Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson

Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books—-her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Category: Laughing through Life

“Shrill,” New Aidy Bryant Series on Hulu, Out March 15th

Aidy Bryant, Chicago’s Columbia College graduate and “Saturday Night Live” cast member, is the star of Hulu’s new series “Shrill,” released March 15th, produced by Elizabeth Banks. (SXSW Photo).

Aidy Bryant’s new Hulu series “Shrill” drops today (March 15th). To promote it, Chicago’s Columbia College alumnus Aidy Bryant, her producer Elizabeth Banks (“30 Rock,” “The Hunger Games”), author Lindy West (“Notes from a Loud Woman”), writer Ally Rushfield, and co-star Lolly Adefope were in Austin at a SXSW screening of the first two episodes of “Shrill.”

There are few comedy frontiers left for writers. Jokes about ethnic groups are out and, (other than President Trump), making fun of the handicapped is verboten. Midgets, once comic fodder, are now “Little People.”

But fat people and old people are still fair game.

With Ms. Bryant as the lead, this serio-comic series focuses on how overweight people cope with the constant barrage of negative remarks and actions they are subjected to in real life. But it’s not played solely for laughs.The “Shrill” material is both funny and touching.

It helps that the main character’s Annie’s mother is played by comic pro Julia Sweeney (after 18 years away from performing) and that her sickly father is played by Daniel Stern, who has been acting since the age of 17 (45 years). [Stern first earned kudos as Cyril in “Breaking Away” (1979) and in Barry Levinson’s“Diner” (1982)].

Elizabeth Banks (“30 Rock,” “The Hunger Games”) directs a remark to the author of the “Shrill” source material, Lindy West.(Photo by Connie Wilson).

Special praise should go to Annie’s (Aidy Bryant’s) best friend, played by Lolly Adefope, who was great in the two episodes we saw. Aidy, herself, brings a vulnerability and poignancy to the role that reminds of Melissa McCarthy in her Oscar-nominated turn this year in “Can You Ever Forgive Me.” Annie (Aidy) has the likeability to make you want to root for her; her visual reactions to indignities like her boyfriend asking her to sneak out of his apartment the back way to avoid meeting his roommate brothers: heartbreaking, but all too human.

The opening episode cuts right to the chase. Aidy becomes pregnant by her sometimes boyfriend. She has been using the Morning After pill, but the pharmacist failed to tell her that the pill would be ineffective if the woman weighed more than 175 pounds. (“Oh, yeah…that guy,” says a co-worker at the pharmacy. “He’s very bad at his job.”)

The write-up in the SXSW program says: “From Executive Producer Lorne Michaels and Elizabeth Banks comes Shrill, a comedy series starring Aidy Bryant (Saturday Night Live) as Annie, a fat young woman who wants to change her life—but not her body.  Annie is trying to start her career as a journalist while juggling bad boyfriends, a sick parent, and a perfectionist boss.”

(L to R) Janelle Riley, Editor of “Variety;” Aidy Bryant (“Saturday Night Live”); Writer Ally Brushfield; Producer Elizabeth Banks, and author Lindy West at the Q&A following “Shrill.”

Following the screening of Episodes #1 and #2 from “Shrill,” Janelle Riley, editor of “Variety,” moderated a panel consisting of the author of the source material, Lindy West, whose book of essays “Notes from a Loud Woman” served as the inspiration for the series;Elizabeth Banks, actress and producer, was onstage with writer Ally Rushfield and Aidy. The first question was, “What was your first job?”

The author responsible for the concept (Lindy West) admitted that she had not had much of a goal in life of becoming a writer. “I wasn’t one of those who wanted to be a writer. My first real writing job was for “Where” magazine in Seattle.” She described the task of trying to make the Space Needle fascinating in every issue as difficult.

Aidy Bryant, who married her boyfriend of ten years on April 28, 2018 (she met him when they both were part of Annoyance Theater in Chicago), described her first job as “musical improvisation in Indiana and Ohio, which nobody wanted to hear.”

The writer in the group, Alexandra (Allie) Rushfield said her first job was, “A video store, because I’m middle aged.” She also admitted to a stint with the Groundlings Comedy troupe.

Elizabeth Banks, known to audiences for her role as Effie Trinkett in “The Hunger Games” and for her continuing role as Alec Baldwin’s girlfriend on “Thirty Rock,” has a production company with her husband, Max Handelman. Her first-job answer was, “I was a latch-key kid and my first job was when I  played Pontius Pilate in ‘Jesus Christ, Superstar.’” She then regaled us with a few bars from her big musical number.

Elizabeth Banks (L) and Lindy West (“Notes from A Loud Woman”) during the Q&A after the new Hulu series “Shrill.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Moderator Janelle Riley, mentioning that “Notes from a Loud Woman” was “a great collection of essays,” wanted to know how or when they were envisioned as a series. Elizabeth Banks answered that it was “pretty quickly after the book came out and there were a lot of option meetings.” We were told  that Aidy was actually the first person considered for the role.

Aidy (Bryant) said, “It was the first time I ever saw myself in a piece solo. They let me be involved in the writing and producing, which was huge for me.”

The big question many of us had was this: How much personal experience did you bring to the character?

The cast  noted that they were initially referring to the main character as “Lindy” (the author’s name) but changed the character’s name to Annie, since it is not a bio-pic. One noted that the series was “the child of many mothers.”

The cast members railed against Twitter (“Please all quit Twitter and put it out of business and make the world a better place.”) where random strangers gather to hurl insults. “What a joy to be called a fat disgusting pig constantly,” said Aidy Bryant. She shared that an incident in the first episode actually happened to her.  A thin, beautiful trainer grabs her wrist and comments on what a small frame she has, saying, “There’s a thin person inside of you trying to get out.”

In the episode, Aidy laughs and responds, “Well, let’s hope she’s okay in there.”

She also shared that, when she has played Sarah Huckabee Sanders in skits on “Saturday Night Live” half of the viewers who sent messages called her “a fat, disgusting pig” and half said, “Aidy shouldn’t be playing this strong, independent woman.”

All agreed: “People are not used to seeing fat people do anything on camera.” (One possible exception to this might be the character on “This Is Us,” Kate Pearson, played by Chrissy Metz). Elizabeth Banks said, “I think this is very revolutionary.  I think our entire cast and crew wanted to empower women and get rid of the people who are always telling you you aren’t good enough.”

Lindy West, the author, said, “You never see fat people doing anything except being fat.  The world intrudes on you and tells you constantly that you aren’t living up to its standards. Society reminds us all day, every day, that if you’re a fat woman, there’s something wrong with you.”

One aspect that the second episode touched on was the “very complicated relationship with your mother and her body. That represents a lot of love and pain for many women.” I can certainly attest to this.

I had a mother who harped about my weight gain after I gave birth to my son. She never missed an opportunity to insert a diet or recipe reminder in her letters. Then, after I fasted for two full months on liquid protein and lost 72 pounds, and showed up at home at exactly the same weight I had been when I graduated from high school, she never made a single positive comment. I have a good friend (and former college roommate, Pam) who has told me how uncomfortable it was for her to be around and hear her mother say things like, “Why can’t you be thin like Pam?” or, on other occasions, “Why can’t you be thin like your sister?” My mother, like Lindy West’s, is of Norwegian (and Dutch) heritage. Is that a clue?

Said writer Allie Rushfield, “The deal in the writing room is that we would find the universal themes…that period in one’s late teens and early twenties when it’s all about appearance.” Aidy, the series lead, said, “I remembered how much I hated my own guts then. I felt sad for myself—for all the time I wasted when I was sold the bill of goods about how I was worthless unless I was thin.”

Added the writers (Alexandra Rushfield, Lindy West, Aidy Bryant): “I feel like the entire world is shifting, too.”

Let’s hope so. In the meantime, I ordered up Hulu for my husband’s March 21st birthday, primarily because of this series—[although, let’s face it, I’ve not been able to see Elisabeth Moss’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” either, and obviously that is required viewing in the age of Trump].

So, how much did I like “Shrill”? At least $72 worth, minimum, and that’s probably on the low side (depending on whether you opt out of the commercials or not).

I also want to thank the publicist who got me in and let me sit in the Reserved seating area. Thank you very much. I never did gain admission to “NOS4A2,” despite writing repeatedly and once interviewing Joe Hill. That’s all I’m going to be writing about that other new series for a loooong time.

 

Amy Schumer’s “I Feel Pretty” Sets Off Controversy

OK…So, I went to see Amy Schumer’s new movie “I Feel Pretty” (and received a button that says “I Feel Pretty Awesome,” which I wore all day).I liked it—the button AND the movie.

There, I’ve said it. I liked it.

I thought it was insightful and funny and I liked lines like, “I met this baby the other day that was wack as hell.” [You can see the meeting with said baby in the clip I just posted of the movie trailer]. The trailer contains the best parts of the film, and, no, it isn’t a laugh-out-loud funny movie, because Amy is trying to make the point that (to quote a line from the movie):  “This line/movie is for every girl who is ready to believe in herself.” Or, “I think a lot of people are all confused about themselves…You doubt yourself over and over. What if we didn’t care about how we looked?” 

The premise is that, when Amy hits her head, she suddenly sees herself as perfect. She no longer has the crippling insecurities that beset her prior to being hit in the head. It takes another blow to her skull to turn her back into insecure Amy. One of the lines spoken to her boyfriend in the film (Ethan, well played by Rory Scovel) is: “She is awesome. She is the complete package. Your girl can handle herself in a knife fight!” Or, as Ethan says to Renee, “You know who you are and you don’t care how the world sees you.”

The movie  makes a plea for “The strength and wisdom to say ‘I’m better than all that. We are real women.”

Why is she being pilloried on social media for making such undeniably positive statements? The answer seems to be that some think she is too pretty to be saying these things? Is that it?  Amy is too pretty to make a statement that benefits all women everywhere? (Sheesh) Get over your bad selves, nit-pickers. And, to the newly-wed Amy: YOU GO, GIRL!

I couldn’t help but empathize with what she must be thinking and feeling as people hurl brick-bats at her for articulating the undeniable truth that most of us are insecure in some way and that it can often become almost a debilitating disease, if it inhibits us too much or prevents us from becoming our true, authentic, best selves. The film also gets the point across that TOO MUCH confidence is, well, too much.

That is probably what the uproar is all about: mid-movie Amy briefly becomes a jerk to her friends (played by Aidy Bryant of SNL as Vivian and Busy Philipps as Jane) and we want to LIKE Amy and empathize with her. If she’s confident and thinks she’s great and is enjoying herself, well, we can’t have THAT now, can we? How dare she!?

If you watch the trailer (above), you’ll see the funniest parts of the movie, complete with Amy’s attempt to win a bikini contest (she doesn’t), but, mainly, you’ll see her becoming a jerk as she gives in to her uber confident inner self,  confidence which was triggered by a fall from a Soul Cycle bike that dumped her on her head.  I’m thinking that her in-your-face confidence was just too much for some females to stomach. Be reassured: she doesn’t STAY a jerk.

Girls always seem to accept other girls, or women other women, only if they are sweet and malleable and supportive and “nice,” as my husband euphemistically terms it. It still isn’t acceptable in society to be sassy and funny and irreverent, if you’re female. You still get labeled as “a bitch” if you display any of those characteristics, even though Amy Schumer rose to fame because of  the irreverent salacious humor of her stand-up act (and, yes, I HAVE seen her act, “live”). [It can’t be the men who are complaining and giving the film a thumbs down on YouTube, can it?]

I thought the opening sequence where she is participating in a Soul Cycle class with model-thin women and her bike seat gives away and she experiences a jarring blow to her vagina was note-perfect. She hobbles out with her pants torn and in pain. Have none of you (females) who are giving it a thumbs down on YouTube never experienced the crushing pain of falling onto the metal part of a boy’s bike? No? [Okay, then. It must be just me.]

I’ve also been involved in exercise classes where it was quite obvious I did not belong. My favorite story is the one where, somehow, I ended up LEADING the class and had NO idea where I was to “lead” them. It was a lot like the scene in “Animal House” where the marching band marches into a brick wall. I also remembered my husband once commenting  that I was only equipped to compete in the Olympics in the “400 yard roll” or some such joke. (He WAS kidding, but his humor was lost on me at the time.)

I actually wrote several humorous essays about exercise classes I have known and published them in “Laughing through Life, so if you want to hear all about the types of things that befall Amy in her class, but happened, IRL, to me, you can order a copy on Amazon.

But that’s not the point.

The point of the movie as written and directed by Abby Kohn (“2009’s “He’s Just Not That In To You”) and Marc Silverstein (husband of *BusyPhilipps,”How To Be Single”) to me, was that Amy wants each and every one of us who is female to feel comfortable in our own skins. So what if we have too much junk in the trunk? Forgetaboutit. So what if we are not rail-thin?  Move on. Get over it! Be confident.

BUT, and this is important, do NOT lose good friends because you become an insufferable ego-maniac.

Other good things about the movie:

Michael Andrews selected the music (“This Girl Is On Fire” for one) and it is great. Michelle Williams plays the daughter of a cosmetics icon who has a very soft voice like Jackie Kennedy’s (okay, you’re too young to remember how Jackie’s voice was very soft and not forceful at all, and Marilyn Monroe’s was the same way, so just work with me here) and, therefore, has a hard time being taken seriously. She also is involved in some serious sibling rivalry with her handsome brother, Grant LeClair (Tom Hopper), who comes on to Amy at one point (Amy remains true to Ethan, so why did the haters not note THAT?)

Many critics praised the appearance of Lauren Hutton as Gramma LeClaire (Lily LeClaire) in “I Feel Pretty,” who founded the cosmetics company, which is attempting to turn out an affordable cosmetics line suitable for sale in Target stores.

Lauren appears as a retired model, which she really is. She made her film debut in 1968 in “Paper Lion” and still works as a model, apparently because she is still reed-thin.

Lauren definitely has been out in the sun too much for too long and she has done nothing to diminish the age-related wrinkles caused by too much sun exposure. I actually looked up her age, after the film, since I was hoping she was older than me. She was…but not by that much.

For someone who is listed as 74 (birthday: Nov. 17, 1943) she is thin, but, aside from that, she might consider whether the path she wants to take is the one taken by Jane Fonda, or the one taken by others, which doesn’t have to mean plastic surgery, but does mean trying to diminish age-related deterioration. Yes, I know. This is in direct opposition to the message of the movie, but the message of the movie for a young woman is quite different than for a “mature” (don’t say “old”) woman: society has not moved forward enough to accept prune-like visages that could have remained recognizable if the owner of the face had taken the slightest precautions.

To me, since we are only given one face, it is irresponsible not to at least try to keep it looking halfway decent. While that also applies to our bodies, I agree with Amy that a woman in today’s society ought to NOT have to be reed-thin to be considered attractive. We women have to bear children and cook and clean and, usually, also work,and genetics will get you every time, so not all of us will remain emaciated in our golden years. Lauren is reed-thin, so she gets to keep modeling. She looks like hell, facially, but nevermind that, as long as she is thin.

That, to me, was the message for we “mature” types and, yes, that was a contradiction of the first magnitude, which I blame(d) on the age difference between the character Amy is playing (Renee Bennett) and the one that Lauren Hutton is playing (Lily LeClaire).

And probably something that the writers never considered, either, since the male writer (Marc Silverstein) is also the husband of Busy Philipps, [whois supposed to be getting a talk show this fall] and Abby Kohn might have tried  for Jane Fonda for the Lauren Hutton role—or any other mature actress who has not thrown caution to the winds and abandoned her face to extensive sun damage.

 

 

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