Ok ok, I know I said I’d do a double post last week, and I fucked up, I’m sorry. But! I promise that this week will be a double post week. I PROMISE YOU.
This week I’ve got my friend Andrew Spena as my special guest! I know Andrew mostly from seeing him around our neighborhood and this New Yorker review of Meme’s Diner where he’s correctly described as a “friendly hunk.” I went to New Orleans for the first time a couple months ago and Andrew offered, unbidden, some incredible restaurant recommendations.
A friendly hunk indeed!
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005)
SPECIAL GUEST WRITER: ANDREW SPENA
Until this week, I had never seen The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005), but not for lack of desire on my part. For me, SOTP fell into the same cultural gap that housed Drop Dead Gorgeous, Crossroads, Legally Blonde, and a host of 00's classics I missed during my own personal Dark Ages. From 1988 to 2009, on paper, I was a member in good standing of the Christian Right. Not only was I Class President of my Baptist high school, but I was also Yearbook Editor, and Homecoming King, who would go on to study at a Southern Baptist college in preparation for the ministry.
As a young person, I was struck with what seemed like a terminal case of internalized homophobia. As is common with that affliction, I was prone to heavy self-denial, robbing myself of feelings and experiences I knew would bring me joy. I found ways to get close enough to what I wanted without giving myself the pleasure of experiencing it. Every Friday morning I'd devour reviews in my local paper, just to get a summary of the newest romcoms and arthouse movies. To this day I still have a general knowledge of the plot, stars, critical consensus and box office of a couple decades of movies I’ve never seen. Films whose outlines I loved from afar--films whose references saturated culture just outside my reach--but whose details I figured I'd never truly know. "One ticket for Something's Gotta Give," isn't the sort of thing a teen Praise Band leader says out loud in public, no matter how badly he wants to. I'd walk into a theater with friends to see Loud & Male III, knowing full well my heart was a few theaters down in a screening of Kate & Leopold. On the off chance I'd tag along with my girlfriends and allow myself a movie I really wanted to see? The mental gymnastics are too much to bear, even now.
I've done my best to fill in the cultural gaps from my first 20 years of life, but wrongs that big take a long time to right. I'm happy to report I've taken another step in my healing, and as of this week, can finally tell you where those pants have traveled, sister.
Ok not gonna lie here, I was a little let down on this movie's magic levels. After a strong opening sequence of mystical Cone denim construction, I was half-expecting a movie about a fledgling coven of selvage denim fans. There was even a candlelit spell scene in an abandoned prenatal yoga studio that really got my hopes up. At the least, I thought the jeans would bestow a different power/blessing/love interest on each girl who wore them.
Honestly, I'm still half-convinced the jeans were cursed. Except for the fact that the jeans fit each girl, I'm not sure what good the pants did any of them. Alexis Bledel very nearly drowned while wearing them. Blake Lively became dangerously, criminally horny in the jeans. The jeans brought America Ferrera to try on dresses in a White Supremacist bridal shop. Amber "I had the worst Summer" Tamblyn met a girl with leukemia while wearing the jeans. There's also a subplot in which the sick girl puts on the jeans and it's heavily implied the pant magic might save her, but reader, it does not. Everyone has such a bad Summer, each girl in this movie gets her own crying monologue. The traveling pants are stitched with tears and their buttons are blood oaths, sworn under a new moon.
If I was any of these Cursed Denim Sisters, my first order of business upon returning from my Hell Pants Summer would be marching right back into that greater Baltimore area vintage store and returning Beelzebub's jeans.
In no particular order, here are my favorite Extremely 2004 takeaways from SOTP:
There are two glaringly obvious Herbal Essences product placements.
2004 Blake Lively is the youngest person who's ever existed.
Every girl is dressed like an identifiable store in The Mall, a concept which will make no sense to anyone in another three years. Amber Tamblyn is clearly shoplifting from Hot Topic. Alexis Bledel gets her blouses at the Banana Republic, but her skirts at J Crew (Express is too flashy). Blake Lively wears American Eagle to school, but Hollister on the weekends. America Ferrera is dressed both like a precocious toddler and also an eccentric old person, which is to say, like a Limited Too sales associate. Which is also to say, I love it!
It takes 24 minutes for Natasha Bedingfield's "Unwritten" to play, and that it took that long is frankly shocking.
If this movie was made today it would be The Sisterhood of the Traveling Shirt, and it would be Brandy Melville sponcon.
Andrew Spena lives and writes in Brooklyn, but everyone can tell he’s not really from here. He’s written for Mic, MEL, given away good content on Twitter dot com, and wasted too much on “Instagram.” His stalker recently gave up andrewspena.com, which is now his professional online home.
We Are Your Friends (2015)
We Are Your Friends is a movie that is trying its best and just coming up short of its influences. It’s never going to be as good as Saturday Night Fever, it’s never going to be as good as Magic Mike, but it certainly is a welcome addition to the genre of movies about hot guys who yearn for something greater than their hometown scene. I’ll admit that a large part of my affection for this movie comes from it being largely set in my hometown, the San Fernando Valley. When I first saw this movie and like five minutes in Cole (Zac Efron) and the boys hit the CSUN campus to promote their DJ night, I flipped out! Is anything ever shot at CSUN?? No! We Are Your Friends does such a great job of showing that feeling that everyone from The Valley seems to have, that feeling of wanting so badly to leave The Valley but also having a sort of defensive pride about where they’re from. There’s this scene at a party where one of Cole’s friends, Mason, a hot headed tough guy who just wants to make enough money to get out of The Valley, gets into an argument with somebody at a party about the best sushi in L.A. being in the San Fernando Valley (he’s right). The guy talks some ill-informed shit about The Valley and Mason loses it and tackles him into a pool. I remember seeing that scene and deciding right there that We Are Your Friends *gets* being from The Valley. It’s the idea that you’re from a place that everyone has arbitrarily decided isn’t good enough or cool enough, and for some reason some dipshit who just moved to L.A. five months ago from Ass-End, Ohio thinks it’s fine to dump on where you’re from?? Fuck you, dude, you deserve to be tackled into a pool. You moved here, please show some respect for an essential part of the Los Angeles cultural ecosystem. This is pretty much how I feel every time I have to read tweets about living in L.A. from people who’ve just moved to L.A. in the last five years or so. You should all be tackled into a pool.
The movie is your typical underdog rising up to follow his dreams story. There are a few moments when whoever’s in charge of these things decides to go a little wild with visual effects (there’s a particularly embarrassing animated sequence that happens while Cole takes PCP and molly at a party), but for the most part, it sticks to what you’d expect from a movie about a kid following his dream to be a world class DJ. Which, I don’t know, maybe you’re not expecting much! But hey what if I told you this movie was also about THE HOUSING CRISIS?? A whole subplot of the movie is dedicated to Cole and his friends getting a “real” job to make money and it’s just there to illustrate the idea of “selling out” ruining your soul (and in this case, the lives of poor people who got shit mortgages). That kind of thing is always in these middle brow movies about pursuing your dream of art and music, but this subplot seems particularly eager to tack on some *deep inhale* social relevance to a movie about a character who doesn’t look like he’s ever read a newspaper outside of a papier mache project. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to have We Are Your Friends interrogate “the issues,” as no one in this world cares about anything outside of their bros and living that affluent EDM lifestyle.
Here’s the best part of We Are Your Friends. Cole manages to patch things up with his mentor and rival (WES BENTLEY) and he gets the opening spot at some big deal EDM festival. Through the movie, Cole’s struggling to develop his own signature style. No easy task, but Cole has figured it out by sampling sounds from around his day to day life and working those into his compositions. Nails being driven into wood, quarters spinning, birds chirping, wind chimes on porches, the voices of his best friends, etc. etc. He gets up on stage and he plays his track that features all of these sounds from his life working together to move the audience, a way to reveal his life and his experiences to an audience of college kids interested only in shaking their asses and getting fucked up in the sunlight. The climax comes with a sample looped in from a recording of his recently deceased friend (overdosed at a house party) saying, “Are we ever gonna be better than this?” A question that, at the time, was meant to be a sort of wake up call about how Cole and his friends have stagnated, but is now repurposed as a proclamation of the thrill of the moment. Each sound is accompanied by a visual from earlier in the movie, these little flashbacks in Cole’s mind bringing him to tears as he feels the weight of his life and his friendships and his passions bearing down on him. He grabs the mic and tearfully shouts to the crowd, “ARE WE EVER GONNA BE BETTER THAN THIS??” just before “the drop” comes in and everybody goes wild. I just loved this idea that Cole has this deeply personal track, the full emotional weight of which he’s experiencing through tears on stage in front of everyone, but to everyone else it just sounds like music to get fucked up and dance to. It’s so funny and heartbreaking to me, this idea of being only able to bare your soul through EDM of all things.
I know the current feeling about guilty pleasures is that you shouldn’t feel guilty about them at all, just admit that they’re pleasures, but We Are Your Friends is 100% a guilty pleasure. I can’t help but like it and feel a little embarrassed at myself for liking it, but here we are. We Are Your Friends wants so desperately to be the voice of a moment. Actually what it wants to be is the voice of a generation, but I think to its credit it understands its limitations enough to be content with trying to be the voice of a moment, and that moment is the peak of EDM’s popularity, a flash in the pan when you look at the entirety of human history, or even just the past decade. But it’s good that the moment is fleeting! That’s what makes it so beautiful and tragic and misguided, the movie being so current and trying to capture the feeling that maybe this moment could last forever, then ultimately realizing that even just three years removed from its release everything looks and sounds like a relic of a different time. I love We Are Your Friends for investing so hard in a moment that, like all moments, was destined to pass.