To Kill a Mockingbird and The Michaels

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Picasso, Family of Jugglers, 1905

We had a theatrical double header this week, thanks to Julie. A completely unexpected opportunity on Wednesday to see To Kill a Mockingbird and today The Michaels at the Public. Both were moving, deep, rich, and satisfying. And both had realistic yet positive things to say about life lived humbly, domestically, and with integrity while hells not of our making rage and roil around us and threaten to swallow us up.

Both plays were exceedingly well written, well directed, and well acted. Both made me think and cry: two really good things to get out of theater, and the reason I’m writing this — so the messages they left me with don’t evaporate. Particularly in these days in which we live, and these nights through which we struggle, trying so often in vain to find the spark, the good, the right, the just, the way forward.

Mockingbird‘s spark is tolerance. Accept people without judging — but also, and most importantly, question everything rather than just accept. And in the light shone by tolerance and curiosity, prejudice and ignorance melt away.  These are tools Atticus passes on to his children. This was powerfully brought home by Nina Grollman’s Scout (in a truly wonderful performance) when her father is menaced by a mob of would-be lynchers as he guards his jailed client. Scout recognizes one of the hooded men and calls to him by name: a variation, it occurred to me, on the idea of humanizing yourself to an attacker by saying your name and not allowing them to make you an object. Here it served to harken back to Atticus’s explanation of mobs being made up of people. Scout calls the person out; he removes his hood and the mob disintegrates.

I was reading online just now about how Aaron Sorkin’s Atticus Finch differs from Harper Lee’s — that, as the play’s protagonist (rather than the novel’s Scout), he changes, moving from being an uncritical apologist for the inherent racism of his society to the steely, clear-eyed Atticus we know from book and movie. I have to say that that did not spark with me; if it made the play more relevant and timely for other viewers, that is all well and good. But what worked for me was how this family — Atticus and his two children, and the heartbreakingly poignant Dill (modeled here, apparently, on Lee’s own childhood friend, Truman Capote), and the resolute and impassioned Calpurnia (I cannot remember if in the book her relationship with Atticus is described by Scout as being like her own sibling relationship with Jem) — exchanged ideas, taught and nurtured each other, grew and respected and loved. I admired the values they shared with a small — but I hoped maybe someday growing — number of members of their community: tolerance, compassion, and a commitment to truth. And I loved, and took heart from, Atticus voicing a line Sorkin wrote in an opinion piece right after Trump was inaugurated: that our finest hour always follows our darkest.

The Michaels: Conversations During Difficult Times is a very different piece, but comes down — at least for me — to the same virtues of family and shared community. The threat to their status quo is the imminent death of the imposing matriarch Rose Michael, members of whose dance company and family have gathered to spend some time together. During the course of the two-hour, intermission-less play, the characters cook and eat (with intoxicating smells of baking bread and rosemary filling the small theater), talk and laugh, reminisce and plan, hurt and help, dance and sing. Conversations overlap, points are introduced and dropped and lost and picked up and lost again, with no particular aim; just the pleasure of chatting with old friends. Each character’s blind spots and weaknesses — and strengths and quirks — are lightly exposed and just as lightly accepted.

Near the play’s end, Kate, Rose’s partner, shares Rose’s plans for her funeral. She wants everyone to gather for a day and talk about her, share their memories and sing and dance and eat. And of course, that’s what the characters have just done. They do not resolve any of the conflicts or problems presented during the play’s course — any more than any of us do during a family gathering.

The takeaways: We cannot perhaps change the world, but we can question and challenge it. We cannot perhaps change each other, but we can touch and try. And we cannot perhaps change fate, but we can meet it clear-eyed knowing that we are and have loved.

* * *

I like to fix an image to my writing to set the tone and widen the perspective, and I spent a good half hour searching for something appropriate to cover these cathartic dramas, only to realize that quiet scenes of peaceful family life were too small and serene; the keyword “tolerance” yielded hokey posters of clasping hands and dove wings; my go-to impressionists and expressionists were, respectively, too airy and too troubled. Leaving me, and leading me, to Picasso. His Rose Period jugglers hit the note I wanted: a created and creative family, bound together by creed even more than by blood. All colors, all ages. Engaged and industrious, teaching and learning. The symbolism of flaming trees offset by a pure white horse. And against all this a dominant figure balanced precariously yet effortlessly on a spinning globe.

Victor

 

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A word you hear a lot these days, it seems to me, is “transactional,” which my online dictionary defines as “relating to the conducting of business, especially buying or selling” and cites the example of “a purely transactional relationship.”

We seem to be in a particularly transactional moment in time: everything seems to be for sale and few things seem to have intrinsic value. So much has been coarsened or disparaged as a consequence.

It was thus a relief and a refuge and a revelation to visit tonight for about an hour at the Axis Theatre with poet and performance artist Edgar Oliver — and, through him, a community of people overlooked and eccentric, strange and sad, proud and profound. Victor Greco is one such. Victor is a muscular short order cook whom Oliver likens to Popeye who loses job, home, and perhaps sanity, to die at age fifty — last February — alone but not unmourned. Victor perhaps courted the fiercely shy, passive, and melancholic Oliver, stuffing the mailbox of his former East Village neighbor every day with poems, letters, and illustrations; Oliver perhaps loved Victor, visiting him in Tompkins Park, sitting with him at a nursing home during one of his last illnesses, dancing with him in better days to a gypsy-style street violinist in front of St. Marks.

“Those were happy days. Why do we survive them?”

This is the central relationship Oliver traces. But he introduces us to other denizens of this world: a towering black Amazon who, after Oliver has belatedly summoned the police to chase off a cadre of undesirables who have taken up temporary residence for the evening in his subbasement, brazenly knocks on his door to retrieve something she had left behind in her hasty departure. Dazed and accepting, he lets her in, noting that sometimes that’s what you do: let the darkness in.

And Oliver tells us about Joe Meeks, the Mayor of 10th Street, who dies in Victor’s arms. And of the roaches, whom he treats kindly — until the day he doesn’t.

This is not a sentimental piece, and there are no easy judgments we can make about these characters. Oliver muses on why he never asked the homeless Victor, his friend of twenty years, to move in with him. The answer seems to lie in the fact that Oliver gave what he could, and Victor — like the Amazon, like Joe Meeks, like the roaches, like Oliver himself — didn’t ask for more from their fellows.

It is a strange world, and I don’t think most of us would want to occupy it. But the humanity at its core, and the tolerance that drives it, makes this a very different place from where we are now.

[An early, twenty-minute version of Victor is online at Vimeo; here is the link; the play runs at Axis through October 26.]

The Height of the Storm

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“Old Couple” by James Coates

We grow old, we grow old, but unlike the solitary Prufrock, the central characters in Florian Zeller’s The Height of the Storm have — or had, or always will have — each other. The play establishes a robust fifty-year marriage between a pragmatic wife and a brilliant writer. It then explores the inevitable, inescapable string of losses confronting long-lasting relationships: loss of a loved one, loss of a partner, loss of reason, loss of identity, loss of moorings, loss of meaning. Where is home if you are not here? What is a meal if you did not prepare it or I am not hungry for it? What is the meaning of my life if I cannot remember it, and you cannot decipher my writing or access my thoughts?

The poignancy of this lean, evocative memory play is palpable. And the human all too human performances of the brilliant Jonathan Pryce, alternately frail and diminished and fervent and affectionate but always suffused by devotion to his mate, and a rock-steady Eileen Atkins, make The Height of the Storm almost unbearably real. So much so that it takes a while to realize that the piece is completely subjective: it is difficult to immediately fix in any interaction between sets of characters whose reality we are in  — a reality that often shifts within the context of that interaction — and impossible to know what the facts of this family’s life are. Which makes it all the more poignant, as the two grown daughters come home — for a weekend? for a funeral? now? in the past? all of these? — and attempt to grapple with the situation as their parents drift in and out physically and/or mentally. And even the precise nature of that situation shifts unfixedly. No one knows — can know — what to do to help or support the others, because each is essentially alone, informed by their own limited, and largely unshared, perspective. Except for the two forged together over a half century, but even between them, the play suggests, there might be secrets and locked doors.

All of which recalled this Somerset Maugham quote, from The Moon and Sixpence:

Each one of us is alone in the world. He is shut in a tower of brass, and can communicate with his fellows only by signs, and the signs have no common value, so that their sense is vague and uncertain. We seek pitifully to convey to others the treasures of our heart, but they have not the power to accept them, and so we go lonely, side by side but not together, unable to know our fellows and unknown by them.

I fear I have made the work sound hopelessly bleak. But it isn’t. It is the human condition, the inability to not ever know an objective truth, but rather to have to guess at it. And with those we love, we need to try to make those guesses as accurate and judgment-free as possible.

And maybe sometimes not to try to guess at all, just accept.

And as we walked back to the train, tears still wet on my cheeks, leaning into Steve, I heard two young men behind us praising the acting but admitting that they had early on realized this wasn’t going to be something for them. And it wasn’t. I think this is a play that speaks more to those who have come up against mortality.

After the Wedding

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Ok, so here’s the thing. You can only make a decision based on the information you have at hand. And rarely is that information complete, and rarely is that information entirely objective. But you do the best you can to make a good decision.

I was very intrigued by After the Wedding, when I realized after its first major plot twist was revealed that it was all about decisions. How nuanced and how novel. I was hooked.

But here comes the but. And a huge spoiler warning. To discuss this film in any but the vaguest terms means having to talk about its very twisty plot. And in order to explain all the buts I had about this film I have to spoil the plot.

First though to note that Michelle Williams’s performance is wonderful, and Julianne Moore’s is as well. It was a joy to see such fine acting; it was also a joy to see three-dimensional, high-powered successful women, whose fates—although united by a man—were not dictated by that man or even particularly influenced by him. Watching how stiffly, how uncomfortably, Williams holds herself in silent judgment and agony, totally at odds with her surroundings, with just the barest twinges of emotion showing through—good stuff. And Julianne Moore exudes competence, confidence, and warmth: her business executive is unabashedly and unaffectedly a woman, putting me in mind of a rather marvelous young woman leader I worked with a quarter-century ago, way back in the era when women donned pussycat bows and shoulder pads to approximate the male executive dress code. And here was this lovely young woman scientist, leading a room of high-level policy makers in the Old Executive Office Building, wearing a simple, pretty dress and long loose hair. And I thought we’ve made it now; a woman can be both credible and feminine. And then that shining era of authenticity ended, crushed under a pair of Jimmy Choos. But now reassuringly resurrected in Julianne Moore’s offices.

The story in a nutshell: About twenty years ago, Isabel—now a fiercely dedicated advocate in India, working with orphans—left a child of her own for adoption after agreeing with her artist lover that they could not take proper care of her at this point in their lives. Only except he didn’t really abide by the agreement, claiming and raising the child after Isabel left the country, and then subsequently meeting and marrying successful media entrepreneur Theresa. Who has now—unwittingly? coincidentally>—reached out to Isabel with an offer to fund her program on the condition Isabel come to New York. And while she’s here, she’ll attend the wedding of Theresa’s daughter Grace—who turns out to be her own biological daughter. And the secrets all come out, and then still more are revealed, because Theresa has engineered the whole reunion not out of jealousy or spite or fear or malice, but because she’s dying and wants the clan reunited so they can be there for each other in her absence. And to ensure this, Theresa donates $20 million to Isabel’s charity on condition that she move to New York.

At this point, I thought, oh good, now the writer/director is going to show Theresa how decisions work. How you make your plans based on imperfect knowledge and how stuff happens and life flows and new decisions are made based on new knowledge, new realizations. Isabel made hard choices based on what she knew about herself and gave up a child. Oscar, Isabel’s lover, Theresa’s husband, made a choice to take in that child; he explains to Isabel that he chooses the stones he uses to work with in his art if they call to him—that’s his decision-making process, to choose based on what resonates with him. But hard-driving Theresa, frightened for perhaps the only time in her life, doesn’t choose or decide: she plans and manages. This is of course, as she knows herself, a reaction to this disease which she did not choose and cannot manage. But then, astoundingly, maddeningly, everything she plans comes to pass. Isabel moves to New York and Theresa dies and they all scatter her ashes. And I guess we learn that capitalism trumps logic, trumps art. Which seems very, very wrong to me.

Yes, I know Mrs. Wilcox essentially chooses her husband’s next wife in Howards End. And yes I know that Melanie dies passing custody of her husband on to Scarlett. But both of those situations are the beginnings of stories, not the ends. This is a neat tidying up, and I think the audience really liked it. The existentialist in me did not.

The Farewell

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This must be brief, because the deadlines are stacked up and circling, to mix a metaphor. But I wanted to get something down in writing on this movie — comedy? drama? — before its immediacy faded and the feelings were gone.

Director Lulu Wang’s The Farewell is based, as the opening title card says, on “an actual lie.” The grandmother is not told of her cancer diagnosis, on the family’s judgment, but instead her far-flung, but relatively small, family gathers at her home in China ostensibly for her grandson’s wedding but actually to tacitly say goodbye. Hovering over all the scenes and interactions is the question of whether the American branch of the family, steeped twenty-five years in a society of individual rather than familial/cultural responsibility, will spill the beans? Or will the grieving grandchildren, sternly shushed by their elders, turn their back on tradition and tell the truth to their beloved Nai Nai?

Nothing much happens over the course of the film’s three days as the wedding banquet is planned and attended. The focal character is granddaughter Billi, Nai Nai’s obvious favorite, as she interacts with her extended family in a handful of settings in a vast country. And, despite there only being rather gloomy and dour photos for The Farewell online, the film is actually filled with fun, and warmth, and teasing — not at all the mawkish impression a Google image search conveys. Oh yes, and lots and lots of food: plates and platters and bowls heaped full of fried and steamed comfort foods, painstakingly yet extremely matter-of-factly prepared.

But now to where it touched me. It’s the wedding banquet and the father of the groom, the older brother who lives in Japan, breaks down thanking his mother and reproaching himself for not having been there with her all these years. So it is he, after all, who is going to come closest to revealing the situation’s truth. He stops, overcome.

And I heard a sob in the theater.

Later, the entertainment and mingling in full swing, we see Billi’s mother with Nai Nai’s sister, asking her what she will do after the inevitable and inviting her to come to America, assuring her that they will drive her anywhere she wants to go. And she assents, and they smile, and you know none of this is going to happen, but that these are the kinds of things family and friends say when they get together at events like this — weddings, funerals — the world over. And it’s not wrong, and it’s not hypocritical, and it’s not sad, and it’s not poignant. It just is. And then I think I might have teared up a bit myself, thinking of a similar blithe promise made at a similar occasion, which can no longer be honored — and perhaps ruefully aware of many other such promises that will also no longer be able to be honored as the years pass.

So it’s a funny thing how this movie, with about a third of its dialogue in Chinese, and most of its action set a world away, so keenly evokes the most personal of remembrances. Brings to mind Sondheim’s Marie in Sunday in the Park With George: “Isn’t it lovely how artists can capture us?”

Isn’t it.

No Ordinary Time – Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II (Doris Kearns Goodwin)

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Since visiting Hyde Park, quite coincidentally, on the seventy-fourth anniversary of Franklin Roosevelt’s death, April 12, I have been infected by Roosevelt fever. The presidential museum and home at Hyde Park are deeply compelling, rich with history and personality. The specially fitted car Roosevelt drove, operating brake and accelerator with his hands, delighting in outracing and eluding his Secret Service staff, terrifying passengers as fearless as Winston Churchill with his hell-for-leather driving style. His enormous collections of boats and stamps and nautical pictures. The dumb waiter he used to lift himself from the first floor to the second. The ramp leading into the huge great room where grandchildren romped and important visitors met the president. The hill from which he viewed the Hudson River, no longer visible due to all the trees he planted. The tiny room for Eleanor, a postscript at this home owned and ruled by Sara Delano Roosevelt, Franklin’s formidable mother. The simple, stately graves in Sara’s rose garden.

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And that barely acknowledges the acres of information, displays, documents, photographs, posters, films, artifacts, and exhibits in the presidential museum itself, organized by term.

Fascinated anew by the steely spirit and vast accomplishments of both Franklin and Eleanor, I plunged into Doris Kearns Goodwin’s magnificent biography — a marvel of deep and wide-ranging research, careful writing, and perceptive analysis. Satisfyingly three-dimensional characters emerge from the six hundred-some page narrative focused on the five years spanning Hitler’s invasion of the Low Countries in May 1940 to FDR’s death in 1945.

What we find are two extraordinary people whose visions and values largely complement and supplement each other’s but who can also callously, thoughtlessly, hurt and derail the other. Goodwin paints a picture of a marriage both inevitable and improbable: Franklin, affable, exuberant, extroverted, yet at core private; lover of good food, cocktails, gossip, and beautiful women. Eleanor, intense, prone to depression, spartan, focused, high-minded, incapable of either relaxing or compromising — both of which endeavors characterize Franklin to a T. A humorous exemplification of this clash in dynamics is Henrietta Nesbitt, the rigid White House housekeeper:

She served the same simple meals over and over again, to the point where White House guests could predict by the day of the week what they would have for dinner… The word was out that the White House cuisine was impossibly drab, dull, and overcooked.

For the president, who rarely had a chance to eat out… Mrs. Nesbitt was a unique cross to bear. But, true to form, he could not bring himself to fire her.

More seriously, in the later years, when FDR’s health is failing, his powers flagging, his reserves depleted, a fierce cadre of presidential protectors needed to keep Eleanor and her ubiquitous, ceaseless crusades on behalf of the poor and downtrodden away from Franklin. “Mother, can’t you see you are giving Father indigestion?” Anna implored at a dinner party.

For Franklin during these war years, there was only one goal: winning the war and ensuring its likes would never happen again. He was laser focused on this, and every action, every inaction, served this purpose. He was a brilliant, macrocosmic thinker, able to see the big picture clearly and fully. But this did not mean a rejection of minutiae. In fact, his vision was very much built on accretion of the kinds of details and first-person accounts that Eleanor and his advisors brought him from the outside world. Moreover, this information enabled him to take the nation’s pulse, to know when the public would be ready for the commitments he must ask them to make. And until they were, he waited.

FDR was not, however, above a little manipulation to gain his ends while he waited. A case in point: his handling of his historic third run for the presidency. He steadfastly refused to declare, so when the Democrats convened in Chicago, the delegates were befuddled: “Still, they muttered, if the president wanted a third term, why couldn’t he simply come out and say so?” What unfolded was a classic blend of FDR coyness and overreach — and what saved the situation was Eleanor and her unique gifts, demonstrating how beautifully they worked together.

The president [was]… determined, for the sake of the general election and for the historical record, to make it clear he was not actively seeking an unprecedented third term, demanding that the convention come to him of its own free will… The president’s statement [read to the convention by Senator Alben Barkley]… said… that he had ‘no wish to be a candidate again’ and that ‘all the delegates to this convention are free to vote for any candidate.’

There was a moment of uncomprehending silence. In the end, the statement said neither yes nor no. Yet it was what the statement did not say that counted: nowhere did the president say that he would refuse to serve if nominated… The delegates sat for a moment in their seats, uncertain what they were supposed to do. Then from some loudspeaker not in view, a single booming voice shouted, ‘We want Roosevelt!’ This was all that was needed to ignite the crowd, which picked up the chant and made it their own… 

The mysterious voice was later traced to the basement, where Edward Kelly, Chicago’s mayor, had planted his ‘leather-lunged, pot-bellied’ superintendent of sewers with a powerful microphone and detailed instructions to begin the stampede as soon as Barkley finished reading the president’s statement… 

Once assured of his position with the delegates, Roosevelt imperiously decided on and obstinately held to an unpopular vice presidential pick — a move which greatly diminished his popularity, particularly as FDR continued to refuse to appear at the convention.

‘Absolutely not,’ the president replied… ‘Too many promises will be extracted from me if I go… How would it be if Eleanor [came]?… You know Eleanor always makes people feel right. She has a fine way with her… Call her up and ask her… If she says no, tell her what I say, talk with me about it, but I don’t want you to tell her that you’ve talked with me. Don’t let Eleanor know that I’m putting any pressure on her.’

Eleanor, when approached, was quite reluctant. She called Franklin.

‘Well, would you like to go?’ Roosevelt cheerfully inquired… ‘No,’ Eleanor replied. ‘I woudn’t like to go! I’m very busy and I wouldn’t like to go at all.’

‘Well,’ Roosevelt responded, quickly shifting gears, ‘they seem to think it might be well if you came out.’ Then Eleanor asked, ‘Do you really want me to go?’ And so, finally acknowledging that he needed her, he said, yes, ‘perhaps it would be a good idea.’

Eleanor went, and — in comedy club parlance — she killed.

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It was 10:30 p.m. before the state delegates finished their nominating speeches… By now, the delegates were totally out of control, surging madly up and down the aisles, yelling and screaming. Surely this was not the moment to make history by inviting the wife of a presidential nominee, for the first time ever, to address a major political party enclave.

But Eleanor quietly rose from her chair, and when she reached the rostrum, a majestic silence fell over the tumultuous convention… Her words were simple and brief… [she] pleaded with the delegates to recognize that this was not ‘an ordinary nomination in an ordinary time,’ that the president could not campaign as he usually did, because he had to be on the job every minute of every hour. ‘This is no ordinary time,’ she repeated, ‘ no time for weighing anything except what we can best do for the country as a whole.’…

By the time she finished… Genuine applause erupted from every corner of the room. Trivial hurts and jealousies subsided as the delegates recalled why they had chosen Roosevelt in the first place.

I retell this narrative in such detail for a few reasons. First, it explains the title of the book; second, I felt it very character-revealing for both Franklin and Eleanor, showing their strengths and their flaws; and third, to illustrate just how thoroughly, clearly, and objectively Goodwin treats her subject, but never without seeing the humor — and the larger implications.

Much of where we are today as a society, as a world, is due to the Roosevelts — good and ill. The civil rights movement took seed under them, with full integration of the armed forces at their instigation and raised expectations on the part of the nation’s blacks — and hostility and rumor-mongering on the part of recalcitrant bigots, spreading the word about the feared — and fictitious — “Eleanor Clubs”:

“‘I hear the cooks have been organizing Eleanor Clubs and their motto is ‘A white woman in every kitchen by Christmas.'”

FDR’s policies during the war also birthed the military-industrial complex. Toward the war’s end, when Eleanor and other New Deal–era advisors urged Franklin to loosen wartime rationing so the peacetime economy could be jump started, big business and the Pentagon jointly objected: they had found common cause in tamping down small business. And American industry would never be the same again.

The UN, agreed on at Yalta, was a cherished dream of both Franklin and Eleanor, a means to promote all and exclude none. But its promise was undercut from the first by Stalin — and Roosevelt, eager to have Russia’s aid in defeating the Japanese, acceded.

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There were missed opportunities, misplaced priorities, and utterly misguided policies — the internment of Japanese Americans and the phlegmatic response to the Jewish genocide in Europe immediately spring to mind. But there was always on both Franklin’s and Eleanor’s part a burning desire to do something to alleviate suffering and ensure democracy in this country and around the world. They were unrelenting in sharing their strengths — and their weaknesses. A particularly heartrending scene Goodwin conveys is when FDR visited soldier amputees, allowing himself as never on any other occasion to be seen in his wheelchair, hoping thereby to lend courage to the wounded.  And even though both fully recognized the risks posed by human frailties, FDR and Eleanor both maintained an unwavering belief in people and institutions to make, advance, and continue powerful change.

‘We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.”People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.’

In the modern era, Roosevelt argued, a second Bill of Rights was needed to provide a new basis of security and prosperity for every American regardless of race, color, or creed. That economic Bill of Rights must include: the right to a useful and remunerative job; to earnings sufficient for adequate food and clothing and recreation; to decent housing; to adequate medical care; to protection from the economic fears of old age and unemployment; to a good education.

We can only hope, as we near a new election, that this sincere, good faith pledge from arguably our greatest president is taken up again, and the core Roosevelt values of tolerance and compassion rekindled.

Late Night

What fun this movie is! Perhaps an unrealistic premise — a long-time beloved FEMALE late-night TV host — and perhaps a contrivedly sunny ending, but not inconceivable, and so nicely hopeful and optimistic and friendly.

The setup pushes two very different women in each other’s path: the established, intellectual, private, and ruthless Katherine Newbury and the determined, buoyant naif Molly Patel. Katherine’s ratings are fading as times and tastes are passing her by; Molly is taking a long shot at making her dreams come true, leaping from factory QC to TV writer. And what should happen does happen: their interaction prods and pokes them to act with authenticity, passion, and grace.

The movie is all about being true to yourself, and eventually everyone — even the presumed villainess, the hard-edged network president, although not the charming, feckless Lothario whose actions drive the movie’s final conflict — reveals and revels in their best, true self. And that’s nice! We’re shown a situation where an outsider makes a difference by tackling preconceptions and prejudices head on. And everyone learns and grows, and isn’t that the way it should be?

There is so much the movie gets right and models so appealingly that it is almost churlish of me to point out one, to me glaring, weakness. And that is that this is a young person’s movie, even though the central character is close to, gasp, sixty, and her husband, played with quiet sympathy by John Lithgow, is even older, and suffering from early stage Parkinson’s — a disease I can’t recall ever seeing portrayed in a mass market movie. And here’s where I think the filmmakers’ youthful (and by that I mean prime of life as opposed to third act, to mix a metaphor) perspective clouds veracity. In the real world, with the odds stacked against you and an ill spouse backing you, I think 99.9 percent of professionals would take the universe’s hint and gracefully go where needed rather than tenaciously doing battle with the powers that be. A real-life Katherine would have chosen to spend golden years with her beloved husband rather than squander his remaining days and nights engaged in the relentless, fickle, faithless world of network TV.

That observation aside, I left heartened and happy. I liked that Molly wrote an essay to start her journey toward her dream job. I liked that the comedy writers turned out to be rather sweet and nonthreatening nerds and not toxically masculine snots. I liked the acknowledgment — from a surprising character — that people aren’t perfect and that to be friends and coexist, we must tolerate. I liked seeing St. Marks Theater in a movie. I liked pretty much everything Emma Thompson did.

We need movies like this: kind and upbeat. We need comedies that don’t rely on cruelty and snark, we need to see positive images of minorities and women in positions of power so this concept can be normalized and accepted, we need stories of redemption because hope is infectious.