Home / WorldTech / HBO’s ‘coastal elites’ are a well-meaning embarrassment: recap

HBO’s ‘coastal elites’ are a well-meaning embarrassment: recap

Coastal elites has nothing nice to say about Trump. But he should be flattered anyway.

The film, written by Paul Rudnick and directed by Jay Roach, consists of “five desperate confessions from people who can barely cope with the new normal”. This “new normal” appears to be referring to the pandemic built into the structure of the film: each of the five segments are shot from a distance, and all but one are presented under the guise of socially distant activity.

But really, the “new normal” means Trump. All clues are defined by her relationship with the President: Miriam (Bette Midler) is a Jewish grandma who was arrested after an argument over a MAGA hat; Kelly (Issa Rae) is a former Ivanka classmate who wonders what̵

7;s beneath the first daughter’s quiet smile. Clarissa (Sarah Paulson) is a YouTube meditation guru who is losing her chill after quarreling with her Trump-loving relatives.

This movie about Trump is so pinned that it even gets wedged into segments that don’t need it. In “Supergay (March)”, the second and strongest chapter of Coastal elitesMark (Dan Levy) unloads his current audition for a gay superhero role in a virtual therapy session Justice LeagueBlockbusters. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for an actor who has lost parts of being, um, “sophisticated,” and yet Mark feels uncomfortable playing his Quirk at the behest of a straight studio manager who envisions a mostly straight audience .

Rudnick’s script is thoughtful and empathetic with Mark’s internal conflict, basing the superhero story on believable details, and realizing that there is no easy answer or obvious solution. And Levy plays the part beautifully, excitement and anger and confusion and sadness wrestling across his face. But then his monologue comes to Pence, painting the vice president as the supervillain of Mark’s superhero.

HBO's 'coastal elites' are a well-intentioned embarrassment

The turnaround isn’t necessarily unjustified – Pence’s anti-LGBTQ work is well documented and certainly affects the way many LGBTQ people think about their own work. But “Supergay (March)” feels like a missed opportunity. There’s a rich mine to be found in Mark’s discomfort with the not-so-advanced guidelines of his supposedly liberal industry, and yet Coastal elites leaves it barely touched, eager to get back to the railing against Trump. As if none of these issues existed before or outside the Trump administration and would no longer exist if only Trump was voted out.

Similarly, “The Blonde Cloud (June)” squirts a fascinating main character in Kelly, a Black Lives Matter protester who recently visited the Trump White House for an independent business lunch with her wealthy father. You’d think a movie that mocked unsuspecting liberals would address the tension inherent in that premise. Instead, Coastal elites Kelly half-heartedly psychoanalytically analyzed Ivanka and her father for 15 minutes without ever reaching a point. The segment just seems to exist Coastal elites can recognize the protests – and maybe because without Kelly, Coastal elites would be a purely white matter.

Coastal elites is so busy being angry with Trump that it forgets to do anything else at all.

At least Rae, like Levy, is a natural in this format. Observe Coastal elites on your computer, and their segments are made up of patterns as a friendly zoom call. Other segments are more clumsy with the imagination, and other actors are less able to roll with it. “Lock Her Up (January)” is supposedly an interview Miriam gave to a cop at the table, but Midler appears to be playing in the back row of a Broadway theater. “Because I need to talk to someone (May)” is framed as a sideways YouTube livestream, but if Clarissa is busy getting off the rails in front of a green screen, who keeps playing with the camera angles?

These inconsistencies might be more forgivable if either Miriam or Clarissa had something interesting to say, but both speeches feel ported as of early 2017, though Clarissa makes references to social distancing and mask-wearing in the latter. At this point, it’s simply no news that Trump’s election was annoying for Clinton voters and exciting for Trump voters, or that families and friendships have been broken down by party line and neither of the two narratives brings anything new to the table.

With all missteps in the first four segments, however, this is only the case at the end Coastal elites Graduates from just annoying to grossly cynical. The fifth and final segment looks at the human cost of the pandemic and focuses on a nurse in New York at the height of the coronavirus crisis in April. It’s a beautiful play by Kaitlyn Dever that shows us both the lively woman Sharynn used to be and the delicate, fragile woman she has become in recent weeks.

HBO's 'coastal elites' are a well-intentioned embarrassment

But this segment isn’t really about Sharynn, death, or the coronavirus. It’s about Trump. That’s why Sharynn is a nurse, not from New York, but from Wyoming. To like Irresistible, Coastal elites is based on the fantasy that the coasts are completely populated by non-contact snobs who have studied too much books and not gained enough life experience, while somewhere in the American heartland there exists a virgin oasis of pure and simple people, untouched by the people of cynicism modern life.

“We don’t say that in Wyoming!” Sharynn wonders about a sick joke she heard from a patient in New York. But we never find out what kind of jokes they tell in Wyoming, because what the film convinces about Wyoming is not what it is, but what it is not, what New York is. And what it sees in Sharynn and all of its other characters are not people, but voters. Not even voters defined by their own hopes or ideals or principles, but entirely by their position on Donald Trump.

Coastal elites is so busy being angry with Trump that it forgets to do anything else at all. Trump is the only lens through which these characters look at the issues that matter to them. Opposing Trump is the only way any of them can express their love for the people around them. The psychoanalysis of Trump and his staff is the only tool they can use to solve their own problems. Trump is the reason everything is bad – not a Reason but the Reason – and voting Trump is the only tool this movie suggests to change any of this at all.

The characters of Coastal elites would claim to hate Trump. Miriam, in particular, claims to go to bed angry with him every night and wake up in a panic about him every morning. But at least in a sense Coastal elites‘Heroes and villains are perfectly matched: everyone agrees that the whole world revolves around Trump.

Coastal elites is now streamed on HBO and HBO Max.

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