Since I aspire to be a filmmaker, and given that my childhood was one of the suburbs, it’s not altogether unlikely that one day I will make a movie that somehow nestles up against this genre, even if only in mockery of it, or perhaps as a more serious study of the qualities most films that fall within it profess to examine. While I was on Salon reading “Ask the Pilot,” I also came across this interview with Mike Mills, the director of the soon-to-be-released (in America, and shortly thereafter on DVD here in China) movie, Thumbsucker:
Whether it’s fair or not — and it’s not — you’re going to be compared to other recent American movies that deal with suburbia. People are going to talk about “American Beauty” and “Donnie Darko.” I don’t know if you see any thematic continuity there, but I’m curious how you approached a setting that’s become so symbolic.
“American Beauty” I completely hate. I find it a really reprehensible movie because it’s making fun of people that live there. I don’t respond to “Donnie Darko” at all, because its quirkiness overtakes any sense of reality. But “Ordinary People” I watched a lot. “Ice Storm” I watched a lot. Those are two suburban movies I would embrace. And while mine has certain visual gags, I guess, I’m more in that camp.
I get compared to “Donnie Darko” every frickin’ day. That and “Garden State,” another movie I hate. I’m not going to argue with the audience. But my take on suburbia is that I have no interest in picking on people, or saying they’re “dysfunctional.” I hate that phrase. As if there’s a family that’s functional, you know? It’s a very George Bush way to be looking at family: Evil is to be killed, and good will go to heaven.
Ironically, I had just watched Ang Lee’s Ice Storm two days prior, after my friend S. recommended it over a month ago while we were shopping for DVDs. Unlike Mills, however, I happen to love both Donnie Darko and, even more so, Garden State, and I find American Beauty tolerable in its teasing humor–and for the ease and style with which Family Guy proceded to parody it in the episode where Stewie becomes a cheerleader. (I haven’t seen Ordinary People, though after reading this I plan to, if only for comparison’s sake.) Anyway, I think the above was the most interesting part of an otherwise lackluster interview, but the rest of the article may be worth passing through Salon’s hoops anyway, as it discusses two other films that I hadn’t actually heard of yet, and that seemed quite worth watching.