The single girl is by no means the new girl in town. In fact, as a culture, we’re kind of obsessed with her.
She’s been the subject of chatter throughout 2011 and 2012. Women’s magazines have catered to the single girl by creating lists of cities most likely to end her unaccompanied plight or techniques for keeping a boyfriend. When that didn’t stick and the collective started to realize “Single Girl” wasn’t an affliction to be cured, but rather a state of being to be acknowledged, we switched to praising her for her strength and for changing the makeup of the single man and traditional relationships, like in Kate Bolick’s 2011 Atlantic cover story. The U.S. Census bureau reported that a record 17.8 million women were living on their own in 2011, bringing some much needed numerical support to this supposed phenomenon. Plus, women's health issues were some of the most hotly debated topics in the 2012 presidential election. But throughout all of this, we’re often talking about the upper echelon of single-ladydom – the benefits of being on one’s own, kicking ass and taking names in what used to be a “man’s world,” so to speak. But in 2012, the topic of the single girl reached new levels of legitimacy, especially on television.
The exalted (and equally despised, as Fox News recently reminded us) Single Girl of cultural note gained layers and stages within her seemingly one-note solo path. The most notable layer being that of the Poor, Single Girl life stage.
Series like HBO’s Girls, CBS’ 2 Broke Girls, Fox’s New Girl, and even reality shows like Bravo’s Gallery Girls bring the plight of the broke girl into homes across the country. (In its heyday, Sex and the City may have been all about the single girl, but certainly never the financially strapped one.) It brings into relief the fact that women exist in this space where our hair isn’t always perfect. Our makeup doesn’t look like it does in the movies. Our socks don’t always match and sometimes we struggle to pay the gas bill. It’s not just a punchline and it doesn’t make us deadbeats or outliers, it’s simply a life stage. Bringing that fact into the stark light of television for the masses brings an air of legitimacy to what is very much a reality for many girls in the no-man’s land between college and middle age.
When it comes in the form of Zooey Deschanel’s doe-eyed New Girl, the pop culture advent isn’t universally embraced. The polka-dot-loving, grade-school-sing-a-long, Christmas-morning-pajama-loving girl becomes a beacon of infantilism. In fact, Deschanel’s on-screen and off-screen personas are to blame for the notion “that it's never been easier, more fun or more acceptable to remain locked in the warm, comfy embrace of childhood,” according to a Jezebel post by Girls writer Deborah Schoeneman.
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But in Season 2 of the Fox series, Deschanel’s Jess added another characteristic to her former Manic Pixie Dream girl: a lack of cash flow. Jess lost her job, and with it, her schoolgirl antics. She became a penniless weirdo struggling to find a sliver of happiness in a reality that just handed her a fresh dose of harsh reality. This manifested itself in Jess’ multi-episode quest to displace her unhappiness by finding an emotion-free sex-friend set-up with a Creed fan, which took over and let the foundation of the problem take a back seat until Episode 7, when Jess’ financial constraints finally caught up to her. Schmidt cut off the gas to the apartment and Jess finally had to face the music and get a job that probably wasn’t going to pay her big bucks so she could suffer along with the rest of us.
Of course Girls has been throwing down the broke lady gauntlet since day one. Lena Dunham’s Hannah is cut off by her parents, sending her on a journey through awful job interviews, thankless jobs, unpaid internships, and uncomfortable discussions about where she’s going to get money for her next rent payment. The series brings into focus a range of circumstances that might befall a single, broke girl living in Brooklyn, and the diverting and rarely blissful moments that help to distract from the truth of her precarious lifestyle. It’s cathartic for those living the awful (and sometimes awesome) truth, and comprehensive enough to allow for audiences at different life stages to embrace the reality they may not know themselves.
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But the broke girl isn’t a phenomenon pegged to the folks willing to shell out 15 bucks a month for HBO or risk the virus-ridden expanse of pirated Internet television. Even sweeping, broadcast audiences get a watered-down, broad stroke version of the broke girl thanks to Whitney Cummings' 2 Broke Girls sitcom. However, Max and Caroline get a punchline-chasing raw deal. It’s one thing to be broke and scraping by, allowing oneself to be tempted by the evil incarnate that is a pre-approved credit card, it’s quite another to dine out at a soup kitchen to save some dough. However, CBS’ broke girls have done both in Season 2 of the hit series. But broad strokes or not, the series is bringing the plight of the poor girl into the larger pop culture consuming consciousness.
Of course, the true mark of the poor girl as a trend is that she’s even infiltrated the realm of reality television. It’s a place that generally embraces personalities in three distinct categories: the rich and/or famous, the ridiculous and wacky, or the suckers competing for some overblown prize. Gallery Girls is admittedly a subject for hate-watching, but its content raised a question about this “poor girl” trend. Could it be a real movement in television?
Yes, it could. Not everyone in Bravo’s set of art-world ladies treads the broke girl line, but for the most part, finance as a struggle is a recurring theme for the series. Freelance photographer Angela Pham has to supplement her sporadic income with a waitressing job and modeling jobs here and there. Gallery owners Chantal Chadwick and Claudia Martinez Reardon struggle to pay the bills for their business and Reardon frets about making good on a business loan from her parents. Kerri Lisa works two full-time jobs in order to pursue her art world dreams… and keep her dream apartment in the West Village. By most stretches of the imagination, these reality starlets aren’t exactly the picture of the broke girl that we’ve come to expect (how many struggling ladies can drape themselves in such luxurious couture?), but the way in which their struggles are picked out and emphasized in the editing room before the episodes hit the television is an indication of the stories audiences are seeking.
It’s not enough for a post-graduate girl to be fun and fancy-free, wearing high-wasted pinstripe skirts and twirling her hair. That’s not what a “girl” is anymore. In 2012, the definition in popular culture evolved and diversified. Girls, in the non-pig-tail-appropriate sense of the word, became pre-adults, with all the faculties of a full-fledged grownup, but none of the practical experience. She’s a gawky fawn, learning to stand on her own two feet. Every once in a while, she won’t have enough dough for the electricity bill. She’ll hoof it home to mom and dad to get a short-term loan to stay afloat. She’ll accept a series of odd jobs to stay in the black. But all the while she’s growing; she’s working toward something other than a big, handsome man to hold her hand. Television series like Girls and New Girl have taken even the most adorable little lady off her pedestal, bringing her down to the level at which we feel free to explore, dissect, judge, and be entertained by her journey to full-on adulthood.
It’s a product of a changing environment – Pew Research reports that the number of nuptials has decreased by 29 percent since 1960, the average marrying age has risen from early 20s to 26.5 for women, and since the early ‘90s U.S. Census data has shown that there are more women than men attending college. That girl isn’t an anomaly and she isn’t hiding. She’s sitting next to you on the subway. She’s unavoidable. But the shift is also a product of acknowledgement. Every time audiences tune into one of these shows touting a broke girl heroine, they’re buying in. They’re accepting this financially-challenged, almost-adult. She’s not a stoned slacker or lost little lady. She’s a human, dealing with the struggles of early adulthood and she’s getting there.
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credit: Patrick McElhenney/FOX; Cliff Lipson/CBS]
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David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.