Rating life, and everything else

Once a former colleague and I were talking about how overrated most movies are. We were actually astonished and pretty disheartened. (“Avatar”? Christ.)

Then I took a big leap and mused that life is overrated, and I wasn’t really kidding. My pal nodded, even softly repeating my words. We traded wry grins that belied a deep sadness. We went back to work.

Funny thing is, even that sadness was overrated. Because it wasn’t quite sadness so much as bluish resignation, a minuscule sigh. Life, overrated as it may be, goes on.

Isn’t everything sorta, kinda overrated? All right, not everything. There’s family, romantic love, learning, travel, dogs, bourbon, art, Billy Wilder, anything concerning Doritos.

Still, the very question is unnerving. It’s not the most joyous thing to realize I can think of a kajillion things that are overrated, yet I’m sure you can, too. Let’s go for it. I’m totally just spitballing here:

  • empanadas
  • “The Wire”
  • Johnny Depp
  • most rap
  • “The Queen’s Gambit”
  • Sofia Coppola
  • dinner parties
  • all things Harry Potter
  • “Twin Peaks”
  • sports
  • music festivals
  • celebrity/celebrities
  • chicken breast
  • fake breasts
  • almost every Netflix comedy special
  • Twitter
  • zombies
  • Quentin Tarantino
  • road trips
  • “The Office”
  • late Red Hot Chili Peppers, including “Californication” (but not “My Friends”)
  • giant Ferris wheels in major cities
  • “Fargo” (the 1996 movie)
  • Brazilian waxing
  • Dave Eggers
  • Prague
  • politicians
  • “Vertigo”
  • year-round warm weather
  • Colson Whitehead’s novel “The Nickel Boys”
  • David Sedaris 
  • convertibles
  • “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”
  • video installations

Excuse the haphazard tally; I was just getting started. I could have tossed in podcasts and pork rinds. Hell, I think I’m overrated. Put me in the top slot.

The thing with overrating stuff is how impossibly subjective it is. I can say life — or, for that matter, “Titanic” — is overestimated and there’s a 90-plus percentage you’ll disagree. Surely one of you thinks David Bowie is overrated, but I’d argue he is not, to my grave.  

But subjectivity is part of the pleasure. Sports fans (grossly overrated) forever gauge teams and players in heated arguments of gladiatorially subjective rating games. 

And it is a game. In Woody Allen’s “Manhattan,” Diane Keaton and Michael Murphy rattle off members of their own “Academy of the Overrated,” including Vincent van Gogh, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lenny Bruce and Ingmar Bergman, formidable figures that seem name-checked just to piss off a breed of urban intellectual. (Woody himself goes apoplectic listening to them.)

As a game, cataloging one’s personal overrated (movie, food, person, book) is a cathartic kick. The characters in “Manhattan” are having a giggling ball airing their pointedly curated Academy. Tossing together my list above was fun and purgative, despite its sloppy incompleteness. (Though I did self-edit as I went. I felt some inclusions would offend sensitive readers. Like God, and jellybeans.) 

Is life really overrated? Sometimes, especially when you consider sickness, loss, debt, all those Tyler Perry movies. But it’s underrated, too — getting lost in a European city, succulent bone marrow in a good restaurant, fond memories, Al Pacino roaring his way through “Heat.”

Maybe it’s an even split. Maybe life and all its facets, good and not-so good, are what make things interesting. Maybe Coldplay (overrated) and cold weather (underrated) can coexist. And maybe, really, overrating things is itself overrated.

Love, laughs, loss

Girlfriends are great. I adore them, madly, with smashing intensity. They like me too (yo, it takes two to tango), even if they have to slalom around my prickly edges, indigo moods, slashing humor and periodic bouts of suicidal solitude. But really, no joke, I’m a blast.

Just ask some past survivors — er, lovers. One said I was “brooding and negative” (aw, thanks, honey). Another called me a “tortured artist.” And, more to the point, I was told I’m an “s.o.b.” and, shucks, an “asshole.”

Ah, romance. All flowers and firebombs.

Those Hallmark sentiments, spouted in rare snaps of high dudgeon, are the exception not the rule. I’m a good, if challenging, partner, as my exes will attest. Almost all of them remain tight friends, and at least two are undying soulmates, exceptional individuals with whom I’ve never laughed harder, shared harder, and created quirky little worlds together.

I bring this up after watching two of my favorite fractured romances, movies that either rip me up or crack me up before sending me off blubbering like an Italian widow. 

In 1961’s “Splendor in the Grass,” Natalie Wood plays a sexually repressed teenager who falls for Warren Beattie’s high school jock and, in short, goes crazy. As they go their separate ways, Wood’s psychosis intensifies. Later, supposedly cured, she visits her ex, who is now married. The ending will kick your guts out.  

Freighted with neuroses, Woody Allen courts a young, insecure Diane Keaton in 1977’s “Annie Hall,” the quintessential Allen love story, whose tagline is the very apt “a nervous romance.” With Allen’s overbearing hangups and egotism and Keaton’s skittish fragility, the couple’s frequently hilarious affair doesn’t stand a chance. Friendship will have to do. The last, lingering shot is almost unbearably wistful.

My relationships have bits of both films — possessiveness, craziness, big laughs, deep-dish neuroses, breakups and friendship. They have no boozy “Fool for Love” abuse, or bat-shit “Fatal Attraction” obsession. They are earthbound, boring to some; glorious fireworks spectaculars to those involved. 

I’m lucky to have dodged real drama, yet love isn’t always pretty. An otherwise sweet, sane woman shattered a glass on my bedroom floor in blind fury. (I told her I wouldn’t have dinner with her family on Christmas — smash!). Another one dumped her beer on me with extreme prejudice. But these are aberrant episodes in my relationship history, teensy scars I can look back on lightly. What’s a soaked, sudsy shirt between sweethearts?

I don’t want to date a deranged Natalie Wood from “Splendor in the Grass,” and I have dated a Diane Keaton from “Annie Hall,” who yielded almost too much fun to describe. But life isn’t the movies and love isn’t easy. Just ask my exes. They’ll tell you. Believe it all.

Woody Allen’s prophetic ‘antifa’ stance

Today’s New York Times looks into the new movement called “antifa,” a “controversial force on the left.”

Antifa, the paper explains, is “a contraction of the word ‘anti-fascist'” and “describes the loose affiliation of radical activists who have … openly scuffled with white supremacists, right-wing extremists and, in some cases, ordinary supporters of President Trump.”

neo-nazis_1387321i“You need violence in order to protect nonviolence. … It’s full-on war, basically,” antifa activist Emily Rose Nauert told the Times.

In a life imitates art moment, this brings to mind a startlingly prescient scene from Woody Allen’s masterpiece “Manhattan,” from 1979:

Issac (played by Allen): Has anybody read that Nazis are going to march in New Jersey, you know? I read this in the newspaper. We should go down there, get some guys together, you know, get some bricks and baseball bats and really explain things to them.

Man: There was this devastating satirical piece on that on the op-ed page of the Times. It is devastating.

Isaac: Well, well, a satirical piece in the Times is one thing, but bricks and baseball bats really gets right to the point.

Woman: Oh, but really biting satire is always better than physical force.

Isaac: No, physical force is always better with Nazis. Because it’s hard to satirize a guy with shiny boots.

Watch the scene here.

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