Bleak stories about rich White people with too much time on their hands can only do so much. Personally, my tolerance for watching wealthy has-beens and artists lament about life — mind you, while sitting in a multi million-dollar brownstone — is shrinking every day. There’s a plethora of other stories waiting to be told, those that show a more realistic depiction of the everyday lives of Americans.
And yet, Noah Baumbach (“The Meyerowitz Stories”) chooses to rewrite the same movie about wealthy, dysfunctional, New York families led by an insufferable, arrogant patriarch who gets joy from dismissing “A Tale of Two Cities” as a “minor work” and brainwashing his kids into being clones. “The Squid and the Whale,” released 12 years ago, fulfills his prerequisites: A once-famous author struggles through a divorce as his teenage children suffer the consequences of family turmoil and his selfish behavior. The movie, with sharp dialogue and developed younger characters, is the director’s crowning achievement.
This year, Baumbach wrote and directed “The Meyerowitz Stories,” a replication of “The Squid and the Whale” except starring adults instead of teenagers as the damaged children of a has-been egotist. Like its predecessor, it’s a terrific depiction of a shattered family and doesn’t veer into melodrama territory. But he has essentially told this story before, except better. And at this point, we really don’t need more of the same.
I don’t blame Baumbach, a director I admire, for my intolerance for these movies –– it’s systemic. Hollywood constantly looks beyond stories about regular folk, especially in flyover country, in favor of ritzier, more glamorous stories with attractive people. How can two versions of “Squid and the Whale” be made and yet there are few movies about ordinary, unglamorous Midwesterners living in a blue-collar suburb?
“Logan Lucky,” a favorite from this year, was a feat for representing working-class Americans. With knockout performances from Channing Tatum (“Magic Mike XXL”) and Adam Driver (“Paterson”), we grew to love the characters, and not in an ironic, mocking way. The movie showed a completely different world than California or New York City. Some criticized the movie for depicting the characters like some sort of freak show, or a circus for elites to gather around to point and laugh at the oh-so unsophisticated “hillbilly” class. But the Logan family isn’t so different: They have dreams and feel pain like everyone else, it’s just that their goals consist of robbing a NASCAR track.
Horror movies tend to represent regular people, but more as a tactic to cause lingering fright. If a typical suburban family is haunted by a ghost, the prospect of other families getting haunted grows, making the movie even scarier. If elites in Beverly Hills are haunted, it seems a lot less believable and more forgettable in the long run. Horror movies are only relatable if the people in them are too. Thanks to this scheme, the walk from my car to my front door at night in my quaint Detroit suburb is usually a dead sprint filled with fears of ghouls and goblins ready to pounce from the trees. Probably unlikely, but definitely spooky nonetheless.
In a divided political climate, Hollywood is deepening the separation between classes. It sometimes feels more like an “us vs them” scenario than something all Americans can share together. Television has a better track record, with ABC sitcoms leading the way at depicting a diverse array of families, but there are still shows like HBO’s recently concluded “Girls” that show trust fund babies in Brooklyn with ample free time and little relatability for most Americans. And even my favorite, “Master of None,” one of today’s sincerest and funniest shows, falls into this trap: Dev, the main character (Aziz Ansari, “Parks and Recreation”), spends a lot of his time eating and drinking at the finest New York establishments, something a Texan or Iowan probably can’t relate to.
But once again, Lena Dunham (“Girls”) and Aziz Ansari aren’t to blame; their shows are well-written and portray contemporary New Yorkers with honesty. It’s that for every 10 movies or television shows like this, there’s only one “Logan Lucky.” Baumbach deserves to be able to retell the “Squid and the Whale” ’s story to his liking, but we need to see more movies about lower-income families on the marquee, as well. Hollywood isn’t doing its part to counter the destructive, growing divide in America today; it’s time to show regular Americans and their struggles.