Michael Clayton

In theaters.

We’re used to seeing George Clooney project buoyancy. Even when he’s not pulling off Las Vegas casino capers, even in more serious films (The Good German, for example), he seems like someone who believes in happy endings. It’s an old-fashioned sort of quality (I mean that in a good way), and it’s reassuring.

None of that buoyancy can be seen in Michael Clayton, though. The movie is unsettling in large part because Clooney himself seems so unsettled. From the very beginning of the film, he exudes demoralized, despairing self-loathing—which I might have taken more in stride coming from another actor, but which rattled me coming from Clooney. Clayton reminded me of how Alfred Hitchcock used to cast James Stewart as his (anti-)hero: the discomfort of seeing all-American Jimmy descend into neuroses and corruption and ugliness made the movies that much more troubling. By this, I mean no disrespect to either Clooney or Stewart. Both are to be admired for their ability to subvert their movie star personas in service to a darker work. In fact, Michael Clayton is a perfect example of that.

Dirty Sexy Money and Gossip Girl

Dirty Sexy Money, Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC. Five episodes into the first season.

Gossip Girl, Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on CW. Six episodes into the first season.

As Susan Sontag famously defined it, enjoyment of camp is detached, experienced in air quotes. True camp is gloriously, extravagantly, guilelessly superficial, which is what makes it such a delicious guilty pleasure.

Dirty Sexy Money and Gossip Girl have their moments, but neither reaches that level of glorious superficiality. I watch them, but I know in my heart that both are often merely stupid, rather than transcendently stupid, so, ironically, l end up feeling sheepish for enjoying such mediocre guilty pleasures. I’m doubly guilty, and not in a good way.


At New York City Center on Wednesday, October 17.

Mild disappointment is so disheartening. You don’t get to be angry or disgusted, no ranting, no nasty barbs, just the sheepish regret of having set expectations too high. I had been so excited about choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s new company. His work is nearly always among my favorites on the New York City Ballet’s programs, and even when I’m not sure I like a piece, it fascinates me and lingers in my memory.

So the premiere of Morphoses was a letdown. There were lovely, charming moments, of course—Wheeldon’s pas de deux are intricately entwined, and he creates beautifully striking tableaus with his ensembles—but nothing on the program seized me. Nothing left me breathless. Nothing (ahem) made me eager to write.


After having been sidelined for months by a mild wrist sprain, I’ve finally been able to return to yoga classes, and as much as I’m enjoying it, the return has been difficult, too.

My Kid Could Paint That

In theaters.

The story of My Kid Could Paint That shifts several times over the course of the documentary. Initially, it’s about what it means to be a prodigy. Later it evolves into a discussion of how we experience and assess modern art. But ultimately, it becomes a meditation on the twenty-four-hour media machine’s use and abuse of “human interest” subjects, the ethics of turning an individual’s life into a bite-sized narrative, and the responsibilities that journalists do and do not have toward the private people they cover. That’s a lot to pack into barely eighty minutes of footage—I wish that documentarian Amir Bar-Lev have delved deeper—but despite the film’s shortcomings, it prompted a great deal of thoughtful, provocative, heartfelt discussion in my home, and honestly, what more can you ask of a documentary?

Lucia di Lammermoor

The Metropolitan Opera on Friday, October 5.

Usually I’m not particularly moved, one way or the other, by acting in opera. In good operas, the music provides all the “acting” necessary, and everything extraneous to that is mere filigree on an already impressive monument. But Natalie Dessay made me lose my indifference. Starring in the Met’s new production of Lucia di Lammermoor (a very good opera), she delivers not only a dazzling vocal performance but also a dramatic performance to match.


By Ann Patchett. Published in 2007.

Ann Patchett has the remarkable ability to simultaneously ground her work in reality and spin it into fairy tale. Her novels are both of this world and otherworldly, rich in hard, telling detail that somehow transubstantiates into something magical and fragile.

That sense of grace grows in large part from her choice to tell her suspenseful stories without using villains. An idealist (though not a blind one), she chooses to see the good in all her characters, even, famously, a band of terrorists (“one man’s terrorist…” notwithstanding). It’s an incredible tightrope act, threatening to pitch into callow schmaltz at any second, but to my mind, at least, Patchett succeeds, persuasively conveying the humanity of all her characters. The worlds of The Magician’s Assistant and The Patron Saint of Liars and especially Bel Canto are, perhaps, more beautiful than our own, but under Patchett’s spell, those worlds don’t seem so very distant.

Patchett’s newest novel, Run, fits neatly within her oeuvre. It, too, is an almost fable-like tale of good people in intriguing, artfully drawn circumstances. It doesn’t have the gorgeously magical air of Bel Canto, but with its lyrical writing and gently humanistic perspective, it still has its enchanting moments.