Sunday, July 25, 2010

Drawn to a certain look

My wife and I watched most of the season of Glee this year.

I'll admit it. In part because the way we stopped watching makes a funny story.

It was one of the last couple episodes of the year, and the "dorky kids" in the glee club are trying to become less dorky, or something. So they choreograph some kind of rebellious song-and-dance cover of M.C. Hammer's "U Can't Touch This," which they stage in the school library. At that exact moment, we couldn't take it anymore. We shut off the episode, deleted it from the DVR, deleted the remaining episodes from the DVR, and deleted the series recording. That was that.

But at some point, I was reading up on Glee, and found out that its creator, Ryan Murphy, had also written and directed the big-screen adaptation of Augusten Burroughs' acclaimed memoirs, Running With Scissors. No one thought the movie was so hot, but it was one of those ones I knew I would see, eventually. Last night, "eventually" rolled around, which is why I'm writing this post today. (And for the record, I liked the movie better than the consensus opinion of it.)

At the time I read about Murphy's role in Scissors, I said, "Oh yeah, that makes sense -- the guy who plays the gay kid on Glee also played Augusten Burroughs in Running With Scissors." Ryan Murphy was involved in both, and creative types tend to like to collaborate on multiple projects.

Except that Chris Colfer, who plays Kurt on Glee, was not in Running With Scissors. That was Joseph Cross. Here they are, with Colfer on top, and Cross on the bottom. (And no, that's not a gay joke, even though both actors play gay characters in their respective shows/films. Colfer is actually gay, and I can't tell the status of Cross, though he also played a gay character in Milk.)

Okay, maybe it's not an overwhelming similarity when you look at them side by side. But when we finished watching the movie last night, I told my wife that this was the guy who had created Glee, and she admitted that she'd spent the whole movie thinking that Joseph Cross looked like the kid on Glee. Unprompted from me, mind you.

Murphy is also gay, so it's not a stretch that he sees something about himself in both Augusten Burroughs and Kurt Hummel. No doubt he identifies with Kurt, as he was an openly gay high school student who sang in the choir. And since he also saw a therapist as a younger man, it seems pretty clear he also identifies with the scarred upbringing of Augusten Burroughs, who was legally adopted by his therapist at the promptings of his own mother.

Murphy is certainly not alone in casting similar-type actors over and over, but instead of giving you a thorough compendium of the others who display this tendency, I'll just mention one: Woody Allen. And in his case, it seems to be modeled after his own life, as well.

Everyone knows that Woody Allen became obsessed with Scarlett Johansson in recent years, as she appeared in three of his films between 2005 and 2008 (Match Point, Scoop and Vicky Cristina Barcelona.) It's logical to see his love affair with Soon-Yi Previn mirrored in his obsession with Johansson, though of course Previn and Johannson look nothing alike. However, when it became clear that Allen had to eventually cast another actress in order not to seem fixated on ScarJo to the exclusion of all others, he did cast another young blonde: Evan Rachel Wood, in Whatever Works.

Whatever Works is a useful film to examine in this discussion for other reasons: Woody also cast the next best thing to himself as the star of the film, Larry David. Clearly, David's character is a role Allen would have ordinarily played, and it's not like David is such a spring chicken relative to Allen -- he's only 11 years younger. But maybe Allen was trying to deflect accusations that it was just another wish fulfillment fantasy of a really old man bedding a very young girl -- which is what happens in Whatever Works -- by using David instead of himself.


Simon said...

I'm not a fan of either of those movies--while I see your point about wish fulfillment/author avatar--I'd like to know why you stopped watching Glee.

(I mean, I just don't get the big deal. It's shitty drama, lame musical numbers, occasionally funny bits, emotional act-ting, end)

Vancetastic said...

Well, you summed it up pretty well. Each week someone was quitting the glee club (usually Rachel, played by Lea Michele), and each week the glee club was on the verge of not existing, and each week the football team or the cheerleaders were picking on the dorks ... the repetition was exhausting us. We were not the right demographic in the first place, in our late 30s and not particularly inclined toward musicals in the first place. Oddly enough, we saw the second episode before we saw the first one -- it was the second one that got us excited and prompted us to continue watching for another, oh, 15 weeks. If we'd seen the first one first, we may never have picked it up. Odd how that works sometimes.