Devin R Bruce is a friend to Variant Edition and to all good-hearted creatures who roam the Earth. In each installment of This Column Has Seven Days, Devin discusses his favourite pop culture experiences of the past week in an effort to share the joy of an overlooked gem, an old favourite that’s bubbled up to the surface, or a classic work that he’s finally gotten around to. Comic books, movies, television, novels, podcasts, music, Old Time Radio: there’s something for everyone. Here’s what he’s been up to this week.
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So last week I was incredibly busy putting together a charity fundraising show and couldn’t find the time to squeeze in a column. This week, though? This week I got you.
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Nine to Five is not the movie I was expecting. I figured it would be a decent but fluffy 80s “women in the workplace” comedy. Probably better than decent, considering the cast. But what I got was so much darker and more subversive, and I loved every minute of it.
Nine to Five starts off giving the audience a taste of its four main characters, all employees of the faceless Consolidated Companies, Incorporated. Violet Newstead (Lily Tomlin) is a single mother of four kids who basically runs the entire floor and is up for promotion, but still has to fetch coffee for the bigoted Franklin Hart, Jr. (the perfectly sleazy Dabney Coleman). Violet has to show around the slightly naïve Judy Bernly (Jane Fonda), a recent divorcée who’s looking to rejoin the workforce. And then of course there’s Doralee Rhodes (Dolly Parton), Hart’s friendly and attractive personal secretary, whom everyone mistakenly thinks is having an affair with the boss. Hart treats everyone who isn’t a rich white guy in a suit & tie like trash, and when he passes Violet over for promotion for a guy with less experience than her (and that she trained, no less), the three ladies go out for drinks and fantasize about how they might do him in. And then the movie gets really interesting.
The script takes a couple of very twisted turns, and goes much farther than I thought a studio comedy from 1980 would go, and though it sometimes seems like the wheels are about to come off, they never do. That’s partly the script and partly the power of the performers. Coleman is a tremendous character actor, and he’s perfectly awful as Hart. Fonda and Tomlin are both rock solid; their chemistry is so strong that they could have parlayed it a series of buddy comedies (and still works over thirty-five years later on Grace and Frankie). But it’s Dolly Parton that steals the show. In her first film role, Parton outshines everyone who shares the screen with her thanks to her charisma and her impeccable comic timing. Honestly, it would be worth watching just to see her. Nine to Five has plenty to recommend it and I’m glad I finally watched it.
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Kate Mulgrew’s Born With Teeth is a beautiful book. Since I first saw her (as Captain Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek Voyager, naturally), I have always thought of her as a Katharine Hepburn of the late 20th century, and after reading her memoir I find no issues with the comparison. To be fair, as I had the audiobook, it would be fairer to say that she read the memoir to me. Because I knew the book would have extra bite with Mulgrew’s voice giving life to her words.
As it’s a memoir and not an autobiography, there are moments that take up a great deal of real estate, and others that pass by quickly. There are stories of Mulgrew’s early life, growing up in a large Irish Catholic family on an estate called Derby Grange; stories of how she started out as an actor, trying to balance a well-paying television job with her love of the theatre; stories of love and family and the work that she honestly loves to do. Mulgrew picks each word with great care and lays them down precisely, and initially I was thrown by how intricately wrought each sentence was. But as I fell into the rhythm of her prose, I came to realize that she wasn’t putting on airs. This is how she thinks and how she speaks, as a lover of the English language and a great wielder of the power of words. There’s heartbreak and tragedy in Mulgrew’s stories, but also love and laughter too, and the book ends with so much more to tell. If we are all very lucky, she’ll give us a second volume before too long.
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That’s it for this week. Short and sweet, but packed with goodness. Like a sugar-dusted Hervé Villechaize. Until next time, stay cool. Or rather, stay warm; it’s December after all. I’ll see you in seven days.