feminist essays about #MeToo in which one contributor encourages rape survivors to seek out sexual partners with a taste for sexual violence, otherwise known as “joining the BDSM community” (if you can’t beat them, join them, in other words). But as appalling and as stupid as this may be, she’s hardly surprised by it. For all the gains that the sexual revolution has brought women – chiefly the freedom to have sex without the fear of getting pregnant – those who have benefited from it most, according to Perry, are men. In a world in which sex is now just another leisure activity, and in which to be anything other than “sex positive” is to be, at best, a killjoy and, at worst, someone who is harbouring deep internalised shame, women must remain eternally silent about certain behaviours. They must celebrate “kinks”; they must enjoy porn; they must consider “sex work” a valid choice (even as, say, they disapprove of clothing sweatshops). Above all, they must fuck like a man, celebrating this as hard-won equality, and never, ever texting afterwards.

Saying the unsayable… Louise Perry. Photograph: Vanity Studios London

Honestly, girls, sex isn’t a big deal, even when it hurts! At one end of the scale, this means women who might once have worried (wrongly) about being seen as promiscuous are now almost as anxious to avoid being thought of as “clingy” (or “too intense”, as a man who’d spent four years telling me he loved me described me, when I dared to wonder about our future). At the other, it means that juries are increasingly prepared to buy “rough sex” defences in court (about half the homicide cases that deploy such a defence now end without a conviction for murder). Throttling? It’s just another “kink”, isn’t it? As for those who worry about the exploitation involved in prostitution or the porn industry, they’re just reactionaries and prudes. Alison Phipps, a professor of gender studies at the University of Sussex, has likened present-day anti-trafficking campaigns to the “white slavery” panics associated with 19th-century temperance.

Perry is alert to the contradictions involved in this way of thinking. If sex work really is just work, why are people so horrified by the idea that a tenant might be expected to pay their rent in sexual favours? She also has a lot to say about the limitations of an ethics based only on consent (consent is a low bar, one that gives us no framework in which to talk about decency, kindness or the many cultural pressures that are all around us all the time). I don’t always agree with her solutions, though it comes as something of a shock to see a feminist writer with any new ideas at all (the books of her peers are mostly just catalogues of woe lightly sprinkled with personal anecdotes). When she advises against dating apps, I wonder if she has ever been lonely. When she talks of what might be done to keep men sexually continent, I had flashbacks to the women I worked with at Boots in Sheffield as a teenager, who had some pretty retro tips on this score.

And I wish she hadn’t detoured into marriage. As a feminist who decries the matricidal impulses of her generation, I hope she won’t mind me saying that life is long, that people fall in and out of love in spite of their best efforts, and that all the statistics in the world cannot make me believe that a child with really miserable parents would not, ultimately, be better off if they could only separate amicably.

But such disagreements on my part are half of the point. This is a provocative book. More than once, its author says the unsayable. It makes you think, and it makes you want for a better world. It is urgent and daring and brave. It may turn out to be one of the most important feminist books of its time.

The Case Against the Sexual Revolution by Louise Perry is published by Polity Press (£16.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply


‘Fire Island’ review: Love wins in Hulu’s gay Asian rom-com

No Comments

Loving and sweet, Andrew Ahn’s “Fire Island” whisks you off on a sunny, celebratory week at a gay resort where a group of friends are having their last big party before they firmly enter adulthood. Their extravagant trip promises sex and drugs, and plenty of catty spats in between.

When Noah (Joel Kim Booster, also the film’s screenwriter) arrives on the retreat, he makes a promise with his sensitive best friend Howie (Bowen Yang) — a successful, perpetually single, graphic designer. Noah won’t succumb to his own sexual desires until he gets Howie a boyfriend. It’s a touching thought, at least until they meet quiet yuppie Charlie (James Scully) and all of his toxic friends. One in particular, the taciturn Will (Conrad Ricamora), confuses and frustrates Noah. And yet — in shades of the film’s inspiration, Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” — their tender, open-hearted diversions feed every corner of this romping rom-com.

“Fire Island” takes a long breath before it fully ignites, with the first half of the film crawling under the pressure of Booster’s clunky voice-over. The overwrought exposition, which feels like a structural holdover from the movie’s developmental origins as a Quibi series, gums up the pacing. In explaining how his friend group worked at the same brunch spot, Noah introduces Luke (Matt Rogers) and Keegan (Tomás Matos) as flamboyant theater school dropouts; Max (Torian Miller), a gay Black man who reads Madeleine Albright biographies; and Erin (Margaret Cho), the group’s tattooed lesbian den mother. These scant details do nothing to connect viewers to the supporting players. Instead, they exist as signifiers of varying gay archetypes deployed as hollowed-out stand-ins for Austen characters.

For its first half, Ahn’s film bends over backward to placate to heterosexual viewers and is all the weaker for it. Providing reductive lessons in gay culture, the grating voice-over describes Fire Island as a gay Disney World with a community separating levels of attraction based on race, ethnicity, wealth and body types. Such heavy-handed observations dull what’s billed as an endless summer movie.

Joel Kim Booster in “Fire Island.”

(Jeong Park / Searchlight Pictures)

The script is padded with try-hard humor (an overly self-referential Quibi joke; a reference to “Saturday Night Live” skit “Gays in Space”) and even the introduction of Charlie, the Mr. Bingley to Howie’s Jane, and Will, the Mr. Darcy to Noah’s Elizabeth, initially grinds in the sand. You would hardly be blamed for stopping “Fire Island” at the halfway point as it slowly meanders from trite to soporific.

But once Booster’s script smooths into the narrative beats of “Pride and Prejudice,” “Fire Island” discovers a pulse. The connections between the movie’s supporting characters and Austen’s novel adds richer textures to their travails, such as the introduction of seemingly nice and soft-spoken hunk Dex (Zane Phillips), whose arc parses the hollow aesthetics of the island. And as the comedy starts to click — an entire scene of Miller and Matos delivering dueling Marisa Tomei in “My Cousin Vinny” impersonations is priceless — so does the romance.

Booster and Ricamora discover a seductive groove with their spin on the classic courtship of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth. Their animosity organically shifts into affection, and although Booster can play some beats too on the surface, his bitchiness in the scenes with Ricamora could launch a thousand ships. A committed Ricamora brings an unlikely genuineness to their burgeoning romance with his physical presence and vocal inflections. And Ahn begins to locate the deeper soul beyond a sensual cat and mouse game.

Times critic Justin Chang noted that Ahn’s previous film, “Driveways,” “lingers … in that rueful gray zone between humor and sorrow.” There’s a similar mood that modulates throughout “Fire Island” in the friendship between Noah and Howie, two Asian gay men with different levels of self-confidence. Proudly nonmonogamous, well-read and quite frankly, ripped, Noah’s solitude is a choice. Howie, on the other hand, doesn’t consider himself conventionally attractive. And as Noah pushes Howie toward Charlie — often patching up his friend’s waning confidence through laughs — a sorrow lurks in the center, waiting for one of them to broach its devastating boundaries.

Matt Rogers, left, Bowen Yang and Tomas Matos in the film “Fire Island.”

Matt Rogers, left, Bowen Yang and Tomas Matos in “Fire Island.”

(Jeong Park/Searchlight Pictures)

The truth is Howie’s loneliness leaves a void that Noah cannot fill — and Yang acutely collapses the shell separating comedy and anguish. His sincere performance hits on body positivity, friendship and dejection far more precisely than any glib voice-over could, and does so with the evident ease that’s made him an Emmy-nominated “SNL” breakout.

Even as it finds its footing, “Fire Island” can be too much. There are about three false endings, and the needle drops perform more than their share of the emotional heavy lifting (even if Britney Spears’ “Sometimes” never disappoints). But the heart behind the familiar rom-com choices: the parting of two flames, the last-second pursuit to save a relationship and the happy ending that follows — cannot be doubted. It’s laughter and it’s loving that Ahn’s “Fire Island” gleefully contains.

‘Fire Island’

Rating: R, for strong sexual content, language throughout, drug use and some nudity

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Playing: Starts June 3 on Hulu


Categories: Reviews

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Pistol review – Danny Boyle’s wonky Sex Pistols show is like Punk: the Panto! | Television

No Comments

The Sex Pistols lasted for three years, and it’s fair to say that a lot happened to them in that brief, blinding flash of late 1970s chaos. Strange, then, that Pistol (Disney+) ends up feeling too fast and too loose. Danny Boyle directs this frenetic yet baggy six-part dramatisation of the Sex Pistols story, largely told through the eyes of guitarist Steve Jones. It is adapted by Baz Luhrmann favourite Craig Pearce, from Jones’s memoir, Lonely Boy, which explains the Jones-heavy perspective. The problem with this is that it gives the story a wonky, skewed focus and a frustrating sense of delayed gratification.

The first episode is all about Jonesy (Toby Wallace), as Jones is known in the series, and his terrible, traumatic childhood and life as a young thief. “Ruffians like you excite me,” purrs a predatory Malcolm McLaren (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), when Jonesy is caught trying to steal from his and Vivienne Westwood’s shop, Sex. Westwood’s character is wheeled out to explain things, while McLaren sloganeers. He speaks in statements such as “You’re a product of state oppression,” urging the band to “tear into each other like the seditionary sewer rats that you are”. When Johnny Rotten finally appears and spends an episode or two trying to write lyrics, he talks in scraps of what will become lines from their handful of songs. It’s Pistols: the panto.

It takes an episode to introduce Rotten, and when he does turn up, it’s with a flourish. The camera stalks up the stairs to his bedsit, hovers at his feet and eventually whips up to meet that John Lydon stare. Anson Boon plays him with conviction, a snotty cross between the Artful Dodger, the Child Catcher and an animated rodent. Lydon has been against Pistol since its inception, with his old bandmates taking him to court to argue that they were entitled to use the band’s music in it. They won. When the trailer came out, Lydon called it “a middle-class fantasy”. “Disney have stolen the past and created a fairytale, which bears little resemblance to the truth,” he said.

For a series that is all about the power of image, being rejected by Lydon must be the ultimate publicity coup. But young Rotten doesn’t come out of this badly: it’s just that he is a cartoon character. Another episode decides to hang itself around the inspiration for the song Bodies, as a fan stalks Rotten with a bag full of horrible secrets. It is a gruesomely fascinating story, but given that there are only six episodes to lay out the entirety of the Pistols’ birth and burnout, it feels odd to give it so much space. Similarly, there is a lot of time given to a romance between Chrissie Hynde (a very good Sydney Chandler) and Jonesy, and Hynde’s frustrations at the boys who are given the chance to be rock stars while she has to contend with “big steaming piles of sexism”. Jonesy, meanwhile, is fighting his own demons. “I screw a lotta birds and I act tough,” he says, after bottling an early stint as frontman. “But when I’m up there, I’ve got nowhere left to hide.”

Asks too much of us … Toby Wallace as Steve Jones and Sydney Chandler as Chrissie Hynde in Pistol. Photograph: Disney+/Rebecca Brenneman/FX

It is a big ask of the audience, to throw out equal parts sentimentality and nihilism, and expect it to sit smoothly. After meandering around the early days of the band, the show careers towards the inevitable implosion: Bill Grundy, the US, drugs, Sid Vicious (Louis Partridge) joining the band and flaming out tragically. I thought of Lydon talking about his friend Sid in Julien Temple’s 2000 documentary The Filth and the Fury. “He just died, for fuck’s sake,” Lydon says to Temple, his voice collapsing with emotion. “They just turned it into making money… Poor sod.”

Pistol fell flat for me, but there are two things that might make it worth a punt. The actors had to learn how to play their instruments, and the live performance scenes give a desperately needed shot of energy. It sounds great, and hints at how thrilling it must have been to be in the room. A scene of the band’s gig at Chelmsford prison, in 1976, is genuinely tense, then strangely joyful.

The other is Maisie Williams as the late Jordan, who gets the best scene in the series, when she struts through her seaside home town wearing nothing but clear PVC, to the horror of the stuffy commuters and passersby. “Provocateuring does make one quite hungry,” she drawls. Her character is what could have been. She shows what punk did, rather than telling it. There’s a lot of ambition in Pistol, a lot of provocateuring, but it doesn’t spark.