“LOL”, Part I: A Descent Into Madness

Essays on Film, writing

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single girl in possession of a good movie will force it upon her friends for the rest of time. I spent a whole year absolutely obsessed with it. Theories—improbable and fantastic—were made, friendships were tested, and time was lost, spinning into the eternal rabbit hole that is LOL.

There are actually two versions of the movie—the French original (2009) and the American remake (2012); same director/writer/auteur/whathaveyou. The one I saw first, and the one I was utterly compelled to watch and rewatch, was the American remake, starring Miley Cyrus and Demi Moore.

To summarize the plot simply: girl meets boy, girl dumps boy for cheating, girl and boy’s best friend get together, mom finds out, loses her shit because her daughter is growing up, and everybody reconciles in the end. It’s a movie aimed at teenage girls with typical, if not complicated, relationships with their mothers. It made $11,000 at the box office and opened in only nine states. Currently, it has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 17%, and 4.3 stars out of 10 on IMDB, so we’re not exactly dealing with Citizen Kane here.

I know what it sounds like. Trust me. I know. But it was just one of those movies that made so many choices in such a bizarre way that I could never figure them all out. It was like a Rubik’s cube whose colors were always changing, and just when you think you’ve solved the puzzle, you’re left with an entirely different creature altogether. This movie has ensnared me so much that I can’t even write about it all in one part; I’ve had to split it up into a series. I know it looks crazy, but by the end of this, maybe I’ll have finally reached a conclusion with my strange fascination with this movie.

One of the most puzzling parts of this whole venture is that the American movie is a shot for shot remake, the likes of which I’ve never heard of with the exception of Gus Van Sant’s Psycho (1998), which was, for the most part, lost to the purgatory of all cinema, the $5 bin at the rural gas station. The dialogue in the movie is exactly the same as the French version, with very little deviation, yet upon viewing the original, I came away from it thinking it was far more successfully executed. The acting is, perhaps, a lateral move, with the exception of the lead actress, Christa Theret. Even the role of Anne, the mother, is played with equal—to say charm is misleading, because the role is not very charming, but with equal dedication and know-how—by Demi Moore and Sophie Marceau.

So why does the American one come off as so much worse?

It all seems so simple on the onset. The French version—as what usually happens with French film remakes—was watered down to appease the ridiculous and mostly-imaginary notion of an American audience’s sensibilities. We have no such thing, but producers tend to think we do, and hover paternally in script readings, sets, and editing bays, to protect us from ideas that threaten our good American values. It is no coincidence that Miley Cyrus’ mother, Trish Cyrus, was an executive producer, and that some of the more eyebrow-raising scenes were cut from the American version (such as the first mother-daughter scene, sharing a bath together).

I would image that, eager to break out of her Disney Hannah Montana persona with a softball venture, not quite as serious a dedication as starring in a French film itself, must have seemed very appealing to Miley Cyrus. To her mother, however, this was a movie about changes in familial relationships, and she did not want her daughter’s image or her investment to go towards a movie that promotes sexual experimentation and drug use. Remember, the Cyrus’ are from Tennessee, in the Bible Belt, and their previous claim to fame was a hokey country song and an All-American teenager on a kid’s show. So the fact that, even though she wanted to possible redefine her image or expand it to reflect her own burgeoning maturity, Miley Cyrus’ mother was not ready for that, and that conflict reflects in the editing of the movie.

This is not its only flaw, however. A movie doesn’t get to a 17% rating that way. Let’s break it down a little bit more. Starting at 100% Citizen Kane-level brilliance, we will deduct points accordingly: we take 10% off for issues in editing, the “Americanization” of the film; we take another 10% for the acting of the main character, and that just can’t be helped; Miley Cyrus has a limited portfolio and no real experience or variety in acting—that’s not so much a dig as a fact, because it’s not like Disney Channel shows put any effort into training the next Meryl Streep.

We’re at 80% now—still viable, but we’re trying to match the original LOL rating, at 52% RT and 6.3 stars out of 10; we take off 25% for the plot, which I will explore in depth later, and 15% for dialogue. Now the movie has a 50% rating, right about the average of the French film’s Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB scores. I wasn’t a math major, so you’re just going to have to trust me here.

The central question here is why does the American version have a much lower score? I’ve gone into the acting a little bit, and you can’t kick a dead horse; Miley lacks the experience that a lead actor must have to play the part convincingly, and in truth she just doesn’t seem to have the confidence required to carry a movie—I’m not on a witch hunt here, but I think at that point in her life she was going through a transition from tween idol to a performer, or celebrity, or whatever you’d like to say she is now, and that fact is evident.

Since its low score is somewhat due to the acting and the American editing, I did put a lot of burden on the plot because what else do we watch movies for, but the plot? And boy, this one is crazy.

I explained it a little beforehand and it seems quite simple. As far as elevator pitches go: a mother and daughter explore new romantic relationships parallel to each other; the director herself, Lisa Azuelos, says in the commentary that the message is, and I’m paraphrasing, that ‘whether you’re 40 or 17, falling in love can be really scary’.

The plot, obviously, is a large reason for my obsession with the movie. Let’s start, as we should, at the beginning: Lola (Miley Cyrus) is dumped by her boyfriend after he sleeps with a camp counselor over summer break and in retaliation she lies and tells him that she did too (although wouldn’t that have been great, if she had said she also slept with the same camp counselor). Heartbroken, she goes home, and takes a shower while her mother and younger sister are sharing a bath.

Now, that is a bizarre opening. I can think of no other teen film with that kind of beginning; certainly with a breakup, but with a nosedive right into ‘everybody’s naked and bathing together’. That’s some shit that Scandinavians do; Americans are just not used to the idea of family nudity in bathing situations. For us, it is something private, not shared, and this element, however French it may be, is lost in translation.

BATH

I won’t go scene by scene here, but the first few, as with any movie, are definitive of the general tone. After the shower, in which Lola storms off because her mother is concerned about her bikini wax and whether boys see it—which is so crazy to have that be the first scene between them—they reconcile by cuddling in a bed. There is some aspect here that is incredibly off-putting; even if it is with her daughter, this kind of behavior is best for children, not teenagers on the other side of 15. I understand that people need emotional attention as well as physical reaffirmation, but spooning your almost grown child seems to be clingy, not caring. This red flag is one of the squares in the Rubik’s cube—the relationship between mother and daughter, which is central to the entire movie, has very odd overtones of being far too close and interdependent to be healthy.

BED

If she holds on tight enough, her body as a tourniquet can stop the bleeding.

The next few scenes are purely for establishment of characters and their relationships towards one another. Lola and her mother drive to school, Lola is late to class but has a cajoling moment with Kyle (Douglas Booth), her future love interest, and Lola’s best friend Emily (Ashley Grace), hopelessly in crush with her math teacher, brings him an apple as if any student has ever done that or considered doing that. This lends to an overall sense throughout the movie that whoever wrote this has a general idea of what life for a teenager is like, but it’s as if someone asked for a full reproduction of the Mona Lisa and instead got a rudimentary sketch; the basics are there, but it lacks body.

Lola’s ex—­we will refer to him now as Shithead Chad, because Chad is the douchiest name in human history—asks her if she’ll sleep with him, since she’s ‘giving it away to everybody’. She overhears that her mother is sleeping with her father, despite them being divorced. (This whole movie relies on the fact that no one communicates, and everyone is hiding something from everyone else, like a crayon colored soap opera). Shithead Chad is the guitarist in his shithead band; Kyle is the lead singer, and the two token minority characters are on piano and drums, because we like to have diversity, but they don’t need to actually speak too much, right? The drummer—this poor actor—probably was only paid as an extra, because he has no lines at all, whereas in the French movie there is a little more attention paid to the band members, another item lost in the editing bay.

DRUMMER

“Shall I play for you, pa rum pa pum pum, on my drum”

Anne, Lola’s mother, meets a cop after breaking her heel, another element that reeks of genuine disingenuousness; this, like the apple, only ever happens in film. She relegates this chance meeting to her friends at a dinner party—Gina Gershon, with nothing fabulous and befitting to do, Fisher Stevens, and Another Lady—and they debate the differences between men and women over wine and a passed joint (the French film has far more weed smoking, thanks a lot Trish for making dope seem not dope at all), while Miley—excuse me, Lola—shares her own joint with the guests’ son and asks him to sleep with her, which he refuses, because as we all know young teenage boys lie awake at night, reciting their vows to enter the monastery, and have never had a sexual thought ever in their lives, ever.

Of course, this sanitized moment leads straight into a locker room scene, with all the girls changing in their underwear, something that the average American teen boy has also never thought about ever, seriously, don’t check the browser history, it’s all pictures of nuns anyways and you wouldn’t be interested. There is, as with many movies, and I sigh heavily, the Slut, played by Ashley Greene, who is supposed to be the antagonist, I suppose, because she is sexual and she is confident, something which Miley—LOLA—is not.

A lot of other rather insignificant things happen that don’t really warrant further exploration—Lola and Shithead Chad get into a fight over who’s a ‘skank’ and who isn’t; Lola’s mother punishes but then doesn’t punish her for the fight; Lola and Kyle have a montage to an incredibly outdated song that reminds me of my middle school dances to show to us all that they’re falling in love, as if pointing something out repeatedly must make it real, and Kyle asks her to keep their time together a secret, because he’s actually pretty spineless.

Then, we come to the crowning moment, the scene that cemented my fascination with this movie, and my utter dedication to solving what the fuck I just saw. The scene is the same in the French original—with minor changes. Emily, the girl with the apple and the crush on the math teacher, is on a chatroom, similar to Omegle or Chatroulette. When she logs on, instead of the instant flood of unsolicited dicks I’ve heard saturate every inch of those sites, she starts chatting with an anonymous person, presumably a boy. Her mother’s Puritan ideas about sex and sexuality have driven her to the place where all sexual suppression ends up, that patchwork quilt of human behavior: the Internet.

Now, what am I about to reveal to you is going to change your life, forever. You will not be able to unsee it. It will boggle your mind, and, perhaps, like me, keep you up at night, wondering at the reasoning and logic behind such a bizarre choice. Emily, in her attempt to engage in sexual desire one way or another, takes her webcam, and sticks it into a raw chicken, as if to simulate her own vagina.CHICKEN 1CHICKEN 2

I know. I’ll give you a minute. Imagine that chicken, clucking in the coop as it grows from yellow fluffy hatchling to feathery barnyard animal, ranging happily as it pecks at seeds and grass, never thinking for one moment, that its death will ultimately be to have a camera shoved up its asshole so some boy can have the most confusing boner of his entire life.

If anyone can explain this to me, please, let me know. Ashley Grace, Lisa Azuelos, Miley, anybody. I think about this scene, if not every day, then very frequently. Maybe something’s wrong with me, I don’t know, but that initial shock is something that directors would kill for because it had me, as an audience, utterly rapt with attention. I mean, really, what the fuck is going on? Who does that? WHO DOES THAT?

I think it’s best for all of us if I end on a high note, that being the violation of the chicken. Let it sit with you, let it keep coming back to you at night. Let it haunt you, and I will return later with LOL: Part II to address all of your chicken-flavoured concerns and questions.


Further Reading

“LOL LIVE!: w/Rob Heubel, Chelsea Peretti, John Flynn”. How Did This Get Made? (Episode 99). Earwolf Media.