With ‘Home Again,’ Hallie Meyers-Shyer Holds the Future of Rom-Coms In Her Hands

Source: Rob Latour/Variety/REX/Shutterstock (9029834d)

When critics refer to films as “chick flicks” — the blatantly derogatory term used to describe romantic comedies — they do so as their way of diminishing these stories. For some reason, this typically female-driven genre warrants little respect from Hollywood, despite the fact that so many rom-com films go on to become classics.

Simply observe the average box office selection to recognize major studios prefer films that will generate big bucks during their opening weekend. Said films are often forgettable, and rarely withstand the test of time, but longevity isn’t necessary as long as the theaters are packed. Thankfully, however, every now and then, one of these supposedly sappy “flicks” slips through the cracks, providing audiences with an opportunity to escape the deluge of superhero sequels and lose themselves in the intoxicating drama of someone else’s love life.

“Home Again” jumps right into the middle of the story by introducing us to Alice (played by Reese Witherspoon), the newly separated mother-of-two on her 40th birthday. While questioning her move back to L.A. and what the future holds in store during this milestone year, Alice soon finds herself living with three young men who are determined to break into the film industry. Alice, her daughters, and the men—Harry, Teddy, and George—soon form an unexpected bond, creating an extended family filled with more love and support than those formed by blood.

Source: Entertainment Weekly

With the film’s unconventional premise in place, writer and director Hallie Meyers-Shyer was free to build characters that are both endearing and multi-dimensional. Meyers-Shyer also disregards the usual tropes and trappings of basic rom-coms, incorporating elements rarely found throughout the genre.

Alice’s relationship with Harry, for instance—a man more than 10 years her junior—turns the tables by acknowledging the age dynamic and flipping it on its head. Like men who date women outside their basic demographic, Alice was unapologetic and alive. Contrary to the stereotype, Alice wasn’t some sort of cougar out for young blood. She was genuinely attracted to Harry and she acted upon her impulses, as people often do. Meyers-Shyer paid special attention to the human element that drives all sorts of relationships, and seamlessly threaded the emotions and behaviors into every nook and cranny.

Beyond the sexual tension and romantic relationship between Alice and Harry (played by Pico Alexander), George’s bond with Isabel (played by Lola Flanery), Alice’s eldest daughter, exceeds expectations, as its innocence and simplicity truly captures the family element at the heart of this film. George (played by Jon Rudnitsky) isn’t the type of man we often see in such movies, but he offers a refreshing glimpse into the very sort of man every woman would love to know.

Source: The Times

Best of all, Meyers-Shyer doesn’t play down to her audience by manufacturing some forced happy ending. Alice and Harry do not magically reunite, and she ultimately asks her husband for a divorce—two factors that, in any other scenario, might lead to disappointment. But, when everyone gathers for dinner at the end, one can’t help but be slightly jealous.

Meyers-Shyer has set the precedent for a new kind of family and a new kind of rom-com. And, while she’s the offspring of the genre’s two most notable veterans, Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer, it’s her own creative instinct that produced one of the best films of 2017 overall. What once seemed like a dying genre, rom-coms now have someone to birth the next generation of classic films.

Hollywood needs to invest more money in storytelling. Spectacle can only sustain the industry for so long, but stories, especially those written by women about women, never lose their appeal. Stories that honestly tap into the human experience reach beyond the generational divide, which begets the longevity that defines classic cinema. With Meyer-Shyer’s innate ability to create nuanced characters that speak to people at all stages of life, “Home Again” will surely be just the first film in an ever-growing catalog for the new director.

(This post originally appeared on Storia.)


Dear Liam Neeson, the #MeToo Movement Isn’t a “Witch Hunt”

Source: NME

No matter their involvement, everyone has an opinion about the current #MeToo Movement sweeping across Hollywood. Actor Liam Neeson, for instance, took the opportunity to comment on the cases against fellow actor Dustin Hoffman and radio personality Garrison Keillor during an interview on Ireland’s “The Late Late Show.” While he believes the effort to expose sexual harassers is generally “healthy,” he declared the #MeToo Movement a “bit of a witch hunt.”

“There is a bit of a witch hunt happening,” Neeson explained. “There’s some people, famous people, being suddenly accused of touching some girl’s knee or something, and suddenly they’re being dropped from their program,” he said, referring to Keillor.

Yet, while Neeson’s views might echo the feelings of many men throughout the industry in recent months, his claims that the movement has spawned “witch hunts” attempts to negate the legitimacy of said allegations, as his historical comparison fails to align with the true gravity of the witch hunts and subsequent trials of centuries past.

Beyond all other factors, previous witch-hunts were based on unfounded claims that the accused were engaging in dark arts with the intent of harming others. Their actions were reminiscent of the devil and therefore subject to persecution and punishment regardless of lack of proof.

However, allegations made with regard to sexual misconduct are not baseless. In fact, one accusation typically begets another, not because women in Hollywood are out to shame men throughout the industry, but because they know people are now willing to listen to and believe the truth they’ve kept hidden all these years. To call this revolution a “witch hunt” means to cast doubt on the victims once again—the same sort of doubt that kept these women silenced in the first place. Implying that not all allegations are created equal also implies that some forms of misconduct aren’t as harmful, which undercuts the movement’s attempt to eliminate sexual assault and harassment from the workplace completely, once and for all.

But, of course, these comments did come from the same man who, just moments after calling the gender pay gap “fucking disgraceful,” openly refused to take a pay cut himself. While Neeson says men need to step up and help fix the problem, when asked if he would take a pay cut so an actress could be paid more, Neeson responded, “Pay cut? No, no, no, no, no. That’s going too far.”

Clearly this action film star refuses to take any real action on behalf of the women in his industry.

(This post originally appeared on Storia.)

Why Children Should Have School On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Despite having just returned from the holiday break, all schoolchildren eagerly await the middle of January, as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day marks their only reprieve during the cold, grueling month. Yet, while the three-day weekend has become tradition, affording kids the opportunity to sleep late hardly awakens them to Dr. King’s incomparable contributions in the fight for civil rights.

Instead of allowing children to slack off on MLK Day and other such commemorative holidays that spawn those long weekends everyone adores, students should spend the day learning about the person or event the given day was designed to honor.

On Presidents’ Day, schools should devote the day to teaching kids what our nation’s leaders have accomplished since signing the Declaration of Independence. On Columbus Day, schools should teach kids how the explorer’s discovery impacted the native population throughout the country. On Veterans Day, schools should teach kids about the sacrifices countless women and men make every day in their effort to  serve and protect America.

And on MLK Day, schools should honor his legacy by teaching children about the Civil Rights Movement and the ongoing battle for racial equality, which seems especially prescient in today’s volatile social climate. When the President of the United States insists on using foul language in reference to those of racial and religious minorities, it’s crucial to teach kids that intolerance isn’t the answer. Dr. King never backed down, no matter how much oppression he faced, as we should honor his persistence by continuing his fight for justice.

Of course, this doesn’t mean students should be confined to the classroom. In fact, MLK Day stands as an ideal time to encourage kids to volunteer within the community. Helping those in need in any regard remains right in line with Dr. King’s goals for society.

Students often learn more from hands-on experiences, as interactions with those in need can teach them more than any textbook ever could. By getting involved, they’ll learn that they, too, can make a difference in the world, as even the smallest gestures can have the biggest impact on others—and that’s definitely something you can’t learn by spending the day at home.

(This post originally appeared on Storia.)

Celebrities Don’t “Owe” Fans Insight Into Their Political Beliefs

Source: Flickr

Days before the release of her latest album, reputation, Taylor Swift’s lawyers sent a cease and desist letter to the author of an article that explicitly compared Swift to Adolf Hitler. While Swift’s attorneys claimed the article was defamatory, the ACLU sided with the writer, Meghan Herning, citing her constitutional right to free speech in its defense. Although the piece drew unsubstantiated conclusions regarding Swift’s undisclosed political affiliations, the article falls within the traditional confines of the First Amendment.

Published by the blog PopFront, Herning discussed Swift’s lack of public political advocacy: “So Taylor’s [political] silence is not innocent, it is calculated. And if that is not true, she needs to state her beliefs out loud for the world—no matter what fan base she might lose, because in America 2017, silence in the face of injustice means support for the oppressor.”

However, with this assertion in mind, one cannot help but recognize that, just as Herning has the right to voice her opinion, Swift has the right to keep her beliefs to herself. Assuming the she or any celebrity owes the public insight into their private life or political preferences seems ludicrous. Being in the public eye comes with an innate level of transparency, but to expect such famous artists to forego any semblance of privacy simply isn’t fair to those whose professional success comes with constant scrutiny.

Ever since the 2016 presidential election, feminists have repeatedly called upon Swift to use her platform and denounce Donald Trump, as her influence could easily sway her widespread audience. Like Herning, critics constantly attempt to bully the platinum pop sensation into making a statement by claiming that silence signals support for the oppressor, but said threats have yet to shake Swift’s resolve.

Why should Swift feel obligated to speak out if she doesn’t wish to align herself with one side of the debate or the other? You wouldn’t approach complete strangers on the street and demand that they reveal their political affiliations. Why should celebrities be expected to do just that?

It’s not hard to understand why someone such as Swift might opt to remain neutral during this time of upheaval. While critics assume her reasons are selfish—that she doesn’t want to alienate her fan base for fear of reduced album and ticket sales—it’s more likely that Swift has purposely refrained from expressing her personal opinions for her fans’ benefit, not hers.

Thanks to today’s tumultuous political climate, even the entertainment industry, an industry many turn to as an escape, provides constant commentary on matters pertaining to the government. By staying on the outskirts of such debates, however, Swift continues to provide her fans with the very sanctuary they seek. Fans openly acknowledge how Swift’s music helps them cope with life’s struggles. If she were to allow her beliefs to infiltrate this refuge, those who turn to her tunes for solace and joy will have lost their one safe space.

Claiming celebrities owe fans insight into their belief system sounds reminiscent of those men who believe women owe them sex for buying them dinner. These matters aren’t transactional. There’s no fine print. Stars don’t even owe fans the pleasure of their talents. Just as everyone deserves to be heard, these individuals have the right to be left alone. Don’t call them; they’ll call you.

(This post originally appeared on Storia.)

Kumail Nanjiani, Emily V. Gordon, and the Struggle to Call Women By Name

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

Comedian Kumail Nanjiani took to Twitter earlier this week to share memories from when his then-girlfriend, Emily V Gordon, was admitted to the hospital with an undiagnosed condition. Gordon’s mother recently found an old visitor’s badge with Nanjiani’s phone number written on the back for reference, which inspired the actor to open up about the struggles he and his now-wife faced during those early, uncertain times.

Fans of the Pakistani comedian soon began to share their own stories, for which Nanjiani was more than grateful. “The stories of illness that people have shared over the last two days have been really moving,” Nanjiani tweeted. “Emily & I have gotten a tremendous sense of hope & understanding from those who have conditions similar to hers. It makes us feel less alone. It makes us feel connected. Thank you.”

But it was in the wake of Nanjiani’s tweets that the media revealed its own illness—an unnamed disease that had dominated the industry for much too long.

Multiple news outlets reported on Nanjiani and his free-flowing emotions as these events were the inspiration behind the 2017 romantic comedy “The Big Sick.” However, as those connected to the project noted, Nanjiani was not the sole creative behind the film, nor was he the one suffering from the particular illness.

On multiple occasions, publications neglected to refer to Nanjiani’s wife, Gordon, by name. Zoe Kazan, the actress who portrayed Gordon’s character in the film, called out Twitter when those who compile “moments” failed to use Gordon’s name in its collection of posts regarding her life and illness.

Nanjiani followed Kazan’s post with his own request when the Washington Post chose to refer to Gordon as nothing more than the “inspiration” for “The Big Sick.” While that’s true, she also co-wrote the film alongside her husband.

Publications seemingly find it hard to call women by their name or refer to them by title. Instead, women’s identities are limited to who they are in relation to the men in their lives. Mother, daughter, sister, wife—in Gordon’s case, she’s Nanjiani’s inspiration, too. It wasn’t until others called them out on their inherent bias that these publications saw the error of their ways and corrected their mistake.

After years of suppressing women, society seems reluctant to allow these individuals their moment in the spotlight. Gordon’s willingness to share something incredibly personal, however, was the reason “The Big Sick” came to be in the first place. She deserves recognition for both her writing and her bravery. It’s not easy to share the intimate details of one’s illness, but it’s even more difficult when your courage and talents go ignored by those who feel more comfortable praising the male colleague who also happens to be your husband. (And don’t try to rationalize this decision by claiming that his name will draw clicks. She’d have a “name,” too, if you actually used it now and then.)

Publications have disregarded female accomplishments for years in exchange for touting men’s successes instead. Said references have become so subconsciously pervasive, we rarely notice the ways we rob women of their identities anymore. (Why do you think women, such as Selena Gomez, must spend half of any given interview detailing their relationship status, while men are free to discuss their work?)

Thankfully, stars like Kazan and Nanjiani are willing to raise awareness about this silent plague running rampant throughout society. Perhaps if we continue to pinpoint every such infraction, we’ll inevitably find the cure for our sexist, dismissive culture.

(This post originally appeared on Storia.)

The Subtle Way Clothing Companies Body Shame Women and Girls

Source: Gyorgy Bakos/Unsplash

For those who wish to undermine someone’s confidence, body shaming serves as an undeniably insidious strategy. By playing off people’s physical insecurities, it’s easy to make them feel weak or inadequate. People use this tactic on one another all the time, but now, clothing companies have also begun to integrate their own subtle sort of shaming for both women and young girls.

As a relatively small individual, I often browse the children’s section in Old Navy. (Their styles are more diverse, oddly enough, and the prices are lower, so why not?) Except, when I was younger, the girls department went up to size 14-16, which was considered XL. Now, the selection stops at size 14—today’s XL—while girls who seek anything larger are forced to shop online, as size 16, also referred to as XXL, can only be found on the brand’s website. Returned items on the regular racks offer a glimpse into the extensive selection that’s actually available.

Yet, while this gimmick might merely be some marketing ploy to force children and parents to shop the adult section, it sends an awful message to growing girls who are not yet ready to make this transition. They must spend extra money on adult styles, or resort to online shopping, essentially ostracizing them from their age group. Excluding these sensitive girls and young women from the in-store experience implies that their bodies aren’t acceptable—that they don’t belong—during an already rocky time filled with physical and emotional changes.

Aerie’s tactics are somewhat similar when it comes to bras. While the American Eagle offshoot wants customers to believe “the real you is sexy” because of the decision to stop Photoshopping its models and its willingness to feature diverse body types, Aerie fails to mention that the slogan only applies to those who wear the sizes available in-store.

Shoppers who come in looking for bras in size DD or larger can try on the sample (that’s likely been tried on by countless other women), but they must complete their purchase via the brand’s online shop because they don’t actually stock said sizes on the premises. A sales associate can process the order in-store, thereby eliminating shipping costs, but you still can’t leave with your purchase in hand because “the real you” isn’t sexy enough to carry one of Aerie’s bags—bags which feature that very phrase—throughout the mall, or so it would seem.

Size discrimination isn’t overt, but it is pervasive. Yet, while these subtle jabs strip adult women of their self-esteem, they’re far more detrimental to young girls in the long term, as the desire to fit into smaller, more socially accepted sizes could lead to an eating disorder down the road. People come in all shapes and sizes, and each should be celebrated, for people shouldn’t be defined by their body, but by their character instead.

Companies can do better. We can do better.

While I can only speak from the female perspective, I’m sure men and boys also face their fair share of body image issues. Though not often publicized, both genders suffer from body shaming. Have you experienced any such size discrimination? Share your story in the comments below! Because we can’t right society’s wrong unless we voice the concerns we’ve been holding inside all along.

(This post originally appeared on Storia.)

13 Going On 30: Getting Old(er) While Looking Young(ish) In An Ageist Society

Source: Playbill

One evening, during my mid-20’s, I went out to dinner with my then-boyfriend and his parents. The restaurant was busy, so his mother asked the hostess if we could all wait at the bar. If looks could literally kill, we would’ve all burst into flames.

The bar was off-limits as far as I was concerned. Everyone else was free to go, but I would have to wait by the door. Why? Because underage customers were prohibited, she said. We snickered, which only compounded her confusion. “Trust me, she’s over 21,” his mother assured her. Puzzled, the hostess said, “I thought she was 12, or something. Right this way.”

While I’d love to say this was an isolated incident—that people rarely see me as nothing more than some lowly high school freshman—it’s not. In fact, it’s so common, I’ve begun to think I’m half my age, as well. On average, people assume I’m 13-15 years old. Every now and then, someone will guess I’m 17 or 19, but few are ever so generous with their estimates. Even my former boss believed I was too young to have watched The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or know all the words to the theme song (which I do, thank you very much.)

Of course, once people discover I’m much older than their initial hypothesis, each must rationalize their mistake by claiming I’ve got great genes and that, one day, I will be grateful for my youthful glow. (No, actually I’m worried that I will wake up looking ancient one day, doomed to spend the rest of my life at the opposite end of the spectrum, all while never having the opportunity to look like an actual young woman. But that’s just me.)

Yes, looking young has its benefits. I can shop in the kids’ department, for instance, and buy shoes for half the price sans judgment. I can easily make babies smile, not because of my maternal vibes, but because children think I’m one of them, too. But when you look like a kid in an adult world, life can get pretty tricky. Countless activities are essentially impossible—activities your peers take for granted—because you simply don’t fit the role. Here are just a handful of the things that are off-limits to those of us who look 13 (even if we’re actually 30):

You can’t openly flirt with other people in your age group.

It’s hard to gauge who is your age and who is not because the people who look like you are technically illegal babies, and those who are actually your age run in the opposite direction because pedophilia charges would certainly hinder any future prospects.

When you speak with authority, it sounds like you have no respect for your “elders.”

Your fellow adults think you’re being rude and disrespectful because they don’t view you as their contemporary. Instead, they think you are speaking out of turn because how could someone who looks like you possibly know what they’re talking about? (They’d much rather speak to your mother!)

You can’t wear makeup because it looks like you’re playing dress-up.

If you don’t wear makeup, people advise you to do so, because painting your face will surely make you look older! However, once you do, you look like nothing more than some clown-child hybrid who has raided their mother’s cosmetics collection. Why put forth all that effort each day when it only makes the situation worse?

Everyone assumes you’re the intern because you don’t look like you’ve had much experience.

You look 13 and you’re a woman? Congratulations! Enjoy some fresh-baked inequality, on the house. Why not sit back and relax? No one’s going to listen to what you have to say, anyway. And, by the time you’re old enough to look the part, you’ll be too ancient for anyone to acknowledge your existence, so settle down and fuel up—it’s going to be a long and bumpy ride.

(This post originally appeared on Storia.)