MARRIAGE VACATION, All I Ever Wanted?

book cover.pngIf you’ve seen the TV series Younger then Marriage Vacation is a book that you’re already deeply intimate with. It’s a book written by the character Pauline Turner Brooks, the estranged wife of publisher Charles Brooks. The story is a fictionalized retelling of how she, an Upper East Side mother of two, took a yearlong trip away from her family and marriage.

In the book, our heroine Kate goes to a friend’s wedding for the weekend without her husband (who had to stay behind for work). When she reconnects with her old college friends she’s reminded of who she used to be before she became a wife and mother. And, more importantly, how she had planned on being a writer—a passion that has lain dormant for the last ten years. Through a quick series of events that require some suspension of disbelief, she ends up at a zen retreat in Thailand. She’s quick to make the obvious comparison to Eat, Pray, Love, but this retreat from life is more about finding her authentic self and what that means for returning to her family.

From here the story loses some of its juiciness. It gets held up on Kate’s quest to be a “good” person, a volunteer committed to those truly in need. A great sentiment, but her constant comparisons to her old posh life and her current, more primitive, dwellings become a bit exhausting. All of which is compounded by her often tedious prose style (although said prose style does expertly match the tedium of her as a character on the show).

The novel, of course, is trying to appeal to Younger’s audience. So the story is littered with moments we’ve seen on the show, and we learn a lot about her relationship with her husband, Karl (page 58, am I right?). These juicy bits are what kept me going through the middle slog of the book, where it felt like the story was just killing time until it could ramp up to the climax of her adventures.

The novel’s success relies on how much you, as the reader, can appreciate and withstand all the meta levels of the story. Simon & Schuster published the book as a Millennial print (as it is on the show) with the author being the character from the show (although it was actually written by Jo Piazza). The book itself is a fictional retelling of a fictional marriage published in a fictional world. It’s easy to get lost in the layers of storytelling happening in the book. But it’s not necessary to grasp all the layers to enjoy it.

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On the show, Pauline is seen mostly as a “villain.” She’s one of the (albeit many) obstacles between Liza and Charles getting together. Her appearance on the show is disruptive, as is her attempt to rekindle her relationship with Charles. There are only a few episodes in her two-season arc where you almost begin to get invested in her. But it’s not long until she’s back to causing trouble for the primary characters.

So it felt weird to read the book and actually like her. She presents her case well—if not a bit tooearnestly. And it is always great to see the other side of the story (think of Emily Giffin’s Something Borrowedand Something Bluenovels). It almost becomes easier to shut out thoughts of the show and just focus on the novel as a standalone entity. In which case, Marriage Vacationsucceeds in telling a compelling story that you can enjoy without having ever seen an episode of Younger. But, as a fan of the show, I did enjoy it—meta layers and all—even if I did have a hard time trying to root for her to get her happy ending.

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Do Yourself A SIMPLE FAVOR and Go See This Movie

c7055a014a1b9d5cdc024b27d0a7ee97Hello, Mothers, and other fans! Thanks for tuning in. I’m sure everyone is way over the Gone Girlphenomenon* that pivoted into the Girl on the Trainphenomenon** that made everyone resent anything with “Girl” in the title*** (not to be confused with the soon-to-be-rebooted Girl with the Dragon Tattooseries, which is partially responsible for all this mess). So, if you saw a trailer forA Simple Favor, you surely had flashbacks to that brand of twisty, female-driven psychological thrillers and rolled your eyes. You probably extra rolled your eyes at seeing America’s a cappella sweetheart Anna Kendrick starring as the protagonist who, in this case, tries to solve the disappearance of her best friend Emily (played by Blake Lively—and I know you rolled your eyes at her unless you’re a huge Gossip Girlfan like I am).

Stephanie (Kendrick) is a dedicated mom with a vlog that she posts on regularly with nifty tips for cooking and crafts. It’s a deeply cheesy premise, which draws eye rolls from the other moms at school (including ever-present Andrew Rannells). But Stephanie’s life changes when her son wants to hang out with his friend Nicky after school. Nicky’s mother Emily emerges onscreen in a slow-mo walk through the rain dressed in a chic suit ensemble with heels. She only lets the boys come over if Stephanie agrees to a martini. And it’s all downhill from there.

The seeming friendship that buds between Emily and Stephanie is akin to Serena van der Woodsen hazing some nobody from Yonkers. But at least Emily’s “European” style martinis look like perfection. Frozen gin in a frozen martini glass with a vermouth rinse. Garnished with a nice lemon peel chunk cut deftly by Emily with a meat knife while she slowly seduces Stephanie into confessing her darkest secrets.

 

02-a-simple-favor.w1200.h630We soon meet Emily’s smoldering, failed-writer husband Sean (Henry Golding—you know, from Crazy Rich Asians). He and Stephanie share some intellectual conversation before he goes back to kissing his wife, while Stephanie looks on jealously. “Friendship” established, Emily calls Stephanie requesting “a simple favor” to pick up her son from school. And then no one hears from her for five days.

Stephanie goes on a comical yet endearing investigation into Emily’s disappearance. Veronica Marsshe is not, but Emily has inadvertently taught her enough to give her a bit of a backbone. And the more clues she uncovers, the more confidence she gains.

The film relies on you expecting those Gone Girl-like twists. But it plays them up for humor or as motivation for Stephanie’s growth. And then, in the last 30 minutes they continue to defy expectations with twist on twist on twist (some are obvious, others less so) until it reaches it’s spellbinding finale.

The soundtrack, too, really adds to the energy of the film. The French bops that continue to pop up whether in homage to Emily or to Stephanie’s growth into a stronger, smarter character will have you dancing in your seat.


The film’s ability to make the macabre humorous without being overdone is enjoyable. You’ll laugh at unexpected moments and still feel the thrill of tension when it’s also called for. This might be director Paul Feig’s most subtle comedy. Considering how much I dislike his previous films, I’m amazed how engaged I was. And considering how little regard I have for Anna Kendrick and her frequently bland acting (Up in the Airbeing somehow the antithesis to her career to date), I left the film appreciating the subtlety she brought to the film. Blake Lively, however, never failed to entertain me. But then, she got the role that lets her chew up the scenery while mixing cocktails and looking fabulous.
I understand anyone’s reservations against the film—especially going into Oscar season. But A Simple Favoris a thrillingly good time, and a great escape from the drudgery of everyday life.

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*Even though both the book and the film are impeccable.

**A deeply lackluster brand (sorry, Emily Blunt).

***I see you, Ruth Ware, trying to upgrade the branding with The Woman in Cabin 10.

 

Bonus Pairing: I’ll obviously be drinking Aviation Gin Martinis for the rest of the weekend.

Your SEARCH for a New TV Sensation Is Over

WHO:

  • Creator: Michael Showalter (Wet Hot American Summer, The Baxter, Hello, My Name Is Doris)
  • Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development)
  • John Reynolds (the mustachioed police officer in Stranger Things)
  • Meredith Hagner (the hack artist who changed her name to “Montana” in Younger)

WHAT: This dark comedy series from the minds of Michael Showalter, Sarah-Violet Bliss, and Charles Rogers satirizes NYC millennials who get caught up in an absurd disappearance mystery. The hilariously named Chantal Witherbottom (Clare McNulty) goes missing, and pictures of her appear throughout the city. Wayward Dory (Shawkat) recognizes her as some girl from college she barely had contact with, and the spark to find her missing “friend” is born. But her disaffected friends Elliott (John Early) and Portia (Hagner) along with her bland boyfriend Drew (Reynolds) seem to be completely uninterested in Dory’s case of intrigue. As amateur sleuth Dory grasps at clue after clue, her friends’ lives weave in and out of the story, as a larger picture appears to form.

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WHY: Shawkat’s relatable take on Dory has us just as convinced as she is that she alone can solve this case. Piecing together the clues along with her is half the fun in this series. Although the downside is that they throw in as many frustrating red herrings as they do actual clues, leaving us, the at-home Poirots, to flounder when they don’t pan out. But the hijinks of her little clique help smooth out the otherwise rough season. The struggle to balance comedy with the dark side of the disappearance case is something the writers don’t quite perfect until the end of the season. But, when they finally do, the payoff is so extraordinary that I was in a fit of laughter for hours.

The satirization of millennials is so on point that it almost feels like they were just going for authenticity. Hagner especially is the breakout star in Search Party. Playing a struggling (heterosexual, white, blonde) actress who ends up getting cast as a Latina cop in a popular series leads to quite the few colorblind jokes aimed at the industry. (Bonus shout-out to her mother who is played by Broadway actress Christine Ebersole!) But, like any successful series, it is the dynamics of the four of them as a group that keep you coming back for more.

If you start the series and find the mismatching tones too dissonant, just stick with it. I promise you it’s worth it (if not for the great surprise guest stars along the way). And know that the season finale combined with the premiere of season two (already airing) is one of the funniest hours of television that I’ve seen.

WHERE: TBS (and Amazon)

WHEN: Season 1 is streaming online; season 2 airs Sunday nights at 10.

BONUS PAIRINGS:

  • for a similarly darkly comedic take on millennials: You’re the Worst (2014-present)
  • for a blend of dark comedy and criminality: Weeds (2005-2012)
  • for a deeply sarcastic amateur sleuth: Veronica Mars (2004-2007)