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The Obama-Era Movie

- Abstract

The cult of youth that arrived in the early 1950s with overhyped pop art such as The Catcher in the Rye and Rebel without a Cause has so successfully embedded itself in American life that even the most cutting attacks on its roots have failed to shift it. This valorization of immaturity—what Norman Podhoretz called “the poisonous glorification of the adolescent in American popular culture”—holds the ideas and opinions of the young to be purer in spirit and therefore superior in logic and morality than the encrusted ethics of their corrupt elders. No branch of the arts has been so vividly seized by this superstition as the movies, a young person’s game to begin with. Movies about young people—especially those made by young people—are mined for sociological data on the thoughts, passions, and aspirations of the upcoming generation.

The 2008 recession and subsequent sluggish economy have pried open a gap between college and adulthood, enshrining an already extant second adolescence of dependency on parents and soul-searching for twentysomethings with liberal-arts degrees and limited employment opportunities. This interregnum has become the subject of a mini-wave of movies that coincided with or post-dated the election of Barack Obama. This new cinema of graduate ennui is embodied by Lynn Shelton’s Your Sister’s Sister, which received a limited release this summer, and was found as well in Shelton’s 2009 Humpday, this spring’s Jeff, Who Lives at Home (Jay and Mark Duplass, 2012), and others. These films are loosely connected by their shared themes of alienation, unemployment, and debt, and the style of moviemaking—almost deliberately amateurish, made on the very cheap—replicates the economic constraints under which the characters live. Your Sister’s Sister, in which a jilted lesbian (Rosemarie DeWitt) tricks her sister’s best friend (Mark Duplass, the co-director of Jeff, Who Lives at Home) into impregnating her with the aid of a surreptitiously pierced condom, is more fanciful than most, but the leads are caught in the same aimless drift that permeates all these movies.

About the Author

Stephen Daisley, a writer in Glasgow, last wrote “Unkind Mankind on Screen” for our July/August issue and blogs as the Eclectic Partisan.