On New Year's Day we went to the movies with my youngest daughter. I'd suggested The Grinch because 1) Benedict Cumberbatch and 2) Dr. Seuss. I love the first, she enjoys the second.
I was disappointed. In good part because Mister Grinch did not sound at all like the Cumberbatch I'm used to. He sounded, gasp, American. I gather that was on purpose, and his decision, too. But yeesh, I didn't like it one bit. I had to keep reminding myself that it was indeed him being so grouchy. But mostly I was disappointed because the film (very much like the original in that respect) was infuriatingly two-dimensional. Flat, even.
Good characters were odious they were so good. The dog was perfectly perfect. So was Fred the fat beast. Cindy Lou is always despicable if you ask me. I've seen a lot of kids in my life and I can tell you with absolute certainty that there is no way in hell such a perfect little darling exists anywhere, not even in magic stories. But in this latest version she's nothing compared to her mother - a desperately overworked shell of a human who despite all the reasons she has to bitch and snap on a regular basis chooses instead to be a model of annoying virtue. There's one bit near the beginning where she "vents" (she emphatically does not complain) about the sink being plugged where I thought, aha! she'll be interesting at least. But no. That very minor not-quite outburst vanished into a puff of frosty sugar plums.
So there's this overworked single mother to Angel Cindy and impossible twin boys who works nights as a nurse or something and works days as a beatific mother. She sleeps on the bus between her two occupations, evidently. But somehow she's still thin and lovely with not a single bag under her eyes. Cindy Lou struggles to come up with a plan to catch Santa so she can ask him to do something for her mom, because of course she's a fricking angel. At the risk of spoiling the movie for you if by sheer luck you've managed to avoid seeing it or any of the previous versions, she catches Mister Grinch in the process of stealing their presents and decorations instead, without realizing it's him. She is so sweet the air in the theatre got sticky. And of course it starts doing something to Mister Grinch's heart and blablabla. Rest of movie ensues happy ending etc.
Except for one thing. Cindy's mother never gets her break. There she is at the end welcoming a betied Grinch and about 600 other guests in her perfectly decorated house, having prepared a feast worthy of Whoville's decree that Christmas would be three times as big this year because why be annoying when you can be worth hanging, and aren't we all content to be happy in our tidy wonderful universe where the kitchen looks barely disturbed despite the 16 tonnes of lovingly prepared food on the impossibly long table.
Look. I know Dr. Seuss is into this kind of thing. That’s why patriarchal and parochial (but I repeat myself) conservatives (there I go again) love him so. I read all the books, and even used them to teach my kids how to read. He has a way with words and rhythm that is unparalleled. But his stories are syrupy as all hell. And not grade A maple syrup either. More like Aunt Jemima’s goo.
Something else. The mother angle reminded me of this anecdote Sheila Heti recounts in her Motherhood essay about a story she read featuring a rabbi who has a daughter and the daughter marries - as daughter should, you know - and has two boys and one girl. In the story the boys' names are given as well as their eventual occupations but the girl remains anonymous and purposeless. Heti figures the rabbi's daughter just grew up to be a wife and mother, which isn't really worth mentioning, unless of course she eventually gives birth to a son and his name gets written down somewhere.
"Putting the book down," Heti writes, "I realized that throughout most of history, it was enough for men that women existed to give birth to men and raise them. And if a woman gave birth to a girl, well then, with luck the girl would grow up to give birth to a man. It seemed to me like all my worrying about not being a mother came down to this history - this implication that a woman is not an end it herself. She is a means to a man, who will grow up to be an end in himself, and do something in the world. While a woman is a passageway through which a man might come."
Or, you know, a reformed Grinch. Bah.