Comments: Week of September 11, 2023


“Power Bottoms,” August 28–September 10

For New York’s “Fall Preview” issue, Rachel Handler profiled the trio who created the year’s most unlikely, delightfully dumb comedy. The cover, which described the film as a “horny, bloody lesbian incel comedy,” provoked fierce debate ­online, and in a widely shared tweet, @hol­den­ford­focus wrote, “incel has really lost all meaning huh.” On Instagram, Joe Rosenthal agreed, adding, “­Uncomfortable with ‘incel’ ­being used this way given how dangerous actual incels are, and I think it’s something that intrinsically describes cishet men.” Meredith Modzelewski pushed back: “A woman originated the term about her own life and experiences so perhaps reconsider that ‘intrinsic’ characterization.” In a letter to the magazine, ­Julia Himberg, author of The New Gay for Pay, said she “especially appreciated the article’s attention to the challenges the filmmakers encountered — from filming locations to sponsorships — reminding us of the U.S.’s increasingly discriminatory ­socio-political landscape; these challenges are helpful to read about in light of the popular discourse that touts a triumph of representation wherein LGBTQ+ characters are now an expected and accepted part of the Holly­wood landscape. ‘Power Bottoms’ gives readers a multifaceted story, showing hope for a less top-down industry where independent LGBTQ+ media can still make its way into studio-financed productions without compromising its authenticity and originality.” And Eve Ng, author of Mainstreaming Gays, noted, “While ­media about gay men — which has a built-in audience including straight women — continues to be plentiful, there’s more of a fight for stories about lesbian/queer women to be told: Witness the ­cancellation bloodbath in the past year, e.g. Willow (Disney), Gentleman Jack (HBO), First Kill and Warrior Nun (Netflix), Paper Girls, The Wilds, and most recently A League of Their Own (Amazon Prime). The way that ‘Power Bottoms’ came to ­fruition, with the pathways of Edebiri, Sennott, and Seligman weaving through indie and more commercial projects, ­illustrates contemporary conditions for much queer-themed production. I hope the film is a hit and demonstrates to ­industry decision-makers the value of ­investing outside the center.” Business journalist Matthew Zeitlin noted, “It’s interesting that there’s a ­pretty substantive discussion of whether these actresses can play lesbians but none about 27 and 28 year olds playing high school students (not good or bad! Just interesting what requires ­justification and what doesn’t).” And the ­British writer Bolu ­Babalola added, “I feel like it’s gonna be one of those profiles you re-read when they’re catapulted into superstardom.”


“The Final Sondheim”

In “The Final Sondheim,” Frank Rich documented how the late ­composer’s longtime collaborators David Ives and Joe Mantello brought his last musical to the stage. The television critic Jean ­Henegan said, ­“Wonderful piece that makes me even more intrigued and ­excited to see what Ives, Mantello, and Sondheim have put together.” John Haas, an ­associate professor of theater instruction at ­Northwestern University, wrote, “Whenever anyone has the opportunity to read anything Frank Rich writes about his friend Stephen Sondheim, you know you will feel the love, respect, and awe jump right off the page. From his November 1981 New York Times review of Merrily We Roll Along that opened with the sentence ‘As we all should probably have learned by now, to be a Stephen ­Sondheim fan is to have one’s heart broken at regular intervals’ to this beautiful account of Sondheim’s last musical and final days in ‘The Final Sondheim.’ Reading the emails between Sondheim, playwright David Ives, and director Joe Mantello was a thrilling look behind the curtain of bringing this musical to life. We see the self-doubt, the frustration, and the pressure of living up to expectations that all artists, no matter where they are in their journeys, can relate to.” Liza ­Gennaro, the dean of musical theater at the Manhattan School of Music, added, “The story of working with Sondheim in his last years is enlightening. It’s inspiring to read that despite his status as an ‘icon of the American musical theater,’ Sondheim was a great collaborator. I’m left wondering how the team will manage without him during the crucial stage of development that includes rehearsals, tech, and previews. ­Mantello explains, ‘A third of our team is not with us, but he left us such rich material … we had a responsibility to put that out into the world.’ ” And Tim Chipping asked,
“Who else but Sondheim would leave us with a musical based on two Mexican surrealist movies?”

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Comments: Week of September 11, 2023