Vandriel: New Girl, Beatriz at Dinner, and social awkwardness

How a T.V. show and a film portray varying levels of competence in social settings

I have always felt extremely awkward in social settings. Sure, I can speak on many topics and in front of crowds, but the one-on-one makes me feel juvenile and despondent. A friend recently told me to watch the TV series “New Girl” to make myself feel better about my awkwardness. The show is comedy of a woman in her early 30s who breaks up with her boyfriend of six years and moves into an apartment with three men. Each character is exaggerated (as they are in most comedies) to show peculiar quirks and how they interact in humorous situations.

The show has been running since 2011, so the main character, Jess, really isn’t a “new girl” anymore. While the characters are weird and all socially awkward in their own ways, the caricatures they are made into for comedic effect take away from the purpose my friend had intended when she recommend I watch it. Jess, the titular character, is goofy, sings bits and pieces of songs she makes up in her head (I do this, so it amuses me to see others do it too), and falls in and out of love with stunning frequency – like weekly (who does that?).

The supporting characters each have their own quirks, which come across as less amusing. Schmidt, a formerly fat boy, now an appearance-conscious womanizer and Nick, a charming alcoholic underachiever with bad personal hygiene, provide stereotypes to laugh at. Winston, the fourth roommate, takes longer to reveal his oddities, but is more amusing when he finally does so. After viewing (ok, binge watching) a couple of seasons, rather than feeling comforted by the fact that I am not alone in my social awkwardness, I just feel dumber.

I picked up “Beatriz at Dinner” (2017) TIFF and Film Society film to elevate my brain. Didn’t work. Do you ever have it that you get a word or phrase in your head and then suddenly you’re seeing it everywhere? Yeah, that’s my brain. So rather than seeing “Beatriz at Dinner” as a well-constructed, thought-provoking power struggle of social classes and the environment versus industrialism, I saw social awkwardness.

Beatriz is stranded at her employer’s house the evening of an important dinner party. Her boss invites her to stay which is just a really bad idea. Beatriz does not fit in. The affluent guests are markedly different from Salma Hayek’s healer, Beatriz. Their interests are in making the most money, whatever the cost, while Beatriz, a plain, mother-earth figure, sees the world is dying.

But all characters, not just Beatriz, are awkward. The billionaire mogul, well portrayed by John Lithgow, is boorish, rude to his wife, and totally oblivious to those around him. Another character, intimidated by the wealth and status he is trying to attain, gets drunk and acts mildly foolishly, making his wife uncomfortable. As it is a small group, three couples and Beatriz, all of the social missteps and discomfort are easily noticeable.

This meant that at the end of the film I was left with a sense of superficiality. But the movie stayed in my head for hours after – usually a good sign to me that the film was successful on some level. I hadn’t been able to make sense of the ending until my one a.m. epiphany/well duh moment that the ending was a metaphor. Then I could appreciate the movie on a different level. Then I began to feel a little cleverer, though no less awkward.

By Caroline Vanriel

Library Director

Sylvan Lake Municipal Library

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