Diane Meier

Diane Meier

Welcome to Diane’s Blog!

I’ll use this spot to chart what I enjoy and endorse, as we attempt to live a life of style in a culture of business and writing and art. And I hope you join me; share your own stories, insights and ideas about living a creatively expressive life.

It’s Home

Monday, January 18, 2010

Recognizing that we have more than similar last names in common, not a few people have sent me articles and reviews about Nancy Meyers and her latest film release. They point out how her movies (Something’s Got to Give, Baby Boom, Father of the Bride, The Holiday, - and this season’s It’s Complicated), also use the device of the “House as Character” – or in the case of my novel, The Season of Second Chances, the “House as Metaphor”, for a life undergoing restoration. But something else has caught my eye. Every review and critique of her work, mentions the detail of Meyers’ sets and the glossy attention to material surroundings as a mark of her auteurism. Truly great directors do seem to leave their mark on every frame, but in the case of Meyers, the marked commentary on surface detail is noted with more than a snarky bit of derision.


The fact that I can still remember the French salon interiors of Last Tango in Paris (far more accurately than I can recall whether the butter was intended for Brando or Schneider) tells you something about Bertolucci’s discipline when it came to his sets. But do we hear that he is a kind of quasi-interior-designer-movie-director? We do not. Meyers’s work, like that of Nora Ephron, falls into two damning and easily shunned categories – “entertaining films that make us laugh”, and “films made by women”. You can almost see Rodney Dangerfield pulling on his sweaty collar, admitting that they don’t get no respect. And while Woody Allen may have allowed us to admit that real life is often as heart-stoppingly funny as it is heartbreaking, the insidious sexism attached to films about relationships with women, not to mention films by women goes unchallenged in review after review.

Chick-flicks, a good friend calls them. And as we sit together in a darkened movie theater and a trailer runs to a point of flirtation or romantic entanglement, if the film doesn’t redeem itself with a gun, a Nazi, or scene of heroin addiction, I know he’s going to turn to us and pronounce it, dismissively, “Chick-flick”. Last year the Barcelona-based director Isabel Croixet shot, in English, the best film I’d seen in years, Elegy – adapted from a novel by Philip Roth. She managed to secure spectacular performances from the cast, led by Ben Kingsley. She clearly demanded beautifully realized, supportive and accurate set design, and photographed it with marvelous camerawork – some of it hand-held by Croixet herself. Did anyone see it mentioned in the lists of best films of the year? Neither did we. It was only released to 147 theaters across America. But we both felt that if Sydney Lumet or Robert Benton had made the film, we’d have been looking at an Oscar.

If It’s Complicated is dismissed for its glossy attention to detail, it’s also trivialized as a fantasy; though Meyers has, at least in my opinion, created a credible film with two complex characters wrapped in a circumstance of giddy delight and discovery -- much the way life sometimes gives us those moments. Okay, I know it dishes out bad times too. The death of parents, friends, spouses, and sometimes of children; betrayals and divorces; the diminishing of our own strength and health; man-made wars and natural disasters; the loss of jobs and homes and status and purpose; real honest-to-god tragedies of – sometimes - epic scale. But what we also have is this – periods of time when life seems okay, when we’re cautious but willing to act upon our own bursts of optimism, and acknowledge some life-enhancing sweetness. It isn’t ridiculous that a woman like Nancy Meyer’s heroine, Jane, would find love with men the age of Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. It isn’t even unusual.

I know, at arm’s reach, far more than a handful of women over the age of fifty who have married in the last few years. I did it myself, and I even wrote a book, The New American Wedding, that celebrates the fact that the vast majority of weddings across America are now being staged by grown-ups, long past looking for the adolescent coming-of-age event this ceremony used to be about. I can wrap my arms around dozens of couples-of-a-certain-age who find themselves newly in love and happier than they ever thought they might be. I interviewed a thousand people for that book. So don’t tell me that this is unlikely.

I’ve recently read that Nora Ephron couldn’t get funding for a film she’s been wanting to make for years. Nora Ephron. Julie&Julia -Nora- Harry-Met-Sally -Ephron. Can you believe it? Mamma Mia! passed Titanic in the UK as their biggest grossing film of all time. Still, we’re told that films for and about women are more difficult to green-light because they’re not bought by the masses of world-wide consumers who may speak no English, but who can, at least, understand the drama of action movies. This argument almost holds up, until you realize that films by many auteur/writer/directors (Judd Apatow, Spike Jonz, Wes Anderson) are not action movies. Their films don’t make as much money as Ephron or Meyers (in most cases, they make a good hundred million dollars less). And do you want to explain Adaptation to a group of non-English speaking men who are looking for action? Nora Ephron can’t get money for a film that she’s longing to do? How can this be.

What has to happen before we face sexism for what it is? And I’m not even getting started on the fact that every industry in recession-plagued America, with the exception of a handful of pharmaceuticals, appears to see 18 – 35 year olds as their target audience. Is it really possible that they don’t understand the largest population swell of the last million years is also the richest? And they wonder why they’re not making money.

On a cold Monday evening in rural New England, with a number of art-film-movie-houses and mega-seat-theaters within driving distance, Frank and I expected to be on our own in a sea of seats, watching It’s Complicated. But no. Had we arrived ten minutes later, we’d not have gotten a seat at all. The movie theater was packed with people of all ages (and both genders), who seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves. Clearly they had no problem with the likelihood of love among the over-forty set, nor the details of the rooms that held those lovers.

The suggestion that the décor in these Meyers rooms are pie-in-the-sky, seems yet another bare-faced example of the way the critics have attempted to diminish her work. We are, after all, not looking at Castle Howard nor the art deco sets of an Astair-Rogers movie. With the exception of ocean views, the style of the houses in her films are not far beyond the grasp of many Americans. How do I know? In the worst recession of the last sixty years, the National Kitchen and Bath industry reported customers arriving in throngs with Something’s Got to Give videos in hand, hell-bent on re-creating Diane Keaton’s kitchen as their own.

We know these people. The critics know them. So do you. These are the bedrock base of Ralph Lauren’s khaki pants, Pepperidge Farm cookies, Lexus station wagons and Johnny Walker scotch. They support the libraries we visit and our local art associations. They see the movies we make and buy the books we write. They are not the Duke and Duchess of Who-Ha. They are as much a part of American culture as the Great Plains Cowboy. And when reviewers turn up their noses and suggest that Nancy Meyers has gotten all ‘precious’ in her styling, I believe they’re twisting the knife that cuts a “woman’s film” into something “less-than”. It is their way of creating the “Women’s Film Ghetto” where the romance and the clothing and the set design are pointed out, as though to define a flimsy shallowness, and a lack of moral fiber.

If I recognize these Meyers characters with their familiar cable knit sweaters and their butter colored pottery, I also recognize the critic, male or female, who has bought into the idea that the things (design, fashion, home, relationships, social engagements) that have been relegated to women are no more than ephemera, that they are less important, less worthy, with infinitely less depth than the things we seem to admire in men’s work. In The Season of Second Chances, I have an older woman confront a colleague who has, like the culture I note here, deemed things of style, comfort and social intercourse, to be unworthy of her attention.

“ Where would your beloved Henry James be without style? Who is Daisy Miller without understanding the difference between the candy of Schenectady and the art on the walls of Florence? And where would Wharton be – her decorating book, her house in Lenox, her infinite notes on architecture and garden,s and most of all, the way she allowed the detail of dress or affectation to literally act as character traits. All the literature you love – all the art - this is all style.” She took a long look at me. “You’re not afraid of it at all on the page. Why does it frighten you so in the flesh?”

I think I know why it frightens so. Because these are the things women have, for centuries, made their own, and for so long, it was the only realm in which we ruled. Must we, thirty years after the advances and the necessary questions and confusions of the Women’s Movement, denigrate the things we’ve always understood, as we also reach for the podium, the boardroom door, the scalpel or the director’s megaphone? Nancy Meyers clearly doesn’t think so. And, this season, as only Avatar’s box-office performance surpassed It’s Complicated, we might have to face the fact that America is neither put off by the age nor the affluence of her vision. To many of us, it just feels like home.

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