Surviving a Setback: Books, Music, Movies, and More on Dealing with Frustration | culture

comedy

There is no shortage of attitude that takes the raw material of a miserable, disappointing life and turns it into laughter. That’s a big part of what comedy does. But for the big, big laughs formed out of intense disappointments, look no further than James Exeter’s best show of 2018, Cold Lasagne Hate Myself 1999. It takes two low moments in the life of a Kettering man (abandoned by his girlfriend in favor of whom, Mr. Bean; dumping his agent after an on-air PR blunder) and—within two hours of hilariously disturbing standing—recast those disappointments as mere staged posts on the road to comedic glory. Brian Logan


TV

Brace yourself...Ugly Betty.
Brace yourself…Ugly Betty. Photography: Andrew Eccles/Disney/Getty

Disappointment hangs over Betty Suarez, the Latin figure of Ugly Betty, like the sword of Damocles, waiting for the moment to finally rip it apart. The series begins with disappointment: her job as an assistant at Mode magazine is unattractive, and her co-workers seem to resent being forced to adjust to her coat, bows and upbeat confidence – “unfashionable” traits in the world of mid-2000s high fashion. It’s making ridiculous viewing now: Betty planted in 2020 and you can imagine her with a viral Instagram account focused on savings and sustainability; Amanda, the ruthless receptionist in Mode, is the obvious personification of “the girl” of the 2000s, and she’ll be left far behind in her wake. Jason Okundae


a musician

No surprises...it's Radiohead.
No surprises…it’s Radiohead. Photography: Roger Sargent/Shutterstock

Very few bands turn grief into elegance quite like Radiohead. Although Thom Yorke’s writing often revolves around the rounded threat and turbulent critique of consumer culture, Kid A’s Optimistic chorus uses one mantra that elevates you: “You do your best / Try your best / The best you can is good enough.” “. In times of self-doubt, my partner often recites this chorus to me, tentatively accepting its meaning independently of the song. It’s a simple phrasing, but it’s a welcome reminder nonetheless that in life and lyric poetry, we have to learn from our failures. Jenissa Williams


books

My brother is a super hero

Eleven-year-old Luke Parker’s knowledge of comics is encyclopedic. Costumes, symbols, abilities, assets – he’s a superhero. This makes it all the more annoying because while he spends one week, his math-obsessed older brother, Zack, is given superpowers by a visiting alien. Jealous Luke’s disappointment, along with his determination to mentor Zack (or at least make him wear his cloak), makes up David Solomons’ hilarious novel, My Brother, a superhero, full of strained brotherly bonds and a mission to save one, but two worlds. He’ll need all of Luke’s knowledge—plus Zack’s powers—to succeed. Imogen Russell Williams


Movie

Lady Vengeance...Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift as the heiress.
Lady Vengeance…Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift as the heiress. Photo: Paramount Pictures/Allstar

In the 1949 film The Heiress, Katherine (Olivia de Havilland), a wealthy but low-key disappointment to her authoritarian father, confronts Maurice (Montgomery Clift), who in turn disappoints her. William Wheeler’s melodrama is a dazzling depiction of disappointment, giving de Havilland an exceptionally Oscar-winning role, in which she adjusts a wick to its natural luster like a gas lamp that can flood a room in brightness or make shadows jump dramatically across a wall. The grief of an underestimated unloved soul pervades the film, but the final act of Catherine’s vengeful contempt also makes it the harshest success story, as a wilted sunflower learns of its intrinsic value like never before. Jessica Kiang

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