Hannah Gadsby: Nanette (2018) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Hannah Gadsby: Nanette (2018)

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Hannah Gadsby's Nanette is a stand-up routine aimed straight at what we take for granted, providing the laughs before interrogating the cost and ending on a demand to be seen.

Nanette is currently available on Netflix.

There's blood in the water, won't you please cut me down.

Aside from Annihilation, the best films I've seen this year probably wouldn't qualify as films to the average viewer.  Antoinette Nwandu's Pass Over received a cinematic adaptation from Spike Lee but Nwandu's theatrical intimacy with the audience still shined through.  Hari Kondabolu's passionate call, "we need John Brown white people," is the peak of Warn Your Relatives even if the bit about mangoes is primarily what makes the rounds on social media.

Now comes Hannah Gadsby: Nanette, a standup routine that - if this world is still capable of valuing merit over ticking the right boxes - redefines what standup means, who it is for, and the toll it takes on the performers.  Hannah Gadsby's standup has already received a load of, "You have to see this" comments.  Even if I bought into the hype 100%, which I rarely do for anything, Nanette still would have caught me off guard.  In just over an hour, she provides "the goods" then subverts "the goods" only to strip away the layers of self-effacing she presents her comedy with before ending on the most raw and open rage to be heard, to be seen, and to know self-loathing can be transformed.Gadsby's performance is astonishing.  There's this little thing she does with her shoulders and glance when she's still in the first self-effacing period, slumping her posture just a bit but maintaining direct eye contact with different members of the audience.  It's easy to read as demure or shy, but the confidence in her communication brought to mind a different pose - coiled.  She is so effective at getting the audience to let her guard down that the energy she's building up for the next part of her set is growing tighter takes place right in front of our eyes and is easy to miss.  When she finally starts letting loose, putting the clamps on self-effacement to express herself, she still holds back the tiniest bit in her movements.

The third and fourth sections, where she starts to siphon the comedy from her routine for a trip through art history and direct confrontation with the audience, show a performer every bit as good onstage as Viola Davis is onscreen.  That meaning, she is completely unguarded.  There's no holding back in Gadsby's posture and words, and her control of the audience even as she is laying every bit of her out to be seen has to be seen and heard.  When she's transitioning and tells the audience, "You need to learn what this feels like," they start to break out into applause.  She's having none of it, barreling forward with even more energy to let them know they don't get to congratulate themselves on getting it just yet.

Directors Jon Olb and Madeleine Parry approach Gadsby's set with no complex shots or sequences, yet understand the power in communicating shifts with little details.  The best is how they cut back to an ultra-long shot with the darkened crowd watching in rapt attention toward Gadsby.  It's an invitation and a mild warning, as the shot appears when Gadsby is shifting from one aspect of her performance to the next.  Their lack of emphasis on the audience made my connection more powerful.  I had to seek out their faces in the rare instances where the audience directly in front of Gadsby could be seen.  Halfway through, there's a woman close to the front when Hannah "resets" the show, her face goes completely still and eyes water. That's about where I was and stayed for the last parts of Nanette.

I've avoided the content, partly because I still don't - and maybe never will - completely grasp the depth of my response to Nanette.  I am a cishet white male, and Gadsby rightly takes many opportunities in her show to target the power I benefit from even as I struggle to make a living off my writing.  At the same time, I felt so seen.  The way I've bottled up the trauma in my life in an attempt to keep others from going through what I did communicated itself in a manner just as self-effacing if not nearly as funny.So she speaks, "Hindsight is a gift," then yells, "stop wasting my time!" and I think - there it is.  Our collective refusal to learn from the people screaming their stories to us, thinking that funneling the same energy through the same broken system producing the same powerful abusive men, none of that means a damn thing if we don't change and stop wasting her time.  No one is off the hook during this part of the show, even as she returns to telling men like me to pay attention, she also says how if we really listened to these stories we could have a qualified woman in the White House then talks about how women aren't exempt from the corruption that comes with power.  No one is exempt and no one is reassured as Gadsby says, "I don't want to unite you with laughter or anger. I just needed my story heard."

Nanette is one its own plane of excellence.  I feel what Gadsby has done here is one end point standup artists like Tig Notaro, Michelle Wolf, and Hari Kondabolu have been building up to.  Gadsby has ripped the veil of comfort and distance we allow ourselves when standup performers have to humiliate themselves to be heard.  We have the gift of hindsight, now let's stop wasting everyone's time doing what needs to be done.

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Hannah Gadsby: Nanette (2018)

Directed by Jon Olb and Medeleine Parry.
Written and performed by Hannah Gadsby.

Posted by Andrew

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