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What I've Learned
Okay. That's it. I'm done. I'm swearing off teenage girl first-person fiction.
A few years ago I suffered through the interesting, but atrociously-written Twilight series. After more than 2,700 pages inside the head of high-schooler Isabella Swan (the product of an inexperienced author), I was determined no plot device would ever lure me back into the genre.
Recently I watched Hunger Games and decided to read the trilogy. The movie, it is said, follows the first book closely, so I skipped ahead and began reading number two.
To my dismay, the Hunger Games novels are written from the first person point of view of Katniss Everdeen, 16.
Though better written (marginally) than Twilight, book two of the Hunger Games left me unwilling to spend another 400 pages inside Katniss's head, so to find out how the trilogy ends, I cheated, looked up book three on Wikipedia, and read the synopsis.
I told you all that so I can tell you this. I was so entranced by Jennifer Lawrence, the actress who plays Katniss, I searched for other movies she's in. That's how I found Winter's Bone, the best movie I've seen in a while.
Lawrence plays 17-year-old Ree Dolly, whose family lives in the Missouri Ozarks. Her drug-dealing father is missing and her mother is mentally broken down, so it is Ree who takes care of her mother and younger brother and sister.
(It's interesting that Ree's character is in a situation similar to Katniss's: Missing father, incompetent mother, younger sibling(s) to care for.)
Ree's father has a court date and if he doesn't show, it will have a devastating impact on the family. The girl goes in search of him, and his trail leads her into danger.
Though Ree is not physically attractive (no one in this movie is attractive), she has an inner strength and determination that made it impossible for me to take my eyes off her. I feared for her safety and longed for her success, wishing all the while that I had an older sister like her.
I saw Winter's Bone streaming on Netflix. It is rated R for language, drug use, and for thematic material. There is violence, but it happens off screen. There's no sex.
For something a bit lighter, I recommend Sidewalls (available on DVD and streaming on Netflix), a story of longed-for romance set in Buenos Aires.
Mariana and Martin live in apartments that face each other. (Well, sort of. There's no windows on that side of their buildings.) Both are bright, creative, quirky, vulnerable, lonely, suffering from phobias, and searching for love. As you watch their day to day lives, you know they are probably perfect for each other--if only they would meet.
Their paths keep crossing in oblique ways. For example, one evening Mariana is in a department store window assembling a display she has designed. She thinks how much she likes this job. "Maybe it's stupid," she says in voice-over, "but I think: If someone stops to look, they're somehow interested in me."
The moment she steps out of sight, Martin comes along and admires the display.
You follow them, hoping that at some point they will make a connection. Sidewalls is an unusual, deliciously slow-paced, and charming movie. In Spanish with English subtitles, it's not rated, but would probably be PG-13 for a couple of short, non-revealing sex scenes and for depictions of adult smoking.
At the end of the movie, you may be tempted to skip the credits. Don't.
If you can't find Sidewalls--or even if you can--there is a sweet little Taiwanese movie (with English Subtitles) called Turn Left Turn Right that someone has posted in ten parts on YouTube. (The sound is out of sync on the first segment, but okay in the others. This is a very minor distraction since the subtitles are in sync.) The plot is similar enough to Sidewalls to be recognizable, but different enough to justify seeing both.