To be honest... February 2022
Getting crazier and crazier
Welcome to the third installment of my monthly newsletter! Like always, I have to be honest — I knew that making it to the third newsletter would be the deciding factor for me to keep this up. And I am enjoying writing these shorter reviews.
But instead of a third review for this month, I did spend time rewriting an old essay I made when I just moved to the States. Keep reading the newsletter to check it out at the end.
I couldn’t have continued this newsletter without all my subscribers who encourage me to continue. With all that being said, here are a few crazy stories that you should and shouldn’t spend your time on.
BOOKS: The Farm by Joanne Ramos - ⭐⭐⭐⭐
The number one export of the Philippines is people or Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). And I thought there were enough stories written about them, specifically the struggles of Filipina domestic workers. Yet Joanne Ramos’ The Farm is a fresh take on the issue and the limits of motherhood. Hidden near Hudson Valley is Golden Oaks, a surrogate facility for the ultrawealthy. Each surrogate host has their own reason for entering Golden Oaks, but all have to be meticulously monitored and banned from leaving for nine months. If you like Orange Is the New Black, get ready for Pregnant Women Prison.
And just like the show, a lot of The Farm’s appeal comes from its compelling and complex cast of surrogate hosts, family members, and billionaire clients. Protagonist Jane surprised me the most as she transitioned from a naïve single mother who joins Golden Oaks to a mother determined to return to her young daughter no matter what. Evelyn is an OFW with a knack for business; yet, the quest to provide her family with the best she could give becomes her downfall.
But Ramos balances their hardship with the humorously ignorant Reagan, the rich, Ivy League, and white host. Reagan embodies how complicated altruism could be when coming from a place of privilege. Her desire to birth the next Nobel Peace Prize winner makes her chapters the most entertaining to read. Her cynical co-host Lisa is an equally funny foil.
To top it off, Ramos creates an air of mystery by revealing important details in a nonlinear and inconspicuous manner. If you scan through a sentence, you might miss a crucial detail that explains another crucial detail.
Its only shortcoming was the ending. With compelling characters, character dynamics, and world-building, it might have been difficult to decide how to end it. Ramos instead chooses to use a Band-Aid solution to all the high stakes she set with Golden Oak’s policies and high maintenance clients.
MOVIE: Licorice Pizza (2021) - ⭐⭐⭐
With big ideas and big ambitions, Gary Valentine and Alana Kane traverse through the palm-lined hills of San Fernando Valley, CA, classic Hollywood, and each other’s lives. But even with a star-studded cast, comedic but heartfelt pacing, and nostalgic production design, the film makes a feeble impact and seems to be a cash-grab dependent on people’s romanticization of the 70s.
In its first hour, I was ready to leave the theater satisfied. The story compiles vignettes of Gary’s impulsive ventures with Alana as his accomplice. I had the impression that the script was similar to Lady Bird’s, which has a lot of snark and sarcasm. But the dry quips transitioned to absurdly hilarious conversations and scenes. Like how in a casting meeting Harriet Harris tells Alana Haim, “You remind me of an English pit-bull dog, with sex appeal and a very Jewish nose.” Or how one of Gary’s 15-year-old friends proposes to sell weed along with their waterbeds.
And the casting helps a lot. There are subtle cameos like Maya Rudolph as a casting agent and John C. Reilly as Fred Gwynne’s Frankenstein. Then, there are the heavier hitting performances from Sean Penn as an adrenaline-filled William Holden, Bradley Cooper as the unhinged Jon Peters, and Benny Safdie as the inattentive politician Joel Wachs.
And how do you fit all of these specific Hollywood legends into one plot? You don’t. As much as I had every intention of enjoying Licorice Pizza, its biggest flaw is also is its most distinct appeal its ungrounded absurdity. It tries to weave Gary and Alana into as many 70s cliches as possible — from waterbeds to white suits. Although most of the quirks and skits are entertaining, they don’t contribute to the plot or resolve the elephant in the room.
It still remains that Alana is a 25-year-old woman who hangs around and casually flirts with 15-year-old Gary. I know, it was the 70s, and “times were different.” Then again, Joan Didion’s groundbreaking essay “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” comes to mind. The 70s was like a second gold rush but for the youth. Yet, Didion exposed the sheer carelessness that amounted to living without responsibility.
Towards the end of the movie, I just felt sad for Alana. With each of Gary’s new projects, there was a glimmer of hope for Alana to escape her aimless life and find some direction. But she, with us viewers, learns that Gary is not the naïve young man filled with potential. And in those instances when she steps out of their dynamic to get an outsider’s perspective, the viewers see an manipulative Peter Pan stringing around a lost Wendy.
NEW POST: Small talk, to be honest
I used to hate American small talk so much that I wrote an entire essay about it a few years ago. I revisited the essay and found how drastically different my views on it has changed. Read about how small talk for me has transitioned from being an anxiety-inducing exchange to a comforting aid to loneliness.
It’s been a little dry in terms of music I actually want to review. If you have any albums (or any media content for that matter) you would like me to check out and spread word on, comment below or reply to this email!