Friskal & Riemer: At the Shmuelies!: "May"
by Alex Linder and Victor Wolzek
July 28, 2003
Riemer: Oh man, just read your review. You're flippin' nutz! My favorite scene: after she whacks the punk rock dude and she's just sitting there, framed in the left half of the screen, music going full tilt, a flame burns from her lighter - it flashes to the kill in the kitchen - then back to her lighting the cig, it held in blooddrenched hand - back to the kill - back to her - music stops dead: "I need more parts." Fucking cool as hell. I watched it twice already and it's gonna be the next thing I rent. Can't stop thinking about it. But, hey, I watched all 2 and a helf hours of "Boogie Nights" every night for a week once. I love that movie too. "May" is the best movie of the year thus far, says I.
Friskal: Geez, that slid right on by me, I didn't notice it at all. The whole point was this funky punk thinks he's wacky but wait! Our "May" can top that!
Riemer: Ahh, see, you have no eye for the execution, boiling a scene down to its "point" and missing what's cool about it. Funny, our opposed views echo those of Ebert and Roeper. Ebert, as you know, was as impressed as I am; Roeper thought it was banality trying to be more. Angela Bettis's performance, alone, in my book, makes it great. I just loved watching her, especially when her mental "dollbox" cracked completely and she becomes totally self-confident, a psycho on a mission, no twittering or stammering, all "Gams, stems, wheels, whatever. Turn around" then THWACK! Two in the temples. "Great costume. Gotta any cold ones in there?" "Yes. yes, I do." Oh man, I can't wait to see it again.
Friskal: I'm amazed. I think the violence is cheap. A skilled maker could have done something with pure personality interplay, not slice-and-dice. The thing sits uncomfortably between a "Chucky" approach and a fractured personality. Take a movie like "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" it could have been more along those lines. That was a far superior movie to this, although they attempted somewhat the same thing. Why the violence? Why not just show the girl failing to connect over and over again, and either trying one last time or giving up. either committing suicide, or winning through, or winning and losing. Why this absurdist violence? Does anyone react that way? No. It's a neither-here-nor-there film.
Riemer: It's an audience thing, I guess. I thought "Gilbert Grape" was excellent. But only watched it once and never rented it again. I watched "May twice and will rent it again next time I go to the video store. I just like it for what it is, as it is. For me it worked. Big time. The thought of changing it, to me, is a kind of cinematic sacrilege. If you want chicky Gilbert Grape, make it. Leave my "May" alone!...
Friskal: No problem there. I'm amazed you feel that way. In "Gilbert Grape" they "got" what it is to love and be annoyed by, tied to and want to escape, your family. I would NOT want to see it again, but it was good to see once. "May" wasn't really bad, just kind of not-much. No real laughs. A couple stock irritating characters. Marylin Manson ripoff doll. "Chucky" slashery. Silly lesbian scenes. The scene where she puts her head in his palm was the only scene that was original and worked, in my opinion. I can get a better movie about not fitting in by going to the bar for two hours, and eavesdropping on conversations. No nasty violence either, at least not usually.
Riemer: ...But, see, I love horror movies (see my "Wrong Turn" review). I like movies that are bloody and gross in and of themselves, even when they suck. Like the guy in "May," I'm a big fan of Dario Argento gorefests like "Trauma." I even like totally shitty gorefests like Herschel Hordon Lewis' flicks ("Blood Feast," "10,000 Maniacs," etc). So a bloody flick about a psycho chick that is actually good, that has elements of the "Chucky" stuff (the creepy doll is a horror trope)...
Friskal: We do disagree there. Violence or action for their own sake leave me cold. Now if there's humor, that's what i'm looking for... Or, just do it straight, like in "Wrong Turn." I'm sure I'd like that one. Or even just real drama, like "Night of the Living Dead." To me, the failure of this movie is that the girl does not seem like a real character. I'm not grossed out by blood or violence, I just get nothing from it except bored.
Riemer: ...as well as other flicks ("Carrie," "Frankenstein," "Fatal Attraction," "Heathers," "Silence of the Lambs") but doesn't follow the formula of any one of them....
Friskal: Those are much better films - they have a story. This story, to succeed, needed to have May in a budding, then deep relationship with a guy, THEN have it go sour because her weird personality made it inevitable. But the filmmaker's not good enough for that. Because her personality type does not exist. Like I'm saying, he's torn between this shock-grue and a personality tale.
Riemer: ...and sutures them all together into something original is friggin' genius.
Friskal: Geezuz, I gotta disagree strongly. What the fuck does mixing genres mean to the viewer? He who worries about mixing genres will never wholly chainsaw-massacre you. You're getting caught up in labels. That kind of language only makes sense when you're talking to other filmy people. What is a "genre"? These are just word-constructs fitted over the actual movie. Categorization is necessary to an extent, but if you're praising the film for using pieces of things found in different categories, well, I'll take "it's funny" or "scary" over that meta-virtue any day. The movie's not deep enough to work as a personality study, and the violence won't stand on itz own either. Shit, if I were to film such, I'd do a film about the buildup of the Ted Bundy personality, from feeling not-fit-in in high school, although objectively in many ways he did, to reading porn, to molesting women, to murdering them. Now there's a genuine psychological study that could teach us something. I don't think a woman like May does or could exist.
Riemer: The last movie I loved as much as "May" was either "Pulp Fiction,"...
Friskal: Man, I hated that movie. But, I will give you that it had funnny moments. Far too "kewl" for me.
Riemer: ..."Boogie Nights" or...
Friskal: "BOOGIE NIGHTS" was ok. I wouldnt' even mind watching it twice. But it was not a great movie. I prefer it to these other two by a good ways.
Riemer: ..."Magnolia." I watch a lot of stuff. All I can say is that something about it, while banal and forgettable to some (you, Roeper) is extra-specially groovy to others (me, Ebert). Hey, you're in the majority on this one. It got no theatre play. Though there is, I noticed, a burgeoning number of online fansites. Underground classic, itz.
Friskal: No f'ing way. I'm just plain right about this. but, to each his own.
Riemer: "Later, hands," she says, wiggling her fingers goodbye to the only part of Adam that matters. Huzzahh!
Friskal: That was ok.
Riemer: Almost forgot - the cat thing reminded me totally of you at your brother's, when we were on the phone and the cat attacked you. Tell me you didn't laugh when she walloped the fucker with the ashtray. Ha!
Friskal: I thought it was odd there was no sound effect.
Riemer: Ha! Yeah, I noticed that too. I wonder if that was intentional or a mistake. Cool how she tells it she'll miss petting its soft fur and then sprays it with Lysol or Lemon Pledge or whatever it was.
Friskal: It made no sense. Do people do that sort of stuff? No.
Riemer: Why do skinny chicks get away with killing whomever they want in horror movies? for the same reason people get to break into song in musicals, it's the basis of the form. Hence the prerequisite "suspension of disbelief."
Friskal: There's no way that slight a girl could kill any of those people like that. There's no way she would even want to. She might slice her own wrists at most. Or take pills. It's hard to say, because it would never seem interesting enuf to me to make a film about. He's trying to show someone who can't relate to the world. How do you do that? There are many ways, but why the violence?
Riemer: Umm, cuz it's a horror movie?...
Friskal: No, I don't think it is. Itz what I said: stuck in the ass crack between the buttocks of horror and drama. A taint, itz! Taint pussy, taint asshole.
Riemer: ...hy did "Carrie" incinerate everyone at the end? Why did Norman Bates pickle his momma, dress up like a woman and stab chicks in the shower? Why did Jason Voorhees stalk counselors at Camp Crystal Lake? How did Michael Myers manage to catch and kill so many folks when he never so much as broke into a slow jog?...
Friskal: These people had some kind of rational motive. Oedipus complex or being teased excessively, etc. This girl just couldn't fit in, she wasn't hated. There was no plausible motivation for her -- McKee couldn't produce it, at least. He doesn't have the character in hand. A girl would not act like that. You know, I actually do think I could do it better. Specifically, I think I could make a better personality study called "Ted" and about Ted Bundy and the source of his insecurity leading to murder. the violence would be better too. But now you'll laugh at me like my brother when I tell him to quit bragging, I could shoot a bigger turkey if I wanted!
Riemer: Who says, "Everyone can do it better"? Oh yeah - you! Every time some pinhead writes you about how VNN "should" be done. ZING! I think because "May" is so much better than the typical horror movie you're suddenly expecting it to follow realism rules like it's, say, "Taxi Driver." The characterization and violence of "Taxi Driver" were far more realistic, for sure, but that movie was aiming exactly for that, I think. With the exception of the ending, in which Travis Bickle finds himself a national hero -- errr! Doesn't happen like that, right?
Friskal: Don't remember. I only half-watched this movie. It's certainly plausible that someone wants to clean the scum off the streets. I don't remember how it ended.
Riemer: This movie was a horror flick, a bloody black comedy fused with glimpses of psychosis. Did you see "Heathers"? A couple disaffected high school teenagers wouldn't/couldn't assassinate school enemies the way they did either, but it makes a good movie.
Friskal: Yes, much better.
Riemer: A more "realistic" version would be more in line with maybe a harder edged John Hughes film. But "Heathers" is a teen angst violent vigilante black comedy.
Friskal: Yeah, but this is not a horror film, I wouldn't say. Itz a tweener. Elements of horror, yes... failed caricature of a certain personality that doesn't really exist. So the maker falls back on stock types. To me it doesn't make sense any way you look at it. All the stuff with body parts, does anyone really do that? Either make a horror film or a film about the trouble a shy or freaky person has fitting in. Compare to "Ordinary People," where real people are driving off real motivations, plausible and poignant. The violence, emotional violence at least, is earned, makes sense in a way it doesn't here.
Riemer: Yeah, people do kill stuff, chop it up, scrub it down in their tub, wrap it up. Freeze it, fuck it, all kinds of sick shit. Most people don't, but "May" is crazy and descends into murderous psychosis. But even if there weren't a long list of psychopaths -- and African "doctors" -- known for this kind of murder, dismemberment, and appendage fetishism, even if "May" were an utter fiction, so what? An analogy: "Fight Club" is to real militia activity what "May" is to real Dahmer-type serial killing. Really, May's frailty and nervous insecurity made her that much more likely to be able to take out her victims the way she did. The big blonde chick in boots, for example, saw May as a total ineffectual spaz whom she could slap the shit out of if need be. Last thing she'd expect would be for May to raise a hand to her, let alone smack her in the head with two scalpels. It's seems odd to me to point out that sort of thing because it's a horror movie, and that's what happens in horror movies. I know you think saying that is "getting caught up in labels," but labels serve a certain purpose. "May" was marketed as a horror movie. It's tagline is "If you can't find a friend...Make one." Its rating information says plainly that it is "Rated R for strong violence/gore, some sexuality and language." Its pre-release trailers, press coverage (admittedly minimal), as well as its poster and video box all indicate it is an offbeat horror film. When I rented it, I fully expected it to vaguely resemble or at least fall loosely within that range of movies comprising what's generally known as the "horror genre." And it did. It was conventional enough that it met preconceived expectations, but it was fresh and interestingly different enough to thrill me. Now back to the plausibility of the violence. I think there's a dimension of plausibility to each of the killings, except one: the punk rock guy. May stabs him through the hands (raised defensively) and head in one manic, fatal blow. That's a lot of meat and bone to make it through. But so what? And the scene on its heels -- the lighter, cigarette, music, "I need more parts" scene (mentioned above) -- is great. I'm not blind to your view. In fact, in addition to mentioning Roeper's disagreement with Ebert, a couple review clips I included in my May-esque suture review of it basically say it's an unoriginal, stupid waste of time.
Friskal: I think you way overrate this flick. Very slight work. A mediocre personality study with a crappy slasher vivisected onto its hindquarters. The movie failed with the public because McKee does not have the character in hand. He does not KNOW this May. There's no story there, no genuine motivation driving this girl.
Riemer: Friskal reading "May" is Strom reading VNN, that's all I can say. The temperament's unsuited to the content. The film you envision "May" being might make a great, even better, film. But "May" is great as-is, no need of revision. "May" works for me like it works for Ebert like it works for the folks building those fan sites. That you compare it to "Ordinary People" speaks volumes. Why not "The Ice Storm" (family dysfunction leading to realistic forms of destructive transgression) or, like I mentioned before, "Taxi Driver" (individual dysfunction leading to obsession, criminality and ultimately murder)? That's apples and oranges. Not the same thing. "Frankenstein," "Carrie," "Fatal Attraction," "Maniac," "Silence of the Lambs," and "Psycho" are precedents of "May," not "Ordinary People" (or "Taxi Driver"). "May" is a really good horror film, not a very bad attempt to be a serious, realistic drama. Just like "Stripes" is a really good comedy, not a bad attempt to be a realistic military movie. Anyway, this is the kind of thing where arguments mean almost nothing. You could convince me theoretically that it's the shittiest movie ever and I'd still want to see it again first chance I get.
Friskal: Then itz an utter failure. I want to know why the girl can't connect with the world. She's pretty enough. Is she really driven nuts by one lazy eye? There's a disconnect there that kills the movie. A lazy eye does not equate to Mrs. Bates. Now there's a difference, because I don't believe in theoretical proof outside of math theorems. The thing is a failure because it isn't horrifying, funny, or dramatic, except for a bit at the start. It threatened to turn interesting, instead it turned average. It might have been an interesting character study, but it ends up cheap slasher. Reminds me of a Queensryche ballad, ugh. Power and speed make a nice blend, not power and ballad.
Riemer: Lazy eye? Did you not watch the beginning of the movie? May's mother and homelife was as nutz as anything we see of Norman Bates's childhood. Look, debating this sort of thing is pointless. Arguments mean almost nothing. You could convince me theoretically that it's the shittiest movie ever and I'd still want to see it again first chance I get. I could write 50 pages explaining why it's a great addition to the horror cannon and you'd still see it as nonsensical or unimpressive pap.
Friskal: 50 pages? Oy weh! I could write once sentence: fails to produce effects. I feel nothing from it. "May" is not plausible, and so not interesting.
Riemer: You could write that, but you'd be wrong.