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Saturday 27 September 2003

The NY Times reviews “Duplex”

The New York Times has a review of “Duplex”, a comedy starring Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore, wherein the young couple buys a house in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It’s a splendid house. But.

The only catch is that the top floor of what was once a duplex is occupied by an ancient widow, Mrs. Connelly (Eileen Essell), whom the rent control laws prevent Alex and Nancy from evicting. Not that they would do such a thing, mind you, except that, well, the extra space would sure be nice, especially when they get around to having a baby […]

The main plot seems to center around how horrible this upstairs neighbor is. But, the Times’ reviewer points out, the Stiller and Barrymore characters (“Alex” and “Nancy”) are not unalloyed heroes:

They are not as nice as they think they are, and the movie, building toward an ingenious double punch line, sends more than a few satiric jabs in their direction. From Alex and Nancy’s point of view, Mrs. Connelly is a stubborn impediment to their ambitions.

This would be their ‘ambitions’ to enjoy the property they’ve purchased, mind you.

Her manipulative, importuning presence violates their sense of entitlement, which at first the film seems not to question.

That is, their ‘entitlement’ to conceive a child — apparently Mrs. Connelly is fond of watching South Park with the volume on 11 late at night, and of peeking in Alex and Nancy’s bedroom windows, which spoils the mood somewhat — and their ‘entitlement’ to occupy the whole of their house.

The jokes about rent control suggest that Mrs. Connelly embodies the intransigence of an older urban order that should just clear out and make room for shiny, attractive young people. […]

Or maybe just people who own the goddamned property, no matter their age or luster. Were the roles reversed — with an obnoxious young couple renting from an old lady who wanted them out — would the Times see the old lady as having ‘ambitions’ and a sense of ‘entitlement’?

But the old lady is also, as Nancy is forced to admit, full of life, and she might just as well represent the indomitable spirit of an old, ethnic Brooklyn refusing to be vanquished by the forces of gentrification. Or, in any case, fighting them to a draw.

‘Refusing to be vanquished’? ‘Forces of gentrification’? One of the plot holes in this film is that Alex is ‘writing a novel’ and Nancy ‘works at a magazine’. It’s unlikely they could afford to buy a house in Park Slope these days, but assuming that they somehow could, they’re in any case not anything you could call ‘gentry’ in any context, except that they’re young.

No, none of this makes much sense at all. In any sane world, though, Mrs. Connelly would would have to face the fact that the apartment she’s renting is no longer available for rent. And in that sane world, it’d be possible for the New York Times to review a comic movie without delving into the politics of ‘gentrification’ and casting aspersions on the main characters, because they have the gall to believe that they might have the right to control the property they own.

Posted by tino at 10:03 27.09.03
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