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This is not a rom-com: Why the Four Weddings and a Funeral series is such a disappointment to fans of the film

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Edit: the below is based at the first four episodes, which at the time of writing I was under the impression was the whole miniseries. There’s now 5 episodes out and according to iMDB there’ll 10 all up (miniseries?). Although it’s clear I’m not really enjoying the show, I’m happy to catch up when it’s finished to see if my comments about pacing and character development still stand. I’m really glad ‘the end’ was not the end.

Well, look at the image above. We have to give them some points for vastly improving the diversity.

But was anything else an improvement? Four Weddings And A Funeral is probably not in my top 5 rom coms (if you’re wondering at the top 2 spots, it’s When Harry Met Sally and Bridget Jones’s Diary) but it’s certainly in the top 10. I love spending time with the characters, but the execrable acting from Andie MacDowell puts me off a little.

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*head explodes*

I’m just saying this movie put me off Andie MacDowell until she popped up in the greatest film of the last ten years, Magic Mike XXL, and I was given no choice but to stan.

Spoilers abound for the series below, btw.

So it turns out that Andie MacDowell provides our extremely tenuous link to the original film, as the mother of Rebecca Rittenhouse’s Ainsley.  We don’t discover this until episode 3, when she turns up to cut Ainsley off from the family money. This is all terrifically mysterious as quite recently in the diegesis Ainsley had a failed wedding, crossing over episode 1 in to episode 2, which apparently her parents decided….not to attend? It was quite a large wedding. It makes no sense. But nonetheless, there’s your connection.
(Note: Andie’s character is credited as “Mrs Howard” and not Carrie so….who knows, tbh. Given Carrie and Charles’s daughter is somewhat-canonically Lily James…)(also yes that clip confirms Carrie and Charles never got married so let’s just say it’s only a cameo and this entire thing is unlinked and they should have just named the whole show something else that would not invite comparison)

It turns out that, particularly when you only insert easily the most charm-less part of the film, it is incredibly difficult to recreate the charm of the first film. Yes, the movie is filled with toffs who we should probably not feel a lot of sympathy for because they’re pretty much all rich. However, they somehow manage to exude warmth, a genuine bond, and they all (Kristin Scott Thomas and Andie MacDowell – a literal model – excepted) sort of *look* like ordinary people – helped along by the fact that 1994 was simply not an extremely attractive time in our history as a people.

The show doesn’t help itself a long a whole bunch by centring around a bunch of beautiful Americans – going so far as to cast the wonderful…British… Nathalie Emmanuel as a Yank – who inexplicably all met in the UK for university and most of them ended up moving there. Leaving the show to be set in London, with a British supporting cast, but unavoidably American. The main cast can’t seem to nail the dry, self-deprecating humour that seems innately part of a British rom com (particularly one penned by Richard Curtis).

Nathalie particularly suffers, I believe, by the Four Weddings and Funeral project sharing a lot of key staff from The Mindy Project – most prominently Mindy herself but also producers, writers and directors. In the end, it feels like they’ve made Nathalie’s character Maya – in many ways, the main character of the series, the catalyst whose return to London sparks much of the plot – in to a Mindy-esque protagonist. Fast-talking, flawed, funny. But it isn’t until you notice it that you realise a lot of Mindy Kaling’s charm is extremely specific to herself.

It’s not helped that our first impression of Maya is her waking up in the bed of a married man. It’s hard to engender sympathy in me personally for a woman who’s either 30 or closing in to it, who definitely knows better and definitely knows he’s married, who is carrying out an affair. Nora Ephron just managed it in When Harry Met Sally, but….a) no-one on this writing staff is Nora Ephron and b) Marie was not one of the very main characters of When Harry Met Sally. It’s there in the name.

The miniseries format seems to have presented a challenge to these writers, very few of whom seem to have worked outside the weekly series format. They seem to want to have characters who are somewhat unlikeable to start out with (intense and jealous neighbour Gemma, rude and conducting-an-affair Maya, pining and insufferable writer Duffy) and bring us around to loving them. In a rom com film, you pretty much have to start out with having the characters you want the audience to like being likeable. In a series, you have the luxury of time to develop and endear. The pacing of this miniseries is off. Very few characters have coherent journeys, nor make the trip for unlikeable to likeable.

Let’s talk about Maya’s love life. Over the course of about 3 hours, she pines after her married boyfriend, dumps him when she realises he’s having an affair, sort of observes her best friend’s fiance Kash from afar while having the occasional flirty conversation about Mamma Mia! (which the show’s trailers want you to think is endgame, even though it would be messy), then suddenly at the end she’s kissing Duffy in the rain. Duffy spends the first bit of the series pining after Maya (who he’s had feelings for since uni), picks up with a fellow teacher at his school, and all of a sudden the end he’s dumped the teacher and is professing his love to Maya on her doorstep. Why did he dump her? We’ll never know, apart from the fact that she’s not Maya, which he’s always known. Apart from a few conversations about the death of her mother, there is almost no build-up on Maya’s side towards deciding she wants Duffy.

This is not a rom-com.

Do not buy that this show is a rom-com.

One of the best things the movie gave us was absolutely no romantic development between Fiona and Charles. Fiona wanted Charles, and we felt for her, but Charles didn’t see her that way. Even if we, as the audience, kind of thought they would be a great match, sometimes love is simply unrequited. Fiona let him know her feelings, and he treated her with honesty and kindness. It’s a more realistic portrayal of what sometimes happens between friends than grand gestures that first go unnoticed and then are suddenly reciprocated from nowhere.

Suffice to say, I did not ship it.

The only character who has a semi-sensible journey emotionally and takes the turn from unlikeable to likeable is Gemma, the extremely posh neighbour who has developed a (deeply possessive) friendship with Ainsley. Her jealousy is off the charts when Maya makes her return. I think we’re supposed to side with Maya, but all in all the female cattiness just comes off as distasteful all round, and Gemma presents as a caricature despite being part of the core cast. She barely develops in to a rounded character – with an emotional life outside the scope of her friendship with Ainsley – until her husband passes late in episode 3, with some of the best work in the series being her send-off to her husband and handling her son’s grief.

By the end of the series, we are left with a broken engagement, a death, a break-up, a secret child and an out-of-nowhere coupling which is only telegraphed by a seemingly unrequited pining. As such, it’s a struggle for such a show to recreate the warm fuzzy feeling you get when you finish a rom com. In fact, I finished it by yelling ‘WHERE THE FUCK DID THAT COME FROM’ at the telly.

Which might mean that the closest analogue is not a rom com, but a horror movie making a play for a sequel.

 

 

 

Why does The Bachelor casting skew so young?

A short bit of data nerdery today to support my main bugbear with The Bachelor casting.

Why in the world do they cast such young women?

Recently we were given the opportunity to learn about all 28 women cast to vie for Matt Agnew’s heart. Matt is 31 years old, by the way. What stuck out to me was how many bachelorettes have the number ‘2’ in front of their age.

Let’s pull out the numbers:

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There are in fact more bachelorettes under the age of 25 (7) than there are over the age of 30 (6). For a Bachelor who’s 31 years old. The average age is 27.4 or, if you’re one of those who prefer medians, it’s 26.5.

As much as we may claim that girls mature faster than boys, once you reach you’re thirties it’s pretty natural that you gravitate towards people in a similar stage of life as you.

This plays out in our Bachelors who have actually had successful relationships. Tim and Anna are the exception here, however. Lightning struck there with a 4-year age difference (out of curiously, I checked the average age of 30 year old Tim’s contestants and it was 27.9, which means they’re maybe moving further away from common sense).

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For the Bachelors we’ve actually come to like, coming on the show has generally been a reflection of a genuine desire to settle down (i.e the marriage and babies on this lot!)

Can we really presume that’s likely to happen when a bunch of fame-hungry folks in their early 20s are cast?

Drama is fun, but surely having several genuine possibilities to toss up between is even better?

If nothing else, it’d make the office sweeps more compelling.

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Not long now until we find out the extent of Channel 10’s lies when it comes to Matt Agnew and those glasses.

Likes does he just wear contacts, or does he have perfect 20/20 vision and this was solely a ruse to make him look like more of a nerd?

We’ll find out all this and the many more lies, manipulations and downright character assassinations production feeds us soon enough, but once again I won’t be recapping. I feel a bit weird writing about The Bachelor, because honestly? It inevitably ends up with me making fun of women, and I much prefer making fun of men.

Yes please go nuts on calling me a misandrist, at least my way of living life doesn’t end with me murdering those who reject me, so I still score one over misogynists.

I’ll be livetweeting over at vic_values in the meantime and I’ll reassess what the workload is like when The Bachelorette and Angie (who frankly I’d never heard of, but hey, clean slate!) rolls around.

 

 

Bachelor in Paradise 2019

Occasionally, I notice folks coming to binge-read my Bachie recaps, always a vaguely surprising event on my Stats page but nice nonetheless.

I wonder sometimes if they’re coming looking for more recent recaps. You might remember that last year I rage quit Bachelor in Paradise, abstained from Ali’s season because she was so irritating in BiP (she actually turned out to be pretty entertaining, and I enjoyed tweeting about her season) and also refused to recap Nick’s because he seemed like a drongo (a 100% correct assessment).

I had a bit of a think about whether I wanted to return to recapping that queer-baiting nonsense Bachelor in Paradise this year. I thought about how the Daily Mail had completely blown the possibility of an actual queer romance between Alex and Brooke with their pap pics on Alex’s return to Melbourne (I won’t spoil that, but if you want to Google ‘Alex Bachelor in Paradise park’ that’ll do all the spoiling you need). Nonetheless, BiP is still heavily leaning on the Brooke/Alex angle in their promos.

I thought about how the cast seemed to be stacked with mean girls from Nick’s  season and fuckboys from Ali’s. That I don’t care about whether 23-year-olds find love and don’t think they need a TV show to help them. That there was a random American and I literally watched his season of The Bachelorette and yet my mind only brought forth a blank. I summed up all my feelings when I looked at the cast photo:

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So anyway, I won’t be recapping Bachelor in Paradise this season. Keep an eye on my Twitter – I’ll livetweet when I have the opportunity.

As always, I highly recommend Jodi’s recaps at BookThingo. She’ll be doing BiP….sucker.

Why Lelaina in ‘Reality Bites’ was the worst love interest of them all

If you look at In Defense of Baroness Schraeder as my attempt at hyperbolic character rehab, this will be basically….the opposite of that. When I think back at my relationship with Reality Bites over the years, I tended to think of it in the form the exploding brain meme, but honestly the first step is so dumb that it didn’t even deserve to be represented by a brain. Instead, it’s more of an evolution:

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I should note that I come to this quintessentially Gen X film from the perspective of a Millennial. It wasn’t made for me. I’m at the age where, as a year older than Sally Albright and Bridget Jones, I’d be considered a rom-com spinster, but I don’t quite need to fork out for expensive face serums (The Ordinary all the way, baby). But I’ve returned to this film over and over, just like the – now v. v. problematic – 80s teen movies I ate up in my youth.

How do you know I’m a Millennial? Because I felt physical anxiety over how much the characters in this movie smoke. Why do you care about AIDS, Janeane Garofalo? You’re all going to die prematurely of lung cancer anyway.

Janeane Garofalo’s character of Vickie is the only likeable person in this movie, of course. I think maybe it wants us to slut-shame her? She has a notebook by her bed with a numbered list of her lover’s names. She’s scared of AIDs. But you know what? I bet Troy has no memory of where his dick has been, throwing out Renee Zellweger’s number in the morning, meanwhile Vicki tootles herself down to get checked at the free clinic when she decides she should, and if she ever gets pregnant, she’s got a handy list of names and dates. Sounds like being a sensible person, to me.
She is also the only person in the group who can hold down a job for five minutes, performing well enough at the GAP to be promoted to manager. Let’s contrast with garbage queen Lelaina. She seems to have taken an assistant job at a cheesy morning TV show for the sole purpose of getting them to air her vanity documentary about her friends, a true match of content and audience if I ever heard one. Instead of, y’know, actually assisting, she tries to get the host to get his own coffee and enacts petty revenge that makes him look like he’s admitting to pedophilia when he doesn’t want to air her navel-gazing doco. Unsurprisingly, she gets fired. And utterly spits in Vickie’s face when Vickie suggests she has an opening at the GAP. “I’m not gonna work at the Gap for Christ’s sake!”. $5 an hour seems like a lot more than the $0 an hour you currently have lined up, but okay, just diminish your friend’s job that she’s proud of then.

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Walking, talking trash raccoon Lelaina then:

  • Has three whole unsuccessful job interviews
  • Argues with her Mum that by no means should she have to look outside the journalism field for work (ha!)
  • Runs up a $400 phone bill talking to a psychic
  • Turns her spite on the people gently suggesting she might try getting her shit together
  • When he refuses her a loan, steals from her dad (who handed her a free car and a gas card paid for a year) to pay the bill. And for a few six-packs of Coca-Cola

Nice moral high ground there, GAP-hater.

Of course Troy, aka everyone’s boyfriend when they’re 20 and have been in the general vicinity of a shitty band or an Arts degree, is the one to comfort Lelaina in her time of feels. He’s been fired from 12 jobs! He then uses her emotional distress to try and hit on her.

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Of course this dude is so narcissistic he wants to make out with someone who has the same haircut as him.

Y’all need more than smokes, coffee and conversation. You need to pay your fucking rent.

To spoil the end of a 25-year-old movie, Reality Bites essentially posits that Lelaina forces him to be a bit more stable – with heavy attribution to his Dad’s death. I mean, the proof we have is he puts on a too-big suit and acts a bit humble for five seconds, so YMMV. I’m not sure what we’re meant to think Lelaina gets out of this, but whatever it is….she deserves it. Take a swim in that toxic masculinity lake for a while honey, you know you’ve been dying to. Ever since he told you “You can’t navigate me. I may do mean things, and I may hurt you, and I may run away without your permission, and you may hate me forever, and I know that scares the living shit outta you ’cause you know I’m the only real thing you got.”

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The medium step of this evolutionary tale is to think that Michael, played by Ben Stiller (also the director of the movie, thanks) is a much more preferable boyfriend. He sure is! He does fuck up a bit in the middle getting overly-enthusiastic about Lelaina’s work and forgetting to get, y’know, her permission to use her IP, and he doesn’t mind getting in to a verbal pissing contest with Troy, but in what universe does Lelaina deserve this guy?

  • They meet when she throws a lit cigarette in his car after cutting him off in traffic and laughing at him trying to do his job, which causes him to crash. THIS IS REASON ENOUGH.
  • She breaks his Doctor Zaius figurine!
  • She completely refuses to actually introduce him to her friends
  • She asks him if he’s religious approximately 30 seconds in to their first date, and then leaves him open to attacks on his intelligence from radioactive-slime-made-sentient-Troy, even though she describes the Big Gulp as the most profound invention of her lifetime (all the essential vitamins and nutrients! If Lelaina has given up smoking in the year 2019 she’s definitely still dealing with some Type 2 Diabetes)
  • She claims to Michael, who thinks her work would be a good fit for his channel, that she didn’t “want to think where it would end up” with regards to potentially commercialising her doco while she’s still making it, knowing full well she was still filming it while trying to get an airing on the morning show she was working on. Just admit you’re uncomfortable with emotional support because you’re used to being around Troy The Habitual Negger.
  • Lelaina drastically over-reacts when Michael’s TV production company takes the raw material of her dire-looking dropkick documentary and makes what looks like a thoroughly-entertaining, Real-World-style reality TV show with MTV flourishes. Nonetheless, it wasn’t finalised and could have been solved with a simple discussion, but after her storming out he soon apologises and does his best to fix it.
  • Too bad she’s already had a dose of Troy’s apparently very powerful peen
  • I like think in a couple of years, Vickie looks up Michael in the Yellow Pages. FUNCTIONAL ADULTS UNITE.

Over the years, Reality Bites has essentially become a hate-watch about a couple of dirtbags. You can’t root for the central romance, because Lelaina shows she is incapable of growth despite theoretically being the main character, and Troy is a chronic manipulator who you can tell smells like stale cigarettes and unwashed clothes just by looking at him. They’re impossible to like, and don’t even seem to like each other that much.
In conclusion, Reality Bites is basically Wuthering Heights, if Wuthering Heights had an awesome scene with Cathy, Heathcliff and their mates getting stoned off their gourd and dancing to My Sharona in a gas station.

An Incomplete Guide To Terrible Netflix Christmas Romances Pt 3

Look, if Netflix is going to persist with this, I’m going to keep hate-watching. Like, hate-watching while low-key loving. You can find the 2017 editions with gems like the o.g A Christmas Prince and Christmas Inheritance here and here. I’ve watched a few of the newbies over the last few weeks, and there might still be time for another edition before Christmas. Spoilers embraced this time.

Hope you like single Dads because Netflix is betting on them this year.

The Holiday Calendar
I watched this one right when it came out – at the start of November. Early November is too early for Christmas movies y’all. Particularly really bad ones. Let’s lay this one out – Kat Graham can sell you a lot of highly unlikely shit. Although her character Bonnie on The Vampire Diaries wasn’t wildly…joyful, she is super charming and all those years of basically shrugging off vampire/witch/werewolf shenanigans really did a lot for her ability to sell some wild concepts.

And you know what? She sold me on an Advent calendar that can somehow predict two versions of reality with one toy item a day. But she couldn’t sell me on a girl not choosing Ethan Peck. It’s pretty easy to see he’s The Wrong Man, given how late in the game he’s introduced (a full 20 minutes in to the movie) compared to all the time we’ve invested in loving stares from her male bestie who quite clearly wants to join her family to ensure continued access to her Mum’s cookies (not a euphemism).

But. Come on. That voice. I thought maybe it was just me but even my many friends who have not had the pleasure of watched Ethan play sexy broody fuckboy with a heart of gold Patrick Verona in the 10 Things I Hate About You show were convinced she’d made the wrong choice.

Never mind that the reason they break up was that he didn’t put a lot of faith in the rather out-there idea of a sentient Advent calendar, meanwhile the guy she ends up with not only loses her job for her, he also reacted to her Advent calendar theory by accusing her of being an alcoholic. So.

One last point of Sorry, I Can’t Buy This: as if any millennial who had a shot at it with absolutely no fucking training wouldn’t take a creatively unfulfilling office job where she had absolutely no chance of being fired, as opposed to a creatively unfulfilling casual job taking Christmas photos of pukey kids, while wearing an elf costume. SPARE ME KAT GRAHAM, go somewhere that’ll give you insurance.

Rating: 3/10, The ending was kinda cute but I can’t get over the terrible life choices.

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The Princess Switch

Ethan Peck given you a taste for hot single Dads? Well do I have the hot single baker Dad for you:

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Shockingly, Olivia is not played by Vanessa Hudgens.

Welcome, also, if you’re a Nashville viewer, to the uncanny valley of Sam Palladio speaking in his natural accent, which somehow sounds super fake?

What a great mash-up of genres this one is. A Parent Trap-style life swap and a royal romance? What more could you ask for, really? Oh yeah. CHRISTMAS. It’s got it all. Super-organised Chicago baker discovers the only person in the world with a bigger stick up their arse is the Prince of a small, probably European country (important question from Twitter: do you think Princess Switch‘s Belgravia and A Christmas Prince’s Aldovia have a voting bloc in Eurovision? I bet they both hate Montsaurai of Once Upon A Holiday, with its Dirtbag Princess Katie). He must learn the spiritual fulfilment of carriage rides and visiting orphanages which hang up mistletoe, a very normal thing to do in a workplace based on childcare. Meanwhile, a Duchess learns the pleasure of making out with a really hot single Dad who knows how to make cakes, and who only has one annoying family member (his cloying daughter) rather than an entire small country paying attention to him.

Anyway, my main problem with this movie is that it’s G-rated, and therefore when Kevin turns up in Margaret’s bedroom looking like THIS:

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She does not play any form of hide and seek with him.

A big ups to Netflix for refusing to buy any jewellery for these royal movies that doesn’t look like it comes from Lovisa (Americans: think Claire’s). This movie includes a corker:

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How many hot glue guns died in the making of that thing?

All in all, this movie is extremely silly and manages to pack in every cliche you could want, plus a baking competition. I can only imagine the environment in which it was written. I’m picturing a lot of eggnog and six seasons of GBBO on in the background.

Rating 9/10, deducting one point for not getting Kevin’s pyjamas pants off.

Christmas Wedding Planner

I’ve got two words for you: Charisma. Void.

That’s the only way I can describe the romantic hero in this movie, an extremely low-budget version of Michael Weatherly from NCIS. And he just kinda comes off like an arsehat? I read plenty of romance novel heroes with his personality type, but to translate it to the screen you really need to cast for charisma and chemistry with the heroine, because we have a lot of gaps to fill without the written word. And while the heroine does a bit of narration, she mostly uses it to yell “I am a fierce warrior”, a quirk disturbingly reminiscent of Anastasia Steele’s inner goddess. I’m not particularly surprised to find out this one is based on a Harlequin novel.

So, what’s Kelsey’s job? You may think it’s to plan Christmas Weddings, an extremely niche market if I ever saw one. Bloody millennials. In fact, she’s never planned a damn wedding before her cousin’s, and yikes. She needs to….make some interventions.

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Girl if you don’t think that’s gonna date your wedding, think about how it’s already dated this movie.

This is an extremely dumb movie with a heroine who on first appearance seems kinda charming but eventually just becomes so quirky it’s annoying. You know. The Zooey Deschanel effect. I’ve got a theory though. She’s so odd because she’s dealing with the fact that a ribbon is keeping her head on.

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Aesthetically, it’s a fascinating movie. Kelly Rutherford (what are you doing here? There’s actually good soaps out there to pay your bills!) is a sort of generically-rich aunt, and it’s just close enough to Lily Van Der Woodsen that it really shows that this movie….does not know how wealthy people dress. For example, not a lot of grown-ass women sitting around their homes in tiny lid fascinators and diamanté headbands, Lovisa strikes again.

The worst accessorising choice of all happens when Emily rips the ribbon from her cousin Kelsey’s neck for her wedding bouquet. A truly tragic end.

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Jk the biggest tragedy of this movie is (SPOILER ALERT), Kelsey decides to marry a Charisma Void she’s known for about a week on the spot.

Rating: 4/10, added one point for the heroine’s fabulous lipstick game.

A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding

I, known A Christmas Prince hater, am back on my bullshit.

Because I hated this one too. It’s the only one of this bunch I abandoned so frequently that I was able to plan a trip to Sri Lanka and become obsessed with Ariana Grande in the three hours it took to watch it (I’m not joking, my screencaps have timestamps). If you can’t even sustain me on sheer bonkers trash, then that’s a sad indictment of your trash movie. There were some highlights, however.

Amber continues to be a truly atrocious note-taker and also journalist:

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Her Undercover Outfit? Literally Sunglasses At Night and the outfit she was heavily photographed entering the country in like, a week ago.

I really didn’t expect this movie to have a prominent plotline about The Power of Unions. I was truly disappointed that it turned out to be some good old-fashioned corruption and the end of the movie didn’t end with Aldovia turning in to a Socialist Republic. Maybe next time?

The plotline about press freedom didn’t hold a lot of water either. Did Amber end up keeping her blog that should have absolutely been killed about twelve months before the events of this movie?

We learned that the royal family attached Go Pros to the end of their toboggans:

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And that Amber, one of the most awkward people on the whole planet, was raised by one of Life’s Huggers:

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Amber cannot be trusted with a Hot Glue Gun:

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Great question, I thought I’d managed to travel in to this fictional universe to burn it.

Wisely, someone ripped off the Gryffindor ribbons before Emily made it to stage. Everyone on this stage is a scab btw, as the concert had been cancelled due to worker’s strikes.

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The workers! United! Will never be defeated!

We learned Richard can’t decorate for shit and Amber is a ginormous liar.

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Richard has also taken to referring to himself in the third person, so it’s kinda hard to be Team Richard in this movie. Read some Karl Marx, dickhead.

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This kid….has a boner. I’m sorry but he does. Blame Netflix.

50 Shades of School Play

Clearly, the greatest job on this production was to create the outlandish initial sketch for Amber’s wedding dress. I was very disappointed not to see the Cone of Shame at her first fitting.

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Everyone involved in this movie should have to wear one tbh.

And finally, Lovisa have got their claws in to another one:

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Golly, Aldovia’s budget really is in crisis.

Rating: 3/10, same as the first one.

Travelling Alone For Fun and Definitely No Profit

After my last post I did a shout-out to see whether people would be interested in some of the practical aspects of travelling overseas as a woman alone, and the response was a pretty resounding yes. Ideally, I would really like to inspire people to take the opportunity when it’s available to them, but to be super-realistic as well. Some of the advice will be totally gender-neutral, but nonetheless, being a woman is my lived experience and my perspective.

It’s Expensive. Say goodbye to your money.

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Context is important. Firstly, it was Europe at the end of peak season, and because I literally was going to escape Melbourne Winter I was hardly going to at any other point (apart from maybe….more peak season). Dreaming of less expensive parts of the world? You might be able to do it on a tighter budget.

The second part of context is that I won’t even pretend what I did was ‘budget’ travel. The $5,000 tax return I got last year because I was out of work for a while formed the basis of my travel budget, but certainly didn’t cover it. I’m now working full-time and earning something around the average wage for a woman in this country, so I knew I could pay off the few indulgences on my credit card when I came back.

Budget-wise, as a solo traveller you cop it hardest really in a couple of places: accommodation, and private transport (taxis and Ubers). Travelling with someone else won’t really bring down your costs for flights, food, trains, experiences, etc.  Accommodation doesn’t need to be the end of the world…unless you’re a kind of fussy arsehole like me. Obviously, there’s backpackers’ and similar budget accommodation options. That’s fine if you’re in your 20s or are an ‘I can sleep anywhere’ type, but I’m in my 30s and I can barely sleep anywhere. I mostly stuck with 3-star hotels, and I tried to adhere to a budget of about $AUD150 a night. Plenty of hotels also have ‘single rooms’ for a lower tariff. These rooms are generally shoeboxes and have single beds. I made the decision that I do not sleep in a single bed at home, so I certainly wasn’t going to when I was on holiday. In the end, I paid for accommodation what any couple/duo travelling together and staying in hotels would have…but they can split it in two.

If you’re a woman travelling alone, you really need to invest some time here. I spent….many weeks organising my accommodation. Partly that was because I was trying to keep my itinerary loose to factor in meeting up with my bestie, but I locked that down about ten weeks out from my trip. If you know which cities you want to visit and when, it’s time to start getting down to the nitty-gritty of neighbourhoods. In Paris, for example, there’s twenty different arrondissements (neighbourhoods), all with their own character, all with their own problem spots. Allow some time to ask your friends and networks (who might need to be asked three times before they let you know) the areas they stayed in and what they liked and disliked. Read online articles. When you’ve narrowed down areas where you’d like to stay, now you need to devote some time to reviews. Prioritise the opinions of solo female travellers. They will understand your safety concerns. I mostly stayed in hotels because I had a lot of trouble actually securing Airbnb bookings thanks to flaky hosts. The one Airbnb I ended up in (in Berlin), only had reviews up until April or May, when it wouldn’t have warmed up in the city yet. Turns out in summer when the weather’s warm, people like to drink outside the convenience store downstairs until 2 or 3am. You better believe I left a reviewing warning women they may need to elbow their way through half-pissed men who have literally set up a table and chairs in front of the door to the apartment in the evening. Because we live in a world where women have to be constantly vigilant, and if I could have avoided that experience, I would have copped the price.

So, you may end up paying a little more to stay somewhere that other women travelling alone felt comfortable, felt like they were in a good neighbourhood where they can come and go at night, and that there weren’t staff who made them feel less safe (which reminds me I need to go leave a review for the Munich hotel where the guy on the front desk assigned the guy who checked in after me the same room so he could just wander in…).

You will need to learn to be truly shameless with selfies

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Look, we have to thank the Instagram age for something –  it’s really not all that weird to whip out your phone and take a picture of yourself, particularly in tourist areas. I always thought maybe a selfie stick was a bridge too far, but I did end up buying one and used it a few times until I forgot to put it in my day bag and it never went back in. You’ll find if you want some scope beyond the length of your arm, most people are willing to take a photo of you if you ask politely. It’s good traveller karma. But all in all, be prepared to ditch the shame. Your Mum won’t forgive you if there’s not photos of you in amazing spots.

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Hi Mum! Just in Versailles, thinking about how I’ll never even be able to afford a one-bedroom apartment

Preparation prevents piss poor performance

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It’s generally acknowledged that the Paris Metro is not exactly the safest place in the world, and if you don’t have anyone to keep an eye on you then you’re gonna feel that more. Now the truth is, I actually felt less safe on the Berlin U-Bahn travelling to and from Neukölln, but it would be naive to think that people don’t get robbed in big cities. My aim before I left was to try and look as much as a local as possible, so I ended up grabbing this bag – one I could convert to a backpack, a crossbody, or a shoulder bag depending on the situation, which also wouldn’t be too large for me to need to ditch at museums (I believe the Neues Museum in Berlin was the only spot where I had to cloak it, and I went to a lot of museums, galleries and attractions). A small backpack is great, but harder to keep an eye on in crowds, and some places make you wear backpacks at the front which turned out to be a horrific safety hazard on the tight, crowded stairs of Neuschwanstein Castle where I couldn’t actually see my feet. So the converting aspect was great, but I will note after a while the ‘handle’ type bit would slip through and the backpack was uneven and it would get annoying.

But then again, nothing was more annoying than this suitcase. It was never the right time to convert it and carry 15kg on my back, and the motherfucker would go off balance, flip over and twist my wrist at the slightest provocation. I missed my 4-wheeled suitcase, even on cobblestones. I ended up taking more Ubers because of it.

I will note, the plan to look like a local was a total bust. Europe is a wonderful place for walking. But if you’re walking 10km a day, day-in day-out, you need to be wearing something like Skechers. Sorry. On the plus side, people only need to see your shoes to start speaking English to you?

The bit where you eat alone

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I wrote about this in my last post, how I sometimes found myself (particularly in Paris), shoved away in corners like my existence as a woman eating alone was something terrible and shameful. And hey, if you’re not used to going out to eat alone, you might find it a little uncomfortable at first. Even I did not go out to eat every night. Often I’d fill up on lunch (Florence does an excellent Fucking Huge Sandwich) and then have something light from the supermarket for dinner, or just grab some street food. If your budget (or complete lack of need for real fresh nutrients) extends to the ability to eat at restaurants every night, good for you! My one spot of advice: take your book or Kindle. It’s the key to eating alone and not feeling like a people-watching odd bod, and you won’t feel the need to rush because you’ll be enjoying your time and your food. Not a big reader? I dunno, maybe follow some more people on Twitter.

Now, here’s the secret advantage to eating alone: as long as you’re not mortally offended about ending up in some pokey little corner, it’s way easier to get in to popular restaurants quickly than if you’re with a group. I rolled up to Cafe Constant slightly before the dinner rush, got set up at a little round table by the door for some bistro-style food, and got to watch group after group turned away to wait for the upstairs section to open. It is my opinion that wine tastes even better when people are looking at you enviously and slightly hungrily.

Which leads me to:

Doing whatever the fuck you want

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Apart from when I was travelling between spots, I rarely started my day before 11am. I didn’t set alarms. I am well aware that this would send….a reasonable part of the population crazy, but I don’t wake up early on weekends, I’m not waking up early on my three weeks off work. Summer days are long and offer you plenty of time to see the sights. It also meant if I wanted to subsist solely on pastry eaten on walks between places until dinner, no-one was there to beg me to sit down for a meal. Excessive researching as well as mining recs from friends and communities meant I had handy-dandy maps of attractions to check out, places to shop, and most importantly, food I wanted to eat (by genre, even):

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It meant that the night before as I was going to bed, or even on the go, I could pull out the map and make a vague itinerary. Always, preferably, with some time to wander and discover.

And I don’t think I need  to extol the virtues of going on holidays and only doing the things that interest you. No more wandering the Museum of Sports and Borts for four hours. Feel like the attraction you’re at is overrated? Just leave!

If you’re in a relationship and haven’t experienced the No-Compromise Life in a long time….it’s probably time.

Craving human company? Need to go further afield? Go on a tour

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I’m never going to be a Contiki-style girl. I’m an introvert, and one obnoxious person could ruin my entire trip. But there may come a point where you’d just like to have a sustained conversation in English, or there’s something you’d have trouble getting to on your own. It’s not always the cheapest option, but it breaks things up. My entire trip was kind of inspired by Under The Tuscan Sun (yeah that’s okay I’m farewelling the last shred of respect you had for me) so from my base in Florence I chose to do a day trip to Siena and San Gimignano (particularly difficult places to get to without a car) with lunch at a winery in the Chianti region. In Florence city, I did an evening food tour of Oltrarno, which is the less heaving area of Florence across the Arno from the Duomo, the Uffizi etc. Both of these tours were run by Walks of Italy (with the same guide, which was a little awkward) and were English-speaking, small-group experiences which gave me an opportunity to chat to people over meals and generally enjoying breaking bread and hearing other people’s tales. Another one I went on was my tour from Munich to Neuschwanstein Palace and Linderhof Castle. This was a small-ish group (~30) and I certainly paid a premium for it, but I had spent enough time dodging large groups in museums at that stage to know a big tour wasn’t for me. This tour had a great mix of informed hosts, free time for wandering around, and guided portions. I never thought I’d be a tour person at all, given how enthusiastic I am about research, but they definitely have a place on a solo trip.

My wish list

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It’s pretty short. It has one item. I wish Google Maps had a Woman Walking Alone At Night In An Unfamiliar City feature. I don’t care if it takes me a little longer to get back to my hotel. When you’re hopping from city to city, you rarely ever spend enough time anywhere to get to know a neighbourhood so well that you know where the dodgy spots to avoid are, like you would at home. Just a feature, that sends you down populated, well-lit streets, rather than quiet back-streets like I experienced in Paris. Surely machine learning is far enough along for that, right?

It’s okay if it’s not for you

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It’s okay to want to share your experiences with people. I was overjoyed that I still got to spend some time with friends on this trip. But even if a long trip isn’t for you, I hope this prepares you for a business trip or a small break, because time spent on your own and exploring is incredibly valuable.

If you’ve got any specific questions, let me know!

 

In other news, Victorian Values is back at PAX Aus this year, playing more bad dating sims and hopefully drinking on stage if I have my way. If you’re around on the evening of Saturday October 27, come check us out!