I first discovered Lynn Shelton via Humpday. It has a Duplass brother (Mark). It has that sorta cute guy from The Blair Witch Project, all pudgy. It’s about amateur porn. It was marketed to be an indie Apatow wink/bruh/”she said boob” type of thing. And it’s so beyond all of that, so good, so insightful and brave and forcing us to confront just how very confused we all are about not just sex but love, identity, expectations (our own and other peoples’), pressure, and all of this noise that just makes life as a 21st century adult so damn confusing.
The problem with Shelton’s movies is that they’re so spot on, so zeitgeist precise, that they’ll strike a chord with anyone who sees them who feels like they can embrace living in the 21st century, however screwed up it may be (as opposed to the many who prefer to retreat behind any number of bizarre isolationist ideologies). That’s a problem because her movies should be accessible, and seen and experienced as much as possible, not sold and mainlined like so much Hollywood pap. The trailers cherry pick moments where people are embarrassing themselves or other people—that’s the shit that makes people laugh now—and splice them together with inane critic quotes (“hilarious!” “so funny!” you just saw a bunch if you watched the above clip) and those who see the trailers think these are going to be easy little hipster romcoms that will allow the viewer to feel oh so cool for knowing about, let alone watching them.
But there is no easiness in what Shelton does. None. This is kind of what her movies are like: It’s Friday, and you celebrate by going out with a friend. And you’re planning on having a fun little Friday whingefest and a good laugh or two and then drive home just barely tipsy enough that you’ll be really careful to NOT GO ONE MILE OVER THE SPEED LIMIT, and then go to bed early and be glad you’re alone so you can masturbate or fart or eat ice cream out of the carton or all of the above with impunity, and then you’ll wake up and have a Most Productive Saturday. But INSTEAD, somebody unexpected joins the table and asks you some weird question that you never really thought anyone would ask you. And you’re just barely drunk enough to consider answering truthfully and one thing leads to another and you end up in this really frightening Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf territory where you have to face not just what you fear but the possibility of meaninglessness or meaning at the core of your existence. And your Saturday? It’s, like, so fucked.
After you watch a Lynn Shelton movie, you really do sort of sit there for a minute. You will think about it. I do not love Your Sister’s Sister nearly as much as Humpday. There are some notes in it that don’t ring completely true; I can’t figure out why Emily Blunt would fall for Mark Duplass in the first place. Where lovely Rosemarie DeWitt ends up is way too contrived for her character. But you know what? The three of these actors are so great, and Shelton’s aim is so true that it doesn’t matter that the mechanics on how everybody gets to the end point are kind of sketchy. There are two scenes where Blunt and DeWitt, playing sisters, lie face to face in bed, and the intimacy achieved is so startling, so bold and unapologetic—well, who, since Bergman, is doing this? (Well, Sarah Polley, for one.)
In checking Shelton’s bio, I saw that she directed one—ONE!—episode of Mad Men. John Slattery has directed a half dozen or more, and they always end up with creepy camera crawls into women’s cleavage and up their skirts. Shelton, Polley, Lisa Chodolenko, Kathryn Bigelow, Andrea Arnold—I’m pissed that women are not only dominating in the awards circles but all over the damned film industry.
Well, I’ll do what I can, folks. Just promise me you’ll watch one movie directed by a woman by Sunday. And for heck’s sake, post them here in the comments.