“Learn your lines, find your mark, look 'em in the eye and tell 'em the truth.” Jimmy Cagney

Going to the Movies

“Joy” is the new Jennifer Lawrence movie about a woman who is a natural entrepreneur. Eventually, she is successful in business but not without a few scrapes, some betrayal and serious money concerns. It is a gripping and brilliantly acted movie.

Despite the stellar performances of all the actors, something didn’t work with the ensemble. The problem seemed to be that Jennifer Lawrence and Elizabeth Rohm (playing Joy’s sister) turned up to a different movie from the rest of the cast. Bradley Cooper, Isabella Rossellini, Diane Ladd, Robert De Niro and especially Virginia Madsen apparently came to work on a Wes Anderson shoot. They were all a little detached, vapid and other-worldly as they muttered their lines as addled, self-conscious musings.

Lawrence and Rohm went at it tooth and nail, as if Scorsese was screaming at them from behind the camera. They were incredibly real, emotional and raw in a way that jarred with everyone else. Or so it seemed to me.

This was the most important thing I took from the movie. It explained the difficulties I experience blending in sometimes. I think I often turn up to the wrong movie.

It occasionally happens when I start work with a new client. I infer from the company brand that there will be intense customer focused arguments and brilliant insights from the best trend analysts. Sorkin-esque rat-a-tat dialogue will be informed by day-old technology beaming reports from the streets of Sao Paulo about the latest pulse from the cortiços. The reality turns out to be another group of careerists treading water until they discover the exit strategy of the majority investor. I have a script running about cultural insights from fresh start-ups, integral consciousness and articles on neuro-science. I am asked to observe their behaviour for a day and give them feedback on how “teamy” they were.

It has happened in churches. I construe the videos on their web page as promising intense edgy worship, balanced by meaningful coffee breaks often with an ethnically diverse group of professionals and some impressively lively older people with great teeth. I turn up with hopes of this being the place where my inner-freak will be embraced, possibly by a North Korean, who will sing a third above me in the emotional refrain of the latest hymn mash up. Instead I am herded physically and psychological through standard church process and required to listen to the rehearsed vulnerability of a charismatic leader who secretly dreams of bigger things.

When I arrived in Edinburgh a year and a half ago, I had the lines ready for a family movie. I assumed that the stories would continue from the intimate and abundant weekends I’d spent with friends at Cantle. This film would be about close relationships, lots of hanging out with the same people, home cooked food and easy-going games-nights. It turns out that the film showing was one of professional relationships, coffee meetings for an hour every couple of months and the exchange of networks. I thought it would be Swiss Family Robinson and it turned out to be Wall Street.

But it is not all disappointment, I have been shockingly delighted by the movie playing. A year ago, I visited Trinity Grace Church in New York expecting the slick mechanics of a city congregation. My summary CV was rehearsed, with hints of how important I am. I met with kindness and normality and a small number of people trying to experience God through liturgy and simple songs. My inner freak burst out messily as I sobbed my way through the service and experienced God in a new way. Two old women in their eighties spontaneously laid their hands on my back as I hacked my way through a prayer. They were not “impressively lively,” and I couldn’t see their teeth. In truth it looked like they were on their last legs but their prayers were potent.

The movie, “The Big Short,” suggests that the banks are conniving us back into another financial crisis now that we are through the dip. I’m not sure. I’ve arrived to coach the directors of a large culpable bank, with my “Big stick” and “Guard your fillings” scripts ready. I discovered a humbled and committed bunch of people who were trying to reinvent the role of banking in society. They cared for their teams and were incredibly sensitive to old wounds opening up again. I had to quickly pull out some new scripts about vision, humanity and responsibility.

In the last few weeks, I have attempted to sense what movie is playing a bit quicker. I have learned to accept that the system can only do what the system can do. No one person is in charge of the movie. I have found that if you try and influence the main plot line too much, it is the equivalent of “chewing up the scenery,” being a diva or being a miscast A-lister. If you blend in too much, you get a bit part to play and stand in the glow of other people’s spotlight. You have to trust that you have been cast, get with the script and get stuck in.

A good director helps enormously.

There are multiple movies playing in Edinburgh right now and I am starting to enjoy them. Band of Brothers, The Hobbit, Peggy Sue Got Married, The Pursuit of Happyness, Field of Dreams and The X Men are just a few that I’m involved in; sometimes as the lead and sometimes as an audience member.

When the narratives hit a lull or present a challenge, it can feel a bit overwhelming, trying to be in all these films at once. Recently I have began to trust that as I play my part, leave the direction up to the director, and focus on the narrative, it becomes manageable. When I need a reminder of this, I lean on the wisdom of the great character actor, Jimmy Cagney.

“Learn your lines, find your mark, look ‘em in the eye and tell ‘em the truth.”

That’s a wrap.