Monday, August 13, 2012

UK to US: Have a Little Faith

Paloma Faith at the Edison Ballroom in New York City.

The Olympics are so last night (the highlight of the Games for me: a fencer screaming her head off at every jab as though she were in a horror film), but that’s okay: the latest across-the-pond phenomenon, in reverse, is singer Paloma Faith, a pint-sized firecracker with formidable lungs (yes, firecrackers of this species have lungs). Recently, she gave a concert—after being introduced by music honcho L. A. Reid (what did he say? I don't remember, but he scared me a little with his stern tone, and really there was no need to scare us into liking this extremely likable 26-year-old, who was willing to jiggle for us while singing her tune “Cellulite”)—at the intimate Edison Ballroom in NYC’s Theater District. (It's attached to the Edison Hotel, which has a kind of funky Old World cafĂ© beloved by actors.)    

Wearing a long black satiny dress with giant-rhinestone X straps in the back that matched her rhinestone-studded ear monitors, the saucy songstress endeared herself to the crowd with her Duffy-like sound, humorous patter, and down-to-earth demeanor. (I’m also partial to her straight-line black eyebrows, set in a tiny porcelain-complected face that’s topped off with elaborately coiffed blond/bronze hair.) In the course of the evening—her appearance evoking the 40s, her dance-inflected music the 70s—she draped herself across not only a studio piano but also a miniature one. Following in the blue-eyed soul tradition that includes Adele and Amy Winehouse, she didn’t quite hit the emotional highs and lows as those beloved fellow Brits, but, backed up by two singers with synchronized moves (take that, Olympic swimmers) and gold-sequined skirts, she spread a kind of pixie dust—you had to smile and you had to move.

Her set included the UK hit “Picking Up the Pieces“ and “30 Minute Love Affair,” both from her new album Fall to Grace, but the song that drew the loudest response was “New York” (despite the lyric “It was New York, New York/She poisoned your sweet mind”). That song was a hit in the UK too, but “it really belongs to you,” Faith told her Gotham fans.

Declaring that her success in England has not enabled her to buy a house, she seemed to want to belong to us herself. Okay with me—did I mention she ran with the Olympic torch while wearing red platform stilettos? 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Two for the Long Road

The look of love: Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg).

Celeste and Jesse Forever
Directed by Lee Toland Krieger
Written by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack
Starring Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg

Here’s the main reason I liked Celeste and Jesse Forever: it acknowledges that life holds many possibilities but not all of these can be fulfilled, and that luck and circumstance often have as much to do with what happens to us as our own choices—in other words, our choices do not exist in a vacuum, so half the time we don’t know what we’re doing.

Indeed, Jesse—a somewhat restrained Andy Samberg—at one point bluntly tells his soulmate (or is she?) Celeste, “I don’t know what I’m doing,” even as he’s trying to set himself on a more self-determined path.

Rashida Jones, who plays Celeste, a savvy media consultant separated from the artist/slacker Jesse, co-wrote the script—with Will McCormack, also in the film, as a philosophic pot dealer—which could easily have succumbed to rom-com formula. Instead, it hints at a maturity that goes well beyond the Apatow-esque shticks Celeste and Jesse amuse themselves with and the inevitable will-they-or-won’t-they-get-back-together question at the heart of the story.

Having decided to divorce six months before (“The father of my child will own a car” is Celeste’s shorthand explanation for the split), the two have settled into a BFF situation. Jesse lives in his artist’s studio behind Celeste’s L.A. house, and the pair see each other every day, as Celeste’s “regular” best friend, Beth (played by a refreshingly real Ari Graynor), angrily points out over dinner one night. This complacent relationship is threatened only when Jesse—in the company of, of course, Celeste—runs into Veronica (Rebecca Dayan), a one-night stand (mid-separation) that he hasn’t told his sort-of-ex-wife about.

Veronica (who has crooked front teeth! Where did director Lee Toland Krieger find these attractive but kind of normal-looking actors?) throws Jesse a shy but dazzling smile in the middle of a bookstore, thus, for “trend analyst” Celeste, ironically underscoring the title of her new book, Shitegeist—“I read that!” Veronica tells her—while also, for the audience, calling into question the movie title’s “forever.” 

Except that the clever people behind this film know that “forever” transcends doodles and tree-carvings—that it may even transcend our notions of what love, friendship, and romance itself mean.