Staff Picks: ‘The Beauty Queen of Leenane,’ ‘Daughters of the Dust,’ and More


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. Scroll through for our picks below.

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

I’ve been looking and looking for a way back into reading to distract me from the current political reality, and I finally found the refreshing read I’ve long required to get my nose back into the world of books. This palate cleanser was Carrie Fisher’s frothy, odd and gossipy The Princess Diarist, an account of her time on the set including pages of her awful (but also kind of clever) poetry and titular journals from the time, during which we all now know, she was boinking the considerably senior (and married) Harrison Ford. But here’s what’s great about the book: the verbatim juvenile musings mixed with the retroactive commentary paint a truly consistent picture of a person who is funny, smart, confident and insecure in turns, whose proximity to celebrity has made her both naive and worldly. Open it for the “Carrison” hot goss; stay for the reckoning on being a geek sex symbol, a target for autograph hounds, a woman whose body has aged while her iconic character remains forever trapped in those ridiculous ear buns. — Sarah Seltzer, Deputy Editor

Daughters of the Dust

Daughters of the Dust, which is currently screening at Film Forum in New York, was the first feature film made by an African-American woman to get a general release in the United States, in 1991. So why didn’t director Julie Dash go on to have a wildly successful career? Three guesses. Daughters of the Dust takes place in the early 1900s, in the Sea Islands off Georgia, and focuses on a community of Gullah men and women (mostly women) who are planning to move to the mainland. It’s visually and emotionally sumptuous, full of instantly iconic images and powerful performances.

This year, for its 25th anniversary, the film has been digitally restored and a new Blu-ray version has been released, thanks in part to Beyonce’s visual album, Lemonade, which was heavily inspired by Daughters of the Dust and which Dash told Vanity Fair helped speed along the process of the restored film’s release. The influence on Lemonade is immediately apparent, and instantly contextualizes that film’s costumes and settings. See it. — Lara Zarum, TV Editor

Druid’s Production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane at the Mark Taper Forum

A rural Irish Grey Gardens peppered with typical morbidity from Martin McDonagh, The Beauty Queen of Leenane surrounds the stagnated cohabitation of Maureen (Aisling O’Sullivan) and her mother/receiver of her grudging care, Mag. This 20th anniversary production of McDonagh’s first play (at the Centre Theatre Group’s Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles until December 18, before moving to the Brooklyn Academy of Music from January 11 to February 5) sees Mary Mullen — who played Maureen in the first production of the play — now playing Mag, and displaying a deep, methodical knowledge of how her character both torments and needs her daughter.

Though sometimes naturalistic theater that’s highly choreographed can come across as overdetermined, both the actors’ perfect timing and Garry Hynes’ meticulous direction speak to the heightened banality of McDonagh’s writing — which is framed within the realm of naturalism but often imitates absurdist theater and/or Seinfeld in its endless focus on dialectical tics, empty colloquialisms, and high stakes placed on inanimate/edible objects. The production nails the strange simultaneity of hilarity, depression, and dread that distinguishes McDonagh’s writing, with O’Sullivan and Mullen mustering 40 years of venom and co-dependency through discussions of biscuits and lumpy chicken broth product. — Moze Halperin, Senior Editor

Moscow on the Hudson on Blu-ray

When ‘80s Russian stand-up comic Yakov “What a country!” Smirnoff turns up for a brief role in this 1984 sleeper hit from Paul Mazursky (new on Blu-ray from Twilight Time), it’s a jarring, momentary reminder of what hackwork this high-concept culture-clash comedy – about a Russian musician who defects in the middle of Bloomingdales – could’ve been. Instead, in the hands of the great writer/director Mazursky (Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice) it’s a warm, charming character comedy/drama, with a magnificent Robin Williams turning in his first semi-serious screen performance as the kind émigré who finds a reserve of bravery and curiosity inside himself he never knew. And Maria Conchita Alonso, one of the era’s most underused and vibrant screen comediennes, is terrific as his tentative love interest. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor