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Issue #37: Icy Blondes ❄️
I Care A Lot + Frozen
Do blondes really have more fun? Consider that question as we tie together two films with a pair of very different blondes, each in need of a good thaw in their own way. First up, Cate on I Care A Lot’s ruthless predator instincts and #girlboss greed. Then Zosha makes her Frozen apologist case and talks why Disney movies need to let their princesses be a little more human. Read on and let us know what you think.
Cate on I Care A Lot
I’ve often said that my favourite form of horror is anxiety. Nothing makes me more scared than prolonged, unresolved tension. The rising patter of deep discomfort is more terrifying to me than any slasher film. The infinite potential for harm chills me to my bones. I Care A Lot not only meets that bar but clears it handily, giving me all new anxieties to stew about as the brain worms that plague me make a meal of my mind.
Amy Elliott Dunne said move over bitch. Marla Grayson is the new HBIC, and Rosamund Pike is back for another round of sheer, shocking disgrace.
Marla is a sophisticated grifter who cons the elderly into becoming a ward of the state under her care. Once they’re safely ensconced into complicit nursing homes, she sells off their assets to enrich herself. Complaining family members are accused of guarding inheritances over the care of the infirm, and the victims themselves are cut off from the outside world, and anyone who could help them. The film’s first 20 minutes demonstrate this con in exacting detail, and the sympathetic helplessness is so unnerving that it’s difficult to watch. Whole lives are ripped from the people who have earned them—unsuspecting victims of a legal system that trades in volume over justice. But when Marla picks a victim who is connected to some very dangerous people, the whole enterprise begins to fall apart.
It’s hard to talk about I Care A Lot without invoking Gone Girl. Not just because of Pike’s presence as their star, but because of all the ways her performance in the latter makes her the ideal choice here too. Marla Grayson is exacting and precise. Her methods are practiced and well-oiled. She has a poker face to unnerve the best card shark in town. Pike infuses her with an affect so unwavering it’s chilling. Pike controls every inch of her face, betraying nothing before the story demands it. Her interactions with other characters border on sociopathic—she is able to slip in and out of her practiced performance with ease.
But where her Amy Elliott Dunne is simmering with vengeance, Marla Grayson is merely playing with her food. As she says nears the film’s midpoint, she doesn’t lose. She sincerely intends to keep fighting until she’s dead.
Marla is joined in her calculated grift by Eliza Gonzalez’s Fran—her partner and lover. The two operate like a well-oiled machine and remain in lockstep throughout the film. But the film seems less interested in the details of the relationship than the mere fact of it, presenting their romance as a dry, incidental detail. The women glance longingly at each other and peck each other affectionately, but the story is not particularly concerned with either woman’s interiority or even their relationship to each other. Together the women lack heat or any semblance of sensuality. They are not lesbian lovers and thieves, but merely thieves who kiss sometimes. One should be forgiven for expecting the film to live out its advertised mythos—be gay, do crime.
In fact, I Care A Lot presents Marla as a villainess worthy of the reaction previously reserved for Amy Dunne, but does not bother to give her sufficient motivation. Marla wants to be rich. Rich enough to use her money to bully people into doing as they’re told. But that’s all we get. Unchecked greed and nothing more. Amy at least had her grudges.
But more than that, Marla wanted her American Dream, and the film frames her actions as her dogged pursuit of what she was promised. What she is doing is mere exploitation, but it’s not technically speaking, illegal. Marla’s found her piece of the pie, and no one will be taking it from her. Not even an ex-Russian mafia mob boss who’s just looking out for his dear old mother. But it’s the lives she ruins that remain top of mind.
I realized about halfway through the movie that I didn’t know who I was rooting for. Marla— our villain and protagonist— was a terror who needed to be stopped. But Peter Dinklage’s Roman Lunyov—who is implied to be trafficking both drugs and women—was not exactly the hero we needed either. With no moral high ground to cling to, I could feel the #girlboss conditioning seeping in, urging me to lend my sympathies to the woman who refused to go down without a fight. But there’s no way to twist Marla into a heroine. She isn’t the kind of fun queer villain who is sticking it to a system that harms and hinders queer people. She isn't dancing on the graves of men who did her wrong. She’s just a greedy leech who hurts people. And the film’s ending, though both frustrating and surprising, underscores that simple yet undeniable fact.
Zosha on Frozen
I am — and probably, at this point in the release cycle, always will be — a Frozen apologist, so let me just start by saying that I get it. As someone who has never seen a Despicable Me movie, I understand the ire that can nestle in your chest as a kids’ movie sweeps the merchandising realm, until finally it is everywhere you look, and you suddenly know a lot about how Minions’ language was developed, for some reason. I know that Frozen is imperfect (at a production level, if industry gossip is to be believed) and that like so many Pixar/princess/Disney properties, it’s a wee bit rushed. I also know that it is a great film about sisters.
There were Disney movies before about sisters — Lilo and Stitch, fabulous. The Parent Trap, another classic. When You Wish Upon a Star, if you can harken back to a DCOM original, complete with baby Katherine Heigl. The thing that sets Frozen apart, though, is that it’s about the sister you grew up with; the one who lives with you, who you love with all your heart, and who you don’t quite understand.
This is certainly not something Lilo and Stitch or The Parent Trap can dip into, and WYWUaS is a sort of classic teen-Taylor-Swift-esque dichotomy between sisters, something I think most people don’t identify with as strongly. In Frozen, Anna and Elsa start as close as can be, and then get separated by a traumatic event that only Elsa can remember (nearly freezing her sister to death by accident when playing with snow powers). In response, their parents hide Elsa away to help her suppress her powers, and Anna wonders why they grew apart and why Elsa can’t open up, or at least open up her bedroom door.
Ultimately I think the movie is powerful, subversive even, in the way that it breaks the monotony of almost every other Disney princess movie I’ve seen: When Anna needs an act of true love to thaw her (accidentally) frozen heart, it’s saving Elsa that does the trick. Not only is it her relationship with her sister that saves her, it’s herself. But I also think the movie builds a compelling case along the way that defies that (singularly) happy ending upheaval. I think it’s just so damn great that they let Elsa and Anna be wrong.
We’ve talked a bit in this newsletter about how important musical numbers are to musicals (and yes I’ve heard the complaints that Frozen’s musical-ness is sort of half-assed; sure! Ok! Bear with me). And in both Anna and Elsa’s “bigger” numbers — “Love is an Open Door” and “Let It Go” — they are both astoundingly errant in their decision-making, and it feels more profoundly human than Disney often lets their heroes feel. The former is more clearcut, although rarely addressed in a pressed-for-time Disney Princess epic: “falling in love” with someone in the span of a few hours and deciding to get married is bonkers; to each their own, but maybe this isn’t a model that everyone should aspire to, even in Disneyland.
It’s the latter that I think gets overlooked in the proliferation of “Let It Go.” Through the swirling, billowing vocal work of Idina Menzel, we have an anthem for the ages; I’m living my life, fuck the haters, the cold never bothered me anyway. But again, here Elsa is entirely wrong: as she sings it, she already has someone who loves her trudging through the snow and up mountaintops to make sure she is safe and ok. If she chose to sit and wait for just a moment, to talk with those around her, to risk their judgement and condemnation she would see that she has the opportunity for something much more beautiful and fulfilling than a stunning, frozen castle that detaches her. But she can’t; she’s too afraid of what people will say, and while “Let It Go” represents a meaningful step towards self-acceptance, it’s still also decidedly an isolationist one (not unlike Menzel’s another famous ballad, “Defying Gravity”). She thinks she’s doing it to protect Anna, and can’t trust at all that Anna is ready to work with her to figure it out together.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that many people go through this with their family members; there’s a point in your life where you question if you can be the you you want to be, and if your family members will ever understand that (let alone accept it). In Elsa’s case it’s inspired by the fear her parents fed her about powers they couldn’t understand and which almost cost them their other daughter. In others, it’s just a matter of growing up. Frozen works neatly on so many levels as a stand-in for these things that divide us, that we hold close to our hearts because we don’t understand them, so how could we ask our family to — not knowing that they might not be as afraid as we think.
One time, in therapy, my therapist told me that it would be on me and my siblings to figure out what relationship we wanted as adults. Without structured home life, communal spaces, a shared car — what would be to each other? There’s no wrong answer, since family comes in so many different flavors, but what would we want, without parents to bring us together every time? To me, Frozen is a story that is about how we choose to form these relationships, and how that means trusting that sometimes you might risk rejection in order to get something so much more beautiful. This is probably a message that children deserve to know young, but also one that adults can too often forget. You can pick the solitary ice castle; it is sleek, and shiny, and stunning. But the bonds that bring us together — well, that shit will save you. Sometimes it’s just about moving towards them.
Assorted Internet Detritus
CATE: Time to bully Joss Whedon and reflect on Nomadland. A look at the circular nature of culture wars and a thoughtful close read on I Care A Lot. A Dolly Parton moment, a reflection on your problematic faves, a little nightmare fuel and a little racist magic. And finally, a classic TV needle drop to soothe your soul.
ZOSHA: Say it with me: Saint 👏 Maud 👏 cockroach trainer. What the Wandavision discourse is missing. A very entertaining tier list of heist movies. Things we know about the lives of Neanderthal women. Tavi Gavinson going long on the problems with the Britney doc (yup we’re still talkin’ about it!) and abuse is as thoughtful as you’ve heard. And because I feel like I’m always sharing cautious news: some FAQ about post-vaccine life (as we know it).