Wednesday, May 23, 2007

You've Got Mush; or, Lucy in the Sky with Diabetes

[A version of a snarky column I wrote for Metro Now. Am hoping to get as much troll-mail from Meg Ryan fans as I do from lovers of Julia Roberts and Sanjeev Kumar]

Fear of flying is manifest in different ways. There’s the nervousness about the technology involved (despite all the reassurances about aircraft being the safest mode of travel, no one who hasn’t taken a five-year course in aerodynamics will ever understand how the thing can even stay up in the air the way it does); the vaguely Icarian sense that one is defying the Fates by engaging in an activity that man was never intended for; the feeling of complete loss of control, of putting one’s life in the hands of a drunk engineer, a malfunctioning vertical stabilizer (I’ve been reading up on these things) or a brooding pilot who lost at cards the previous evening.

But the most terrifying thought of all, the thought that really chills the soul, is this: if something were to go wrong, one might die while watching a Meg Ryan film. And wouldn't one then be condemned to repeat those final moments through eternity?

I’ve come to think of Ms Ryan as a personal nemesis, for her movies – two, three of them at once – have featured on the in-flight entertainment system of every long-haul plane I’ve been on in the past few years. It’s easy to understand why her films are a wet dream for an airline’s entertainment programmer. In-flight movies must be chosen with care. They should be soft and gooey so as to soothe potentially frayed nerves. There must be no scenes that might unsettle a viewer or ring close to the perceived dangers of the flying experience. For example, a documentary about 9/11 would not be the correct choice. A film about a hijacking or deadly turbulence that rips a plane to shreds would be similarly inappropriate. And as we now know, Richard Branson cameos must be censored lest they should cause passengers to think violent thoughts.

But surely there are alternatives to films that turn you into a blob of sucrose in your seat or make you want to throw the window open and barf into the troposphere. In case you’ve stubbed Meg Ryan out of your memory, she was the archetype of the all-American sweetheart, a Betty Cooper made flesh and blood, the star of numerous “meet cute” romantic comedies such as Prelude to a Kiss, You’ve Got Mail and French Kiss (what kind of person stars in two films with the word “kiss” in the title?). These were movies that caused a cumulative rise in blood-sugar levels in the northern hemisphere through the 1990s, and though some of them weren’t exactly bad, little Meg had the same bland, unthreatening cuteness in all of them – the sort of quality that would appeal to a 14-year-old boy with a poet’s soul, looking for a girl to hold hands with or an ethereal, inaccessible older cousin to heroine-worship from afar. (Okay, so I admit to having had a minor crush on her myself when I saw Sleepless in Seattle at 15, but one grows out of these things, right? Part of the joy of getting older is becoming cynical and world-weary, and less tolerant of people who are uncomplicatedly sweet.)

Such was the unholy wholesomeness of her screen persona that even when she tried to stretch her range by playing a career-savvy smart-Alice (in Against the Ropes) or an alcoholic (When a Man Loves a Woman; one of four Meg Ryan films that had the word “love” in the title) or rocker Jim Morrison’s long-suffering girlfriend (The Doors), all you wanted to do was to pinch her cheeks and feed her a bowl of Cerelac. As the square said to the circle, “Where’s the edge?”

As the passenger said to the air-steward, “Give me whishky, shoda and lotsh of Russ Meyer. Or at least some Rajkumar Kohli.”


  1. "Part of the joy of getting older is becoming cynical and world-weary, and less tolerant of people who are uncomplicatedly sweet."

    Hmmm....How tragic yet true.

  2. Can forgive her everything for WHMS. And not just the fake orgasm scene either.


  3. I think you're being a bit harsh on Ms. Ryan. I think her complete lack of range is actually her chief virtue - it means that you know exactly what you're going to get before you even start watching the film, and that any and all of her films are guaranteed to provide that gooey, warm sugar high that you can otherwise only get by eating strawberry jam with a spoon. That kind of consistency is valuable. Watching Ms. Ryan's movies is the cinematic equivalent of reading Harry Potter - it's a great way to sink back and stop thinking. And she's particularly useful on flights because you don't have the worry of having to stay awake to find out what happens in the end (or of missing the ending because the flight lands) - you already know how it's going to turn out.

    That said, casting her in the Doors has to be one of the worst casting decisions of all time - I can't think of anything more calculated to ruin the vibe of that film.

  4. You should really watch Jane Campion's In The Cut to get a different facet of Meg Ryan. Not that she's very good there, but she's adequate, and as a bonus you get to see her boobs...and more!

  5. haha... more snarky columns please!

  6. Shan: have seen In the Cut, didn't leave too much of an impression. Or maybe that's just my reflexive response to an actor trying too hard to step out of a well-established persona.

    For what it's worth I thought she was more than adequate in a Sleepless in Seattle, Joe Vs the Volcano and a couple of other early films.

    Alok: I don't know...there's something intrinsically unsatisfying about the limited-wordlength column format. Not too comfortable with it. That's why I haven't been putting most of them up here.

  7. Falstaff: what do you know? Reading Harry Potter makes me think! And what if someone cast Julia Roberts as Joni Mitchell?

    J.A.P.: you probably just have a soft corner for WHMS because you were young when it came out.

  8. So you've finally read Harry Potter?

  9. you can always put up unedited pieces here. I am sure your columns are often bowdlerised!

    I remember one post, where you had put things rejected by your editors. one of the funniest things i read here. can't find it now.. it doesn't seem to be on the right bar.

  10. Shrabonti: where did I say that? I just said reading it makes me think - that could mean anything!

    Alok: No, I write the columns to the exact word-length in the first place, which makes them not-very-blog-like. Have to try and work around that somehow.

  11. If Meg Ryan's movies are the celluloid equivalent of Harry Potter, why don't they just show the Harry Potter movies on flights and render Ms. Ryan unemployed. I guess because Harry Potter involves flying, and the risks associated with falling off a broomstick moving at at least 60 miles an hour.

    Then again, I would probably prefer Ms. Ryan's candy floss to Harry Poster. Wouldn't really know since I haven't watched or read anything with Potter in it.

    Maybe they should make an epic for patrons of this genre: When Harry Met Saali starring Ms. Ryan as Potter's (if he still looks 14) target for his older woman fetish.

  12. Meg Ryan is a legend because she has a movie category all her own: The Meg Ryan flick. One of these days Blockbuster will break down and mark out a section.

    So whenever I watch previews of these types of films (like say Cheeni Kum), she is in my thoughts.

    Hey, was that passenger Sean Connery by any chance?

  13. I used to hate Meg Ryan too. That unbearable cuteness. That blonde hair (though fabulous Sally Hershberger cut). That baby face.

    Then I grew up. Oh for the innocence of the twenties when you can be cynical about Meg Ryan before realizing that its all a rite of passage toward adulthood. Like smoking or something.


  14. Going on a bit on the title (and i think reaching no where)...

    I got to know that somebody I know has got diabetes, a couple of days ago. And so my initial reaction to the title was - gee that's not good taste. And then, from Scott Adam's blog - people are more likely to get offended on account of someone else than on their own. So, do you think it would be just as much bad taste and much less offensive, if the title was "..., or, Lucy in the Sky with a brown skin" considering of course you could write an article about it.

  15. Ah! I think you’re being a tad unfair. I agree with some of what you say, but my favourite Meg Ryan movie of all time is Addicted to Love. Maybe you should watch Courage Under Fire too, if not for her but because its just a great movie.

  16. It not the effect of diabetes it a effect of movies

  17. Thank you for making me laugh! Poor Meg, still i respect her greatly for peeling the apple skin off an apple without it breaking!

  18. but you forget in the cut! meg ryan's turning-things-upside-down movie. from what i remember of the review, the movie had sexually explicit scenes and a darker image of hers. so the 14 year's old fantasy did grow, didnt she? to become increasingly like a 17 year old's.

    hmm...even the movie was panned.

  19. Aspi: no, just a version of any middle-aged Indian male passenger ("whishky, shoda and lotsh of aish" being the usual refrain)

    Confused & Baffled: mentioned In the Cut in a previous comment.

    Neha: What if I’m offended by good taste? But yes, "Brown Girl in the Sky With Diabetes" wouldn’t be a bad headline.

    (Just for the record, I know people who have diabetes too!)

    GM: have seen Courage Under Fire. Anything with Denzel is bearable.

    ArSENik: Write a script!

  20. Shan,

    You got to see Meg Ryan's Boobs in the movie you mentioned ,although I haven't seen the movie in question and hence would not be competent to comment on her performance or lack of it . I have no illusions when I go back to you have got Mail ,proof of life and the much celebrated when Harry met sally. She was not great in any of the movies, Fake orgasms notwithstanding and I am sure if you have to sit through a movie to watch the Flat chested Diva's Mammary glory ; then excuse me! wouldn't Demi Moore,Monica Belluci and the likes provide more candy than Miss Dandy.

  21. Just as an afterthought , I don't really think Harry Potter is all that bad. It gives us a different way to look at children's books than say all the comic book heroes like Phantom, Mandrake , Flash Gordon and Superman.

    I have maintained in my discussions that the Potter books have got where they are because of a level of ingenuity shown by Mrs. Rowling . Rather than denigrating her it is a fact that Harry Potter sells like hot cakes throughout the year. I don't think that we can take it as a commentary on the falling literary merit of the society but appreciate it for the fact that this series has caught on the public fancy . For my money the characters are much more intriguing and complex than the Phantom's and the Mandrake's and also infinitely better than Narnia and even Lord of the rings which is too dark and has less funny moments.

    Clearly when you use the above Benchmark and classify the series in a particular Genre than Of course Potter is Good. At least it makes no pretensions of being Erudite like a Shiv Khera,Deepak Chopra and Paulo Coelho.

  22. I enjoy your reading what you write enough to not hold a grudge against your tasteful and distasteful jokes.

    Hope your grandma feels better and congrats on getting together with your partner.