jessicaI like Jessica Simpson. I have a huge soft spot for her, and I hesitate to even type a title like this, but you’ve got to call ’em like you see ’em. (Which means I should technically write “Joe Simpson vs. Feminism.”)

No bones about it: Blonde Ambition is bad. You knew that, though. You’ve no doubt heard about how it opened in a handful of Texas theaters and barely scraped together $6,422.

My friend Z and I rented it last night. Jessica deserved better.

I’ve seen almost everything she’s appeared in, cinematically: Dukes of Hazzard, Employee of the Month, There Will Be Blood. She has a definite charm about her, a likability that could be used very effectively.

Could be, that is.

Too often, the grasping hand of manager Papa Joe Simpson sabotages his daughter, and cheap-looking, piece-of-trash Blonde Ambition is no exception (the Photoshopped cover is a leftover from her A Public Affair album cover shoot). Will he be content until he’s ruined any goodwill fans have for her?

Jessica could be good in movies; she just needs the right project and the right people who will help show her in the best light possible. I want nothing more than for her to prove this. Alas, that wasn’t the case here.

Some observations:

  • Luke Wilson looks bloated and scruffy/homeless. (As opposed to scruffy/cute.) Plus, he looks at least 20 years older than Jess. He played this role before in Legally Blonde…he (and the production) barely rate above dinner theater.
  • Jessica’s lipstick and hair are outrageous. There’s never a scene where she looks like a real person–instead, she’s got a billion billowy extensions and an unbelievable amount of hot scarlet lipstick slathered on, even when relaxing at home. Her lipstick changes, color, too: to match a coral-colored raincoat, she gets a bright orange mouth. TOO MUCH MAKEUP! (And, hey, I like drag queens!)
  • The script is groaningly stupid, giving Jessica no character to play. She goes through the typical romantic comedy tropes (She lies to the man she loves! He lies to her! He has to run to catch her at the end when he realizes he loves her!) but everything (from the opening credits that look like I designed them on a Tandy to the numerous green screen “effects”) just looks so cheap and generic that it’s a shock no one noticed beforehand.
  • Speaking of which, good actors (Penelope Ann Miller, Rachel Leigh Cook, Larry Miller) and bad-but-known actors (Andy Dick, Luke Wilson, Willie Nelson) do their best, but there’s nothing with which to do anything.

Here’s my main issue, though: for a supposedly empowering film aimed at women and girls, the movie’s feminism is, at best, strongly conflicted. While it does establish a strong bond between the “good” women (and presents some of them as capable, intelligent and successful), it also hits some really bizarre, jarring notes. Jessica lands a job as Larry Miller’s secretary, where she wears glamorous couture, bakes for everyone and cleans up the office. Like a bad fantasy of a submissive secretary (unlike the excellent fantasy starring Maggie Gyllenhaal), Jessica leans over to pick up files, coos “Yes, Mr. Connelly” and drops staplers into her cleavage. (Well, not the last one.) Her “business” success consists of her performing similarly housewifely duties–throwing a children’s birthday party, dressing up in a slutty Norweigian costume to “entertain” foreign clients and exiting an elevator in slow-motion in a gorgeous red power suit, blonde hair flowing behind her. That’s all it takes, girls!

The film’s villainess, Penelope Ann Miller (the VP who *gasp* schemes to become president) gets the seemingly-incompetent Miller fired and takes his job. Jessica’s character, ever the anti-feminist, pouts and schemes until PAM is hauled off by security and the middle-aged white man is again president, with Jessica’s white-toothed smile and huge breasts happily subservient and at his beck and call, where the movie says she belongs.

jessica2There’s a strange, ugly twist, though. After slapping Penelope, Jessica is urged by Penny Marshall and a roomful of other “investors” to call her a bitch. After demurring (“You’re a very mean person!” she frowns), Jessica is finally convinced and calls her a bitch, at which point everyone applauds (Penny most heartily) now that the career woman has been put in her place. You know, because she was MEAN, had an unflattering haircut and hid her funbags under business suits instead of letting them flop around like seal pups in the surf. Fuck all that business knowledge she must’ve had to rise to the top–she never wore lipstick and was tired of being #2, so let’s all cheer her downfall! What the fuck?!

The only bright spot in the film was the compelling/disturbing/fucking fantastic performance of Karen McClain as Betty, the secretary whose place Jessica takes. With a knowing smile and an arched eyebrow, she delivers the limp dialogue with an awesome combination of camp and menace that’s pure genius. She knows what the script calls for (a sassy black woman referred to “Big Momma’s House” by another character), but she rises above it and steals the entire film. There’s a tag at the end of her character returning to the office, where she’s the new VP, that’s the closest the film comes to hitting the right notes. Trust me–watch at least the scene where McClain hisses, “…and SOMEBODY’s being a Sneaky Susan!” and tell me she isn’t simultaneously frightening and hilarious! Check her out at her website and her MySpace: I hope to see this “Talented Terri” again soon.

Jessica, here’s hoping Major Movie Star‘s better!

Resilience is a funny thing. Just this morning, I was feeling really, really down and defeated, a feeling I haven’t been able to completely shake for a few weeks now. Everything I do seemed colored by my torpor. In fact, I’d typed up a blog post about the very subject (and my desire to escape take a vacation) this morning, only to erase it before posting. There’s only so much self-pitying I can take, especially from myself!

But, like that Gap swing dancing commercial, somehow your point of view shifts and what seemed so bleak and hopeless now seems exciting and possible. What causes this?

  • A good conversation with Z while picnicking in the park
  • A hot bath and a quiet night in your own apartment
  • A few chapters of Judith Krantz’s I’ll Take Manhattan (long live ’80s-mom-poolside-reading)
  • Most importantly, writing. Shaping sentences and choosing words to find beautiful and unexpected combinations; getting your thoughts down on paper in the pithiest way possible. Fighting the blank page and realizing that, yes, you can win again at something that means more you than anything else in the world.

In the movie Can’t Hardly Wait, each character is introduced by a quick shot of their yearbook picture and senior quote. Jennifer Love Hewitt’s character, Amanda, (who’s undecided about attending college, which has always bothered me) quotes Jewel. (I know, I know…how ’90s!)

I’m not ashamed to admit that I love the quote myself, and although the song (“I’m Sensitive”) is a little cringe-worthy, it ends with the titular quote that never fails to make me feel an emotional rush:

“I’d rather see the world from another angle…”

That’s usually all it takes to feel cheerful or at least brave again.

idinamenzelBelieve it or not, I haven’t seen Wicked. (My birthday’s next week, so maybe I’ll get tickets.) I read the book, which I liked up until about halfway through. I never saw the stage play of Rent, but I did see the movie version on my one, very strange semi-date with a photographer. I did see Enchanted, which I loved.

So I was slightly familiar with Idina Menzel before tonight, when I went to see her perform a showcase from her upcoming Warner Bros. debut album, I Stand. I dragged along my always game pal, Z, and, like our Vanessa Carlton adventure, it turned out to be a fantastic night.

Idina forgot lyrics, swore and sang all about how fucked up she is…is there any surprise that I loved her and the show? Tonight was a night when I really needed to hear Idina’s brand of “I’m a beautiful disaster,” and it’s like my inner snark just shut off. She looked gorgeous and has such a huge voice that it more than filled up the room, plus she played piano (in a charmingly awkward way) and teared up several times, including when she thanked hubby Taye Diggs, who came up onstage to hug her.

I’d been feeling so uninspired recently that it was as if someone were turning the lights back on inside me tonight. I stood there in the crowd, sweating in my jacket that I would never take off, feeling more and more as if I had something special to offer: a glow-in-the-dark, spinning fireworks/pinwheel heart that the right person will one day recognize and treasure, burning underneath my new Secret Wars t-shirt as brightly as the purple lights onstage.

Afterwards, my pal and I stumbled out afterwards with our complimentary Idina CD/DVD samplers and started driving back into the Valley. He was excited about his new iPod (mine’s dead) and was playing random songs, when he cued up a surprise for me.

As we drove up the Cahuenga pass out of Hollywood, with millions of tail lights ahead of us instead of stars (a la the ending of Valley Girl), the opening notes of Petula Clark’s “Downtown” started playing, and I felt such a rush of emotion: love for my friend, for the song, for L.A. and, most importantly, for myself.

“This is a great moment,” I said softly, more for my benefit than his. I told myself I wouldn’t forget how hopeful and happy I felt right then.