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The Lives of Women

And the men who kill them

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It would seem I've chosen the wrong decade to quit drinking. With apologies to Samuel Clemens, it's easy: I've done it dozens of times. For whatever reason, though, I selected the summer of 2022 to take a longer, less-defined hiatus from one of my longest-standing hobbies. These weren't conscious factors in the decision, but it is possible that regime change and the possible ebbing of the plague suggested a time of greater peace and tranquility, with less necessity for Bourbon-based self-medication. Concurrently, the looming possibility of a third world war would seem to encourage clarity and light-footedness. But my decision was, ultimately, a more hopeful one; looks like I predictively shit the bed on that one.

I was raised in a fairly stereotypical, West Coast product of the American Dream kind of household: two working parents, one sibling, emphasis on the twinned pillars of hard work and education. Also a somewhat hard-to-parse hybrid of kindness, service and the tenacious holding of grudges (and the specter of lapsed Catholicism); it's a cocktail that leads organically to cocktails.

More to the point, it was an early and often repeated lesson in our household that Roe v. Wade and the struggle for the Equal Rights Amendment were vital and emblematic of the vicious, often ignored but ongoing war for the rights of women in this country. When I met the girl I would eventually marry, I was wearing Education Now and Babies Later shoelaces; needless to say, she dug them. But then and now, I didn't really think of fairness and balance as issues of gender politics, much less as politics at large. It seemed a foregone conclusion, to my naive teenaged self, that women, by virtue of living (especially in a democracy in the modern world), would naturally be afforded self-determinism and control of their bodies.

But I had forgotten that we still live in the Dark Ages of stupid fucking white men. That puts too fine a point on it, I know, as there are women and people of color who support the dictums of the panel of ghouls in gowns currently fomenting regression and murder; it's still all white exclusionist bullshit.

So, being the progressive beta cuck that I am — albeit one now reconsidering surrendering his weapons and in fact actively readying them — Friday didn't exactly put me in a mood to watch Elvis — not that that mood would or will ever strike — or Jerry and Marge Go Large or Beavis and Butthead Do the Universe. Fortunately, I was able to keep busy, or I probably would have crawled into a hole with Apocalypse Now, Miami Vice, John Wick and a case of Maker's Mark, from which I would have been unlikely to emerge. But I stayed the course, even as my thoughts shuttled frequently to my friends with daughters and the terrifying impossibility of having to explain the world's obvious antipathy to them.

I also looked back on what we have watched and have been watching lately, current events notwithstanding, and much of it, by and about women, could be cause for a strain of cautious optimism, if not hope.

Hacks, the HBO series created by Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs and Jen Statsky and starring Jean Smart (legend, boss) and Hannah Einbinder, recently concluded its second season. Pairing Smart's battle-hardened, Vegas casino resident standup with Einbinder's recently disgraced comedy writer, the show poignantly but hilariously dissects the business/boy's club of comedy and show business while also exploring the surrogate parent dynamic of professional mentorship.

Candy, a darkly comic true-crime adaptation from Robin Veith and Nick Antosca on Hulu, is at once an artfully executed examination of late-20th century domestic malaise, a murder mystery and an acting clinic anchored by a transformed Jessica Biel and the always revelatory Melanie Lynskey.

Loot, starring Maya Rudolph on AppleTV+, and I Love That for You, a semi-autobiographical comedy cringe-fest from Vanessa Bayer on Hulu, are both in the early stages, but have already shown tremendous individual promise.

Casting back into the shadows of the recent past, I've been put in mind of Mrs. America, the FX limited series about which there is much more to be said (there's a multi-thousand-word document gathering dust on this very hard-drive). While the subject matter (Phyllis Schlafly's torpedoing of the E.R.A.) remains abhorrent, the show is beautifully done and beyond exceptionally acted and, to me, suggests the importance of civilized discourse, mutual understanding and compromise are ephemera.

More pointedly, Obvious Child (2014), Plan B (2021) and Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020) are all, with apologies to Tim O'Brien, true war stories about women's reproductive rights (or lack thereof) in contemporary America, with the first two tending more toward broad comedy and the last toward desolate honesty. I recommend all three unreservedly.

As a corollary, Assassination Nation (2018), largely overlooked on its release, becomes increasingly topical: a self-defense primer for girls in a world out to get them.

John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.

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TOP GUN: MAVERICK. Tom Cruise returns to the cockpit with a note-perfect work of pure energy that sidesteps thorny politics for the pure physicality and mental plasticity required of a modern fighter pilot. PG13. 137M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456.

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