You know how some things just stand out in ways that can really surprise you? Well, there’s this quietly amazing moment in The Big Short that has stayed solidly in the very forefront of my mind since I saw the movie about a week ago. And it’s weird that it’s this scene that I can’t stop thinking about because it’s not a particularly showy scene. In fact, it’s not even an actual scene. Instead, it’s part of a montage near the end and there is no dialogue taking place at all because, by then, there’s just not a whole lot that needs to be said. The economy has crashed spectacularly – and sorry, but I refuse to label such a thing with a spoiler alert because if you don’t know the economy went belly-up in 2008, that can’t be my problem. (Feel free, though, to blame any combination of your parents, the liberal media, Donald Trump, or whatever virus you caught the last time you ate at Chipotle.) Anyway, two minor characters in the film –formerly so pompous and pleased with themselves for saddling financially unsophisticated homebuyers with outlandish and impossible mortgage rates – find that they too have been crushed by the very system from which they used to profit. These are guys we first met as they sat on bar stools and flushed hotly at just the thought of excess and we see them near the end at a job fair where they must start over without an expense account. The expressions on their faces – framed in enough of a close-up that we can see both abject terror and sweaty desperation – allows us to know that it’s not simply the economy that has crashed; everyone and everything fell. The blame scattered. There was more than enough chastening to go around.
It certainly says something about the stellar performances and the cinematography in The Big Short that a single shot that was maybe eight seconds long resonated so powerfully. The film itself? It’s brilliant. It is perfectly paced and far funnier than I expected a story about a flawed banking system to be, but I think the things that felt most intense to me were not just the homes that were lost or that sweeping shot of a vacant floor at Lehman Brothers or a security team ushering Finance guys out of a building like they were in danger of being shot. For me, it was about that moment when the realization set it – when it really set in – and people finally understood that everything had to change.
It’s those days and nights of gripping fear that are punctuated with a loss that feels like an exclamation point that brings about change. Rarely do we randomly stumble upon the idea that everything about ourselves must be overhauled. No, it’s more of a dawning comprehension, an internal skywriter who slowly sweeps out the words, “Nothing you’re doing is working for you anymore,” in loopy cursive and you finally have to stare at the entire sentence and admit, fuck: I need to make better choices. And look, making the declaration is the first step. It’s an active form of realizing that things can’t continue the same way anymore. It’s putting some cohesion into what – for way too long – was simply an abstract idea you allowed to do the backstroke because fighting the current just felt exhausting.
But it’s a new year – and it’s time to fucking swim.
I’m not sure that Jax or James or Kristen or Lala understand what it means to commit to changing and I seriously believe that gaining notoriety on a show for being their very flawed selves will not lead to anything different. But oh, what I would give to stare at a moment onscreen while James mutters, “You know, I really am an asshole who is crippled by massive inferiority that runs through my tiny brain and then lands on my low-cut tank tops like glitter – or dandruff. That must be why I behave like a toddler on blow most of the time!” I’d also probably pay to watch Jax stare at himself in a mirror – which so far seems more than doable – and hear him say, “I am an adult! I should stop trying to come between a twenty-two year old DJ and whomever he wants to bang! I should stop removing cartilage from my nose! I should be a better man tomorrow than I was today…” Seriously, I’d sell a family member to hear those words, but nobody is for sale today. See, I’ve got a birthday coming up and those people send presents.
Unfortunately, you have to believe someone when she says a change is afoot for it to have any sort of significance. So when Kristen shouts to the heavens that she is no longer a psycho-bitch-lunatic, I don’t even consider leasing out a second cousin. Sure, Kristen has somewhat behaved so far this season. She apologized to Ariana and did it without sneering or calling the woman she was apologizing to a whore. She is going on a date with someone who doesn’t work at SUR. She didn’t kill James when he hocked a loogie on her front door – though I kind of consider that a strike against her. But it’s not appearing like she’s actually moving on from all the people she’s claimed have hurt her so recklessly because all we see her do is try to wrangle her way into parties they throw to which she’s not invited. And if that’s not the whole story – if she’s not as pathetic as she appears on this show – maybe she should consider hopping off the gravy train that is editing her to appear like a crazy person.
I get it, though. Change is hard. Letting go of how you identify yourself because those identifiers are no longer healthy or possible feels like a loss. And I know that the losses in the movie slid down so much more smoothly than a real loss does because 1) these financial events already happened 2) I never so much as worked in the mailroom at Lehman, which is good because I know nothing about money and I would have bankrupt the place somewhere around 2004 and 3) Ryan Gosling narrated the thing and any loss would probably feel way more palatable if Ryan Gosling was sitting at the foot of my bed proclaiming truths like, “Yes, he’s a jerk. But Nell, you should have known better. Besides, you don’t like men with furry chests anyway!” My interior monologue just sounds so much more convincing coming from him. Sadly, Ryan Gosling appears nowhere on Vanderpump Rules tonight and yes, that shocks me too. Instead, it’s time to see what changes (genuine or faux) are in store for our Vanderpumpers this week.
We start at Lisa’s house and between this show and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, I have now officially seen her swans more often than I have seen my friends in the last month. I’m pleased to report that they all still appear to be living, but I’m more pleased that this episode starts with Schwartz. He’s shown up to basically get Lisa’s approval about the engagement ring he’s ready to slip onto Katie’s quivering finger. Before he can do that, he gives Lisa a mock proposal and requests that she run away with him forever and I know that Lisa Vanderpump’s got a good life and all, but if I were her, I’d grab one of those swans and run away with Schwartz for at least a long afternoon. (He might not look like he’d be a ton of fun in bed, but you just know the guy gives a kick-ass foot rub.) Lisa stays loyal to her husband, however, and she tells him that the ring is gorgeous in very sweet and hushed tones until her voice rises twelve octaves upon hearing that he wants to blindside her with the proposal. Despite her misgivings, Tom’s gonna do it his way and he looks extremely excited and it’s all kind of adorable.
Far less adorable is the terrible tattoo Sandoval had emblazoned across his ass last week and perhaps the only person who hates it more than I do is Ariana. She has brought her boyfriend to a tattoo removal place in what I’m thinking is the finest example of common sense we have ever seen captured on this program. But before he can get that thing erased, he and Ariana get to chat about how totally bewildering it is that their closest friends are advocating for Kristen’s attendance at Sandoval’s birthday party. And it is bewildering! Kristen, despite setting out on her Apologize & Be Normal Tour, has emotionally tortured both Sandoval and Ariana for well over a year. She has threatened to physically torture Ariana as well and it is more than a little nutty that everyone else wants them to shrug such a thing off in the name of what they think will be a good time. At any rate, the discussion is benched for the moment because it’s time for Sandoval to pull his pants down to show off that awful tattoo to the removal specialist. Her news is grim. Turns out he has to wait to get it lasered off, when it happens it will take a year and a half to be removed, it’ll cost him over a thousand dollars, and he may not go tanning in the meantime. Tell the guy next that he will have to stop threading his eyebrows next and we’ll see a full-blown meltdown unfurl all over the fucking screen.
That night, Jax, Scheana, and Kristen head out for drinks. Jax brought the girls there to intentionally cock-block him all night long. See, Lala is joining them too and Jax knows that he’ll probably sleep with her if it’s just the two of them and that would be rather unfortunate timing for some meaningless sex to occur because the girl who loves him is driving clear across the country at that very second to come live with him. Now, going back to that theme of change for a second, I think we’re seeing something rather remarkable in our midst here. Jax is trying to be a better person! It’s happening, you guys! Sure, I have little hope that he’ll actually pull the whole thing off, but I think he might be trying a teensy tiny bit, don’t you? (What’s that? Maybe he shouldn’t be meeting up with a girl he clearly wants to fuck when he’s about to be living with someone who just left her entire life behind to bask in his sweaty glow? Well, I suppose that’s an excellent point too.)
Before Lala can arrive and Jax can tug on his chastity belt, Scheana asks Jax what happened when Kristen was brought up as a possible birthday party guest. This is a conversation I just don’t understand, but I think it’s mostly because I don’t want to understand. Isn’t Scheana supposed to be Ariana’s best friend? Aren’t best friends supposed to be loyal to one another and not get matching tattoos with the person who prayed for their best friend’s bloody demise? At the very least, a real friend should not publicly declare that her best friend has a really bad attitude. The whole thing is pretty awful, but Kristen snags the awful crown yet again when she hears that neither Sandoval nor Ariana feel like they will be able to function in her presence and she still asks, “So? Am I invited?” And that right there is our first new nugget of proof that Kristen is still as psychotic as ever because what kind of person is dying to enter an environment where battles occurred simply about her being there? As for Jax, this dipshit hasn’t changed either. He knows that this will put his closest friend into paroxysms of anxiety but he still decides that he wants Kristen there for the birthday weekend and he will fight to the death to make sure it happens and since she has not a speck of self-awareness or dignity, Kristen clasps his hands in triumph across the table.
(I think watching people have their homes and livelihoods ripped away from them in The Big Short was far less depressing than Vanderpump Rules is turning out to be.)
Lala shows up next and Jax, since he’s such a gentleman, wants to make sure that she and Kristen are okay sitting at the table with one another. What’s that we have here? Another conflict between Kristen and someone on this show? It’s all very rare to see, but the conflict stems from the fact that Lala is now hooking up with the most tragic DJ in Los Angeles proper and Kristen spent over a year doing the very same thing. But does Kristen care? Well, here’s what she says: “Honestly, I don’t care. I don’t care if you’re fucking James or if you’re friends with him. I don’t give a shit.” I totally believe her, don’t you? She then follows up Lala’s declaration that she has never fucked James by telling her with a cold and creepy grin that she shouldn’t because his dick is dirty as hell by now – which is kind of an insult against herself, but that’s really just the tip of the condom that was probably never worn, you know? Lala stays at the table anyway (because that’s where the cameras are) and they all do shot after shot and then Lala gets all huggy. She wants to hug Kristen! She wants to nuzzle Jax! She wants to be invited to Jax and Sandoval’s birthday and she wants to maybe blow Jax right there at the table. And Kristen? She wants to stab Lala with a drink stirrer and shove some glass down her throat and haul her up to the bar where she can be anointed Skank of the Year before Kristen grabs the trophy back because she doesn’t like it when things are taken away from her.
On a new day in SUR, Sandoval cracks a bottle of Sambuca all over the bar and Lisa tells Katie that Schwartz and Sandoval are just dicking around when it comes to actually immersing himself in the world of her sangria business. When Katie leaves the room, Sandoval and Lisa discuss how Schwartz is going to propose soon and they both look excited. In the front of the restaurant, Lala is taking reservations while Jax gets a call from Brittany. She has just arrived, her car crammed with boxes. Brittany is full of smiles and bouncy enthusiasm; she is so excited to be living with a guy who wandered away from a table a few hours ago murmuring about how badly he wants to fuck SUR’s hostess. I might not applaud Brittany’s taste in men – though to be fair, not all of my conquests deserve standing ovations – but I hope that she will be somewhat happy and that moving in with this guy is not the very worst decision she will make in her entire life.
Then James comes over and drawls, “Best of luck to you, darling,” before telling us that at this time next year, Brittany will no longer be in Jax’s life. The hatred these two guys have for one another is so vibrant that I can taste it (it tastes kind of like pee after you eat asparagus) and it’s actually kind of perversely fun to watch two people I find ridiculous as they attempt to destroy one another without messing up their hair.
As Jax informs Brittany about all the plans they have coming up, we get a shot of Lala in the front of the restaurant – you know, just so we’re crystal clear that some other chick is still on Jax’s mind even while his girlfriend stands before him. Just after Brittany leaves, James pops over to Lala and gives her a kiss that looks grossly wet on her cheek, but he’s not really there for that. Like a town crier who only shouts shitty news, James is there to inform Lala that Jax and Brittany are living together – and that’s something she didn’t know. But the good news goes both ways, so Lala makes sure to tell James that last night she and Jax were all over each other and that he asked her if they could maybe fuck and just not tell anyone and James’ head looks like it might shoot clear off his shoulders and hit the ceiling due to absolute fury. Still, the two of them come to an agreement that they enjoy making one another jealous and that they are both going to go to Hawaii for Jax’s birthday (even though James isn’t even invited, which makes me think that he and Kristen might truly be soul mates) and when Lala says that she will walk around with only a coconut on those sandy shores, James sticks his tongue out of his mouth and makes a “mmmmmm” sound and I think I just became spontaneously sterile.
The next day, Jax goes to see Lisa to tell her that her entire staff will be leaving for Hawaii in a week to celebrate his birthday and that means she’s going to have to scramble to adjust the schedule. Since he’s kind, he will leave Lisa with James and the guy can bus the entire restaurant for all Jax cares. All he wants is for his birthday to be James-free and really, I think that’s what we all want. But over at her house, Lala tells Faith that she recently touched James’ dick and that she also texted Jax at three in the morning to tell him to come over and get into her bed. She doesn’t exactly remember sending that text, but then again, Drunk Lala is not to be tasked with any responsibility whatsoever.
In what I hope is an apartment way across town from Lala, Katie and Scheana stop by to see Kristen. They are attempting to repair friendships that were once shattered and they appear comforted by the fact that Kristen actually has a leather-bound book listing all the people she wants to punch in the face. (Whatever! Stop judging! I have a scented candle that smells like verbena! We all have random stuff in our homes!) Then The Talk happens yet again wherein they tackle the age-old question of why Kristen shouldn’t join the vacation that already includes the ex-boyfriend she might still pine for and his current paramour whom she has threatened to bludgeon with an ugly stilleto. Katie doesn’t seem to understand the anger Sandoval and Ariana have for Kristen – and I think this means that Katie’s got herself a rather faulty memory or an odd barometer that dictates that everyone should forgive someone as long as she has already chosen to forgive that person. As Katie lists all the things Kristen hasn’t done wrong, Kristen nods sagely, but I think she is just so glad that there is someone sitting beside her on the couch who isn’t shackled or imaginary.
While his soon-to-be fiancé is occupied with a lunatic, Schwartz decides to visit with Sandoval, his Proposal Accomplice. He arrives to talk over the game plan and to show him the outfit he plans on wearing when the moment finally goes down. Schwartz is doing some deep breathing to calm himself and Sandoval might as well whip out some pom-poms and start cheering about it all. They’re cute and supportive of one another and they rhapsodize about how they met on Craigslist and how exciting it is that they have the same initials and I could care less how blatantly homoerotic this entire scene is. I’d watch it again just to see that something pure exists in this cold world.
Back at SUR, James checks out the schedule and realizes that he’s been scheduled to work the entire time he was planning to invite himself to Hawaii. After all, he and Sandoval are buddies because nailing the same unstable girl brings upon an ironclad bond between two men. Lisa informs him that he probably doesn’t have to worry about scheduling coverage because he hasn’t been invited on that trip and she can’t for the life of her understand why he’d even want to go away with a guy he recently almost came to blows with next to her refrigerator. But dignity is not something James understands (and it’s probably not a word he can spell, though he might be able to use it in a sentence) so it doesn’t matter to him that certain people would rather travel to Hawaii with Lucifer than catch sight of him in baggage claim. James is fucking going because Lala’s tits are not going to stare at themselves.
And with that bit of romance out of the way, it’s time for a birthday dinner that’s really just a front for the proposal to go down. I’m not sure why Schwartz is dropping to his knee in front of a table filled with people, but that’s a personal choice. He’s really nervous about getting it all right and I’m really nervous that the polka dots on Sandoval’s shirt might give me a seizure. Anyway, as Jax and Scheana banter about where Brittany will keep her stuff in his apartment, Schwartz begins to sweat buckets. His hair flops limply across his forehead and he makes some jokes about how he’s never going to get married and he is rejoicing about how Katie is getting quietly furious with him so his surprise will eventually floor her. Then he downs some drinks and looks like he’s going to projectile vomit all over his intended and, exactly at that moment, a guy across the room drops to one knee and begins to propose to his girlfriend. But it’s all a ruse, everybody! Schwartz walks over to the couple he obviously paid for this rather clever stunt and he takes the ring and brings it over to Katie and he gets down on his knee to propose while Scheana screams in the background. (God, I wish one of her songs was playing right now…) As for Katie, she loves the ring and she looks deliriously happy and she’s so frazzled that she forgets to say yes.
I’ve decided that I’m sending those two a waffle maker as an engagement present because waffles are yummy and I really hope they make it. And while we’re on the subjects of hope and change, I also kind of hope that Brittany never unpacks any of her boxes because, while one guy in this group can maybe pull off a real change, I’m not sure they all can – and I’m pretty sure that Jax will always be in the remedial group anyway.
Nell Kalter teaches Film and Media at a school in New York. She is the author of the books THAT YEAR and STUDENT, both available on amazon.com in paperback and for your Kindle.