Staff Picks: David Rakoff, Oscar Isaac and ‘Mistress America’


Need a great book to read, album to listen to, or TV show to get hooked on? The Flavorwire team is here to help: in this weekly feature, our editorial staffers recommend the cultural object or experience they’ve enjoyed most in the past seven days. Click through for our picks, and tell us what you’ve been loving in the comments.

Fraud, by David Rakoff

Somehow, it took an endorsement from Rakoff’s fellow humorist/proud urbanite Julie Klausner to put the essayist on my radar. (The only way I could be more in his target demographic is if I were a regular This American Life listener.) After picking up his best-known essay collection earlier this week, I think I’ve found the perfect subway read: light but wise, funny but incisive. Whether he’s impersonating Freud in the window of a department store or taking down New Age, pseudo-spiritual retreats, Rakoff is the kind of essayist who conveys his wry, self-deprecating perspective seemingly without effort. He succumbed to cancer three years ago this month, making now as good a time as any to boost the work he left behind. — Alison Herman, Associate Editor

Oscar Isaac

Watching the premiere of Show Me a Hero Sunday night, I was impressed by all the things that usually impress me about David Simon shows: the sharp writing, the patient storytelling, the wide range of characters and perspectives, the insight into how prejudice shapes politics and how governments fail the people who most urgently need their help. But I was also struck by Oscar Isaac’s starring performance as Nick Wasicsko, a carefree Yonkers city councilman who lucks his way into unseating a six-term mayor — and then starts to realize that his win might not have been so fortunate after all. Though he’s made his name playing a handful of very different characters (a self-sabotaging folk musician in Inside Llewyn Davis, an evil-genius tech bro in Ex Machina), what Isaac brings to every performance is a deep and organic understanding of male ego. By playing each role with a unique mix of arrogance, charisma, and fragility, he’s building a psychologically rich composite portrait of masculinity — one that follows it through various eras, but views it through a wholly contemporary lens. — Judy Berman, Editor-in-Chief

Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life (and Comedy) by Judd Apatow

There’s certainly been no shortage of Judd Apatow in the culture lately, but if you haven’t reached your burn-out point yet, his new interview collection is a must-read for fans of comedy, show-biz, and smart people. Part of the Apatow legend is how he spent his teenage years interviewing comedians for his high school radio show; many of those interviews are transcribed here, supplemented with new one-on-ones and occasional interviews and Q&As from the intervening years. It could’ve used a bit more tightening—we hear a lot of his same anecdotes in multiple pieces—but it’s nonetheless a breezy, funny, and witty volume. Highlights: Jeff Garlin on how he sort of hopes his kids are stupid (“If they’re stupid, they’re going to have a great time. Because really, everything is created for stupid people. Books, movies, TV shows for the most part—they’re for stupid people”), Mike Nichols on the three basic scenes in drama (“There are fights, seductions, and negotiations”), Spike Jonze on feeling protective about his work to executives (“If I came to you and talked to you about your child the way you’re talking o me about my movie right now, you wouldn’t listen to me”) and Apatow himself on how having kids makes you realize “how little you think of everyone in your world” (“Put down the worst person you can think of tot take care of your kids as motivation for staying alive”). Plus, all the money goes to 826 National, so there’s one more reason to plunk down a few bucks for a copy. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor

Mistress America (dir. Noah Baumbach)

I was never convinced by Frances Ha — by far a moodier, less hilarious look at aspiring artistry and self-construction in young, bourgeois New York than While We’re Young. (I found While We’re Young‘s portrait of this world sharper, even heightened as it was). Therefore, I didn’t go in to Mistress America — the second writing collaboration between Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig in which Baumbach directs and Gerwig stars — with the highest of hopes. But I came out of it both enlightened by its ceaseless hilarity and saddened by its portrayal of a person who’s so voracious yet capricious in every aspect of her life that she often finds herself left with very little. It’s incredible how the movie approaches the serious, fear-inducing subject of perceived irrelevance and obsolescence with such levity. — Moze Halperin, Associate Editor

Straight Outta Compton (dir. F. Gary Gray)

Straight Outta Compton has major flaws, and everyone who sees it should read Dee Barnes’ piece about the film’s omission of the violence done against her and other women by protagonist and producer Dr. Dre. At the very same time it’s an incredible film, the rare kind that lingers with you for days after seeing it. Its first hour effectively captures the energy, violence and anger that fuels its musical subject. Interestingly enough, the characters that are given more morally ambiguous treatment, such as Eazy-E and the film’s essential villain, manager Jerry Heller, come across as far more compelling onscreen than the image-managed Dre himself. I’m glad I saw it and glad to be wrestling with the discomfort I feel about so many great musicians from so many genres whose lives offstage involved hurting women. — Sarah Seltzer, Editor-at-Large