I made this my movie weekend, thrilled as I was to not have to go to work at all, or to be somewhere else trying to have fun, thinking about how I should be at work. That's a major drag, by the way, and I don't recommend it. Work sucks in general (I much prefer play, to be honest) but when it's hanging over my head, the suckage goes forth and multiplies.
After "Stranger Than Fiction," which is detailed in sickening detail below, I let someone else pick the movie. My friend Jeremy came down yesterday and he chose "Copying Beethoven," which really didn't do it for either one of us, I don't think. The music was great, but Ed Harris annoyed me, and the story was weak. Plus the cinematography created an atmosphere that made early-1800s Vienna resemble my memories of Three Mile Island from the endless newsreel of my childhood. Bleak. Grey. Ick. And maybe that's what Vienna looked like then, but in that case I hope they had some early substitute for antidepressants, cause cry me a river...it was unbearable.
Today I saw "Shut Up and Sing," which I was really excited about, and it was fabulous. I loved it. It made me cry it was so good, although I'm a Dixie Chicks fan, so I'm not exactly unbiased. Or not at all unbiased, depending on how you look at it. I'm not a country music fan in general these days, and certainly not part of the base that burned and steamrolled cds (overreact much?) or held their kids up to say "Screw you" outside of their concerts after the remark about George Bush essentially led country radio to wipe them off the map. I just think they're really talented women. "Taking the Long Way" is arguably the best album released in 2006, and although I was a fan before, now that they're writing their songs and expanding their reach, I like them even more. (I really like them. I'm sorry. I know, it's gross.)
I wrote a paper for a Language and Politics class this past summer about the controversy, and got really into researching the (literally) thousands of words that were written in every possible media outlet about these women. When Natalie Maines said at a London concert that, "We're ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas," the day before we sent troops to Iraq, she got scourged in red state America overnight. Toby Keith put a picture of her on the screen at his concerts with Saddam Hussein, and her head on the body of a toad, and it's cool. His free speech is okay. Hers is not. In the film, she's shown playing one of the first shows after the controversy started, and she heard people booing. "Go ahead, you let it out," she said, "because I support free speech." And that's really what goes on the chopping block when people aren't allowed to voice an opposing view.
In any event, it's a really well done film. Stephen Hunter's review in the Post was harsher on Natalie than it needed to be. Again, I'm biased, but I hardly think his characterization of her as a "blowhard" is anything that the women shy away from, or that needed to be pointed out by the filmmaker in the way he suggests. Natalie's opinions and freedom in expressing them started the whole business in the first place, and she references her big mouth several times in the movie. It's no secret. I wonder if the same depiction would be given if she were a man expressing himself in the same way.
The core of the film for me came almost at the end, with a bit in which Martie Maguire says she just wants Natalie to be safe and happy with the way things turn out. I actually found Martie to be the most compelling person in the film. She's obviously dedicated to the music and to the life she and her sister have created from the time they were pre-teens, and watching her it was easy to see what was threatened by an incident that grew beyond what any of them intended or planned. Her statements at the end were also the only time any of them are shown crying. Her defense of Natalie was honest and heartfelt, and I really felt throughout that these women were a team, no bullshit, which is refreshing in an industry and unfortunately a world where that often doesn't seem to be the case. I wish them luck, because I think they took the harder - and longer way - round with all of this, and would that more of us spoke up in whatever venue we find ourselves in, large or small.