May Staff Picks: Judy Blume adaptations, K-Dramas, Bo Burnham, and more!
Words By F(r)iction Staff
Strange World on Disney Plus
It’s an animated family movie that has everything I look for: 1) Amazingly colorful and detailed settings and characters. 2) A diverse depiction of people and relationships. 3) An adorable and quirky companion character that communicates through nothing but dramatic gesture and sound. (In this film, it is literally a blob, with a big personality. And it is my favorite, okay, it just is.) This movie follows the Clades, a family of epic explorers, as they navigate the alien landscape living beneath their home. They discover that this new ground is more than just uncharted territory, but part of a living and breathing biome that needs their help to survive. That’s all I can say without giving away the true crux of the adventure, you’ll just have to watch it!
Bo Burnham’s comedy special, Inside, came out in 2021. People, myself included, were floundering in search of purpose and meaning as we learned to navigate a world forever changed by the coronavirus pandemic. I heard great things about Inside, including its deep message, creative execution, and emotional impact. Quite frankly, people’s reactions made me afraid to watch, afraid to be faced with feelings I didn’t feel mentally equipped to handle at the time. I finally decided to watch Inside on a random night after putting it off for so long, and I can’t express enough how much this work of art moved me.
All I knew of Bo Burnham before this was his earlier specials, which included controversial musical comedy sprinkled with biting social commentary. Inside came after a five-year hiatus from Burnham, and the content felt much more vulnerable and intentional than ever before. Burnham’s music ranged from deeply heartfelt to wildly ridiculous, but each song showed his masterful understanding of music and his genuine talent and love for creating it. I noticed that many songs incorporated the sounds and tropes from a wide variety of music genres, including everything from synth-pop to show tunes to acoustic fireside melodies. Along with these wide jumps in musical style, Burnham also delicately weaves a story that will have viewers filled with laughter one moment and existential dread the next.
As Burnham films himself creating the special in a small room over the course of a year, viewers follow him through an emotionally tumultuous journey. He explores the theme of “inside vs. outside” and our tendency to retreat inward when things get hard, emphasizing the dangers of this by showing his own isolation throughout the making of the special. With a past of some controversial and insensitive comedy, Burnham also reflects on the nature of public image and influencer “apologies,” the internet’s inescapable draw and overwhelming presence, the value of art and a joke amid a struggling world, and the ever-present fear of making oneself known to others.
These honest and relevant themes, combined with the creative sets, props, and light design in each segment of this one-man show, work together to create a truly special and unique viewing experience. I think Inside will be a thought-provoking, inspiring, and heartbreaking watch for anyone living in the modern digital age, as well as for anyone who experienced the social and cultural shift brought on by the pandemic.
My wife kept nudging me in the theater while we were watching the movie adaptation of Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. She was making sure I was enjoying the movie because she was the only one of us laughing. I was in fact enjoying the movie but was busy thinking how different my life would have been if I had read the book when I was younger. Many of the struggles I dealt with growing up were on the screen, while my wife remarked on the accuracy in which the film and source material also portrayed girls going through puberty
The stigma of reading what was thought of by my peers as a girls book kept me from checking Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret out from the library. However, I always found a voice of recognition and compassion in Blume’s writing as a sensitive and awkward young boy. She was able to nail how I felt in my family dynamic with The One In The Middle Is A Green Kangaroo and feeling lost being a middle child. And the world between kids and adults seemed a little less blurry after reading Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and the Fudge books. I was enjoying the movie but also wishing I had read the source book when I was younger while seeing the truth Judy Blume had to write about navigating true and false friendships, understanding religion and changing bodies from a sixth grader’s perspective all play out on screen.
I appreciate that the film kept the setting in the seventies, and writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig grounds the character in the decade instead of sending up the seventies. Craig brings truthfulness to the setting so that the subject matter and actors can take root in that truth. The amazing cast is anchored around Abby Ryder Fortson who plays the title character Margaret. The film reminded me how much Judy Blume built the bridge from my childhood to young adulthood and I wish Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret was part of that foundation.
Misaeng: An Incomplete Life (2014)
Of all the genres out there, my favourite K-dramas have always been those around the struggles of mundane existence. What drew me to Misaeng was how like every underdog tale, it was about unrealistic wins and realistic losses. But as time went on, Jang Geurae was one character whose scales tipped so much more towards losing battles, and then getting up in spite of it all. Even though this drama was set up in a competitive corporate space where people were drowning in their own biases, the story wasn’t as much about Geurae winning in this strange world he found himself in; I think it was learning to live with his past and surprisingly finding kindness at every turn. So many people continued to root for him, but even then, he lost. What mattered was the people who continued to believe in him even when he didn’t believe in himself.
Oh Sangshik and Geurae’s relationship is a testament to this, and is the most beautiful thing about this show. To see them believe in each other so fiercely in spite of everything they’ve been through makes your heart so full. Misaeng and all the characters in it have brought meaning to my existence, and I think that’s what the best kind of art does to me. If you’re looking for a story that grounds you, makes you hopeful and believe in yourself more, then this one is for you. (And also it comes with the most stunning life lessons captured through the metaphor of ‘Go’ game!)