40 IS a bitch. Man, don’t I know it! I think it was Martin Amis who said—and I’m paraphrasing here—that turning 40 is the most fucked up thing ever for a guy, because it means, for all intents and purposes, that the first half of your life is over, and like, what have you got to show for it, right? You are never going to get that first half back, it’s all downhill from here, you’ve stopped growing, physically, and you’re actually starting to putrefy. You’re on your way to death. Things start going away, right away. In this film about you, Uncle Kent, you start having some problems with your sight—you’ve got to look at certain stuff on paper first farther away, then nearer to you, in order to read. Wow, I’m relatively lucky—I didn’t start getting eye issues when I turned 40, and I still don’t have ‘em, but man, beyond that…well, I gotta admit I was a little surprised and shaken at how much the story told about you in the film Uncle Kent had in common with what I was going through when I turned that age.
The affinities started hitting me pretty early on, as I watched you hunching over your work easel, doing that animation stuff—you apparently work as an animator, whereas I work as a writer, they’re both kinda solitary occupations. And then there was how you live by yourself, and how you drink a lot, and how you smoke a lot of pot, and how you hang out a lot with your cat. See, here’s you, with your cat.
And here’s me, a long time ago, back in my 40s, with my cat.
And my stupid fanboy Akira t-shirt. And my double chin. And my nose hair. Sorry about that. Gosh, how embarrassing.
Now I was never that much of a pot person—until this one period where I got so anxiety-ridden and insomniac that I started smoking it very intently…but I’m getting ahead of myself here—but I definitely had this routine back then of working and drinking and just sort of wallowing in loneliness. And you’re clearly not taking very good care of yourself in other respects. “Check” on that, for me, when I was your age, too. You live in L.A. , so you have a car, and you’re letting that go to shit; I haven’t owned a car in a while (an advantage of a certain mode of urban living, I’d say), but I dare say if I had, well, what’s happening to your car would have happened to mine.
And there’s even more, and here’s where it gets kinda weird!
This is part of the key to why your life is so specifically problematic: as laid-back and not-very-motivated as certain aspects of your existence seem to be, it’s pretty clear that you need to relax a little bit. The lady’s got a boyfriend, check; maybe you ought to just roll with it. Don’t try to download photos of the guy the minute the chick pops out of sight. I mean, "TCB" had a boyfriend—who apparently admitted to her once that if he were forced to choose between giving up sex and giving up marijuana, he would give up sex, which really gave me something that might be said to resemble a, um, leg up in a particular department, despite my advanced age and the lousy physical shape I was in—and while I occasionally tormented myself by imagining that he looked like Taylor Hawkins from the Foo Fighters (he didn’t, not even a little, as it turned out)—I figured that maybe the most sensible policy would be to not get too hung up on it. This notion is confirmed by the fact that in the process of downloading the photos to your computer you mistakenly wipe them from the camera itself, necessitating that you lie about breaking the camera. That’s just weird.
I could also observe that maybe it might have been a good idea to have your situation a little more together when Kate arrived. I have found that, regardless of how odd the initial meeting space or circumstances of the connection, women do like a little romance. When the time came for my first face-to-face meeting with my online liason, I took her to a fairly snazzy restaurant for cocktails and appetizers before we brought her stuff to my place. (Any New Yorkers out there remember Lola on 21st Street? How great was that place, huh?) I wasn’t hanging out around the house cleaning cat shit out of the litter box when she arrived. Just saying. Call my way of doing things old-school or even "patriarchal," if you insist; I just call it taking pains, and really, it can PAY OFF.
Another thing that makes your situation look pretty lousy—and there’s really no kind way of putting this—is that your friends kind of suck. Man, I had been under the impression that that Bewersdorf character (who is here billed as “Kev,” which does very little to diminish the impression that a few too many twelve-year olds were involved in the making of this picture) was still living in Berlin. In fact I’d been hoping that as he continued to meet with little artistic and/or commercial success flogging his various musical endeavors, he’d just keep moving east, deeper into Europe. I expected maybe he’d be in Dnipropetrovsk by now. But no, here he is in L.A., with his stupid dinky quasi-Casio keyboard in his lap, calling you "dude" and embarrassing you at parties by calling on you to do “cock tricks.” It’s kind of sad—and a little gross—when you tell him you’d rather not do said tricks, not just because you don’t wanna screw things up with Kate, but because you’ve got scar tissue on your testicles and your doctor told you it’s cause, well, you’re disfiguring yourself with these “cock tricks.” By the same token, let’s face facts, Kent: the best way to avoid being asked to do “cock tricks” is by not ever having done them in front of groups of people in the first place. You might have wanted to consider that before unleashing that particular genie from its bottle. I mean, I did A LOT of dumb things in the run up to 40, and more dumb things after that, but man, you made me glad that I exercised some discretion in that particular department.
And then there’s your friend Joe, who’s also the credited director of this movie, and who has a meaningful exchange with you when you visit him at the large but mostly empty house he’s staying in, the property of a “producer” who Joe says is “interested” in him. Joe greets you at the gate of the house in swim trunks and black socks, which is I guess indicative of how “not L.A.” Joe is, which is fine because just between you and me I don’t think he’s gonna be spending a whole helluva lot of time out there in the future. In any event, Joe’s an expectant dad at this point, and he seems to dig it, while you lament that you “missed the boat.” “I think if I had met the love of my life when I was 20 and we were married now it’d be awesome, “ you observe. “But there’s something really pathetic about dating when you’re 40.”
Lemme give you some tough love here, Kent: pathetic is as pathetic does. Drinking beer, smoking pot, doing "cock tricks," getting all passive-aggressive about sex/displays of affection with your weekend guest, going on line with her to solicit a threesome, and then not really having any idea of how to proceed while the threesome—the grievously ill-advised threesome, I’d say—is actually happening; pathetic is one word for it. And I don't want to be too harsh here, but It certainly doesn’t help that, personality-wise, you seem to be a little on the monotonous side. And I know you can’t help the face you’ve got, but the fact that it seems to have only one expression is a little…I don’t know. On the other hand, you DO have a damn good head of hair, which really is a real nice thing to have when you’re 40, take it from me. Why you keep said hair in that sub-SuperCuts Beatles do is beyond me, but like that black guy once said to Lester Bangs, it’s your head, man. I also can’t help but wonder if maybe part of what makes your existence so unfulfilling is that you’re not…well, you seem to be not all that bright. When you and Kate are assessing your "third" (for the potential threesome, that is) on Chatroulette (and again, not to get too judgmental or anything, but Chatroulette really looks like a pretty skeevy site—FYI, I met "TCB" in an AOL chatroom, about cooking, yet!...not that that makes me any better, I hasten to add...), you say to Kate that you “don’t get” the girl’s references—which are to Beethoven and Sappho. Wow! You and I are only ten years or so apart in age—did the United State public schools system change that much in the interim? I KNOW I didn’t hear about Beethoven merely via Peanuts. As "Kev" says, "Dude."
Near the end of the film, you’re seen in front of your computer, looking at a video of yourself with a niece or nephew, entertaining the relative. “Uncle Kent is the best” reads the header for the video, and as you watch, with “Kev”’s piano music hitting wanting-to-be-poignant notes behind it, we get a glimpse of…what, exactly? An alternate to the life you have now? Some version of the life you want? These shots play…well, “sentimentally” is the word that comes to mind. But that can’t be right, because according to Richard Brody, your director Joe is the new Maurice Pialat, and Pialat didn’t have a sentimental bone in his body. So maybe I’m misreading things. But I do think the difference between this movie about you and any movies by Pialat, or I should say a difference, is that this movie is rather soft where Pialat’s are hard. Not without tenderness, but hard. Hard enough so that the distance between “I recognize myself in the people here” and “get me the hell away from these assholes” ceases to function as any kind of effective distinction. Which makes the experience of the films something different than the experience of this film. And part of that’s due to the fact Pialat actually had A SENSIBILITY, and has some (of what we critics call) distance, and did not, again, have a sentimental bone in his body. As upsetting as the plight that is your life is, Kent, what’s weird about Uncle Kent is how pleased with itself it seems; there’s something smirky about its overall depiction of sunlit misery. One gets the sense, not for the first time, of its director reveling in the sensation of putting something over on the viewer. Even what's been cited as the film's most gut-wrenching moment, a kiss-off in which one person says to another, "Write on my wall," felt, to me at least, arbitrary, and no more or less contrived than any of the wanting-to-be-"with-it" social media references that dot No Strings Attached.
But I will, no doubt, be told that I am wrong for observing thus. And also wrong for thinking, well, yeah, it's true, as some of your pal Joe's champions say, that highly-regarded french director Philippe Garrel also makes movies in which he features his friends and family going through, or re-enacting, painful emotional stuff, so yes, there's a resemblance between his films and films such as the one you're in, but, well, I don't know, the people in Garrel's films seem somehow less...trivial. Am I a bad person for thinking that? And am I thinking that only because those people are speaking French? I don't know. I'm kind of torn. I keep coming back to those "cock tricks." Again, I don't want to seem above it all; hell, I attended the world premiere of Le Petit Package and everything. I've been friendly with Glasgow Phillips, the auteur of The Sound of One Hand Clapping (that's NSFW, for those of you who DON'T work at home), who did, eventually, I believe, conclude that maybe "dick jokes," as he himself called them, maybe were, as they say, no way to go through life. What can I tell you. If not wanting to hang (either cinematically or in the flesh) with people who do "cock tricks" at parties makes me a snob, then fuck it: I"m a snob. And I'll get called a snob. And that’s life. It’s okay, I can handle it. I flare up sometimes, true, but I’m not actually as thin-skinned as my various personae sometimes suggest. Hell, if I was, I think I’d have been institutionalized by now!
Which brings me back to you and me, and you: at the end of the film (um, spoiler alert?) your existence is once again just you and your cat, and your cat seems a little ticked off with you. Sad? Yep. Like I said, I’ve been there. And I gotta level with you, Kent: for me, things got a lot worse before they got better. The whole thing with “TCB” expanded, and then imploded, and then I got into ANOTHER grievously ill-advised relationship with a divorcee (which was less frowned upon by my peers because at least it was more age appropriate) and when THAT imploded, I got so anxiety-ridden and insomniac that I started cadging all this pot from my buddy Tom B., and I spent one whole month of 2002 pretty much drunk the whole time, and it was so bad enough that Tom B. and my other friend Christina staged the World's Smallest Intervention for me (I did suspect at the time that Tom was really mostly irritated that my constant beggings were starting to eat in to his personal pot supply). And somewhere around all that time, 9/11 happened, and that was kind of a buzzkill, too. Right? In any event, after all this I finally got into therapy, and that definitely helped, and while I’m certainly still very much a work in progress, I’m now five years happily married to, yes, the love of my life (who I did NOT meet on line), am in better physical shape than I’ve been in years, and am no longer haunted by the notion that the first half of my life is over. It happened to me and it can happen to you, Kent. But you’ve got to take some steps yourself. You might want to think of cutting down on the alcohol and drugs, maybe even cutting them out entirely. Do a little self-care, too. Some regular exercise. It might not be the worst idea to make some adjustments in the hair and wardrobe departments, too. (I know, I’ve got little right to talk. But I’m just sayin’.) And seriously, man, drop those loser friends of yours. And maybe think about not advertising your plight in unattractively shot, inarticulately crafted, disingenuously inversely-porny "indie" pictures. Seriously.
I think you’re gonna be okay.
Yours in Christ,