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Chinese Rom-Com Finding Mr. Right Wants So Badly to be an American Rom-Com

Xue Xiaolu’s Chinese romantic comedy Finding Mr. Right wants to be an American romantic comedy so badly!

It begins with the Supremes’ “Someday We’ll Be Together,” ends with Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” and sets a montage to Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” along the way, all without a hint of irony. None of this is a spoiler; remember that the title is Finding Mr. Right, which manages to be both generic and misleading.

The Finder in question is Wen (Tang Wei), a ditzy, rich Chinese woman sent by her sugar daddy to Seattle (portrayed by Vancouver) to give birth, thus circumventing China’s one-child policy.

She’s not seeking Mr. Right at first, but could it be Frank (Wu Xiubo), the scruffy driver who picks her up at the airport? And as Wen learns what’s most important in life — and we’re frequently reminded that it is not money — will she experience hilarious culture clash, including but not limited to tattooed punks straight out of Central Casting?

Finding Mr. Right would be banal if it were indeed an American film, but since it’s in Chinese and has a mild political edge regarding overseas birthing, it’s not without interest, and is a pleasant enough way to spend two hours if you’re not looking to be surprised.

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VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

Sarah McLachlan

’90s nostalgia was a powerful force in 2010, with folks remembering the enchanted over the slanted and generally carrying on like the Clinton years were pop’s most halcyon era. Sarah McLachlan got in on that act with a Lilith Fair reboot and a record, Laws of Illusion, that reentered the misty romantic swirl of her past. Backward looks aside, this tour rewards legacy McLachfans with nostalgia jams, new material, and light Storyteller-style stage banter. Better catch her now before she ascends into the heavens on a cloud of synthesizers and free trade coffee beans. Mystery: built.

Wed., Jan. 12, 8 p.m.; Thu., Jan. 13, 8 p.m., 2011

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CULTURE ARCHIVES Living MUSIC ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

Dour Divas Douse Christmas Classics

Though it’s liberally frosted with cozy wine- bar piano and features obligatory renditions of seasonal staples such as “The Christmas Song” and “Winter Wonderland,” Aimee Mann’s One More Drifter in the Snow is as much an interrogation of the cash-grab holiday album as it is an example of the form. Singer-songwriters don’t come much icier than Mann, Hollywood’s appointed chronicler of thinking-class disillusionment, so it’s hard to buy the warm-and-fuzzy sentiments here at face value when we’re so used to expecting wan detachment—she hardly seems like one of these year-round grumps who melt at the sight of a kid in a reindeer costume. Instead, she illuminates the skepticism nestled beneath her tree, as on “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” wherein she couldn’t sound less excited about getting there.

There’s no such distrust on Sarah McLachlan’s Wintersong, which tends toward pious upper- crust fare like “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “In a Bleak Mid-Winter.” But McLachlan and producer Pierre Marchand do create a luminous fantasy-folk vibe that similarly resists stocking-stuffer schmaltz. In their take on “I’ll Be Home,” the singer sounds resigned to the fact that her reunion might take place “only in my dreams.” Bummed, but resigned.


Aimee Mann plays Town Hall December 12 and 14, the-townhall-nyc.org.

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Girls & Boys Together

Better Than Chocolate: as in “Your love is…,” as in the Quik-secreting Sarah McLachlan ballad. The namesake film is an amiable, scatterbrained tale that emits enough patchouli-tinged sisterly warmth to aromatize several Lilith Fairs, but all the sapphic good vibrations may induce nausea even in attendees familiar with such sticky, syrupy coming-out herstories.

Nineteen-year-old Maggie (Karyn Dwyer) has just dropped out of college and fallen into love with portrait artist Kim (Christina Cox) when Mom, freshly dumped by her second husband, announces she’s moving into her daughter’s flat with Maggie’s doofus brother in tow. Not just clueless about her little girl’s sexuality, Mom (Wendy Crewson) also seems unclear on what year it is, and the movie’s level of
subtlety can be gauged by its illustration of her bondage in housewifedom: though the setting is present-day Vancouver, she sports sweater sets, pearls, and a coiffure petrified halfway between Donna Reed and a B-52. Mom, a
puritanical chocoholic, cluelessly bonds with male-to-female transgendered lesbian Judy (Peter Outerbridge), who’s smitten with Frances (Ann-Marie MacDonald), Maggie’s high-strung boss at Ten Percent Books (Mom: “So you’re working at a discount bookstore?”). Meanwhile, Maggie tries mustering the gumption to tell her mother about her relationship with Kim (we know the couple’s love is true, since another gauzy acoustic
ditty pops up on the soundtrack every time the girls come near each other).

These voyages of self-discovery wouldn’t be complete without a few narrative landmines contrived for maximum melodrama. Judy gets bashed at a dyke bar (with a handbag, no less) for, um, using the wrong bathroom (no justice, no peace!) while skinheads firebomb the bookstore, with a naked Maggie inside. Love and understanding is readily found among the ruins—there’s nothing like a well-timed disaster to smooth over any rough edges, especially in a movie that can only open its eyes enough to see the good in everything.

Speaking of eyes wide shut, the erotic encounters in Head On are soaked with the strip-club reds and blues that permeate the Kubrick film (and your average Showtime late movie), and just like Tom, our hero cruises at night but doesn’t get laid. Head On‘s Ari is gay and Greek in Australia, and though a well-meaning friend tells him, “Fuck politics. Let’s dance,” the surly heartthrob sports a chip on his well-muscled shoulder to rival the most dangerous Backstreet Boy, or even the young Donnie Wahl berg. The movie trails Ari for 24 restless hours as he spars with his old-world parents, jaws with his lethargic friends, and surfs the local bars and dance clubs, while spastic handheld cameras, smeary slo-mo interludes, and incessant jump-cutting try to foist a sense of urgency on the proceedings. Ari seems to be heading toward a happy ending, but the film’s close is grim and ambivalent, a choice that would be commendable if the movie had not so stubbornly held the same dour tone for two hours already, and if Ari weren’t as boring as he is bored.

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NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Washington, D.C.

Monica’s World

She came to Washington in the summer of 1995, like so many before her, to assume a coveted position at a powerful government institution. Here, in her own words, a young intern describes her tumultuous, ultimately doomed affair with her boss, a highly placed married man.

Rapture

I never expected to fall in love with the President. I was surprised that I did.

We… sort of acknowledged that there had been a chemistry that was there before and that we were both attracted to each other, and then he asked me if he could kiss me.

We enjoyed talking to each other and being with each other… We would tell jokes. We would talk about our childhoods. Talk about current events. I was always giving him my stupid ideas about what I thought should be done in the administration or different views on things.

When I was working there (at the White House)… we’d start in the back (in or near the private study) and we’d talk and that was where we were physically intimate, and we’d usually end up, kind of the pillow talk of it, I guess… sitting in the Oval Office… We spent hours on the phone talking… just how we were doing… We talked about everything under the sun.

I used to say to him that I like it when you wear my ties because then I know I’m close to your heart.

He had told me… that he was usually around on the weekends and that it was okay to come see him on the weekends. So he would call and we would arrange either to bump into each other in the hall or that I would bring papers to the office.

When I was getting my Christmas kiss [the President was] looking out the window with his eyes wide open while he was kissing me and then I got mad because it wasn’t very romantic. He responded, “Well, I was just looking to see to make sure no one was out there.”

We were both aware of the volume and sometimes… I bit my hand so that I wouldn’t make any noise.

There were… some occasions when I sent him cards or notes that I wrote, things that he deemed too personal to put on paper just in case something ever happened, if it got lost getting there or someone else opened it. So there were several times when he remarked to me, you know, you shouldn’t put that on paper.

He said he was going to be going into the office soon. I said, “Oh, do you want some company?” And he said, “Oh, that would be great.” We made an arrangement that… he would have the door to his office open, and I would pass by the office with some papers and then… he would sort of stop me and invite me in. So that was exactly what happened.

We had… had phone sex for the first time the week prior, and I was feeling a little bit insecure about whether he had liked it or didn’t like it… I didn’t know if this was sort of developing into some kind of a longer-term relationship than what I thought it initially might have been, that maybe he had some regular girlfriend who was furloughed… I asked him why he doesn’t ask me any questions about myself, and… is this just about sex… or do you have some interest in trying to get to know me as a person? The President laughed and said he cherishes the time that he had with me… I felt like he didn’t really even know me yet… [He] kissed my arm and told me he’d call me, and then I said, “Yeah, well, what’s my phone number?” And so he recited both my home number and my office number off the top of his head.

Trouble in Paradise

People were wary of his weaknesses, maybe, and… they didn’t want to look at him and think that he could be responsible for anything, so it had to all be my fault… I was stalking him or I was making advances towards him.

He [Timothy Keating, Special Assistant to the President] told me I was too sexy to be working in the East Wing and that this job at the Pentagon, where I’d be writing press releases, was a sexier job. I was never going to see the President again. I mean, my relationship with him would be over.

I had asked [the President]… if he was doing okay with Ron Brown’s death, and then after we talked about that for a little bit I told him that my last day was Monday. And… he seemed really upset and sort of asked me to tell him what had happened. So I did and I was crying and I asked him if I could come see him, and he said that that was fine. He told me that he thought that my being transferred had something to do with him and that he was upset. He said, “Why do they have to take you away from me? I trust you.” And then he told me, he looked at me and he said, “I promise you if I win in November I’ll bring you back like that. You can do anything you want. You can be anything you want.” And then I made a joke and I said, “Well, can I be Assistant to the President for Blow Jobs?” He said, “I’d like that.”

I’m an insecure person… and I was insecure about the relationship at times and thought that he would come to forget me easily and if I hadn’t heard from him… it was very difficult for me… Usually when I’d see him, it would kind of prompt him to call me. So I made an effort. I would go early and stand in the front so I could see him.

I kept a calendar with a countdown until election day. I was so sure that the weekend after the election you would call me to come visit and you would kiss me passionately and tell me you couldn’t wait to have me back. You’d ask me where I wanted to work and say something akin to “Consider it done” and it would be. Instead I didn’t hear from you for weeks and subsequently your phone calls became less frequent.

I just don’t understand what went wrong, what happened? How could he do this to me? Why did he keep up contact with me for so long and now nothing, now when we could be together?

Rapprochement


HANDSOME
With love’s light wings did
I o’er perch these walls
For stony limits cannot hold love out,
And what love can do that dares love
attempt.
Romeo and Juliet 2:2
Happy Valentine’s Day.
M

— published February 14, 1997, The Washington Post

When I was hiding out in your office for a half-hour, I noticed you had the new Sarah McLachlan CD. I have it, too, and it’s wonderful. Whenever I listen to song #5 I think of you. That song and Billie Holliday’s version of “I’ll Be Seeing You” are guaranteed to put me to tears when it comes to you!

A Thank-you Note

All of my life, everyone has always said that I am a difficult person for whom to shop, and yet, you managed to choose two absolutely perfect presents! A little phrase (with only eight letters) like “thank you” simply cannot begin to express what I feel for what you have given me. Art & poetry are gifts to my soul!

I just love the hat pin. It is vibrant, unique, and a beautiful piece of art. My only hope is that I have a hat fit to adorn it (ahhh, I see another excuse to go shopping)! I know that I am bound to receive compliments on it.

I have only read excerpts from Leaves of Grass before—never in its entirety or in such a beautifully bound edition. Like Shakespeare, Whitman’s writings are so timeless. I find solace in works from the past that remain profound and somehow always poignant. Whitman is so rich that one must read him like one tastes a fine wine or good cigar, take it in, roll it in your mouth, and savor it!

I hope you know how very grateful I am for these gifts, especially your gift of friendship. I will treasure them all… always.

The Beginning of the End

I don’t care what you say, but if you were 100 percent fulfilled in your marriage I never would have seen that raw, intense sexuality that I saw a few times—watching your mouth on my breast or looking in your eyes while you explored the depth of my sex. Instead, it would have been a routine encounter void of anything but a sexual release. I do not want you to breach your moral standard…

Please do not do this to me. I feel disposable, used, and insignificant. I understand your hands are tied, but I want to talk to you and look at some options.

An Illusory Future

He remarked… that he wished he had more time for me. And so I said, Well, maybe you will have more time in three years. And I was… thinking just when he wasn’t President, he was going to have more time on his hands. And he said, Well, I don’t know, I might be alone in three years. And then I said something about… us sort of being together. I think I kind of said, Oh, I think we’d be a good team, or something like that. And he… jokingly said: “Well, what are we going to do when I’m 75 and I have to pee 25 times a day?” And… I told him that we’d deal with that. I left that day sort of emotionally stunned, for I just knew he was in love with me.

A Birthday Party

I had set up in his back office, I had brought an apple square and put a candle and had put his birthday presents out. And after he came back in and I sang happy birthday and he got his presents, I asked him… if we could share a birthday kiss in honor of our birthdays, because mine had been just a few weeks before. So, he said that that was okay and we could kind of bend the rules that day. And so… we kissed. He said, “I’m trying not to do this and I’m trying to be good.” …He got visibly upset. And so… I hugged him and I told him I was sorry and not to be upset.

It was awful when I saw you for your birthday in August. You were so distant that I missed you as I was holding you in my arms.

Despair

So it’s over. I don’t know what I will do now but I can’t wait anymore and I can’t go through all of this crap anymore. In some ways I hope I never hear from him again because he’ll just lead me on because he doesn’t have the balls to tell me the truth.

I believe the time has finally come for me to throw in the towel. My conversation with Marsha left me disappointed, frustrated, sad, and angry. I can’t help but wonder if you knew she wouldn’t be able to detail me over there when I last saw you. Maybe that would explain your coldness. The only explanation I can reason for your not bringing me back is that you just plain didn’t want to enough or care about me enough… I just loved you—wanted to spend time with you, kiss you, listen to you laugh—and I wanted you to love me back. As I said in my last letter to you I’ve waited long enough. You and Marsha win. I give up. You let me down, but I shouldn’t have trusted you in the first place.

A surprise

Well, I found out from Betty yesterday that he not only brought me a T-shirt, he got me two T-shirts, a hat, and a dress!!!! Even though he’s a big schmuck, that is surprisingly sweet—even that he remembered!

The End

Any normal person would have walked away from this and said, “He doesn’t call me, he doesn’t want to see me—screw it. It doesn’t matter.” I can’t let go of you… I want to be a source of pleasure and laughter and energy to you. I want to make you smile… all you have promised me is an empty promise… I am once again totally humiliated. It is very clear that there is no way I am going to be brought back. I will never do anything to hurt you. I am simply not that kind of person. Moreover, I love you.

I’d like to ask you to help me secure a position in New York beginning 1 December. I would be very grateful, and I am hoping this is a solution for both of us. I want you to know that it has always been and remains more important to me to have you in my life than to come back… Please don’t let me down.

I asked you three weeks ago to please be sensitive to what I am going through right now and to keep in contact with me, and yet I’m still left writing notes in vain. I am not a moron. I know that what is going on in the world takes precedence, but I don’t think what I have asked you for is unreasonable. This is so hard for me. I am trying to deal with so much emotionally, and I have nobody to talk to about it. I need you right now not as president, but as a man. PLEASE be my friend.

Both professionally and personally… our personal relationship changing has caused me more pain. Do you realize that? I don’t want you to think that I am not grateful for what you are doing for me now—I’d probably be in a mental institute without it—but I am consumed with this disappointment, frustration, and anger. All you… ever have to do to pacify me is see me and hold me. Maybe that’s asking too much.

I was so sad seeing you last night. I was so angry with you that once again you had rejected me… I wanted to feel the warmth of you and the smell of you and the touch of you. And it made me sad. And I—you confuse me so much. I mean… I thought—I thought I fell in love with this person that—that I really felt was such a good—such a good person, such a good heart, someone who’s had a life with a lot of experiences.

You want me out of your life. I guess the signs have been made clear for awhile—not wanting to see me and rarely calling. I used to think it was you putting up walls. I wanted to give them [gifts] to you in person, but that is obviously not going to happen.

I will never forget what you said that night we fought on the phone—if you had known what I was really like you would never have gotten involved with me. I’m sure you’re not the first person to have felt that way about me. I am sorry that this has been such a bad experience.

I knew it would hurt to say goodbye to you; I just never thought it would have to be on paper. Take care.


One of four articles in our Clinton’s Sex Scandal feature.

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CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES

Fair Maidens

“Adia,” Sarah McLachlan’s new single, is not a very good song. But it’s almost called “Aria” and spells Aida backward, as if to remind us that Sarah’s an opera diva in reverse: a vocal exercise made flesh, but staged for the peasants, or at least the peasant skirts. She’s Jessye Normal. The triumph of “Adia” lies exactly in its thin obviousness, the way it invites copycats onto the playlists and lets them sound better than the original–kitties Sarah will need more than another hit single when the summer grows long and Lilith’s second stages yawn.

According to my car radio, the best Sarah McLachlan song of the year is “Surrounded.” It’s by Chantal Kreviazuk–“I was there when they dropped the bomb, I remember the bomb, and I still hear the bomb,” she says, warming like the good mentee she is into an octave slide precisely a la McLachlan, even as she drops the social science. This being Fair play, there must follow a beautiful, neurasthenically romantic (and completely unrelated) chorus: “Now it’s all around me, all around me, you surround me like a circle.” Hey, it’s not supposed to make sense. This is not your mother’s feminism, and you don’t need Ms. to know the personal is the political. They share the same melody, and isn’t that enough?

Supporting one’s simulators (and having them support you) isn’t exactly revolutionary, but the trick of conjuring copy after copy also forces us to think of Sarah McLachlan as an original. Future ethnomusicologists will tag Sarah lead auteur of the Lilith Lilt, flanked on one side by Jewel and on the other by Sheryl Crow. Patty Griffin probably dreams of drinking whiskey with Bonnie Raitt, but on her debut single “One Big Love” she’s Crow’s tequila mockingbird. This is a little confusing, since one of the cool things about Sheryl is how she can’t even imitate herself; she can’t read her own handwriting. But Patty Griffin can, from the martial rhythm pattern to the hoarsely wise-before-her-time winsomeness of the vocal. She can’t cry anymore, and when she borrows on Crow’s account, nothing moves but the money.

Jewel’s vanilla daughter-of-a-preacher-man vibe is effortlessly scooped by Rebekah, who timed her prosex/proguilt strummer “Sin So Well” just right: made from 100 per cent recycled materials, it sounds like microlite timeless pop. “Timeless” is the lie pop music keeps telling us. That is, songs seem to have no historical markers because they’re perfectly timebound; “timeless” is so similar to the surrounding atmosphere that hearing it’s like having no experience at all. Or maybe like sitting in a warm bathtub drinking a glass of water. “Pop” is sort of another name for “room temperature.”

That’s also why Natalie Imbruglia can lie naked on the floor without catching a cold–she’s the exact temperature of 1998. “Torn” has already been a single four times for three bands in five years, all without selling a single copy. The song remains the same; it’s the times that changed. For any given year there’s only one certain song you can get over with, if you’re an Australian daytime-TV actress with the fever for the flavor of a single: in 1975 you’d be Olivia, pushing tender buttons with “Have You Never Been Mellow.” In 1987, you’d be Kylie, getting lucky, lucky, lucky with Stock/Aitken/Waterman–produced blue-eyed house. This year you’re Natalie, pouting ironically about your own simulation even while cooking the Lilith sound down to its purest pop potion and shooting it without hesitation–the new queen of Aussie Soap Diva Swing.

While Lilith owes its look and feel to Sarah McLachlan, it’s got an unpaid debt to Alanis Morissette, who mainstreamed troublegirls into the mightiest demographic on Planet Pop. Now comes the first new single from Alanis since NAFTA took effect. Isn’t that what’s called the return of the repressed? Yikes, it’s even named “Uninvited.” The song is basically the hidden a cappella track from Jagged Little Pill, reset in “Kashmir” as a gothesque crawl, with Alanis the stalked rather than the stalker. Or it’s the hardest Top 40 radio song to describe, for which I love her–no bridge and barely a chorus, fibrillating trauma vocals. Three and a half minutes in she suddenly announces, “I need a moment to deliberate,” and walks right off the radio as the music falls apart behind her. Meanwhile, she’s still thinking.

It’s easy to mistrust singles that keep promising they’ll matter later, that take themselves as seriously as these; you know they do from that minor chord the melody flashes like a wistful card trick whenever someone says the word “feel.” And the songs will matter–removed from their moment, they’ll glow with pure historicity. The first million times I heard Cornershop’s “Brimful of Asha” I didn’t get it at all. I was just waiting for Norman Cook’s “Brighton” remix–how the opening breaks down the guitar part to primitive jangle and speeds it up to faster miles an hour, until you can hear that it’s “Roadrunner,” substituting Bollywood for American Top 40, accelerating endlessly around its own history, held in orbit only by nostalgia’s gravity.

The sound these singles make transmutes into that gravity later–as we drive past the Stop & Shop one night in the future, they’ll remind us that this is how the world sounded one summer: from the morning past the evening to the end of the light. And we’ll forget the distracting spectacle of the Fair itself, the pretty maids all in a row exchanging Grammy photos.