Jon Favreau’s innocuous vanity project, Chef, is generally charming, though a little too long. In the film, Favreau plays What’s-his-face, a once cutting-edge chef now forced to replicate crowd favorites night after night at a swanky LA restaurant. When a revered online food blogger (played by Oliver Platt, whose brother Adam Platt is the food critic for New York—see what they did there) pans the food, What’s-his-face is forced to reevaluate his life choices. He has a son, Dimples, who is very cute but not in an annoying childstar way (very rare) and a gorgeous ex-wife Sofia Vergara, who tones down the craaazzzy Colomobian act for this heart-warming dramedy. Favreau calls in some of his Marvel buddies, Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johanasson too. (Johanasson plays the thankless role of Edgy Hostess. She’s in the movie mainly to eat spaghetti sensuously and stare lustily into Favreau’s eyes).
But of course, this heart-warming dramedy has to have some comedy and nothing says comedic relief like the dutiful POC (played by John Leguizamo) who loves his White Boss/friend so much he’s willing to drop his promising career as sous chef of a swanky LA restaurant to fix up his White Boss/friend’s dilapidated food truck and drive it around the country for kicks. He puts corn starch on his nuts, peppers his speech with Spanish colloquialisms, and flashes a gold-toothed smile and everybody laughs, everybody’s happy. He doesn’t exist outside the realm of the white protagonist’s interactions with him.
The food looks great though. Gary Clark Jr. cameos. Afterwards, we went and got cubanos which is probably what Jon Favreau wanted us to do in the first place.
Stuart Dybek’s short stories tend to disorient, folding in on themselves before unfurling in unexpected ways. I love it. I recommended his upcoming short story collections, Paper Lantern and Ecstatic Cahoots and four other local-ish books for Chicago magazine’s June issue.
When I was depressed* and living in DC and suffering under the overwhelming humidity that is DC summer, I would go to my subletted apartment, lie on the air mattress that served as my bed and watch whatever movies were available on Amazon Prime. It was the kind of mind-numbing experience that would distract me from my thoughts for the rest of the evening, which was exactly what I needed.
That was how I found About Last Night, the 1986 film based on David Mamet’s 1974 play “Sexual Perversity in Chicago.” As far as dull romantic dramas go, the movie was not that bad. Rob Lowe was still too beautiful to be believable as a sentient human being and Jim Belushi a mere chimera of his older brother. But the sex scenes were hot and the R rating felt earned not just because you saw Rob Lowe’s ass a few times but because the plot was about two adults in an adult relationship—not just the meet cute, but the during and the after.
For that reason, it felt a little refreshing, a little new, a little quaint. I reviewed it on this blog, back when depression didn’t prohibit my motivation to write, and I was harsher then.
When I heard that Kevin Hart was involved in a remake of the movie, I was curious. That the screenwriter, a white woman, wrote the script without a black cast in mind piqued my interest further. (This essay she wrote for The Hollywood Reporter about the experience of rewriting her script for a black cast was both illuminating and disappointing. Did you know Hollywood is not very progressive.
In his slightly irritating, too-obsequious-to-celebrities-way, Kevin Hart is funny and Regina is an underrated comedienne of the finest order who is too often relegated to the straight roles in all those black romantic dramas.
Also, the trailer was funny. So I had every intention of watching the movie in theatres, yukking it up with the bougie black folks at the matinee.
Somehow that didn’t happen and I wound up watching About Last Night on my laptop and being very disappointed in it. I’m not sure what went wrong.
After all, the reviews were not great but they were even-keeled. A solid 69% on Rotten Tomatoes. It was not a Tyler Perry comedy and Kevin and Regina Hall have legitimate comedic chemistry. But there was something about Michael Ealy’s jutting cheekbones that irked me. And Joy Bryant is one of those perfectly adequate actresses who makes me feel nothing. She’s just there, inoffensive and forgettable.
Then there was the unsettling feeling of seeing Christopher McDonald, the guy who played Mr. Cleaver in 1997’s Leave it to the Beaver movie ( a movie I have seen too many times because it was one of the few films we had on VHS) play a lame character in a lame subplot.
Aside: I’m always so curious about the white actors that end up in these black movies. Do they feel shame? Or do they view it as some sort of sociological experiment a la Adam Brody in another disappointing black rom com Baggage Claim? Or is is just a job. (Probably the latter, with a smattering of the former.)
I was really looking forward to About Last Night. I wanted it to be like that time I watched Two Can Play That Game and enjoyed it so damn much for inexplicable reasons.
*Do you think everyone on Tumblr has written a post that starts with ‘when i was depressed?’
I stumbled upon this Youtube series, “An African City" on Sunday. It’s a blatant rip off of Sex and The City, down to the grating voiceovers and randy, deep-voiced friend who likes to talk with relish about her sex life. The web series was created by Nicole Amarteifio, a Ghanaian-American who returned to Accra to work as a social media strategist.
The show is silly and arch, but I quickly watched episode after episode. (I have a weakness for high production values and stunning black women sporting natural hair and ankara prints.)
Some of the later episodes are refreshingly forthcoming about sex, though the materialism and one-dimensionality of the men (problems that irked the original Sex and the City too) gets annoying.
Amarteifio has a Master’s Degree in International Development, and there’s definitely a distinct degree of boosterism undergirding the series. One episode, about Facebooking potential lovers, starts off by rattling statistics about the growth of African mobile markets. Another episode, cheekily titled “Condom Etiquette,” mentions the fact the HIV infection rate in Washington D.C. is comparable to HIV infection rates in sub-Saharan African. The subtext behind each of the episodes is clear: Africa is not all flies and famines and senseless war and conflict.
Except, of course, when it is.
Like every other sentient Nigerianish human being, I’ve been tracking the country’s ongoing struggle with Boko Haram with intermittent feelings of despair and hopelessness.
It’s been surreal observing the way American media coverage of the Chibok kidnappings has gone from nonexistent to sudden ubiquity (all the hashtags and protests in which Afrocentrics wear headties and pump Black Power fists.) I don’t doubt their sincerity, but it’s disconcerting to watch this situation get Kony-fied and become some sort of larger politick about the invisibility of black women and black bodies. Like no disrespect to black American women, but it’s not about you.
Then I wonder what purpose all my fretting serves. At least now that the world is watching, the Nigerian government will be shamed into action, right? Ha.
I’m scared. And worried. Nigeria has enough problems. These recent attacks are only hurting the most vulnerable.
They always ask for permission.
"My young sister, can I ask you a question?"
I didn’t say anything because I knew what the question would be.
I tried to be nice. I wasn’t wearing headphones, so I couldn’t pretend to ignore him. He hesitated a little bit and then he asked, “Do you want to go to my concert tomorrow?”
"No, I’m sorry. I’m busy."
"You’re busy? You don’t even know what time it is."
"That’s okay, I don’t want to go. I don’t want to do this." I smiled, so he could tell that I wasn’t try to embarrass him or humiliate him. "I’m just trying to go to work."
"No I’m not gay. I’m just not interested.
That’s when his tone changed. His face twisted. “You know what? You’re ignorant.” His voice rose. ”I’m not even asking you for your number or nothing. I like dark-skinned girls, but I don’t like you. You’re a thot. You don’t even dress like a woman. Showing your ass.”
He walked away, towards a group of guys he evidently knew and started talking loudly about me. A woman who had been standing near us said, “You know what I think? I think you’re beautiful.”
"Oh you don’t have to say that," I said, trying not to grimace. "It doesn’t matter, that’s not the point," I told her, as she insisted again that I was beautiful.
I was embarrassed and embarrassed by the fact that I was so embarrassed. I was afraid that the white people waiting for the train to take them to their office jobs would think that I was somehow associated with this man who reeked of cigarette smoke and had dark, blunt-stained lips. Then I was embarrassed that I thought that thought.
I was embarrassed by how exposed I felt, by the opaque leggings I wore and the old shirt I had on, that—apparently—wasn’t long enough.
I thought about making a blase Twitter joke, “Nothing like getting sexually harassed early in the morning!” har-de-har, but I was too embarrassed even for that.
I always feel such a combination of guilt and anger whenever I am ‘approached’ in public—almost always by black men. I think about the emasculation inherent in rejection, the kind of looks they probably generate getting on the Red Line at Jackson or Monroe. I don’t want them to think that I am better than them.
And yet. I hate the uncalled for familiarity, the false comfort of ‘sister.’
I don’t know you. We are not friends. I don’t want to go to your concert. I don’t want to tell you my name. I don’t want to smile. I don’t want.