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Thursday, February 22, 2024

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Arts + CultureMoviesScreen Grabs: Nancy in the House

Screen Grabs: Nancy in the House

Daughter's doc may be softball, but conveys Pelosi's wild tenure. Plus: Xmas thrills in 'The Apology'

One sure measure of how far over to the darkside much of the conservatosphere has gone is the speed with which any major public event now acquires its own conspiracy theorizing, hatched from “evidence” no more terra firma than the fevered imagination of some mom’s-basement-dwelling “patriot,” or the talking-points checklist of a Russian troll-farm supervisor. Yet another such nadir was hit when Paul Pelosi got seriously injured by one very Trumpy home invader in Pacific Heights in late October.

That hammer-wielding perp shouted “Where’s Nancy?!?” a la the January 6th insurrectionists, making his alt-right-nutcase agenda crystal clear. But of course the alt-right wasn’t accepting that, its subsequent fantasies including the one that 82-year-old father of five must have been attacked by his half-that-age gay lover, because… well, it’s San Francisco! That’s where the gay stuff happens!! How could he not be gay?! (For the record: SF does have a high LGBTQ+ population, in relative terms. Even so, it is estimated as a not-quite-whopping 6% share of city residents.)

Mr. Pelosi is still recovering, and the incident evidently expedited his wife’s decision to retire as Speaker of the House of Representatives, a position she’s held since 2019, as well as 2007-2011. She’s also been House Minority Leader, House Democratic Caucus Leader, House Majority Whip, a California State Representative in the US House (since 1987), and Chair of the state Democratic Party (at the start of her political career in the early 1980s).

There’s a lot to be said in favor of torch-passing, and Pelosi has certainly been considered part of an entrenched Old Guard progressives would like to see the back of for some time. On the other hand, even those who considered her a relic of excessively slow-to-change party hierarchy have had to admit that during impossible recent years, she kicked ass. Her unflappable professionalism consistently made the Trump administration look foolish—in exchange for which of course they demonized her—responding to its nonstop theater by offering a few golden public moments in which she personified the attitude of “Thinking Adult Politely Appalled By Giant Manbaby.”

Pelosi in the House is thus extremely well-timed, since (while its subject says she’ll remain a Representative for the time being) her stepping down as Speaker marks the end of an epoch. The documentary, which premiered earlier this week on HBO (and can be streamed on HBO Max), is and isn’t the career-summarizing/evaluating statement one might hope for at this juncture, but then it wasn’t conceived as such. It’s also shot, directed and produced by the subject’s daughter Alexandra Pelosi, a veteran nonfiction filmmaker whose kind of insider status both heightens access and limits analysis. Let’s face it, she’s not gonna ask Mom any really discomfiting questions, or drill her about her record.

It’s a softball portrait. Yet the external events it records grow so berserk, In the House can’t help but reinforce the notion that Nancy Pelosi was born to be the cool-headed grownup in the room… particularly as our political climate otherwise grows evermore dominated by tantrum-throwers.

There’s a pretty speedy recap of her life and career (slowing down just a bit for one Obama-era flashback to the Herculean efforts required to pass, then keep, the Affordable Care Act) before she, and we, collide with the surreal challenges of Trumplandia. By 2019’s jingoism-choked State of the Union address, even her formidable tact is fraying. Beforehand, she tells the press “Let’s just think in a positive way… (that) every moment takes us closer to the next election.” Afterward, she confides to staff and daughter, “There’s so much crap in his speech. He lied so much, and fear-mongered…. A very dangerous man…. Disgusting.”

Still, the worst is yet to come: When Twitler incites his mob to attack the Capitol on January 6 of the next year (at first suggesting he’ll go with them), she fumes “I’m gonna punch him out, I’m gonna go to jail, and then I’ll be happy” before having to evacuate the premises. Though scant time has passed since, it’s still stupefying to rewatch the videos of his goon squad running amuck amidst the halls of democracy, acting like drunken vandals after a Super Bowl game.

The film pretty much ends with Biden’s inauguration (“If Trump wins, I’m outta here” she’s said earlier), though not before noting the degree of “misinformation, mockery, violence” his predecessor and his doofus army continue to direct against perceived enemies—including Paul Pelosi, though that dismal chapter goes unmentioned here.

Pelosi In the House is not the most balanced or thorough possible weighing of a long, complex, important career. But in its relatively narrow focus on how a shipshape yet nonetheless elderly politician maintained course during the stormiest seas imaginable, it manages to be quite entertaining, fairly enlightening, and more than a bit sobering. Not to mention rather mind-boggling, as so much of American political reality is nowadays.

Mother and daughter relations is also a theme of Alison Star Locke’s debut feature The Apology, which opens in limited theaters this Fri/16, simultaneous with its launch on streaming platforms Shudder and AMC+. Nineteen years sober, Darlene (Anna Gunn) is spending Christmas Eve preparing to host her first Xmas family gathering in two decades—ever since her 16-year-old daughter disappeared. Once they’ve finished all advance kitchen duties, helpful neighbor Gretchen (Janeane Garofalo) goes home, and Darlene settles into bed. Then the doorbell rings.

It is her former brother-in-law Jack (Linus Roache), who has also long been absent from extended-family life. At first his appearance is a pleasant surprise. Then the conversation turns provoking. Then things get rather sinister—Jack isn’t here to bring season’s tidings. What he does want to share is something ugly enough that he’s willing to hold Darlene captive at gunpoint in order to get her full attention.

Gunn and Roache spend much of the film’s remaining hour or so in various states of emotional and physical extremis. (Garofalo returns only for a climactic stretch). They are more than good enough actors to make it work—despite a certain lack of basic plausibility, as well as much depth in the writing of Jack’s character. For all its twistiness in a hectic, almost real-time scenario, this is a fairly simple story, and the snowbound single-interior setting doesn’t make for great cinematic excitement. But the urgent performances and pacing keep this small film engrossing, if not particularly memorable.

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