It’s mid-February, a time of year when the outside world looks increasingly like a toilet bowl and you feel increasingly like a piece of shit floating helplessly around inside it. Or, at least that’s how I feel on days when I don’t see the sun and I spend my free time googling stuff like Bernie Sanders’ age (he is 77) and “how long is the average labor.”
The good thing about living in a time where distraction is literally always within reach is that numbing your sadness—whether that sadness is a result of heartbreak, eco-angst, political disillusionment or actual depression—has never been easier. So here are some TV and movie recommendations to help you cry it out, laugh it up, or just feel a little less alone in your SAD.
You are politically distraught.
You used to have nightmares about E.T. hiding in your closet but now you have nightmares about Jeff Bezos sliding into your DMs with a dick pic captioned “proceed to check out.” Things are a lot worse than they used to be. Here are some movies that may inspire to take action against the mangy dicks of capitalism.
Yes this literally translates to “The Miserables.” This movie musical, set in 19th century France and based on the 1862 French novel by Victor Hugo, follows thief-turned-philanthropist Jean Valjean (played by a strapping Hugh Jackman) as he attempts to evade a brutal policeman (played by a decaying Russell Crowe) who is pissed because Valjean has been avoiding parole for about a decade. Meanwhile, a bunch of French rebels prepare to overthrow the monarchy and we learn just how real poverty can get when a woman named Fantine (played by an Oscar-hungry Anne Hathaway) is forced to sell her hair and teeth in order to pay for childcare.
As the title promises, this movie is 100 percent misery but it also encapsulates the type of fighting spirit that politically-distressed individuals may appreciate. Les Mis is about what happens when people take action against their oppressors, stand up for their own rights, and ponder the significance of a loaf of bread. And if you think musicals are stupid, you can at least look forward to making sarcastic commentary about Russell Crowe while he sings—usually from atop a building, and always poorly.
Paris Is Burning
“Voguing is an art, as well as a political statement” might be the thesis statement of Jennie Livingston’s 1990 documentary, Paris is Burning, which chronicles the underground ballroom culture of the black and Latino queer community in 1980s New York. The film combines grit with glam, showing us that vogueing is not just about looking fierce as hell (though that’s certainly part of it) but also about remaining powerful in a society fractured by racism, poverty, and the AIDS crisis. So if you’ve ever watched Pose or Drag Race and been thankful for the way these shows have brought mainstream attention to a variety of LGBTQ+ issues, you might want to take a look back thirty years and immerse yourself in the world of a bustling subculture that was determined to make space for itself in decidedly less inclusive times. And even if social education isn’t a big enough draw for you to watch this iconic documentary, at least watch it for the duckwalking, which is excellent.
John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous at Radio City
Flanked by a sea of upholstery that, from a distance, looks more like an enormous velvet vagina than it does a set of theatre curtains, John Mulaney delivers one of the funniest Netflix comedy specials of 2018. The highlight? One of the best Trump jokes you’ll ever hear. Sure, Trump jokes are a bit like the frozen entrees of the comedy world in that they require almost no effort and are rarely satisfying, but Mulaney’s extended metaphor about a horse loose in a hospital—in which the hospital is America and the horse is you know who—is so brilliant that you might forget how broken (North) American politics have become. Just kidding. You will never forget. But you might laugh.
Climate Change has you like, “Are we all going to die soon?”
Although the recent polar vortex left climate change skeptics begging on Twitter for global warming to please return fast, the conclusion of said vortex means we can now return to believing in facts, one of which is that 17 out of the 18 warmest years on record have occurred since 2000. So yes, she’s heating up. And even though you may personally be putting a lot of effort into this Earth-saving thing by recycling, eating beans, and taking a bus that smells like farts to work, you can’t help but be plagued by the thought that your efforts don’t matter. Here are some shows that may change your mind.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
This movie demonstrates how hope, love, and quality of life persist in the face of environmental catastrophe—a welcome ideation for those burdened by climate change woes. Beasts is a 2012 Sundance sweetheart deemed by the Guardian as “Apocalyptic Southern Gothic” but could just as easily be called “Hallucinogenic Nature Poetry” or “Eco-Nightmare Epic.” It centers on six-year-old Hushpuppy’s fight to survive in her off-the-grid, waterlogged community (known as The Bathtub due to its perpetually high flood risk) after a devastating storm. Though the film has been criticized for its romanticization of poverty, its hopeful rendering of dire circumstances may be a welcome relief for those of us looking to spot the proverbial silver lining amongst accumulating CO2 clouds.
Planet Earth II
If cashmere could talk, it would sound like David Attenborough. I know Planet Earth is a fairly obvious choice for those overcome by eco-angst, but popularity doesn’t make this show any less wonderful. The first episode of the newest season (“Islands”) may be particularly appealing to those plagued by “will we survive?” thoughts because it is full of creatures who beat the odds. Take marine iguanas, for example. Upon hatching, these ill-fated lizards must cross a series of sand flats in order to reach the safety of oceanside bluffs. The catch? They must outrun hundreds of blood-thirsty racer snakes on the way (if they intend to live past the age of two minutes, that is). Some people may watch this scene and think, shit, the natural world is unsympathetic and we’re all doomed. But I like to think that if a pea-brained iguana can out-maneuver a bunch of slithering death machines, then maybe we’ve got a chance, too.
This movie is a wild-card pick because I found it rather insufferable, mainly because the supposed lead character (Jennifer Lawrence, who symbolizes Mother Earth) has only one point to make, which is that she realllly doesn’t want you to mess up her house: “don’t touch my stuff!” “that’s mine!” and “nooooooo!” she cries on loop. That said, there’s definitely something in this movie for those who want to see Hollywood chime in on humanity’s gross underappreciation of the natural world. Mother! is essentially a retelling of Genesis (the Adam and Eve story) featuring a boat-load of biblical references that admittedly went over my head but that disillusioned Christians may find extremely cathartic. But no matter what you believe and what stories you were raised on, if you’re looking for a movie that condemns, through bloated metaphor, how supremely terrible humanity has treated Mother Earth, then this movie might provide the validation you’re looking for.
You are straight-up depressed.
Leaving bed is hard. You feel weighed-down, trapped beneath a grand piano of sadness. A lot of things are contributing to your precarious mental state: the uncertainty of your future, your bad financial outlook, the skyscraper of recycling you just can’t bring yourself to take out. The following shows may not “cure” you—because depression isn’t something you can necessarily cure, but rather something you manage—but they might make a hopeless-seeming night a little less hopeless.
It’s hard to express how much I love this show. HBO’s High Maintenance follows a pot dealer known as “The Guy” through his day-to-day encounters with New York customers, who represent a remarkably diverse array of people. We see a mix of rich, poor, old, young, lonely, desperate, kind, confused, joyful, and broken individuals, their worlds colliding briefly through their interactions with weed and their bicycle-riding dealer. Perhaps most miraculous about this show is that it manages to be completely real-seeming without leaving you more depressed about the state of humanity than you were in the first place. Subjects like addiction, divorce, and mental illness are handled with a mix of sincerity and levity that makes all our messy lives seem, well, kind of beautiful.
Quite possibly the most bizarre television program Netflix has to offer, but also one of the best. Comedian Maria Bamford plays a fictionalized version of herself in this strange, satirical parody of “life as a Hollywood entertainer.” Whether Bamford is manically conversing with her two pugs, starring in a blood-smattered TV ad for “Pussy Noodle,” dating a bisexual meth addict, or mentally spiralling to the point of institutionalization, the show brings attention to mental illnesses like mania, OCD, and depression in a way that is both earnest and completely absurd. The show has too many plotlines to keep track of, but that’s the whole point: no one’s life—Bamford’s especially—is straight-forward. Sometimes you find yourself in a futuristic version of your own life, entering a voluntary space-coma because you’re “too tired to fight anymore,” and that’s just the way it is. We live in a fucked-up, glittering dream. It’s sad, but funny as hell.
Neal Brennan: 3 Mics
Through a combination of one-liners, stand-up comedy, and frank discussions about his own depression, Neal Brennan manages to make Sad Dude seem like less of a caricature and more like an actual, complex individual with whom you’d like to share a plate of nachos and discuss your childhood. His disclosure of trauma doesn’t feel sympathy-hungry, and his self-deprecation towards his own sex (he makes fun of testosterone and “dudes who say dumb shit about sex,” for example) puts him at odds with jerk-off humor that is all-too-often a part of the male comic arsenal.
Maybe someone took your heart, threw it on the ground, and stomped on it like spider. Or maybe someone took your heart, cut it into tiny pieces, and tossed it like confetti in your face. Whatever metaphor suits the state of your guts, you’re feeling a bit romantically jaded and you could use a laugh, a cry, or maybe even a revenge narrative to ease the suffering.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
There’s nothing particularly revolutionary about the concept of this movie, in which a cuckolded musician (Jason Segel) ends up on vacation with his cheatin’ lover (Kristen Bell) and her gyrating rock star boyfriend (Russell Brand). But the power of Forgetting Sarah Marshall lies in its combination of weird and tender. We hear excerpts of a poignant, Dracula-themed musical. We see Russell Brand, looking like a literal piece of sex, teach a sexually-stunted friend how to simultaneously provide clitoral and vaginal stimulation so that he may please his new wife in bed. Sure, we see Jason Segel’s dick three times in the opening 10 minutes, but in this situation the schlong slinging works because it occurs during a particularly cringey break-up scene. Segal’s display of broken-man-nudity is more vulnerable than exhibitionist, and it’s precisely this combination of bizarre and sad that makes FSM such a wonderful break-up movie to watch.
Call Me By Your Name
Watching Timothee Chalamet pedal through an Italian villa alongside the object of his desire (Armie Hammer, an adonis in loose oxfords and short shorts) will make you feel like you’re floating down a river of rosewater, or walking towards a shimmering mirage, or falling into a blue-tinted dream where a piano plays softly for a running time of two hours and twelve minutes. It’s both breathtaking and meditative, and whether you’re feeling the weight of romantic longing or post-break-up sadness, this film will legitimize these feelings and render them beautiful. Quiet sexual tension grips every scene of the movie, whether we’re watching the characters read books on the grass or play footsie in a dimly-lit bedroom. Oh, and there’s that scene with the peach, which proves that you don’t always need a (human) partner to have good sex.
Thelma and Louise
If you haven’t seen this movie yet I’m mad at you. It is a quintessential road movie, following the tire tracks of two good girls turned gunslingers who decide to take to the road after shooting a rapist outside a bar. This movie is a “fuck-you” to power abusers of all kinds, as well as to the cinematic tradition of male-only road movies and buddy comedies. It’s a feminist tour-de-force, and it really “takes off” at the end (you’ll see what I mean). So if you happen to be mad at someone, this movie may help you vicariously live-out and process your anger in a healthy way.
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