Wednesday, December 01, 2021

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Granger at the Movies: ‘Ratched,’ ‘Emily in Paris,’ ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’

By Susan Granger
Special to WestportNow

Serving as an origin prequel for the tyrannical nurse in Ken Kesey’s novel/Milos Forman’s film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” the new, eight-part Netflix series “Ratched,” set in 1947, introduces stern, sharp-tongued Mildred Ratched (Sarah Paulson), who oozes calculating, condescending control over those she encounters.

Susan Granger at the Movies

When her story begins, former WWII nurse Mildred is applying for a job at Northern California’s luxurious Lucia State Hospital, where the notorious killer of four priests, Edmund Tolleson (Finn Wittrock), is to be held before facing trial.

There she encounters snippy head nurse Betsy Bucket (Judy Davis) and secretive, drug-addicted, ethically-challenged Dr. Richard Hanover (Jon Jon Briones). After deviously securing a night-nurse position, Mildred Ratched quickly asserts her manipulative authority.

Meanwhile, Mildred also spars with a private detective (Corey Stoll) in the employ of eccentric heiress Lenore Osgood (Sharon Stone), whose deranged son lost his arms and legs after a terrifying LSD trip with his doctor.

There’s a patient (Sophie Okonedo) with multiple personalities, along with the boorish, vote-seeking Governor (Vincent D’Onofrio) and his press secretary Gwendolyn Briggs (Cynthia Nixon), who reveals that she’s a lesbian at a time when homosexuality was considered sinful mental illness.

Deliberately Hitchcockian, the lurid, pulpy melodrama is filmed in eye-popping, candy-colored Technicolor with stylish costumes and extravagant production design.

Series creator Evan Romansky and developer/director Ryan Murphy (“American Horror Story”) envision a four-year run, the final season featuring conflict between Mildred and Randle McMurphy.

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” won Best Picture in 1976 with Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher nabbing Best Actor and Best Actress as Randle McMurphy and Nurse Ratched, respectively.

“There’s so little known about Mildred from the film. So everything was open for interpretation … and because it’s Ryan, he went to some very extreme places,” says Sarah Paulson, who appreciates that that Mildred is “really, really defined and multidimensional—with a real shape and a real life.”

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “Ratched” is a sinister, sadistic 7, riddled with explicit depictions of bizarre sexual behavior, punishing hydrotherapy and grisly lobotomies.

Since the definition of a “guilty pleasure” is a cheesy movie/TV program that one enjoys, despite feeling that it’s not generally held in high regard, the new Netflix series “Emily in Paris” fits that perfectly.

It’s a fabulous fantasy of fashion, glamour, and romance as seen through the eyes of 20-something Emily Cooper (Lily Collins), a junior “social media marketing” executive at Savoir who, when her boss unexpectedly gets pregnant, is transferred from Chicago to the boutique agency her company recently acquired in Paris.

Unlike her boss (Kate Walsh), who was fluent in French, unpretentious, unsophisticated Emily is immediately dubbed “la plouc” (“The hick”) by her new colleagues (Samuel Arnold, Bruno Gouery), particularly her chic, snobbish new boss, Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu), who resists Emily’s suggestions and resents her intrusion.

Resisting Emily’s dogged determination to “bring an American perspective,” Sylvie and her co-workers do not want to be Americanized. As a result, plucky, ever-smiling Emily suffers a myriad of stumbling, social embarrassments in the City of Light—until she becomes an Instagram influencer.

In social media, influencers are people who have a reputation for their knowledge/expertise on a particular topic. Brands love social media influencers because they can create trends and encourage their followers to buy products they promote.

So—beyond all the fun and frivolity—this breezy series gives insight into how social media works, particularly among entitled, ambitious millennials. Created by Darren Starr, it follows his half-hour, rom-com “Sex and the City” format—served with deliciously delectable croissants.

Predictably, likable Emily acquires a confidante (Ashley Park) as her love life grows more complicated, involving several boy-friends, including her neighbor/chef (Lucas Bravo) who’s involved with Emily’s other girl-friend, sweet-natured Camille (Camille Razat).

Not surprisingly, in France, this show has been severely panned for its stereotypical depiction of their culture … i.e. arrogant Parisians are nasty, rude and lazy, smoking constantly, and cheating on their spouses.

On the Granger Gauge, “Emily in Paris” is a superficial, simplistic, yet slyly seductive 6, a guilty pleasure.

While writer/director Charlie Kaufman’s films—“Synecdoche, New York,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” ‘Being John Malkovich,” and “Adaptation”—are, admittedly, an acquired taste, his latest venture into dual identities and dreamlike realities “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is his most eerie, abstract, and confusing.

Based on Canadian writer Ian Reid’s 2016 novel, it begins with a young poet/physicist, Lucy (Jessie Buckley), uttering that phrase while her boyfriend, Jack (Jesse Plemons), drives her to meet his parents. There’s an impending blizzard as Lucy evaluates the uncertainty of this current romantic relationship.

Jake’s creepy parents (Toni Collette, David Thewlis) live in a rural farmhouse. They’re as socially awkward as Jake. The disorienting family dinner is decidedly surreal—perhaps because the parents seem to drastically age right before our eyes.

Periodically, the scene shifts to an elderly high school janitor (Guy Boyd) who is contemplating suicide. As it turns out “Jake” is an idealized version of his younger self. It’s a vague point but its veracity is glimpsed as Lucy removes some of the janitor’s blue uniforms from the washer/dryer in the basement.

Meanwhile, throughout the narrative, there are allusions to Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma.” The janitor enjoys watching a high-school production of the popular musical, including the bizarre dream ballet sequence spilling into the deserted hallway.

Perhaps the symbolism of that dance is the key to understanding Charlie Kaufman’s elusive doppelganger concept because Jake has been pretending he’s someone else and the “Oklahoma” reference, plus Jud Fry’s warbling “Lonely Room” serves to eliminate that delusion.

Sprinkled into the dialogue are lengthy quotes from poet Eva H.D. and film critic Pauline Kael, along with a debate about the lyrics to the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Then the film concludes with Jake reciting the Nobel Prize acceptance speech delivered by schizophrenia-afflicted economist John Nash in Ron Howard’s Oscar-winning “A Beautiful Mind” (2001).

On the Granger Gauge, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is a frustrating, fantastical 5. You’ll need a lot of patience to sit through it.


Susan Granger

(Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)

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