1400112890484.cachedThis episode aired weeks ago, but I only caught up with it last night. And my mind is still reeling.

The TV series Louie (2010-present) does a better job of showing us the uncomfortable, complicated aspects of dating (that amazing episode in which he sort of falls for the guy in Miami!) than almost anything else I’ve seen. But no matter Louis CK’s shlubbyness, he dates women who look like Parker Posey:

a_560x375So consider me interested in this episode, “So Did the Fat Lady,” when a funny fat woman flirts with him and asks him out, and Louis turns her down. Nota bene: he spent the first part of the episode with a buddy on a “bang-bang” — that is, they ate a full meal together at one restaurant, then departed to another restaurant for another full meal. It is the nadir of self-destructiveness by a couple of fat guys; they hardly speak as they eat themselves stupid during this bang-bang; they’re not doing it for “fun.”

Yet when Louis and Vanessa (Sarah Baker) walk along the riverfront and he offers her a half-hearted, “You’re not fat …”, she lights into him.

“On behalf of all the fat girls, I’m making you represent all the guys,” Vanessa says. “Why do you hate us so much?” And for an amazing seven minutes, she lets him have it. You should watch the full episode for the whole setup, but the scene is available here.


Louie loves to make its viewers uncomfortable; the whole series puts its protagonist in the middle of the strangest, most cringe-making scenes it can cook up. This one is no exception. Vanessa doesn’t let up, phrasing her complaints in a way that make us confrontation-averse types watch our sympathies ricochet between her and Louie. She lets him have it, but not without forcing you to see her perspective. It’s a genius rant.

One could complain (and they have) that the show’s creator, Louis CK, wrote the whole thing. But I’m not sure that line of attack is worthwhile. In fact, I have an abiding fascination with other moments in history when male writers recount amazing moments when they found themselves absolutely bawled out by a woman. One of my favorites is Captain John Smith’s account of meeting Pocahontas in London in 1617 and having her rip him a new one for failing to observe the rules of kinship cemented during their time in Virginia. Smith recounts her speech in full, which ends condemning the English for their propensity to lie.

ac3ea7190c324be4cbd4338c53e097ebI’m still not sure how I feel about the end of the scene, as the two defuse the tension. But what an amazing thing to see on TV. What did you think?


fargo-episode-2-allison-tolman-molly-solversonAt first she seems like she’s going to be just another part of the kitschy Minnesota social landscape as created by the writers of Fargo — a series that uses the Coen Brothers’ 1996 film as a jumping-off point (and visual touchstone) for a different story, which they assert is true. The show tricks you: at first, the character of Molly Solverson seems neither as central  nor as astute a detective as she becomes by episode 2 or 3. But by that time, you’ve sort of fallen in love with her.

Tolman is heavier than most TV actresses — by which, god knows, she probably wears a women’s size 10 (gasp!) — and prone to opening her gorgeous blue eyes just about as wide as they’ll go. She alternates observing a scene with an open mouth, and pursing that mouth in thought and perhaps a little judgment. All of which means that as you start to fall in love with her, her modesty, and her obsessive, perceptive views of the people and crimes around her, you realize that Tolman is not playing this for laughs even as she is trained as a comedian. Rather, we enter into the series via those beautiful eyes and connect to it through her combination of shyness, naïveté, and determination. She brings a soft persuasion to all her scenes, which is hard to do in a room full of Big Actors. fargo_s1_gallery_allisontolman_1200_article_story_largeThe show is getting attention for all its male stars — Billy Bob Thornton as the riveting, mercurial hit man (really: he’s wonderful here); Martin Freeman hamming it up with an implausible Minnesota accent as the hapless Lester Nygaard; the terrific Bob Odenkirk as the dense new chief of police; Colin Hanks as a singularly unlucky Duluth police officer; and Adam Goldberg as a competing hit man who memorably delivers half his lines in American Sign Language.

What I’m saying is that our attention is — and should be — directed at Tolman, who is the real reason why the series works. Freeman’s acting is starting to grow on me, even though I still think he overacts his way through every scene; I don’t understand why Colin Hanks gets so many great roles (well, maybe I do understand); and I feel slightly peeved at the show’s insistence on getting so many yuks from Minnesota lingo and way too many characters with low IQs. But I’ll keep watching for Allison Tolman alone. She is a major discovery, and a major talent. Damn.

I loved Miss Congeniality even with the secretly awful “I can be a feminist and love beauty pageants!” storyline and the makeover in which the shlubby FBI agent turns into a stone-cold babe. Chalk it up to the appeal of Sandra Bullock, madcap writing, and the supporting cast (Michael Caine, Benjamin Bratt, and Candice Bergen as the fussy cum psychotic pageant-show director). But after reading Susan Douglas’ Enlightened Feminism it got harder to watch, as it told women, “It’s okay not to be a feminist! It’s okay to want to be pretty and have girlfriends instead! Once you get rid of your frizzy hair and scary eyebrows, that superhot guy will like you!”

The Heat may not be perfect, but it dumps everything that’s objectionable about that earlier film and offers something slyly feminist while still feeling unthreatening.


Taking into account that this film will win no prizes, I kind of loved it — and even better, it feels like the kind of movie I’ll keep enjoying when it makes its inevitable appearance on basic cable in 9 months or so. The writing is tight and smart and (I think) will wear well with age. Bullock plays an older, more effective, un-made-over version of her Miss Congeniality character, except she doesn’t actually seem lonely. And Melissa McCarthy is just so good to watch — she shows that she can deliver a sly line as well as she can do physical humor. Best of all, unlike Bridesmaids, this film shows that McCarthy’s physical humor doesn’t have to descend to fat jokes. Oh, excuse me — I meant enlightened fat jokes.


The tepid reviews meant that it took me a long time to see The Heat, directed by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) and written by Katie Dippold (Parks and Recreation) — so long that I was surprised to see it still in theaters after 5 weeks here, considering how quickly films get yanked these days. Yet my theater had lots of people in it, and we all laughed throughout — even the 80-something couple behind me, who were unperturbed by the language, etc.

Let me repeat: it’s not perfect. The comedy is broad and often crude. The movie gets put on hold at the end of the 2nd act while the two leads bond by getting drunk in a bar together (right: never seen that one before). I loved the writing, but you can tell it was written for the small screen, even if it comes from a writer on one of teevee’s best shows. The Heat sometimes feels like the female comedy film is still in its awkward tween phase, with occasional disconnects between writing, acting, plot, and tropes.


But to focus on its awkward tween-ness is to miss what’s really enjoyable about this film — and that has to do with how the story of a partnership between two 40-something women is different than between men.

Some of the snarkiest comments about the film come from critics who overstate its feminist elements. “Nothing quite says female empowerment like violating the civil rights of criminal suspects, am I right?” asks Andrew O’Hehir of Salon in a review that makes me want to use a blunt instrument to take some air out of his self-inflated balloon. But then, he thought the derivative male buddy movie Two Guns was completely “enjoyable trash,” so perhaps pity is the more appropriate response.

Anyway. Is The Heat overtly feminist? No, not really, aside from a few comments about how hard it is to be a woman in law enforcement. Rather, it’s a secret, sly feminism that emerges in the way the story refuses to play by the old rules.


First is the way the film up-ends virtually every trope about female cops, as Ashley Fetters details in The Atlantic. Movies have taught us that women are the newest and least experienced cops on the force; that they hunt serial killers from a distance or in ways that don’t require mano-a-mano exchange with perps; that they don’t use violence; and that they just wanna be loved. In each respect, The Heat acts as if those assumptions never existed. 

Bullock’s and McCarthy’s characters don’t care how they look. Not only are they not looking for love, they seem to take for granted the fact that men are interested in them (and they are): McCarthy has a whole string of lovelorn former hookups who haunt the bars of Boston, hoping to run into her.

The-Heat banner bullock mccarthyBest of all, this film was not about The Pretty One and The Fat One. Bullock’s character gets a lot of shit for her mannish looks and heavy jawline — in fact, I wonder whether I’ll ever be able to look at her again without thinking of the whipsaw barrage of questions thrown at her by McCarthy’s obnoxious Boston family. There are no fat jokes. They’re both smart and capable and competitive and capable of violence and somewhat isolated. The way they find friendship with one another is sweet without being cloying.

I also noticed the actorly generosity between the two women. There’s no doubt that McCarthy gets the better lines, but that’s in keeping with the way that Bullock’s straight-laced character has to play catch-up. “That’s a misrepresentation of my vagina,” she says lamely (and very funnily) after one string of verbal abuse. I’ve never seen either woman share the limelight so effectively.

Sandra-Bullock-Melissa-McCarthy-The-Heat-TrailerSo yeah, the movie is occasionally crude and won’t pass any authenticity tests with police-show aficionados. I’m mostly uninterested in those complaints. I want to see The Heat 2, with a more experienced Dippold doing the writing and these two growing into their characters — simply because for the female comedy film to flower as a beautiful teenager, we need plenty of funny, watchable, and well-written films to pave the way. Because in the meantime, awkward tweens can still make for damn good viewing. And what else do you want to do on a Saturday afternoon other than guffaw at a lot of goof, with women (for once) doing the goofing?


Just received my annual royalty check: paltry, as expected. Thus I’m happy to announce that I’ve turned away from academic writing altogether, and have been studying the NY Times Book Review bestsellers lists for advice on future writing. Clearly the time has come to write diet books. Here are a few titles you can expect from me in the near future:

Slim Down by Street Address. A diet regimen tailored for you, based on the last two digits of your house number. Did you know that if your street address ends in 19, you should avoid corn and corn products? If your last two numbers are 83, you need to eat ketchup every day. That’s just the beginning!

The Zombie Diet. Think about it: zombies do nothing but eat, yet never seem to gain weight. Read on to learn this diet trick.


The “Breaking Bad” Binge-Watcher’s Cookbook. A series of lightning-fast, microwaveable recipes for foods utilizing only ingredients already found in your cupboard. The dieting part sets in when you fail to eat anything because the show makes you feel so existentially uncomfortable. Might also be used for binge-watching Battlestar Galactica but the weight loss promises are less foolproof.

All of this planning makes me pretty excited for next year’s royalty check. Maybe then it’ll amount to a little more than knowing I’ll be able to pay next month’s cable bill.

We all know how it goes when a friend compliments you and you deflect the compliment back:

Thanks, Servetus, for the heads-up about this awesome clip!

I haven’t watched Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer — have you? do you like it? This hits that great sweet spot of being both brutally funny and eerily accurate. Maybe I need to look into it….

When I was in college I briefly shared a house with a bunch of swimmers who walked around naked, or mostly naked, most of the time. Far from being exhibitionists, they were simply used to being un-self-consciously naked around both men and women. At first I found the sight of their hard bodies disconcerting, but within a few days I joined in.

Even for me, a 19-yr-old used to walking around naked in high school sports-teams locker rooms, that transition in thinking about naked bodies in mixed-sex settings blew my mind, and changed me. So why do I feel so ambivalent about US soccer star Abby Wambach appearing in ESPN The Magazine‘s Body Issue, which features artistic naked shots of male and female Olympians?

My sister sent me this great video in which Wambach talks about her decision to do so in the same matter-of-fact terms that my college swimmer roommates would have. “I’m very comfortable with my body anyway,” she explains. “Most importantly, I want the shot to represent what we all are trying to capture here, and that’s just powerful, strong, athletic …. You don’t have to have the most cut up body to be a pro athlete. Bodies come in all different shapes. Bodies come in all different sizes. And my body is very different than most females’.” She continues to speak in feminist terms about beauty and empowerment — all of which I’m in 100% agreement.

Except. Aside from Paralympian rower Oksana Masters, whose lower legs were amputated when she was a child, the bodies represented in the magazine don’t represent different shapes and sizes. I mean, Abby, didn’t it occur to you that no matter how you feel about the feminist and empowering aspects of such a photo spread, the magazine is constructed by media moguls who only care about a very slightly expanded spectrum of one kind of body — which is lithe, gorgeous, and glossy-haired?

Where is Olympic weightlifter Holley Mangold? (who’s gorgeous and glossy-haired, BTW?)

Where’s Olympic marathoner Desiree Davila, who’s too busy running the pants off the rest of us to get all prettified and fake-suntanned for an ESPN photo shoot?

Where is Olympic shot put star Tia Brooks? Or the female boxers in the upper weight classes, whose upper-body strength might not be as impressive as Tia’s or Holley’s but still places them outside most magazine readers’ comfort zones when it comes to female beauty?

Lord knows I’m not ambivalent about Abby, or anything about the idea of looking at her naked. When she speaks so eloquently about her own physical difference and about the fact that she weighs 175 pounds, I believe she really does have the potential to change hearts and minds when it comes to what is “beautiful.”

But Abby, as much as my offer of marriage still stands, I’m so disappointed that you’re not more savvy about how your own views of your body don’t mitigate the ways that ESPN The Magazine uses your nakedness as a cheap gambit to sell issues (and ad time for the Olympics, which are largely being shown on the cable channel). The only differences between this issue and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is a) there are no swimsuits, and b) the magazine shows pictures of naked men, too.

In short, this is really just a more gender-equitable, yet still narrow view of what our society deems attractive.

The gorgeously non-naked Queen Underwood, Olympic boxer

To repeat Abby’s words: “You don’t have to have the most cut up body to be a pro athlete. Bodies come in all different shapes. Bodies come in all different sizes.” Amen to that. But let’s not pretend that ESPN The Magazine has any interest in that mantra, nor that flanking Abby’s long, masculine muscularity with the bodies of long-haired surfer girls or blonde golfers will alter their readers’ willingness to express disgust with women who step outside the norms.

Tell me, readers, am I being too cynical about this issue? Is there a radical potential to The Body Issue that I’m missing? Or (gasp: is it possible?) am I not being cynical enough?

Ever since hearing that the 1971 documentary Growing Up Female (dir. Jim Klein and Julia Reichert) was selected for the National Film Registry, I’ve been trying to find a copy. (The closest I’ve come is this fabulous 5-min. clip, which you should watch too and beware of too easily thinking, “We’ve come a long way, baby!”).

Here’s my pitch to documentarians: we need an updated version. You know who else wants an updated version? Riley, our future president:

Riley’s right to start in toy stores, just the way the 1971 film starts in a day care. Here are some other hot spots I hope the documentarians will visit:

  • “breast-araunts” like Twin Peaks and Hooters
  • girls’ sports: the good (confidence, strength, great role models) and the bad (the pressure to appear straight straight straight; the dismal sports opportunities for women beyond college)
  • abortion politics: talk to a young woman who’s going to give birth to her rapist’s baby because of the law or access issues (or, frankly, because of brainwashing)
  • girls who come out as gay or trans (or, alternately, choose not to come out)
  • religious and church messages to girls about gender roles and sex
  • girls’ clothing choices and body pressures to be both whisper-thin AND have a hot badunkadonk
  • children’s TV programming (talk to Geena Davis about this)
  • the pressure to get into college
  • messages about gender and sex in pop music
  • the assholes at Lego who claim that “months of anthropological testing” tell them that girls want pastel-colored Legos despite years of girls wanting regular Legos
  • college sororities and college feminist organizations (and college anti-racist or ethnic organizations, which can have retrograde gender or sexual dynamics)
  • mother-daughter relationships; domestic chores meted out to daughters and sons
  • the effect on girls of presidential candidates who want to outlaw The Pill in their eagerness to “protect life” (that is, everyone running for the GOP nomination) and Pres. Obama, whose commitment to women’s reproductive health seems, well, changeable
  • teenagers growing up in quiverfull or fundamentalist Mormon environments

PLEASE. Not just because it could be an amazing document for the future. For all of us feminists who need to see what’s going on now. For everyone who forgets their own little protected bubble of a world is not a reflection of the whole.

Once upon a time there were two friends named Jonquil and Hyacinth. They loved each other very much and made each other laugh every day. They studied hard, loved to cook for each other and trade stories, and over the years they became radiant in their mutual excellence.

One day, as Hyacinth was working alone in the field, she was surprised when a voice spoke to her from the wild flowers at her feet. “You could be even more lovely if you worked a little harder developing your triceps,” the voice said from amongst the daisies, thistles, violets and posies. Hyacinth refused to respond, but that message got stuck in her frontal lobe, and she soon found herself incapable of ignoring it.

Sitting down to eat that evening over a beautiful dinner, Hyacinth couldn’t help noticing that Jonquil’s triceps needed a little help as well. Why hadn’t the flower told Jonquil to exercise harder, too? she wondered. But she well knew that it was rude to advise one’s lovely friend to go to the gym.

“I’m going to do twice as many pushups tomorrow,” she pronounced instead. “And I think I’ll skip eating that garlicky, buttery bread so I can see the results more quickly.”

Jonquil was crushed. She’d made the buttery garlic bread especially for her favorite friend, who had never refused to eat such good food before. Her mind raced: she didn’t want to waste the bread, and it paired so nicely with her cream-of-broccoli soup. Yet as she ate it, she wondered whether her own triceps needed work.

Suddenly, she became aware of a tightness around her waist, as if her dress had shrunk.

The next day when Hyacinth completed her pushups, she found herself hungrier than ever. But with the words still fresh in her mind, she worried for the first time that eating would negate her hard work.

“I feel so much better!” she burbled that night as they ate the simple broth and steamed vegetables Hyacinth had prepared after telling Jonquil they needed to lighten up on the calories. She wasn’t lying. She was ravenously hungry but did feel rather virtuous, as if this kind of self-control and abstemiousness now helped to resolve an inner yearning she had never before known she had. “And I’m so glad not to be eating buttery garlic bread. Garlic makes you sooo fat!”

“Ooof!” Jonquil said, because she suddenly felt her dress constrict again. She became a little cranky from the combination of being unsatisfied with this boring dinner and feeling so suddenly uncomfortable in her own clothes. That night as she slept, her dreams were fractured with disturbing images, and she had a hard time fitting into her dress the next morning.

In the next few days, Hyacinth forgot all about Jonquil’s triceps as she focused on her own — while at the same time Jonquil became increasingly unhappy.

On the third day, as Hyacinth was (somewhat annoyingly) explaining exactly how to do a one-handed pushup, Jonquil’s dress cinched her tight and a button popped off. “Ouch!” she said, and ran away. Her friend paused in the middle of her pushup, wondering why it wasn’t as much fun without updating Jonquil on her new diet and exercise regimen.

Jonquil ran out to the garden and dropped down to her knees, weeping. Was Hyacinth dabbling in black magic, she wondered — some kind of magic that made Jonquil get fatter every time Hyacinth talked about her new regimen? She had never felt so distant from her friend.

But why would her friend hurt her so? And how could Jonquil broach the topic without her body blowing up like a balloon? She decided to avoid the subject as much as possible.

When she returned to Hyacinth’s workout area, Jonquil found her chatting with a large pig. “This is the Count von Hogwood,” Hyacinth said. “He’s suggesting that I add a core-strengthening workout.” She paused and whispered in Jonquil’s ear: “Isn’t he handsome? And he just loves my triceps.”

Jonquil felt a seam split down one side of her dress. “Ugh,” she grunted, before she could ask why Hyacinth found a pig so handsome. When she looked closely at von Hogwood’s great girth, she wondered if he, too, had a penchant for buttery garlic bread. He suddenly whipped his head around to Jonquil and, before she could think about a menacing look in his eye as he sized up her triceps, she could feel another button threatening to pop off.

Von Hogwood returned the next day to continue to court Hyacinth, who was by now wholly absorbed with flirting. At least not talking to Hyacinth and the pig will help me preserve this dress, Jonquil told herself with a smile. But then she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror, and rued the changes she saw there.

So she turned the mirror around and perched herself in the window seat to look down at the sight of Hyacinth and von Hogwood’s strange courtship in the garden. As she did, she wondered again at the strangeness of her friend being so entranced by a pig.

She must be bewitched! Jonquil whispered to herself. But how can I break this spell? I can barely breathe in my own clothes anymore — heaven knows how fat I’d get if I raised the topic openly.

The only thing to do, she determined, was to leave the cottage and travel in search of a way to break the spell. She packed a few things into a sack and began walking down the lonely little path into the woods, in hope of finding an unknown assistant to help.


She wandered for three days before she came across another person: a little girl with a basket, skipping through a grove of dark hemlock trees. “Hello, child,” she said kindly, and the girl stopped to explain she was taking some food to her sick grandmother. A grandmother! Jonquil said to herself. That’s exactly the kind of matron who might know her way around bewitchments.

When they arrived at the little house, the little girl plopped herself on her granny’s lap in a dark corner of the room while Jonquil extracted a nice stew from the basket and began to heat it up. “Mmmm, I think this must be goat curry!” she said aloud as the stew began to bubble. The little girl came over to give it a sniff as well, and whispered to Jonquil, “Granny looks different. She’s hairier. I mean, she was always kind of hairy, but not like this.”

Perhaps she’s been bewitched, too, Jonquil wondered to herself, and poured a bowl of steaming goat curry into a bowl. As she opened Granny’s bedcurtains, she saw a wolf sitting in Granny’s lace cap and gown, looking hungry and more than a little confused.

“That smells awfully nice, but so do you,” said the wolf-Granny hungrily.

“First things first,” Jonquil said amenably. “Have some stew to whet your appetite, and we’ll talk.” As the wolf-Granny set to work with a spoon, moaning a little each time she bit into a piece of meat or a nice plump raisin, Jonquil asked her, “Are you the little girl’s Granny, or are you a wolf?”

“I used to be a Granny, but I slowly changed into a wolf, and I’m not sure why,” said the wolf-Granny. “Now I’m so much a wolf that I’d be happy to eat my own delectable little granddaughter in one bite.”

“Do you want to remain a wolf?” asked Jonquil carefully. “Because I’m in search of someone who can help me break the spell that’s been cast to make me so fat, and to make my darling friend fall in love with a pig. I’m sure such a person can help you, too.”

“You’re not near fat enough,” the wolf said drily. “But yes, finding out what happened to me is more important than eating you and this wonderful-smelling girlie here.” So the three of them sat down for a nice dinner of goat curry, and at the end Jonquil and the wolf-Granny sent the little girl home, and set off together even deeper into the dark, dark woods.

“I’ve heard tell of a famine taking place in these parts,” the wolf-Granny reported after a few hours. “People getting desperate. Kicking small children out of the house rather than feeding them; stealing porridge from bears. Desperate stuff.”

“Don’t get any ideas about taking a bite out of me,” Jonquil warned. “With this curse on me, who knows what my flesh’d do to your appetite.”

With that, they came upon a strange house nestled in a little clearing. It seemed to glisten in the few rays of sunlight that pierced the boughs of the tall, tall hemlocks. “Why, I think that roof is covered in sprinkled-sugar cookies,” Jonquil said after a moment, with her jaw agape. “I thought you said there was a famine underway here!”

“And the windows are clear sheets of melted sugar,” marveled the wolf-Granny. “If I can find an eclair, my journey might end here.”

As they grew closer, they discovered a little girl gnawing on a windowsill. “It’s a fudgy brownie, and so chocolate-y!” she squealed. “I’m so hungry. We wasted all our bread trying to leave a path back home.” Jonquil and the wolf-Granny looked at one another, and the wolf silently promised not to eat the wee thing.

“Ooof!” said someone up on the roof, followed by a clatter. Peeking around the back of the house, they found a little boy pulled down into a cage, lorded over by a strange-looking woman with a long hook, who was now pushing profiteroles through a small slot in the top. “Eat those, my pretty, and you’ll never be hungry again!” she said, licking her lips with delight.

“Mildred?” asked the wolf-Granny. “What are you doing with that little boy?”

The strange-looking woman whipped her head around. “Agnes? Why do you look like a wolf?”

“We need to talk,” said Jonquil. “Let’s go inside.” She set to work heating up the remaining goat curry and making some buttery garlic toast while she listened to the two women catch up.

“Oh, heavens, dear, I can’t possibly eat garlic,” said the witch-Mildred. “I’ve been trying for months to get rid of this big wart on my nose with the new Atchkiss Diet. Heavens, girl, don’t you know that garlic enhances wart growth?”

“I can’t eat it either,” said the wolf-Agnes. “After being sick in bed so long, I learned about the Will Yourself to Wellness Diet. Don’t you know that garlic weakens your will and makes you more susceptible to illness?” she asked, puffing on her pipe.

The little boy and girl wouldn’t eat it, either. “Garlic is stinky,” they said. “Momma and Poppa say it makes children grow up stunted and ugly.”

“That’s strange,” Jonquil said. “My friend Hyacinth says it makes you fat. But I seem to be getting fat even though I haven’t eaten much garlic in days.” She looked at the piece of toast doubtfully. It no longer smelled very nice, and seemed to ripple with danger and threat. “But you know, I’m sitting with a witch, a wolf, and two helpless children — all inside a house made of sugary goodness. I’m going to take the risk.” She took a big bite of the bread, and its garlicky, buttery goodness spread all over the inside of her mouth.

“Ahhhh,” she said happily, and used the toast to mop up the rest of her goat stew. She felt happier than she’d felt in days, and even a bit more clear-headed.“This is awfully nice stew,” the witch-Mildred said happily. “Ever since being on the Atchkiss Diet I’ve been restricted to freshly-killed meat and the odd stalk of broccoli. I can’t remember the last time I tasted a raisin, except to use them to lure children to my house.”

“Isn’t it lovely?” asked the wolf-Agnes. “I must admit, the niceness of this stew has disrupted my own Will Yourself to Wellness Diet, which limits me to raw children for three months so the illness in my body can dissipate.” The boy and girl looked askance, but devoured their stew anyway.

“Ladies, isn’t it time we took a step back?” asked Jonquil. “Seems to me there are some strange ideas about food swirling around here, if both of you think eating children is the answer to your problems.”

The wolf and the witch looked at her impassively. “You can’t argue with science,” said one. “You have to complete the regimen to see the full results,” said the other. “It’s been proven to work in villages throughout the Shire.”

“All I’m saying, is, my friend stopped eating nice food and spends all her time doing pushups, and now she’s dating a pig,” said Jonquil. In saying it, Jonquil was visited by a refreshing burst of mental clarity.

“Mmmm, fresh pig,” said the wolf-Agnes.

“How did you hear about these diets? However did you begin to eat children?” demanded Jonquil.

“Why, it was that delightful gentleman doctor who treated my bronchitis,” said the wolf. “He had the loveliest green coat — not a forest green or a spring green or a lime green or an olive green. It was the brightest green I’ve ever had the pleasure to see. A true emerald green. He knew all about diets and what foods are good for you,” she added.

“That’s funny,” said the witch. “I heard about it from the new miller, the gentlemanly one who makes house calls to deliver my flours and sugars. He wears a lovely green coat as well — perhaps green’s the new color this season. I remember him so well because his hair is almost like a bit of white-spun sugar. Thistle-down hair, it is — and white as the finest flour. Course, now that I don’t eat any bread or sweets, I haven’t seen him since,” she added.

Neither woman could remember these men’s names, nor could they imagine why those men hadn’t returned to check up on the patient and the customer.

Suddenly a knock came at the door. When they opened it, they found an odd band of bearded little men, all dressed in miners’ clothes, all wielding picks and knives and hammers.

“Witch! Is it you who poisoned our sweet lady-friend?” demanded the grumpiest-looking of the crew, a brickbat in hand. “She’s dead to the world, with only a single beautiful apple in her hand. Why would you kill our sweet lady-friend?” asked the one who wore glasses and looked professorial.

“You know perfectly well that I prefer much younger flesh-nuggets,” the witch-Mildred said rather defensively, gazing longingly at the boy and girl at the table. “You also know I lure with sweets, not apples. Take us to her, and we’ll study the situation.”

What is the deal with all you people and your food issues?” Jonquil snapped impatiently. She was getting a little tired of juggling so many people and their dietary preferences.

The little men explained that their sweet lady-friend had been cranky for several days, insisting that she had developed an unsightly spot of eczema on her neck. None of the little men could see it, which made her angrier. “She made us stop eating buttery garlic bread, even though none of us has eczema,” the dimwitted-looking one said sadly. “Can I have a bite of yours? It smells so nice.” The wolf, witch, and children cut their untouched slices into seven pieces and handed them about.

When they got to the lady-friend’s body, her skin still glowed with warmth and rosy cheeks, but she did not breathe or have a pulse. “I wish that nice gentlemanly doctor with the thistle-down hair was here,” whispered the wolf-Granny softly. “He’d know just what kind of youthful flesh would bring her back to life — and perhaps the rest of us could have a snack, too.”

With that, they heard an odd rustle, like a spluttering of air. They looked around, and each of the bearded little men raised his implement in preparation to beat off an aggressive stranger, but they saw no one. “Who’s there?” asked the shy-looking little man. “It wasn’t me,” explained the bearded little man so prone to sneezing.

“You morons, it was the Raven King!” said a voice. The voice seemed to come from above, below, and around them. As they looked around confused, tree branches all around them began to unfurl and move.

As one of the branches opened, they saw a strange face hidden there.

“Well, to be precise, it was some queen who the Raven King had bewitched into thinking she needs to be the most beautiful in the world. But the Raven King is behind it all.” The tree looked around at this strange group and narrowed its eyes on Jonquil, the witch and the wolf. “Seems like you’re bewitched as well,” it said slowly. “But perhaps not quite the same as the others.”

“I tried to warn her, but she kept nattering on about that eczema,” the tree continued. “Lemme guess: you wanted to be the smartest or the strongest? The fastest or the happiest? It’s always the same,” the tree said disgustedly to the witch and the wolf.

The witch looked down at her feet. “I only wanted to get rid of this wart on my nose,” she said unhappily. “And I only wanted to feel young and strong again after my long sickness,” said the wolf-Granny.

“Enough self-recrimination,” Jonquil declared suddenly. “I haven’t met this man, and I didn’t want my life to change. Nor do I think anyone here is to blame, really, for their bewitchments. How do we find this Raven King and get the spells reversed?”

The tree took hold of Jonquil’s arms. “Nice triceps,” it said. “You’ve got to enter the fairy world to find him, but there’s no guarantee he’ll do anything for you. Nor is it likely he’ll let you come back.”

“I don’t care,” she responded. “Enough is enough.”

And with that, she heard delightful music begin to play in the distance — the most wondrous, enticing music she’d ever heard. It was as if this music answered an inner need, a desire she’d never known she possessed. It was as if the music sang to her about all the happiest days she’d spent with Hyacinth, spinning stories for each other and eating that Moroccan lamb tanjine dish infused with saffron, dates, and figs. “Where is it coming from? How can I find it?” she breathlessly of the tree.

“God, you humans are thick,” the tree said, rolling its eyes and folding its branches truculently. “And here I’d started to think you might have a head on your trunk.”


Even though dusk was falling, it didn’t take long for Jonquil, the warty witch, and the wolf-Granny to find a meadow glowing with sparkly lights and pulsing with that beautiful music. They had sent the little men to take the children home and to watch over the still body of their dead sweet lady-friend.

“I still don’t understand how they could be so unmoved by this music,” the witch murmured. “It reminds me of my younger days, when my nose was so dainty — before the rhinophyma and certainly before that wart started to grow.” “I know just what you mean!” said the wolf. “It fills me with a youthful vigor and a spring in my step, just like before my hip started to creak and I had such a long winter with the bronchitis.”

At first they could not see anything but sparkly lights — but as they entered inside the lights, they began to make out the shapes of many bodies. Hundreds of beautiful, elegantly-dressed men and women, dancing and looking happier than any humans they’d ever seen in the real world.

“Aahhh, it’s like magic!” breathed Jonquil. “I can’t imagine anything more wonderful.” The wolf and the witch nodded in dumb agreement.

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of a familiar-looking, lovely young woman. “Hyacinth?” she whispered. “It can’t be!” But before she could catch a clearer glimpse, a gentleman asked her to dance. She’d never danced before, but his kiss on the back of her hand and his firm grip seemed to teach her everything she needed to know.

The wolf-Granny, too, stood entranced by the spectacle. As she gazed around, she thought she saw out of the corner of her eye a nice-looking granny who looked a little bit like herself — but she too was interrupted. “Would you like to dance?” asked an elegant grey-haired man to her side. “My, you look just like my Harold — well, before we got so hungry during the famine and he disappeared with his two brothers to seek a fortune,” she said. He smiled and they whirled off to the dance floor.

The witch was undeterred by the dancers and ran up to a near mirror image of herself in one corner of the room. This other witch had a lovely nose — not enlarged at all, and with no warts. “Are you — are we the same –” she stammered. “Have a cocktail,” said the witch with the nice nose. They each took a swig, linked arms, and rambled off to a corner to do a jig together.

Eventually the wolf and the Harold-looking man slowed down and approached the table of hors d’oeuvres. “I don’t know about you, but these rillettes are so tender they taste just like the most delicate flesh,” he said charmingly. The wolf-Granny gazed up at his face. “That’s just like something Harold would have said,” she pronounced, and popped three of them down her throat. “Delicioso!” she said delightedly. The more she ate, the less she noticed a mirror-image of a healthier version of herself in odd corners of the room; eventually, all she could think about was this new Harold and washing down the rillettes with the delicious green punch.

Jonquil danced three times with the hand-kissing gentleman, once with a gentleman in an emerald-green coat, twice with a rather tedious minister named Mr. Collins, once again with the man in the green coat (whose hair was a lovely tuft of white thistle-down), and twice with a handsome man in a strange-looking suit with medals and banners. “Please call me Baron von Hogwood,” said the last dancer. “I used to know someone with that name!” Jonquil smiled. “But I don’t remember him being as nice-looking as you are, nor so nice a dancer.”

“Have a sip of this marvelous green punch?” the Baron asked. “It’s marvelous for one’s figure.”

“I’ve been a little worried about my figure,” Jonquil confessed, almost drunkenly, and felt at that moment her dress cinch her tight at the waist. That’s something that hasn’t happened for a while, she said to herself in the back of her mind. But before she could put the crystal to her mouth, her elbow was jostled by a passing dancer, and the sparkling green liquid fell on the Baron’s magnificent white suit vest.

“Oh, dear,” she apologized hastily, but found herself disconcerted to see the Baron shoot her a furious look that reminded her of something. What was it? As she turned to see who had jiggled her arm, she again caught a glimpse of someone familiar. “Is that Hyacinth?” she said aloud, and her head began to clear a little bit.

“My great apologies, Madam! You require another cocktail,” the Baron now said insistently, having regained most of his composure. But Jonquil wanted to find her friend. She grasped the hand of the gentleman with the thistle-down hair and pulled him onto the dance floor.

“Excuse me, madam, but it is our custom that the gentlemen dancers lead, and the ladies follow,” the gentleman with the thistle-down hair said with a smile on his face. “It’s rather unseemly otherwise, don’t you think?” Jonquil looked at him quizzically and suddenly became aware of what a very bad dancer she was, indeed.

At that moment, however, they reached the woman who looked so much like Hyacinth. “Jonquil!” said her friend. “What are you doing here? And oh dear, you’re not supposed to lead, for heavens’ sake! You don’t even know how to dance!”

Jonquil suddenly felt unbearably clumsy, as if one of her legs had become wooden. Her dress popped two buttons right in Hyacinth’s direction. The Baron raced over with a goblet of sparkling green cocktail. “Madam, please,” he said, bending over to hand it to her. “It’s so helpful for the nerves.”

It did look delicious, she thought. And my figure can use all the help I can get. But when she reached for it, her hands had swollen into giant ham-hands, and she found herself spilling this drink all over the gentleman with the thistle-down hair.

“I’m so sorry,” she cried, reaching into her pocket for her hankie, which she always kept folded neatly for such accidents. It had been so long since she’d felt the need to cry — she’d been away from home, away from Hyacinth’s push-ups, even relieved of her own expanding girth — that she knew it was tidy and clean.

But she’d forgotten that she’d wrapped her unfinished bit of buttery garlicky bread in it. As she held it out to pat away the sticky green drink from the gentleman’s front, the garlic bread’s smelly, buttery, garlicky goodness infused the air of the ball and spilled onto the gentleman’s head.

His response was shock and surprise — and then his arms began to dissolve into black ravens that dispersed throughout the dance. “What the –” he muttered. “Who brought garlic in here?” The last thing anyone saw was a floating bit of thistledown as the fairy dance disappeared entirely.

At the same time, Jonquil’s head cleared. She looked at Hyacinth, who sat next to her in an empty meadow, and at the pig Baron von Hogwood had become. “Are you really in love with a pig?” she asked her friend.

“Have I really been doing pushups for the last five days?” asked Hyacinth. “It seems so bizarre. It’s as if I lost a teeny part of myself that otherwise would have known it was stupid. Why did you run away from home and from me when I was so messed up?” continued Hyacinth.

Jonquil looked at her with surprise. “Didn’t you notice that every time you talked about those damn pushups or your diet, I gained ten pounds?”

“No, you didn’t,” said Hyacinth. Jonquil looked down at her dress and found that all her buttons were there and that she had neither a ham hand or a wooden leg. “You look just the same as always.”

A nice-looking older woman wandered up to them. “My stomach hurts from all those awful rillettes, and I think they’ve made my hip creak more,” she said miserably. “It’s possible I feel even older and sicker than I did before I started to turn into a wolf — but at least I don’t want to eat little children anymore,” she concluded. “Agnes?” asked Jonquil. “Why, yes,” she said. “Do I know you? Do you know how to get me home?” A wart-faced woman came up to them as well. “I wish I hadn’t drunk that punch,” she said groggily. “I have the worst headache, and I think my wart is even bigger. All I want is a nice loaf of my own semolina-sesame bread and a big salad, and to forget all about this stupid wart.”

“Let’s go home,” Jonquil said, and they headed back.

As they passed through the woods, they found the seven bearded little men chatting with their dazed-looking sweet lady-friend, whose spell had been broken. “Some jackass came riding through insisting he needed to kiss her, but we put the kibosh on that one,” they said, smiling at Jonquil. Jonquil and Hyacinth also found the little boy and girl home again with happy parents in a valley where the fields’ fertility had been restored and the famine ended.

They finally returned to their cottage. “Let’s tell stories and eat garlic bread,” Hyacinth said.

“Yeah,” Jonquil agreed. “And we’re going to put in a nice healthy crop of garlic in the garden for next year — maybe to replace those odd thistles that grew up in the field this spring.”

Here’s what got me started on this post: the fact that Jonah Hill gets a lot of work as an actor. Don’t get me wrong: I have no particular problem with Hill, and I’m encouraged by the fact that directors are starting to cast him in interesting parts (Cyrus, Moneyball) that don’t demand 1) a fat guy, or 2) broad comedy. He can use those huge eyes and unusual, cupid-bow lips to enigmatic, sphinx-like effect. But his ubiquity at the box office just points out to me that the fat girls are not getting the same “luck.”

Let’s be clear here: Jonah Hill is fundamentally a comedian who’s getting very lucky with good parts because audiences seem to like seeing fat men on screen on a regular basis. In contrast, audiences hate seeing fat actresses, so directors keep them limited to comedy. It has been a very long time since 1998 when Camryn Manheim won an Emmy for her work in the TV series The Practice and held the statuette aloft in the air, proclaiming, “This is for all the fat girls!” Ah, 1998, you were so, so long ago. In the years since, Manheim has lost a lot of weight.

Fat actresses are permitted a very small share of parts. Back in 2005 Showtime offered us a series called Fat Actress, a satirical fictionalized version of the life of Kirstie Alley (left), but it was cancelled after 7 episodes. Like Alley, our current non-svelte actresses are comediennes. With all of Queen Latifah’s many talents — and she was so terrific in Chicago (2002) — no one can say she’s getting interesting roles. Likewise Melissa McCarthy, who had a sweetly goofy role in Gilmore Girls (2000-07) and displayed great broad comic genius in Bridesmaids (2011); currently her sitcom Mike and Molly (2010-present) is struggling with the network, critics, etc., despite the fact that McCarthy won the 2011 Best Actress Emmy for her work. In a now-infamous blog essay entitled “Should ‘Fatties’ Get a Room? (Even on TV?)” on the Marie Claire website, writer Maura Kelly held that she’d be “grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other … because I’d be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything.” Lovely. Her essay was so objectionable that the magazine received 28,000 complaint emails and the writer penned one of those fake apologies, saying, “I sorely regret that it upset people so much.” Wow, thanks, Kelly! Problem solved!

The only fat actress I can think of who’s gotten interesting roles is Gabourey Sidibe, whose astonishing turn as Precious (2009) won her piles of Best Actress awards and nominations. But let’s be frank: since appearing in that film her roles have paled in comparison. She has a supporting part in Laura Linney’s serio-comic series, The Big C (2011-present), and has a small part in the Ben Stiller project, Tower Heist (2011). What’s most interesting to me is that she resists being typecast as a comedienne — meaning that although she might struggle to find roles, she’s left the door open to doing more compelling work than “sassy fat Black woman.”

I don’t mind it that so many fat actresses appear in comedies. I just think that Jonah Hill’s example is a good one: being funny isn’t the only thing these women can do. The fact is that big bodies can do very interesting things in a scene, allowing an actor to make unexpected choices about a role. Their very mass appearing in film, alongside the great majority of actors who look like little slips of human beings, can convey such a range of emotion and motivation that a smart director can make great use of.

Of course, alongside my posts calling for more real noses, unusual mouths, and real female athletes’ bodies, this one is hopelessly idealistic. But who knows? Maybe in another year or two another fat actress will be holding her statuette in the air, and I’ll be crying with joy at the sight.

When I checked the showtimes online for Bridesmaids, here’s what the theater website told me:

This spring, producer Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, Superbad) and director Paul Feig (creator of Freaks and Geeks) invite you to experience Bridesmaids

And to think I was going to see it because it’s a movie written by women (Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo) and stars six of them. Hollywood has just discovered that not only are women funny, but audiences will flock to see them (the movie took in $7.8 million yesterday alone, coming in a close second to Thor 3D) — so, to smooth the way, it puts up a lot of male boldface names in the movie’s ads.

Yet I left the theater with the realization that, in terms of tone at least, this film has Judd Apatow all over it. In fact, if one fed the scripts for The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Superbad into a supercomputer, one would find there’s an Apatow formula that strikes a balance between poop jokes, awkward sex scenes, eccentric secondary figures, and genuinely affecting sentimental moments between the main characters. Am I saying that Bridesmaids is just warmed-over Apatow? Not at all: this film is in many ways a total delight. Placing those elements into a film about the biggest chestnut of all female-oriented plots — the run-up to your best friend’s wedding — seems, to me at least, much better than just a female version of Apatow’s own clichéd plots (high school boys on a quest for alcohol and girls, etc.).

Maybe I’ve just been reading too many articles about Hollywood’s slow acknowledgement that audiences want to see women being funny, but it was hard for me to see it without that topic in mind, as if the film was trying to make a point. (Remember when Hollywood discovered, via American Pie in 1999, that women liked sex? Gee, thanks for small favors.) Previously, Hollywood has tended to hold to a three-part philosophy concerning female humor, as Tad Friend notes in his piece about the comedian Anna Faris in The New Yorker:

  • Women don’t have to be funny.
  • Also, women aren’t funny.
  • Really, they’re not.

If nothing else, Bridesmaids blows those concepts out of the water. The women in this film use every comic trick in the book — they run the gamut from subtle to broad and display great gifts for physical comedy when it’s required. Plus, the film wins prizes from me for taking apart the wedding industrial complex fairly handily, especially considering I’d just spent an hour on the phone with a friend suggesting plausible-sounding excuses for skipping a bridal shower.

But I also don’t want to oversell this movie. It’s exactly what you think it’s going to be, not much more. As with last year’s Easy A, this movie is funny, alternately gross and sweet, and features some surprisingly touching moments; Kristen Wiig in the lead role knows when to trot out her Saturday Night Live absurdities and when to rein them in; and the other leads (Maya Rudolph, Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne) are terrific, while Wendi McLendon-Covey (the blousy blonde from Reno: 911) doesn’t get quite enough screen time for my liking. For two much more diametrical responses, read the smart back-and-forth about this film on the Bitch website between Kjerstin Johnson and Kelsey Wallace.

My strongest criticism boils down to the fat jokes. I love the actress Melissa McCarthy — she played the best friend on The Gilmore Girls and more recently had a brief and celebrated run on Mike & Molly, a show I never saw but which got a lot of love from people whose opinion I respect. Those same writers have been divided on her appearance here. Melissa Silverstein of Women & Hollywood loved the film and especially McCarthy, saying “she shows a woman who is fun and sexual and raunchy and real and ready to beat the crap out of you on a moment’s notice. That’s what was so great about her character, you had no idea what was coming next.” On the other hand, Bitch‘s Johnson and Wallace decried the “lazy” jokes levied at the “unrefined fat woman” who burps out loud, waddles through a couple of scenes (har, har!), and comes across as butch. (McCarthy has explained in interviews that she modeled her character on the abrasive, loud, yet oddly appealing Food Channel star, Guy Fieri — a decision I find brilliant.)

I’m going to take for granted that readers of this blog are enlightened enough to be aware of fat phobia, unlike the 20-something woman jackass in the theater next to me who squeaked, “Gross!” at the sight of one of McCarthy’s big ankles. Obviously none of us wants to see a movie that gets cheap laughs from the sight of a fat woman. But equally obviously none of us would say that fat women should be kept out of comedies, or that they’re not allowed to be funny, or that they’re not allowed to use physical humor. Silverstein puts it nicely: “Fat women never have fun in films. They might laugh but always when people are laughing at them” — whereas in this one McCarthy’s character is having a blast, moving forward with that Fieri-like assuredness that renders impossible a simplistic reading of her character. It’s important to note that at a crucial moment in the film, McCarthy’s character steps forward to show a truly heroic self-awareness, competence, sensitivity, and dedication to her friends (in fact, it sounds as if McCarthy herself is responsible for that plot development). So I return to the question: do I forgive the few bad fat jokes because overall we laugh with McCarthy and appreciate her character so much?

In the end, I remain divided on whether the fat jokes ruin Bridesmaids. I’m still persuaded enough by a Silverstein-like appreciation for McCarthy’s character and performance to refrain from a full-throated complaint. Perhaps this is Hollywood’s first experiment with enlightened fat phobia, pace Susan Douglas’s enlightened sexism: that is, the film tries to tell us that it’s okay to regress back to fat jokes because the fat woman is a successful and comparatively three-dimensional character. Let’s face it: I laugh at some of those enlightened sexist ads on TV — first and foremost the Old Spice dude who says, “Look again! It’s an oyster with two tickets to that thing you love!” That extra layer of irony seems to excuse the fat jokes because they’re not the old, unenlightened fat jokes. It’s a fat phobia that seems to accept — even celebrate — the fat woman on the surface, but in reality it repudiates fat people and keeps them in their place as the comic sidekicks. Maybe.