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Movie Mom
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Gertrude Berg is described in this sympathetic and engaging documentary as an earlier version of Oprah. She wrote every word of over twelve thousand scripts. She played the lead role and oversaw every element of the programs on radio, in television, and in a feature film. She branched out to a line of clothing and a cookbook. She was the first “first lady of television” before Lucille Ball took the title. It is probably more due to Desi Arnaz’s three-camera system for making infinitely rerun-able tapes that has kept “I Love Lucy” in the forefront while shows of equal quality faded from the airwaves.

Aviva Kempner (The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg) has assembled archival footage and contemporary interviews to illuminate the life of this pioneering writer/actress/producer. The film may go too far in giving Berg credit for creating the sit-com, but it makes a convincing case for her stature and influence, even more impressive in light of the era’s bigotry and the restrictions on professional advancement for both Jews and women.

For many people, “The Goldbergs” was their first exposure to a non-stereotyped Jewish family. Among the film’s most affecting interviews are the comments from viewers who speak of what the show meant to them, including the daughter of a Holocaust survivor who says that since her mother had no family, they thought of the Goldbergs as their relatives, and from non-Jewish women who talk about how the series’ portrayal of family felt very much like their own experiences and cultures.

The saddest part of the film is the portion about Philip Loeb, who played Berg’s husband on the series until his name came up during the era of the blacklist. Berg showed great courage and integrity in fighting to keep him on the show and he showed great honor in insisting that the show go on without him. The tragic outcome is conveyed with great sympathy and feeling.

Kempner has a real gift for making these almost-forgotten lives fascinating and vital. Perhaps most important, the film made me sorry that the very intriguing clips from Berg’s television series didn’t go on longer. I’d like to spend more time with the Goldbergs.

I love this sly parody of the “Old Spice” commercials. Go libraries!

This movie’s best use could be population control. No one who sees it will want to get pregnant or raise children. It could also be used to show aspiring screenwriters what not to do.

Other than that, I can’t think of any reason not to ship it back to the studio and recycle the film stock. If you were planning to go see this film in theaters, I hope you have a back-up plan.

Zoe (Jennifer Lopez) has decided that not having a man in her life should not mean she does not have a child in her life. So, she goes to a doctor (Robert Klein) to get artificial insemination. And that very day, she meets Stan, a guy who could be The One (bland Alex O’Loughlin).

It could have worked. But instead of giving any thought to the interesting possibilities of the story, it is just another boneheaded replay of the dumbest sitcom pregnancy and parenting cliches. They scrape the bottom of the barrel and then they dig a little deeper. Zoe barfs. She gets super-hungry. She has hormonal swings. She gets depressed about getting fat. She worries that he won’t love her any more. And the costume designer seems to have been heavily influenced by “Flashdance.” Lopez’s bare shoulder appears so often it deserves its own trailer. O’Laughlin’s bare chest is so crucial to his performance it deserves an agent.

Meanwhile the movie wastes the time and talent of two brilliant comic actresses in supporting roles, Jennifer Elise Cox (unforgettable as Jan in the Brady Bunch movies and in one of the funniest scenes ever on “Will and Grace“) and Micheaela Watkins (Hoda Kotb and the blogger on “Saturday Night Live”). The adorable Melissa McCarthy (“Gilmore Girls”) and the very funny Anthony Anderson are stuck in roles with lines that pull them down like quicksand. Only Linda Lavin (television’s “Alice”) manages to maintain some dignity as Zoe’s Nana, engaged for decades (and if you guess her fiance is “Happy Days'” Mr. C., Tom Bosley, you are correctamundo).

There isn’t one fresh or believable or even sympathetic moment in the whole mess. Zoe and Stan are supposed to be endearing. She left her successful corporate job (with plenty of money socked away) for a cuddly little pet store and is so tender-hearted that her own pet is a dog who needs to have his back half supported on wheels. Stan lives on a farm, makes cheese, and is studying to get his college degree. But these are check-lists. They don’t add up to personalities. The movie clearly thinks these people are far more appealing to each other and to us than they really are. If first-time director Alan Poul and screenwriter Kate Angelo want us to care about these characters separately or as a couple, it might make sense to give us some reason to believe that they have the ability to care about anything other than themselves.

For one thing, this is a movie about pregnancy in which no one much likes babies or children. Zoe has a friend who repeatedly claims to hate her four children and shows no sense of responsibility or affection for them. Stan has a friend who describes parenthood as: “Awful, awful, awful, awful, and then something happens. And then awful….” Zoe goes to a single mother’s group with one member who insists on having the entire group in the room as she gives birth in a kiddie pool. Her grimaces and grunts are supposed to be funny. So is a dog chewing up a pregnancy test stick. So is a single mother who insists on breast-feeding a three-year-old. So is the water breaking in the middle of a conga line at a wedding. Not, not, not, not, not. At the exact moment we should be saying “Awwww….” we are thinking about calling Child Protective Services. Or Audience Protective Services.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a government agency, has listed cigarettes in movies as a key factor in teen smoking. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences has said that studies show a clear link showing that kids who watch movies with smoking are more likely to smoke.
So, it is a small step forward that the CDCP announced last Thursday that scenes of smoking in high-grossing films fell to 1,935 incidents last year, down 49% from the recent peak of 3,967 in 2005.
This may in part be the result of a change in 2007 that includes smoking incidence in MPAA ratings, following four years of requests from state attorneys general and other groups. The MPAA has refused, however, to make smoking an automatic R-rating, even with an exclusion for historical accuracy in films like “Good Night and Good Luck.” “On April 22, 2009, the MPAA interrupted North Carolina Senate debate on landmark smokefree workplace legislation to demand a loophole for smoking in film productions. ‘The motion picture industry worries the bill would prevent actors from smoking on screen,’ reported the Associated Press,” according to Smoke Free Movies. They were successful in getting an exemption written into the law.
A significant factor in reduced smoking onscreen may also be pressure from websites that specifically review smoking in movies. Smoke Free Movies, a project of Stanton A. Glantz, PhD, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, has a directory of actors with more than three smoking roles. Scene Smoking from Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails, shows how smoking is shown in films, classifying it by whether it is the lead actor, a credited non-star, or an extra, whether the brand is shown, and whether the smoker is a good guy or a bad guy.
The CDCP says:
Although the behaviors and attitudes of family and friends are the main influences on adolescent decisions to use tobacco, the media–films, television, and the Internet–also influence these decisions.5-8 According to recent studies,
* Current movie heroes are three to four times more likely to smoke than are people in real life.5,6,9
* Young people in the United States watch an average of three movies a week, which contain an average of five smoking episodes each, adding up to about 15 exposures to smoking a week. Young people may be exposed to more smoking in movies than in real life.
* A teen whose favorite star smokes is significantly more likely to be a smoker.
* Approximately two-thirds of films seen today show tobacco use, including films that are rated PG or PG-13 and intended for young audiences.
* Films depicting tobacco use are increasing and are reinforcing misleading perceptions that smoking is a widespread, socially desirable, and normal behavior, and they fail to convey the long-term consequences of tobacco use.
Smoke Free movies notes, “The 390,000 kids recruited to smoke each year by the smoking they see on screen are worth $4 billion in lifetime sales to the tobacco companies. And that’s just in the United States.”
The CDCP has a video about the influence of movie smoking on teens called “Scene Smoking: Cigarettes, Cinema and the Myth of Cool.” It is available for view online or by DVD.

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