The "Worst" Title for a Great Little Film


If awards were handed out for the most impossibly difficult film title to remember, Joanna Arnow’s The Feeling that the Time for Doing Something Has Passed would win hands down. Indeed, every time I want to recommend TFTTTFDSHP, I google “Richard Brody New Yorker Masterpiece” for the moniker of this wryly comical ode to consensual-female-sexual-submissiveness to pop up.

Yes, Mr. Brody, one of the current deans of film criticism, has praised to the hilt this feature, an offering at last year’s New York Film Festival that was also nominated for a Golden Camera at Cannes. Currently released in a handful of theaters, ones with hopefully extra-large marquees, it should be noted that Mr. Brody warns that TFTTTFDSHP is a “deceptively plain masterpiece.” He’s possibly indicating that unlike Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925) or Coppola’s Godfather (1972), you might need a few hours or even days to realize you’ve just experienced a magnum opus.

With that realization achieved, you can now consider that if Woody Allen had been born a woman and had showcased nudity in his works, plus sported a strong “female gaze,” we might not need Ms. Arnow to direct films, but since Woody wasn’t, doesn’t, and hasn’t, Ms. Arnow fills a huge vacancy.

Clearly, there are many similarities between these two auteurs. For instance, Arnow’s opening frame announces her feature with white lettering on a black background, and her lead’s Jewish-American family could be stand-ins for Woody’s in Radio Days (1987). Arnow also inhabits the lead character as Allen often did until he didn’t. Her Ann, not unlike Annie Hall’s Alvy Singer, is at times a borderline needy, nerdy, loveable Jewish schlimazel but without most of the philosophical frills.

For example, Ann’s opening nude, horizontal monologue is spoken as she’s rubbing her genitalia back and forth against her semi-slumbering, older lover Allen (Scott Cohen). Amidst furniture a few steps below Ikea, she states with a joyfully monotone delivery: “I love how you never care if I come. You never do anything for me . . . You go to sleep right after we finish.”

Allen: “Hmmmmmm.”

Ann: “Do you think people can change?”

While Woody might showcase the skyline of Manhattan to the thunderous notes of “Rhapsody in Blue,” Arnow’s tribute is more a battered Valentine to the Brooklyn subway stop, the Smith-Ninth Streets Station, situated above the Gowanus Canal. The Canal, you might recall, was some time ago recognized as one of the most polluted bodies of water in the United States, famed for its abundance of fecal coliforms.

Excretory matter aside, this is the tale of a woman . . . a Wesleyan graduate with exposed bra straps. . . who would remain invisible to most of us whether we passed her on the street, sat next to her on the subway, or spent three years with her in our homeroom class. Her family has given up on her, her employers don’t realize she’s been with them for three years, and even her food lacks color.

For dinner, Ann regularly squeezes out the queasily brown Maya Kaimal Everyday Dal from a pouch, a product placement that might actually hurt the company’s sales.

So you won’t be surprised by her response when her bedmate asks, “What do you like?” Again in monotone, Ann responds: “I like when you tell me what to do…. I like things. I just can’t think of them at the moment.”

Distinctly, the storyline doesn’t matter that much here. It’s basically one deliciously understated droll vignette following another with a few rueful undercurrents.

After nine years with Allen, Ann, now 33, is ready to experiment with other Masters. Yes, from running into walls on command to dressing as a farm animal to Zooming her butt across town, please note that our eyeglassed heroine is in control of the situations. “But,” you query, “is she ready to give up control for love without domination? Is she ready for someone who is not a ‘sex friend’?”

Maybe. Maybe not. But either way, there’s no argument that Joanna Arnow has arrived as both an actress and a director, one that you will want to be subsumed by in feature after feature.

(Favorite moment: Ann sitting alone on a bench late at night at a deserted subway station. She’s licking a melting chocolate ice cream cone and starts smiling at an inner thought, and then laughing, and then . . . .)

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