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TV/Film Culture cheat sheet: Beanie Feldstein, Charli XCX, and more

May. 19, 2020
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Watch: Bad Education (2019, dir. Cory Finley)

The latest, very welcome addition to the “be gay, do crimes” subgenre is Bad Education, the story of the largest school theft in American history based on a New Yorker feature written by Rober Kolker. (This also makes it an addition to the “movies based on long-form features” subgenre, alongside movies like The Bling Ring and Hustlers, and—fingers crossed—the future film adaptation of the viral Caroline Calloway piece from The Cut.)

You may know its director Cory Finley from his debut Thoroughbreds, the dark comedy-thriller about childhood friends plotting a crime that took teenagers’ Letterboxd pages by storm. In this film, Finley indulges the audience with open secrets, hiding clues in plain sight as if with a wink. From the get-go he assumes you already have knowledge of who’s in on the wide-scale embezzlement in the Roslyn school district in 2002, yet he doesn’t speak of it explicitly, the filmmaking practicing the same discretion as our protagonist, school superintendent Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman). 

The odd pace hinders Bad Education from being a tight, exhilarating 90 minutes better fit for the crime-exposé genre, but perhaps the movie simply stays true to how events unfolded in real life—embezzlement, no matter how high the stakes, will always seem banal in a workplace that does as much paperwork as a school district. Or maybe I was delighted so much by its cast (Allison Janney has never done anything wrong in her life ever, as well as Blockers' Geraldine Viswanathan) that I am conjuring ways to forgive the film of its trespasses. That said, even with the aimlessness of the first hour, the agitation was built methodically come the latter half. It doesn’t make a big deal out of its tension, so it isn’t paper thin. It’s held by substance and not artifice, although its artifice—with its cinematography made to look like it’s a film from the early 2000s (we love a good grain)—is pretty damn good too.

Having premiered in last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Bad Education has now been released digitally as an HBO Original Film.

 Watch: How to Build a Girl (2020, dir. Coky Giedroyc)

Maybe I’m just immeasurably narcissistic, but I can’t get enough of coming-of-age stories about misfit teenage girls no matter how repetitive they get. Once I sense the recurrences—small town, protagonist that’s naturally gifted but averse to academics, the idolization of Plath, or Woolf, or a March sister—I close my critiquing eye, choosing instead to indulge myself in comforting formula. How to Build a Girl, through its documentation of Johanna Morrigan (Beanie Feldstein)’s stint as a 16-year-old rock critic, takes on this same pattern and quietly subverts it.

Based on feminist journalist Caitlin Moran’s semi-autobigraphical novel of the same name, the movie sees Johanna take on a writing job at a music publication with an all-male staff, where her girlness is always seen as a novelty. When she submits her first piece about the Annie soundtrack, the writers think it’s a prank by a competing publication; upon writing her first feature, she’s told she just sounds like an excited teenage girl. “I am an excited teenage girl,” she says in response. Johanna rebrands as a cynic with cutthroat headlines, and while this gives her professional success, it comes at the expense of her relationships and sense of self. 

While it was extremely validating to see everything fall into place once Johanna chose to be completely herself, I really appreciated how the movie kept her safe. For most of the runtime I was worried something bad was going to happen—she was surrounded by grown men, both in the office and the gigs she had to review. She even spends a night talking to a male musician her senior. And knowing this subgenre, I figured it was expected. But it didn’t come, and the movie was better for it.

"The fact that if you sit down to watch something about a teenage girl, there's a part of you going, okay, where is this going to go really horribly wrong for her? As soon as she's sexually active? For my generation, Jaws was the big one," Moran, who also wrote the screenplay, told Vice. "As soon as you see that girl on the beach having sex with that boy, you're like, okay she's going to get eaten by shark and she deserves it because she wanted to have sex. And we still kind of have that trope in movies and TV now. If you're a sexually active girl, you're going to get eaten by a shark, either actually or metaphorically. I just wanted no sharks in my movie.”

How to Build a Girl is available on demand in the U.S.

Listen: how i’m feeling now by Charli XCX

Staying true to her moniker as a pop futurist, Charli XCX has created an entire album in five-and-a-half weeks using only tools she has within her reach in quarantine, fully documenting the process on social media. The tracks, while having a more DIY feel, are more thematic than earlier efforts, truly an encapsulation of how the singer feels now. 

Spending lockdown with her boyfriend Huck Kwong, she expressed that she now feels closer to him physically and emotionally. In fact, many of the songs, while still anthemic, are about love. “How do you express that you’re in love with someone ten different times on an album without just sounding sycophantic?” Charli joked in an interview. With her eyes always set on the future, she’s the perfect artist to capture the collective longing for the days to come. 

Listen to how i’m feeling now by Charli XCX on Spotify.