FILM

"Little Women" Is the Cure for 2019

Try being cynical during this movie. We dare you.

When asked by well-meaning older relatives—with faith in capitalism still shining in their eyes—if I want to have children someday, I usually respond with something like, "With fascism on the rise and an inevitable resource war on the horizon? With each day of inaction marching humanity closer to utter annihilation at the hands of climate change? I don't want to ruin my t*ts, Grandma."

Needless to say, I am a cynic by nature and circumstance and definitely an insufferable smartass.

2019 only further exacerbated my tendency to look on the dark side. Afterall, how can anyone truly believe that humanity has any fundamental goodness left with Donald Trump as president, cross-body fanny packs gaining in popularity, and CATS the movie existing? It's been a long year of absurdity in popular culture and politics; so dark and absurd, in fact, that my usual go-to feel-good flicks no longer do much to assuage my sorrow. I watched Love Actually on Christmas Eve and felt as empty as Kira Knightly's sallow, wan cheeks. Not even the precious ghost dog in Coco could touch my existential dread this holiday season. I was beginning to feel that there was nothing that could make the horror of 2019 feel distant, until, hungover and full of Sunday chilli, I accompanied my immediate family on an outing to see Greta Gerwig's Little Women.

As my mother's favorite childhood book, Little Women has always held a special place in my family's collective consciousness. Despite this, admittedly, my expectations were low. I knew the story well, and while I loved its relentless optimism in previous eras of my life, I struggled to believe the endearing March family and their romantic, simple adventures could possibly shine any light on the complicated darkness of 2019. I expected it to only make me feel worse, like a person in a depressive episode seeing Christmas lights.

Little Women 2019 Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen


Based on Louisa May-Alcott's 1868 novel, the 2019 remake of Little Women stars Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Chris Cooper, and Meryl Streep. As the movie began, I was immediately arrested by the piercing blue of Ronan's eyes and the adorableness of Pugh's button nose, and things only got better from there. First of all, there was something so deeply appealing about Laura Dern as Marmie, the mother of the titular little women, that I questioned whether I wanted her to give me a bath or to take a bath with her. Anyway, Freud aside, the tears began to flow around minute 11 of the movie. I touched my damp face with shock. Since the night of the 2016 election, the tears of rage and sorrow have come with less and less frequency as numbness quietly set in. And yet, here I was...feeling? In 2019? Unheard of.

Matters only worsened as my cold, dead heart was warmed by the selflessness of Beth (Eliza Scanlen), only to be broken by her illness, revived by Emma Watson's dreaminess in a pink dress, sent soaring by Jo's (Saorise Ronan) insistence on following her dreams, and stirred again by Timothee Chalamet's ass in a pair of high-waisted trousers. Suddenly, my cares seemed to melt away. As Father finally returned from war, Donald Trump's Twitter account seemed like a distant dream. When Jo cried, "My sister!" as she pulled Amy from the frigid water, in my heart, the United Kingdom was still firmly a part of the European Union. As Frederic turned to see Jo clasping her heart during the opera and a slow smile spread across his face, it was as if low rise jeans had never come back in style.

Little Women Laurie and Jo Saoirse Ronan and Timothee Chalamet


Indeed, there is something so consciously optimistic about Greta Gerwig's movie, so rebelliously pure, that even I—infamous for lamenting the scientific improbability of balloons lifting a whole house during a screening of Up at 12 years old—couldn't find any foothold for cynicism. It almost made me want to give in to my biological drive to reproduce and justify it with "maybe my kid will cure cancer!" or, more accurately in that moment, "maybe my children will put on adorable plays for the other neighborhood children like the little women!" Essentially, the movie dares to exist outside our collective exhaustion and despair, insistent on coaxing us into a kind of childhood delight, but it's also not without political, impactful moments that are presented so cleverly amidst the earnestness that they don't feel part of the monotonous drone of "political" cinema. Of course, part of the credit for the brilliance of Little Women must be given to Louisa May-Alcott, who managed to craft a comforting salve for heartache out of a story that, on the surface, is often devastating. But it was a stroke of genius by Greta Gerwig to make this movie now, in the midst of a time of international tumult, to offer audiences two hours of genuine relief from the brutality of 2019.

If you feel yourself (like me) retreating into your cave of sarcastic jokes, existential dread, and black turtlenecks, go see Little Women and let yourself enjoy it without guilt. It serves as a vital reminder that as long as we have each other, good stories, and deeply-needed respite from the real world, we may be able to gather just enough strength to make 2020 better than 2019. Maybe it'll even be great.

Music Features

On This Day: Shakira Liberated Everyone's “She Wolf”

"I was in the studio in a bad mood that day, then I got inspired and went to a corner and I wrote the lyrics and the melody in 10 minutes. The image of the she wolf just came to my head, and when I least expected it I was howling and panting," Shakira said.

By Fabio Alexx

11 years ago, on July 10th, 2009, Colombian singer Shakira released the first single off her third studio album.

"She Wolf" is a synth-pop banger built on a B minor progression. It was, in many ways, an insane song, born out of the singer's own frustration and ennui.

"I was in the studio in a bad mood that day, then I got inspired and went to a corner and I wrote the lyrics and the melody in 10 minutes. The image of the she wolf just came to my head, and when I least expected it I was howling and panting," Shakira said.

Though the music was composed by John Hill and Sam Endicott, lead singer of post-punk band The Bravery, the lyrics were all Shakira's own. "[Shakira] contacted him (Hill), asking if he had any stuff," said Endicott. "We never had her in mind. We just made the thing independently of her, and then she liked it a lot, and she sang over it. She used some of the melodies we put in there and then wrote these crazy lyrics about being a werewolf. And that's how it happened."

Shakira - She Wolf www.youtube.com


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In “Modern Love,” Anne Hathaway Shows Us Love Can’t Fix Bipolar Disorder

The show, based on Terri Cheney's column of the same title, provides a uniquely nuanced depiction of mental illness—and highlights the gaps that still exist in the ways we tell stories about it.

On the episode of Modern Love called "Take Me As I Am, Whoever I Am," Anne Hathaway's character Lexi spends half her time in bed.

She spends the other half of her life gallivanting around New York City, wearing sparkles and styling herself after famous actresses, asking out men in grocery stores and making up for the time and the lovers she lost while she was catatonically depressed.

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At best, the episode is a uniquely nuanced depiction of real mental illness, emphasizing the fact that Hathaway's illness may not be easily curable, refusing the temptation to glamorize her symptoms or suffocate her with pity and pessimism. At worst, it still falls into some old traps and perhaps could've done a better job of explaining the specifics of Lexi's diagnosis and the actuality of what bipolar is and is not.

Like all the episodes of Amazon Prime's new series Modern Love, it's based on a real-life story published in The New York Times' column of the same name. Hathaway's character is based on an essay by a woman named Terri Cheney, who specifies in the first paragraph that she suffers from what she refers to as "ultrararidian rapid cycling."

There are many different forms of bipolar disorder, far more than the typical binary of Bipolar I and II imply. Bipolar I, the best-known type, involves periods of severe mania and severe depression, whereas with Bipolar II, the manic episodes are usually slightly less severe, though periods of depression can be extremely intense. With both of these types, lengths and symptoms of manic and depressive episodes can vary, though most people experience one or two cycles per year, with episodes lasting around 13 weeks, according to a 2010 study. Episodes can be triggered by events such as seasonal changes, trauma, or grief, but they can also happen naturally due to to the vicissitudes of brain chemistry and daily life. Sometimes symptoms of mania and depression can co-occur, and this is referred to as a mixed episode.

There are many other variants of bipolar disorder, including cyclothymic disorder, which describes brief periods of mania and depression that are slightly less severe than full-on Bipolar I or II. Then there's the kind of extremely rapid switching that Hathaway's character experienced. Affecting 10-15% of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder, rapid cycling is officially diagnosed when someone experiences four or more cycles in one year. Ultra-rapid cycling is when a person cycles through episodes in one month or less, and the sort that Cheney and Lexi have is called ultra-ultra-rapid cycling or ultradian cycling, which means that cycles can occur within a 24-hour period.

As with most mental illnesses, every person's diagnosis is different. For Cheney, ultradian cycling means that she'd often spend days or weeks in bed, only to awaken suddenly to the sound of birdsong and a feeling of euphoria. Like her TV adaption, Cheney tells us that she tried dozens of treatments, including dangerous electroshock therapy, while keeping her illness secret from friends and family and making up for her down periods by exceeding expectations when she was up. She was able to pull together a life, but all this didn't make dating easy. "When dating me, you might go to bed with Madame Bovary and wake up with Hester Prynne," she wrote in her Times column.

Refreshingly, neither Cheney's essay nor the TV adaption equates the right treatment or the perfect person with a cure and a happy ending. Instead, after following their protagonist through a failed relationship that began during a manic episode and quickly tanked when her mood turned, the essay and show end with a bit of realistic hope. "I've finally accepted that there is no cure for the chemical imbalance in my brain, any more than there is a cure for love," Cheney writes, lines that Hathaway repeats in the episode's conclusion. "But there's a little yellow pill I'm very fond of, and a pale blue one, and some pretty pink capsules, and a handful of other colors that have turned my life around."

MODERN LOVE Extended Trailer (NEW 2019) Anne Hathaway, Love Comedy Series www.youtube.com

Battling the Stigma Onscreen: Violence, Love, and Bipolar Representation

While illnesses like depression and anxiety have become more socially acceptable and widely understood (although too often they're still not viewed as valid illnesses, instead treated like something that can be willfully overcome with a little yoga), bipolar and other personality disorders are still heavily stigmatized and misunderstood.

For example, people who suffer from personality disorders are far too frequently blamed for things like mass shootings, when actually only 3-5% of violent crimes are perpetrated by people with mental illnesses (and 97% of mass shooters are white males with histories of misogyny and domestic violence).

In reality, bipolar disorder has absolutely nothing to do with violence. It's also completely untrue that people with bipolar are unable to have relationships. Everyone is different, and people with bipolar disorder are just as capable (or incapable) of loving and being loved as anybody else.

While Hathaway/Cheney's illness appears to be unusually unpredictable, many people with mental illnesses can and do thrive in relationships. While unstable relationships can have particularly negative and triggering effects on people who suffer from mental illnesses, stable relationships of any kind can be incredibly beneficial. And while no one should use their mental illness as an excuse to use others as therapists or sole support systems, supportive friends, partners, and family members can be vital in terms of providing the kind of acceptance and structure that people with mental illness may have trouble giving themselves.

Still, it's a blessing that "Take Me As I Am, Whoever I Am" doesn't over-glamorize the effects or importance of relationships. Anne Hathaway's Lexi finds relief in confessing to a coworker about her illness, but there is no implication that the coworker will be able to heal her or support her in any way. Confession and interpersonal love are perhaps over-emphasized in some forms of modern mental health discourse, but premature or forced confessions can have negative consequences, and confession by no means make up for actual treatment, large systemic changes, or genuine external and acceptance. Sometimes, acceptance means accepting the reality of illness and treatment in all their ugly and unpalatable forms, a reality that is too often forgotten in exchange for the more palatable narrative that tells us that love can heal all wounds.

The Future of Bipolar on TV: Hopefully More Diverse, and Created by People Who Really Suffer from Mental Illness

For her part, Terri Cheney, a prolific writer who has written several memoirs about her experience with mental illness, is apparently very satisfied with Hathaway's nuanced portrayal. "When you think of the illness in terms of a familiar face, it's less frightening and easier to understand," she told Glamour. "That's why having someone as famous as Anne portray a woman with bipolar disorder is so terrific: It's an antidote to shame."

As in her essay, Cheney is quick to emphasize the fact that sometimes there is no cure to mental illness; it's not like you can just confess that you have it and expunge it from your brain chemistry. "After a lifetime of living with a mental illness, I've discovered that the most helpful thing someone can say to me when I'm suffering is, 'Tell me where it hurts,'" she added. "I don't want advice. I don't want to be cheered up. I just want to be listened to and truly heard."

Terri Cheney

Hathaway also seems to understand the importance of her role. "I have people in my life who I love so deeply who have received various mental health diagnoses, and that's not the whole story of who they are," she said. "But in many cases, because of an intolerant society, that's the space of fear they're kept in."

As there's more mental illness representation on TV, hopefully we'll see more nuanced portrayals of people with mental illness. Many Hollywood shows and movies have heavily exaggerated the symptoms of bipolar disorder, giving characters who suffer from the disorder violent narratives or dramatic breakdowns (Empire, Silver Linings Playbook), painting them as anti-medication (Law and Order: SVU) and using episodes as plot devices (Homeland), despite gaining praise for featuring characters who suffer from it.

Perhaps in the future, shows will also begin discussing the disorder in more precise terms and becoming as open and explicit about treatments, medication, therapy, and the messy vicissitudes of daily life as they are with dramatizing mental breakdowns and choreographing manic episodes.

Maybe they could also try to focus on people of different race and class backgrounds, as mental illness is frequently whitewashed, though it cannot be separated from things like race and class, and certainly not everyone with bipolar has a swanky entertainment law job or lives in an apartment like Anne Hathaway's utterly absurd one. Perhaps Modern Love itself shouldn't be expected to get real about mental illness, for even this episode does feel lost in the show's saccharine, wealth-buoyed rom-com vibe, caught up in the "permanent delusion that New York makes people fall into a special kind of love, unattainable anyplace else (unless on a brief trip abroad)," as The Washington Post writes, a delusion that anyone who actually lives in New York knows is utterly untrue (but that always makes for a hit TV show).

Still, when all is said and done, there will never be a singular or perfect depiction of bipolar disorder, and a depiction of mental illness on a show like this one will certainly expose lots of people to a sympathetic narrative they otherwise might not have encountered.

Like all illnesses, bipolar disorder is an ongoing process that affects everyone in a completely unique way, and there is no quick fix for it. But with medication and support, it's something that's possible to live and thrive with—and yes, to love with.

Though Lexi never finds true love, she finds something else. She finds self-acceptance, openness, a growth mindset, and the belief that she isn't in need of fixing. And in this life, perhaps that's the best kind of fairy-tale ending we can ask for.