Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty

Special exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through August 7.

One can easily imagine the late designer Alexander McQueen as a painter or a sculptor. His artistic point of view is so strong that it seems to transcend the medium; it could work elsewhere. At the same time, one of the best things about his work is the craftsmanship itself: the embrace of his particular medium and the impeccable, intricate construction of each piece.

Walking through the Met’s retrospective of McQueen’s too-short career, one is dazzled by both the grand vision and the finely wrought detail, and I think it’s that—the union of stunning creativity and stunning technique—that makes his work fit in so well in an art museum. It’s what makes this art.

The Tiger’s Wife

By Téa Obreht. Published in 2011.

The copyright page of The Tiger’s Wife includes the words “Portions of this book appeared previously in The New Yorker in different form”—the tell-tale line reflecting the fact that author Téa Obreht made her name (and quite likely sold her then-unfinished novel) as a short story writer, eventually expanding or repurposing or otherwise adapting a few of her acclaimed stories into her debut novel. That’s not at all uncommon, nor is it a practice exclusive to first-time novelists, but it does sometimes result in novels that feel fragmented rather than whole, with one or two better-polished parts jutting out awkwardly, never quite melting into the larger work.

The Tiger’s Wife is, without question, an episodic novel—one can easily see how individual chapters could have functioned as stand-alone stories—but in this case, the fragmentation works for the novel rather than against it. In many ways, it is a novel about stories: present and past, myth and legend and memory, told and retold and loosely woven together, underlying patterns gradually revealing themselves.


In theaters.

The end of a romantic relationship might be more dramatic, the heartbreak more obvious, but the feeling that a once close friendship is fading can be just as painful, in part because there usually isn’t any obvious “break up,” only an unacknowledged growing distance papered over with an extended charade that everything is just as it was, even as it becomes increasingly apparent that everything is not. That hurts when you’re a kid, and it still hurts when you’re an adult, and Bridesmaids dramatizes that as well as any movie I’ve seen. Underneath the considerable hilarity—sometimes ribald, sometimes crude, sometimes simply goofy—is the kind of sadness and truth that marks all great comedy. Bridesmaids is probably too scattered and shaggy to achieve that kind of greatness itself, but its humanity and warmth elevate it nonetheless. Plus, it’s absolutely fucking hilarious—I did mention that, right?


In theaters.

Oh, Thor. What can I say? This latest superhero movie is such a mediocrity that I can’t work up much energy for an opinion—and I’m the sort of person who has an opinion on everything. It’s genial and mildly amusing, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously—it’s pleasant enough—but ultimately, it’s underwhelming. As comic-book heroes go, Thor is more two-dimensional than most, and not a particularly interesting two dimensions at that. The cast is probably above average, but the special effects, the story, and the pacing are only OK. I suppose Thor might be worth watching on TV if it turns up on cable on rainy day, but beyond that … whatever.

Sleep No More

A Punchdrunk theatrical presentation by Emursive running through July 9 (extended).

Atmosphere only gets you so far, and with few exceptions, atmosphere was all I got from Sleep No More, a site-specific theatrical presentation in an extravagantly modded-out warehouse on 27th Street. Performers slink down the dark corridors in between elaborately choreographed scenes in the elaborately decorated rooms—followed all the while by a free-roaming audience wearing creepy white plague masks—and it’s all very moody and portentous. Honestly, though, once I got over the novelty of the thing, that moody portentousness started to feel hollow.

I hesitate to be too catty on this point, however, because I suspect part of the problem was a simple lack of compatibility between me and the show. Yes, audience members are free to wander wherever they like, but to get much out of the story, they really ought to follow the performers to catch the scenes. This leads to mobs of people tailing the characters through the building, rushing en masse up staircases, and squeezing tightly into too-small rooms, and my inclination, when faced with these scenarios, was always to flinch and head off in the opposite direction. Occasionally, I’d sigh and find a place in the back of the room, near a doorway, but this didn’t always afford me a great view, and I burned out on the whole claustrophobic ordeal after about an hour, so I’ll readily admit that I didn’t get the complete Sleep No More experience. That being said, what I did experience struck me as rather shallow.

The Book of Mormon

Now playing at the Eugene O’Neill Theater on Broadway.

Religion has always been one of the more interesting satiric targets of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park. Take “Red Sleigh Down,” a shockingly violent 2002 episode in which Santa Claus and his reindeer are shot down over Iraq. The South Park boys convince Jesus (an occasional recurring character) to save Santa, who is enduring subplots straight out of Three Kings, and together they manage to extract the prisoner. As they make their escape, however, Jesus is killed, and back in the United States, a distraught Santa Claus tearfully tells the people of South Park—as he decks the town out in holiday finery and distributes toys—that from that day forward Christmas should be a day to remember Jesus and his sacrifice, for that’s what made all this Christmas joy possible. It’s an essentially conservative message (not at all unusual for the show, incidentally) delivered in this most audaciously warped way possible, somehow managing to be both sacrilegious and reverent.

That kind of sweetly profane, irreligious religiosity is also what you get from The Book of Mormon, Parker and Stone’s new musical with Robert Lopez, one of the creators of Avenue Q (which was more than a little reminiscent of South Park itself), and as a musical, it’s an unqualified success. Parker, Stone, and Lopez clearly know the genre (South Park has been evoking it and riffing on it for years), and although they have fun alluding to classics like The Sound of Music and The King and I, they don’t get bogged down in meta cleverness. The Book of Mormon isn’t staged in air quotes; it’s a full-throttle, unabashed musical, with tuneful songs and energetic choreography invariably presented with skill and verve.

As for the satire, it isn’t always so sure-footed. The two central characters, a pair of young Mormon missionaries sent to spread the word in Africa, are sharply realized, but Africa itself is treated with murky, problematic inconsistency, and the conclusion lapses into sentimentality, unwilling to face head-on the ramifications of its critique of religion. I understand why, but it still leaves me dissatisfied. As much as I applaud the heartfelt performances and the witty, nimble lyrics, I can’t quite shake the feeling that the creators of South Park have gone soft.