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TV/Film Culture cheat sheet: Charlie Kaufman, SZA, and more

Sep. 8, 2020
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Binge: Trinkets Season 2

Sanitized but incredibly melodramatic, (fictional) American high school has become a specimen of its own. It’s imbued with a nostalgic timelessness, wherein everything happens except studying (unless, of course, that “studying” leads to something else). Onscreen high schools are liminal spaces, perfect vehicles for escapist tendencies.

I have a habit of downplaying my regard for the “cheesy” things I like by commending their escapism over their actual merits, but perhaps Trinkets deserves better than that. Based on a standalone YA novel of the same name by Kirsten Smith, who’s also credited as co-creator of the Netflix adaptation, the show follows three high school girls from different social strata who become friends after meeting in Shoplifters Anonymous. While the first season spent too much time on subplots that were abandoned halfway through, the second and final season is more fully-realized, its emotional core less fickle. Even if it picks up right where the last episode left off, it feels more mature, confronting abuse, class, race, and queerness in a way it hadn’t before. It’s less about the social politics of high school, instead dwelling on the central friendship. It’s a high school show, but only because the protagonists are in high school—I would’ve followed them anywhere.

There’s also something very magnetic about a teen show that doesn’t seem to give a shit about the ‘80s: no letterman jackets or teenage characters who never use their phones. The soundtrack, with the likes of Clairo, Alice Boman, and Soccer Mommy, is like a mix you would steal from your cool older sister rather than your parents. And it’s so cathartic to finally see onscreen the true antagonists of high school: rich white boys with Ivy League connections.  

Trinkets Season 2 is streaming on Netflix.

Watch: I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020, dir. Charlie Kaufman)

With quarantine halting many anticipated productions and releases, it’s like the cinema gods threw us a bone with Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things. He’s one of the few filmmakers whose work is inevitably misunderstood yet still universally loved—everyone adores Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and everyone who’s a bit more pretentious has Synecdoche, New York in its place.   

His latest, an adaptation of Iain Reid’s novel of the same name, begins with an unnamed young woman traveling through a snowstorm to meet her boyfriend’s parents. From there we jump through time, basking in the existential horror that comes with confronting our own endpoints. It’s a tedious watch; not even an hour in and I was Thinking of Ending the Movie. I found the constant references insufferable over time—in a way, it reminded me of every conversation I’ve had with any man ever. It seems to reward the viewer for being cultured, referencing not only a John Cassavetes film but a review of it. (By Pauline Kael, no less.)

The performances carried me through the first half—the excruciating post-dinner sequence featuring Toni Collette and David Thewlis as the parents was something I could watch forever. By the second half, it was only curiosity that propelled me to continue; until the third act, where the movie was at its most gripping. Any search for answers—or even any sense of what the hell was going on—is pointless, but somehow I didn’t mind (I willingly clicked “Play” on a Kaufman, after all). People who read the book said this functions more as a book accompaniment than an adaptation since things are more spelled-out in the source material, but perhaps the joy is in figuring things out after, in piecing it together when it’s already a memory. Abstract thought is a constant talking point in the film, so maybe its ambiguity is meant to be a mental exercise.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is streaming on Netflix. If you’ve seen it and don’t know what you just watched, read this explainer from Indiewire. 

Listen: “Hit Different” by SZA, Ty Dolla $ign, The Neptunes

It feels so wrong that SZA just surprise-dropped a single and I’m sitting alone in my bedroom instead of driving around while this plays in the background. Her last release, Ctrl, essentially soundtracked the summer of its release, and after three years and a label dispute, she’s finally back. 

“Hit Different” sees the artist admit one-sided feelings for someone she knows is bad for her, crooning “Man, I get more in love with you each argument” in the first verse. Her honey-like vocals are lined with a feeling of defeat I’m sure many listeners will find resonant. How long do I have to wait before I can scream “please, don’t deny me” out loud with my friends?

The single’s music video marks SZA’s directorial debut, an R&B fantasy complete with hypnotic choreography. While watching, it’s hard not to be completely enamored by her even just for a few minutes; she’s been missed, and we can’t wait for her next surprises.

Watch the music video for “Hit Different” here.