Staff Picks: ‘The Way He Looks,’ Mae Whitman and ‘The Odd Woman and the City’

Need a great book to read, album to listen to, or TV show to get hooked on? The Flavorwire team is here to help: in this weekly feature, our editorial staffers recommend the cultural object or experience they’ve enjoyed most in the past seven days. Click through for our picks, and tell us what you’ve been loving in the comments.

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The Odd Woman and the City by Vivian Gornick

Also a renowned cultural critic and one of second-wave feminism’s most enduringly relevant writers, Vivian Gornick is among our sharpest, most distinctive memoirists. Her new book, The Odd Woman and the City, is a tightly arranged mosaic of memories and musings set against the backdrop of nearly eight decades in New York. As Gornick walks the city streets, interacting with strangers, ex-lovers, and dear friends — and encountering faces she hasn’t seen in years — she takes stock of her own unconventional existence, producing insights that will resonate deeply with anyone (woman or man) who hasn’t lived the life that was expected of them. — Judy Berman, Editor-in-Chief


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The Way He Looks (dir. Daniel Ribeiro)

Sometimes, one is sad. And sometimes, one is gay. Thus, finding myself one evening at the intersection of these states of being (the latter is luckily more permanent than the former), I thought: “let’s see what Netflix has to offer in the way of earnest gay romances that’ll only deepen my melancholy, but in heart-warmed vicarious fulfillment.” I happened upon The Way He Looks and recalled hearing good things — and boy, did it ever deepen that sentimental melancholy. I was amazed by the Brazilian film’s directness, simplicity, and complete lack of sensationalism. While a film could exploit the struggles of a blind and gay adolescent for heightened drama, The Way He Looks focuses more, simply, on the lead’s beautiful relationship with his two best friends  — one of whom is quickly becoming his romantic interest. (Though it certainly doesn’t ignore the dramas of bullying, either.) And while it culminates in the sweetest possible scenario (sincerely: I’m tearing up as I recall it here), it somehow never gets corny.  — Moze Halperin, Associate Editor


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Drogon the Dragon

Game of Thrones‘ Drogon returned in full force this past weekend (and just in time), spitting fire, flexing his fighting skills, and taking multiple spear wounds to save Daenerys from the Sons of the Harpy in the Great Games stadium. Now the size of a small house, Drogon was last seen on the show by Jorah Mormont and Tyrion Lannister as they rowed through the ruins of Valyria, and it was unclear if he was going to come back to Meereen. Now that they’ve flown off together, will he be the one to get Dany to finally march on Westeros? — Ona Abelis, Editorial Apprentice


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Mae Whitman in The DUFF

I skipped Ari Sandel’s high school comedy—its title an acronym for Designated Ugly Fat Friend—when it hit theaters earlier this year, mostly out of sheer philosophical objection to any film predicated on the notion that Mae Whitman is either ugly or fat (even though you can see them strenuously trying to cover their tracks with dialogue like “the DUFF doesn’t always have to be some heinous beast”). And the film (which is out this week on Blu-ray) has plenty of problems, from thudding subplots to an obsession with proving social media savviness to a supporting character whose camera-toting omnipresence is just lazy screenwriting. But it is also, whatever its flaws, a big screen starring vehicle for Ms. Whitman, and she’s terrific. Her line readings are sharp, her relationships (particularly with Robbie Arnell as the popular boy next door and Allison Janney as her mom) are credible, the way she calls people “dickface” is divine, and she plays the character’s heartbroken beats with a reality that transcends the material. Whitman’s got the movie star stuff (even if the schmucks making Independence Day 2 don’t know it); now it’s just a matter of finding her a worthy movie vehicle. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor


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Lifetime’s unREAL

Now that there’s no such thing as high or low culture, there’s no reason to fear a scripted series from Lifetime—especially not when it’s as good as this one. Starring Shiri Appleby (Adam’s ex-girlfriend on Girls) and Constance Zimmer (journalism boss lady from House of Cards), unREAL goes behind the scenes of a thinly disguised Bachelor and all the monstrous manipulation that creates on-air action. I went into the pilot expecting a scathing parody, but unREAL is as much a drama as a comedy, one that satirizes its characters while keeping viewers invested enough to be genuinely appalled. Any former Bravo devotee like yours truly could stand to watch the first four episodes, now available for free on Lifetime’s website. — Alison Herman, Associate Editor


 

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Jenny Hval’s Brilliant New Album, Apocalypse, girl

Excuse me while I take every opportunity to big-up Jenny Hval’s new album, out this week. If you didn’t read our recent interview with her — in which she defines “soft dick rock” (one of many provocative turns of phrase from Apocalypse, girl) — then allow me to paraphrase: she’s some kind of art-genius when it comes to feminism, exploration of identity, and hard v. soft. — Jillian Mapes, Music Editor


The River (dir. Jean Renoir)

Last weekend, I finally watched Jean Renoir’s The River after many years spent avoiding it. There is no question that Renoir is my favorite filmmaker — more than one of his films would make my all time top ten. But something about The River, which tells the story of two families in India, always terrified me. I had a premonition, I think, that its depiction of the lost illusions of childhood would overwhelm me.

Well, it did. Paradoxically, though — because the film is one of the least sentimental I have ever seen — it brought my childhood back to me in an honest way. Here is the character Mr. John, after the death of a small child:

We should celebrate that a child died a child. That one escaped. We lock them in our schools, we teach them our stupid taboos, we catch them in our wars, we massacre the innocents. The world is for children. The real world. They climb trees and roll on the grass, close to the ants . . .  

Jonathon Sturgeon, Literary Editor