1. Too many toddlers
2. Not enough preschools
3. Parents who will do anything for their children
4. Parents whose top priority is their children’s education
5. Parents who recognize the substantial social and educational advantages of the few very top Manhattan preschools
6. New York City and its tendency to increase overall stress (meaning both emphasis and pressure)
Result: a sort of combustible insanity as on the day after Labor Day every year some of the most ambitious, aggressive, status-oriented, and very highly motivated people in the world rev up for one of the most cut-throat competitions in America, admission to preschool in Manhattan. You think I’m exaggerating? Then remember that just a few years ago a scandal that brought down some of the biggest names in Wall Street had a top securities analyst changing his recommendation on a company in exchange for a contribution that eased his twins’ entry into a posh preschool. As he noted in his email on the subject, admission was statistically harder than getting into to Harvard. And yes, we are talking about 2 and 3-year olds. As the film-makers put it, “Cue the tears, hysterics and breakdowns–and that’s just the parents.”
“Nursery University” is a frank but not-unsympathetic look at what pretty much everyone agrees is the insanity of the process of applying to preschool in Manhattan, from the pricey consultants to the interviews of both parents and toddlers. The intricacies of pushing without being pushy, of conveying a family’s ability to provide support without sounding like you are name-dropping or trying to buy your way in, the challenges for families who are not wealthy are all here. The focus is on five applicants and their parents, from the speed-dial madness that begins today just to get the privilege of being permitted to apply to those are-they-thick-or-thin envelopes that arrive in the spring.
Bonus features on the DVD include deleted scenes and interviews with the parents and admission experts and even some advice for parents who may be entering this process themselves.
Two awful movies released last week, “Extract” and “All About Steve,” give me an opportunity to discuss one of my favorite topics, character actors. One of the best appears in both of them, the wonderful Beth Grant. Character actors are those people who seem vaguely familiar, but don’t often get mentioned in reviews or photographed on red carpets. They play the family members, best friends, thorns in the side, co-workers, explainers, or, often, the fiances/fiancees who get dumped so that the big romantic arc of the movie can reach a successful conclusion.
Beth Grant works steadily and often plays high-strung, picky types, as in “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Donny Darko.” Her appearances in these two most recent films provide some of the very few bright spots. I especially liked seeing her in “All About Steve” in a less straight-laced role.
Here is one of her most famous scenes, from “Donnie Darko:”
I was lucky enough to meet her at the Critic’s Choice awards in January of 2007. I made a short video of her dancing at the party afterward. She was gracious and completely charming.
So, cheers, Beth Grant! I hope you’re in a better movie next time, but know whether it is as good as “Donnie Darko” or as awful as “All About Steve,” you will never let me down.
Based on the book by based on the book by Mary Norton (also the author of The Borrowers,” Bedknobs and Broomsticks is the story of three Cockney children evacuated from London during WWII, who are placed with Miss Eglantine Price (Angela Lansbury), though she is reluctant to take them and insists it can only be temporary.
Miss Price is completing a correspondence course in witchcraft and has reached the level of “apprentice witch,” permitting her to fly on a broomstick. When she takes it out for a spin, the children see her, and, threatening to expose her, persuade her to let them into the magic. She then enchants the bedknob so that when it is twisted, it will take them wherever they want to go. When she receives word that the correspondence course has been canceled, she and the children go off together in search of the teacher, Professor Brown (David Tomlinson). He joins them, as they travel on the bed, first undersea and then to an island in another dimension, where the inhabitants are talking animals. On the island, they find the necklace containing the secret magic words they need for a spell to make intimate objects behave as though they were alive. Home again, they use that spell to fight off Nazi invaders. Afterward, Miss Price retires from witchcraft and Professor Brown joins the army, but it is clear they have become a family.
Many of the people behind “Mary Poppins” worked on this movie. While it does not have the same magic as “Mary Poppins,” there are some delightful moments, especially as Miss Price struggles to master basic witchcraft skills. The animated scenes on the island are done with a great deal of verve and imagination, especially the fast-moving slapstick of a soccer game featuring animal athletes, including an ostrich who sticks his head into the field whenever trouble approaches. The movie is long and episodic, and so lends itself well to viewing in shorter segments for restless younger children.
Many thanks to my childhood pal Bob Elisberg for this charming profile of my “bizarre” life in the Huffington Post.