Thursday, January 8, 2015

Hello, Officer

It was a more or less situation inspired by girls' talk.

On a night almost too cold to go out, Pru picked me up, considerately turning on the seat warmer on my side before she even arrived. We were on our way to the Criterion to see "Big Eyes," Tim Burton's telling of the saga of the painters behind those dreadful sad-eyed naif pictures from the '60s.

Growing up, our next-door neighbors, the Nearings, had them in their mod rec-room and even as a kid, I questioned their artistic value. Now it was Tim Burton's turn.

Buying our tickets, the only topic on everyone's lips was the cold. One guy behind the counter said he'd gone outside for a minute and returned with watering eyes, making people think he was crying. Nope, just freezing in his flimsy uniform.

Popcorn in hand, we took seats in front of the only other two people in the theater to watch previews, including a dreadful-looking one for "Fifty Shades of Gray." When it ended, we spontaneously looked at each other and said "nope."

"A Little Chaos," on the other hand, the upcoming period piece about the gardens of Versailles directed by and starring Alan Rickman and Kate Winslet, got an immediate thumbs-up from us both.

I'd read plenty about the story behind "Big Eyes" about how an untalented man passes off his wife's paintings as his own, creating a worldwide demand for the cheesy pictures of sad-eyed children while secluding her away almost constantly to produce more of them to pass off as his own.

A lot of the charm of the film was Burton's recreation of late '50s and '60s San Francisco, depicted as a hip and happening artistic mecca - jazz clubs, art galleries, basement espresso bars ("What's espresso? Is that like reefer?") and nearly vertical hills - all shot magnificently in the colors of a mid-century postcard.

While it seemed like the overarching theme was about the age-old struggle between art and commercialism, I was struck by the underpinnings of circumscribed gender roles that defined the characters.

A young mother who has left one bad marriage falls into another for fear of losing custody of her daughter to her ex-husband. The new husband offers security at a time when women were asked questions at job interviews like, "What does your husband think of you working?"

While the characters were written a bit broadly for my taste, the story stayed compelling because it was based on a true one. How in the world did this man get away with claiming to be the artist for so long without anyone finding out?

It was a reflection of the kinder, gentler time that it took place that the mystery was eventually solved in a  court of law when the judge ordered both to paint and the husband produced nothing while Margaret Keane effortlessly painted another of her big-eyed children.

Imagine having been on the jury and watching that play out.

Perhaps most satisfyingly, the end of the film showed the real Margaret Keane alive and well and, according to the caption, still painting every single day.

As we stood to put our coats on and bundle up against the cold, the man behind us shared that it had been the real Margaret sitting on a bench in an early scene. Nice that she's finally getting her due.

When we walked out of the theater it was 19 degrees, unfortunate because no heated seats awaited us. Discussing the movie as she drove me home, we marveled at how recently women had been without any discernible power in relationships.

Arriving in front of my house, we continued our discussion, moving on to other topics: the beach house she's rented for next summer, my recent trip to Florida, an upcoming play we need to see, her house-hunting efforts, a Woody Allen movie she recently saw and wants to watch again with me (for the points it raises about relationships). Girl talk.

We chatted for a good 50 minutes at least, until finally she cracked a window and said she needed a cigarette. As we moved on to the bubbles we've been drinking and the books we're reading (and how neither of us has stopped thinking about "Gone Girl"), suddenly there were blue and red lights flashing behind us.

Mind you, we were parked directly in front of my house.

An officer gets out of the car and slowly approaches us as we're giggling about what in the world he could want from us. We haven't been drinking, much less speeding, so we're pretty sure we're innocent.

Turns out he's suspicious because we'd been sitting in the right lane of Clay Street - flashers on, of course - for over an hour. He asks Pru for her license which she eventually unearths after dumping out the entire contents of her wallet.

While he's going back to his squad car to run it through his computer, Pru applies lip gloss. I don't because I'd just reapplied at the theater. The officer returns to hand her back her license, along with an admonition not to block traffic in the future.

Surely our men in blue have better things to do than this.

Once he walks away, we burst out laughing and begin to wrap our our rambling conversation, promising to get together soon, before I sprint for my front door.

There are some things you can't cover up with lipstick and powder. Girls' talk in the right lane is one of them.

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