where is richard simmons?
That gay thing was nothing – Disney’s Beauty & The Beast
I liked the Beauty & The Beast movie, frankly. It was visually arresting and mostly well-performed; there were some kick-ass feminist tweaks to Belle’s character; and it’s so infused with nostalgia that you can’t ignore the sweet little butterflies that kick in your stomach when Belle’s opening number begins. Of course, it’s nowhere near a perfect film: it relies too heavily on that aforementioned nostalgic feeling; the CGI cast of enchanted servants comes off as hokey and weird (but how could it not?); and I had a hard time buying in to Emma Watson as Belle—her performance never clicked in my mind.
Though it has nothing to do with the film’s quality, the controversy surrounding the “gay scene” needs to be mentioned: Ever since director Bill Condon announced that the film would feature an “exclusively gay scene,” the Internet basically exploded. Certain southern states promised to ban the film from theatres, and religious groups began protesting, all weeks before the film’s release. Spoiler: the “gay scene” is actually a really fun moment at the end of the film wherein LeFou, Gaston’s trusty sidekick and assumed unrequited lover, shares a dance with another man. The two men give a cheeky, knowing smile and waltz off together, and that’s it.
For anyone on the Internet shocked at the implication that LeFou’s character is gay, I could have told you that when I was eight and watching the first Beauty & the Beast film—dude has it bad for the hunky hunter. And this live-action version simply takes that notion one step further: LeFou directs lingering glances, playful winks, and long sighs at his object of attention, plus he devotes an entire musical number to him:
I’m glad Disney decided to embrace this characterization of LeFou. We’re a long way off from a full-length Disney film featuring same-sex love interests, but this addition in Beauty & the Beast shows that Disney’s not completely opposed to it, either. Disney knows its core demographic is predominantly middle-aged, higher-income white Americans; they’ll have to ease their audiences into this whole “acceptance of others” thing. In the meantime, a new generation of Disney parents and consumers can begin to teach their children about inclusion and diversity, to not see it as a strange new addition that makes for countless headlines. Keep it going, Disney, and push it a little further next time.
Someone’s Finally Going to Die – HBO’s Big Little Lies
Big Little Lies feels like it should be a Lifetime movie that your mom and her gal pals get together to watch every Sunday over three bottles of wine. And, it’s almost that: the show follows four privileged women and their families in scenic Monterrey, California, and is filled with all the deception, eye-rolling, and snark you can handle. It would almost be a poor Desperate Housewives knock-off if it wasn’t so brilliantly acted and directed. It’s a powerful cast: Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, and Laura Dern play the four female leads. Kidman, to me, steals the show: any time she and her husband Perry (played by Alexander Skarsgård) are on screen together, I hold my breath and lean in. The tension between them is palpable. Even the long, lingering scenes of Kidman talking to her therapist are wrought with intrigue and complexity, thanks to the subtlety of Kidman’s performance.
The show is technically about a murder, but it’s rarely mentioned – with just one episode left, we still aren’t sure who dies, but the show has spent the last seven episodes providing motive: each of the four women have plenty reason to want to kill someone in their lives. As we get to know these women more each week, we start to gain understanding of the lengths these women would go to keep their families, and their secrets, safe.
If you’re into house-hunting shows and luxury travel documentaries, this show’s got something for you: it’s basically southern California real estate porn. If not for the murder mystery and the nuanced performances, watch it for the wide, sweeping landscape shots. Great camera work.
Finding an Icon - Missing Richard Simmons
There have been numerous attempts to fill the Serial-shaped podcast void—out of these, my recent favorite is the podcast Missing Richard Simmons by filmmaker Dan Taberski. The podcast is an attempt to uncover why fitness icon Richard Simmons suddenly disappeared from the public eye in 2014. Simmons, an extremely social, outgoing celebrity, had been teaching classes in his studio in Beverly Hills every day until one day, he just stopped. Stopped talking to everyone, too. And refused to leave the house. Dan, a former client of Simmons, wants to find out why.
Although the show is not produced by NPR, it feels very much like it could be: Dan clearly takes his cues from Serial, in his interview style, the plot mechanics of each episode, and even the cadence of his voice. As Dan reveals in the first episode, he had become good friends with Richard, spending evenings at his house, and was in talks to shoot a documentary on him. That close relationship with the subject—similar to the way Sarah Koenig started to feel very close to Adnan—drives a lot of the show’s heart. The podcast is not so much about invading Richard’s privacy and demanding to know what happened, but more like a man grieving the loss of his friend and looking for some closure. You can feel the desperation for answers and the deep empathy Dan has for Richard. The podcast is a fascinating look at the man Richard Simmons once was, while trying to explore the motives that potentially drew Richard into seclusion. You’ll be addicted to this one, promise.
above image: giovana milanezi / wikimedia commons