Based on writer Lindy West’s best-selling book of the same name, Shrill stars Saturday Night Live’s Aidy Bryant in what’s being called a body-positive comedy. But this one, which debuted March 17, actually has a lot of (necessary) negativity. It’s not a simple feel-good endeavor, all hearts, flowers and doughnuts. It’s an unflinching look at life as the fat girl that not only addresses the elephant in the room but really tries to make the viewer understand how hard it is for “elephants” to simply exist in modern society, well-meaning moms, shitty boyfriends, judgmental skinny bitches and all. Anyone who’s struggled with weight is likely to find this show triggering, but if you can get past the discomfort, Shrill provides an engrossing glimpse at a young woman finding herself in love, work and life. And by the last episode — thanks to a desensitizing confrontation with an online troll — size seems less important than it did in the beginning. Bryant is funny, super cute and very real. The obvious comparison, HBO’s Girls, probably was wittier but it lacked the likability. You never felt like rooting for Lena Dunham and her whiny and entitled pals, but Annie and her friends are a different story; you come to care about them, irrespective of their struggles with weight, and only a couple even struggle at all.
Nearly as prevalent, and more interesting in terms of storyline and dialogue, Annie’s work life provides a look at the environment of an alt-weekly newspaper called The Weekly Thorn (West worked at Seattle’s The Stranger for a while). Interestingly, John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) plays her snooty, fat-shaming editor, a variation of a similar role he played on Girls, mentoring Dunham’s Hannah, who was also a writer. Shrill rings a lot truer in its reflection of what we do, even if Mitchell’s character is way more of an over-the-top asshole (rumor is the character was based on Dan Savage, but West denies it).
Another interesting Girls connection: Bryant was on the HBO dramedy herself, in a role that arguably was just as groundbreaking as this one, playing the boss of Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) and, ultimately, Shosh's ex Ray's new love interest, as Girls ended its run. Her weight was never even mentioned. Which begs the question: Is acceptance best achieved — and this applies to all marginalized groups — by highlighting our differences and the challenges they create or by simply showing different types of people onscreen more often? Either way, Bryant clearly is doing her part to change how we look at size, on this Hulu show and maybe even more so with her work on SNL, which deserves some rewatching in context of what she does on Shrill. She’s a big talent and you’ll want to see more.
From acceptance of women’s bodies to exploitation of them — at least according to most critics — I have to offer my take on The Dirt, which debuted Friday, March 22, on Netflix, and is getting skewered by reviewers. As a woman who was a huge fan of the band’s first three records, grew up in L.A. and caught the tail end of the Sunset Strip’s hairspray-drenched hedonism, I found The Dirt highly entertaining. I also liked Bohemian Rhapsody (a lot) and HBO’s short-lived Scorsese show Vinyl (enough), so factor that in how you will.
Rock biopics will always be inherently cheesy, especially when they try to capture an outdated culture. We've all seen This Is Spinal Tap too many times. The Dirt has been called “tone-deaf” due to how its misogynistic depictions read now, in a post #MeToo culture, but I disagree. The long-awaited film shows the debauchery and the douchebaggery of the era unapologetically, but there’s also a lot of dysfunction in this movie, and arguably, it’s the most prevalent theme presented. Anyone who thinks The Dirt glamorizes drug use, mistreatment of women, drunk driving or just stupid behavior in general needs to watch it again (I did). It does quite the opposite, and in many ways presents as a cautionary tale, albeit with a (sort of) happy ending. In the current sexual climate, where women are told it’s OK to express and act on our desires, where sex work such as stripping is looked upon as a viable choice for some — and those who can’t handle these ideas are called “slut-shamers” — the naked groupie glut here didn’t bother me. Neil Strauss’ book had some disturbing stories not shown here, but all the females in the film are obviously willing participants. None are developed here but this isn't really their/our story.
More bothersome (and movies that try to depict real people and events always are) were the factual errors and timing inconsistencies in The Dirt, but as with anything tied to real events these days, suspension of disbelief (acceptance of the reality presented in order to be entertained) is a must, or don't bother. When it comes to rock & roll fans, and especially people who lived through the times depicted, this can be a little harder to do. But it’s really about the music, man, and how it made us feel the first time we heard it. Films that have input from the band, as this one does and Rhapsody did, always have a better shot. If it can capture even a little of the power it seeks, then for a lot of us, the music does the rest.
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Read our Music Editor's feature on the film here.
If you're looking to bathe in modern positivity and feel-good vibes after the retro filth of The Dirt, scroll through Netflix and find the new season of Queer Eye, which debuted a few weeks ago, and is as fun and sob-inducing as ever. It's especially cool to see the Fab Five work with more women this season, including Jody, a camouflage-loving hunter whose loving husband wants to help her get in touch with her feminine side (she does this by hanging out with other women in a very cool "sister love circle"); the Jones Sisters, entrepreneurs who learn about the importance of self-care; and Jess, an African-American lesbian who wants to find her black girl magic.