October 21, 2018

Finding The Funny Side of Face-Lifts

Jackie Hoffman appears in "Take My Nose ... Please!" Photo courtesy of "Take My Nose ... Please!"

As a style writer and fashion magazine editor, Joan Kron knows all about cosmetic dermatology and plastic surgery. She wrote about them for 25 years as editor-at-large at Allure magazine. She knows who has had their bodies nipped and tucked, and who pretends they haven’t.

“In Hollywood, they take the ‘hypocritical oath,’ ” she said, “to deny the plastic surgery in public and have it in private.” The exception is comedians, who are painfully honest about their physical insecurities and what they have done to fix them.

In her new documentary, “Take My Nose … Please!” — which has received glowing reviews at film festivals and opens in Los Angeles on Oct. 13 — Kron follows the emotional stories of two female Jewish comics who are unhappy with their looks.

Emily Askin — a feisty, red-headed improv comedian — has a barely noticeable bump on her nose that she’s thinking of removing. Jackie Hoffman, an Emmy-nominated TV and Broadway performer, considers herself ugly, insisting in the film, “My biggest regret is that I didn’t take the nose job my mother offered me when I was 16.” She’s also thinking of having a rhinoplasty and a face-lift.

In the film, interviews, clips and commentaries from female comics inject much-needed humor into the discussion of face-lifts and nose jobs.

“I didn’t have to go that usual ‘Extreme Makeover’ route to get people’s attention. I would get people’s attention with comedy, and then I could tell a story,” Kron said.

Unlike typical celebrities, comedians are more upfront about their surgery stories and their reasons for wanting to change their appearances. The reasons usually have to do with societal demands placed on women to look youthful and the impact those demands can have on a career spent in the limelight.

“When you see an actress at some event, there’s always two comments: One is, ‘Oh, my God, do you see the work she got done?’ And then the other one is, ‘Oh, my God, she needs to get some work done,’” comedian Judy Gold says in the film.

Meanwhile, a series of psychologists, sociologists, medical professionals and cultural critics offer further insight into the relatively new industry of plastic surgery, even if the practice of altering body parts has been around since ancient times.

Kron traces the modern trend back to Fanny Brice (born Fania Borach), the comic headliner in the Ziegfeld Follies who was portrayed by Barbra Streisand in the 1968 musical film “Funny Girl.” In the vaudeville era, having an “ethnic” nose was not fashionable, and in 1923 she had it altered by a self-styled plastic surgeon with no medical degree and a trail of lawsuits.

At 89 years old, Kron has pulled off a late-career shift from print to film. Before Allure, Kron covered design and style as a reporter and editor at New York magazine, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Avenue magazine. She also wrote about death and dying, an issue she wanted to explore after her 16-year-old daughter’s death in 1968 from a virulent sinus infection while on a humanitarian medical mission in what is now Sri Lanka.

“In Hollywood, they take the ‘hypocritical oath’ to deny the plastic surgery in public and have it in private.” –Joan Kron, documentarian

But her interest in the psychology of beauty led her to write about plastic surgery.

“I was the only reporter in the country covering plastic surgery full time for a consumer magazine. I invented the beat,” she said.

Her credentials were unbeatable: She had been married to a general surgeon for 20 years. “I don’t faint at the sight of blood,” she joked.

Kron first wrote about plastic surgery in the early 1980s. After talking to a handful of doctors, she decided to get a face-lift herself. At the time, plastic surgery was considered so verboten that she had to use pseudonyms for the doctors she interviewed, and her literary agent convinced her to publish it anonymously.

Kron doesn’t pass judgment on women who have gone under the needle and knife. (Of the 17 million cosmetic procedures performed in the U.S. in 2016, 92 percent of the patients were women, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.) Rather, she empathizes with her subjects as they struggle with the decision of whether to change their appearance. She believes her own surgically enhanced face reflects her inner youth.

“If you see a picture of me, I don’t look like Grandma Moses. I’m a bleach blonde!” she said. “I’m a woman of a certain age, but I don’t feel old when I look in the mirror. And that helps me.”

Kron says she didn’t make the film to send a message. She’s not looking to change people’s minds about plastic surgery. She regards herself as an investigative journalist, not an activist. And yet, she thinks most reporting on plastic surgery misses the point.

“What the media is always focused on in plastic surgery are the extremes” — such as Michael Jackson and the “catwoman” Jocelyn Wildenstein — “and that’s what fascinates people,” she said. “They love to be critical of it and say, ‘Ain’t it awful?’ But that’s not my experience of plastic surgery.”

Kron has written about the risks of plastic surgery — the unintended deaths and disfigurements — as well as the rewards. Women who get plastic surgery aren’t looking for radical transformations, “They want a better version of themselves,” she said.

The taboo of plastic surgery has largely lifted in the decades that Kron has been writing about it. While still stigmatized, the popularity of the Kardashians and the era of the selfie have helped the practice go mainstream.

“Fifty years ago, women wouldn’t tell anyone they dyed their hair,” she said. “I think, eventually, people will become more open about [plastic surgery]. It’s happening already, but only in very close-knit circles.”

High-minded discussions of the merits or ills of cosmetic surgery can quickly become tedious, but that’s not the case with “Take My Nose … Please.”

Does plastic surgery empower or oppress women? Like beauty, it’s in the eye of the beholder.

“Take My Nose … Please!” screens in Los Angeles Oct. 13-19 at Laemmle Monica Film Center.


THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN is based on best-selling novel of the same name by Paula Hawkins. It’s about a divorced woman who likes watching the homes in her old neighborhood as she rides the daily train. When one of the women she watches disappears, she gets involved on a personal level.

The movie stars Emily Blunt, Justin Theroux, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Luke Evans, Edgar Ramirez, Laura Prepon, Allison Janney and Lisa Kudrow. It’s directed by Tate Taylor (THE HELP).

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN does everything right from a technical standpoint. Everyone’s acting is fantastic and the cinematography is particularly wonderful with some beautiful and unique shots. So, by most accounts that should make it a good movie. It really depends on your definition of good movie, though, because what stood out as much as the great technical details was just how unpleasant every single person was in the film. There was not one sympathetic character and I felt an equal amount of distaste for everyone.

I couldn’t help but think, too, that Emily Blunt is starting to develop a career out of characters who may be intriguing but who aren’t pleasant to be around, all the way back to her star-making role in DEVIL WEARS PRADA and including her role in SUNSHINE CLEANING as well.

There were lots of interesting parallels between and connecting the main characters in the movie. It reminded me a lot of Alfred Hitchcock’s STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, which I actually wrote a paper on in college talking about how the two strangers were connected in an X-shape, with each character “reaching out” to the other side. That’s how THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN is also structured and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that one of the first things on screen is an X drawn in the condensation on the window of a train that we then see Emily Blunt’s eye through. The theme of X is continued with an email written by Tom and played across the screen as Rachel walks through a train station. I don’t want to give away too many details for anyone who hasn’t read the book yet, but definitely suggest paying attention to them.

For more about THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, take a look below:

—>Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

The Jewish stars of winter TV

Temperatures may be falling, but the small screen is heating up with buzz-worthy performances, must-see series and a few splashy specials. On the list: Lifetime’s adaptation of the biblical best-seller “The Red Tent,” with Debra Winger (Dec. 7 and 8),  NBC’s “Peter Pan Live!” from producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (Dec. 4), and these stars of cable, network and Internet TV.

Jeffrey Tambor is getting critical praise for his Emmy-worthy turn in a literally transformative role: He plays Maura Pfefferman — formerly Mort, a retired political-science professor who’s transitioning to female in the Amazon Prime series “Transparent.” How does a 70-year-old reveal such a secret to her ex-wife (Judith Light) and three grown but emotionally immature, self-absorbed children? In the hands of writer Jill Soloway, it’s the source of incisive Jewish humor. 

“It reminds me a lot of my family and around our table,” said Tambor, who grew up Jewish in San Francisco. Other aspects of the situation also seemed familiar. “As a Jew, I understand ‘otherness,’ ” he said. But playing Maura has come with challenges, both physical and emotional.

Walking in heels took some getting used to, as did the hourlong sessions he’d spend in the makeup chair — four times his usual time. And, he said, “It’s the first time I’ve gone to ‘Hair’ in 40 years.” But, Tambor said, he was most concerned about portraying Maura truthfully. “This is a lot of responsibility,” he said. He regularly consulted the production’s transgendered advisers. “I asked a lot of personal questions. They’re often on the set, and just them being around gives me a lot of confidence.”

Tambor, 70, who has a grown daughter as well as younger children ages 9 and 7, plus 5-year-old twins and a grandson, said he feels especially close to the character. “I like her. I believe in her. I find her very comforting. She’s very real to me,” he said. “I think this is one of the best roles I’ve ever had in my life, and to have this happen on, shall we say, the back nine — there’s not an hour that doesn’t go by when I [don’t] say I’m very lucky.”

All 10 episodes of “Transparent” are now available on Amazon Prime. 

Messy marital splits and what it’s like to survive them and reinvent oneself in their aftermath is the subject of the incisively funny new Bravo series “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce,” which stars the similarly named Jewish actors Lisa Edelstein and Paul Adelstein as a couple calling it quits after 20 years.

Lisa Edelstein in “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce” Photo by Carole Segal/Bravo

Edelstein plays Abby Shoshanna McCarthy, an über-successful best-selling author of books on marriage and parenting whose husband cheats with a younger woman, causing her to have a career-jeopardizing public meltdown. Her divorced friends and gay brother are there to give her advice — for better or worse — on how to handle everything from the divorce to dating to raising her two kids, even as husband Jake remains very much still in the picture.

“It’s a bare-bones view of relationships and what happens when your life suddenly takes a really sharp turn. But you’re still a family. You grew up together,” said Adelstein, whose character, Jake Novack, has issues of his own. “He has been in a state of suspension. His career never took off. He didn’t have to go out and make a living because his wife was doing very well. He can’t rely on that anymore, and there’s some resentment over the fact that she’s the breadwinner. Just as the split forces Abby to take a hard look at herself, Jake has to take a look at himself and how he’s complicit.”

Judaism becomes an issue during a divorce mediation session when Abby, half-Jewish on her mother’s side but not a bat mitzvah, and Jake, Jewish on his father’s side, but a bar mitzvah, argue over who is “more Jewish.” Abby “insists that their kids be raised Jewish, though they already are — it’s not an issue until she makes it an issue,” Adelstein said. “But they find a middle ground on it. One of the things they decide is that it would be nice to have a family Shabbat, even if they’re splitting up. You see that at the end of Episode 2, and, in contrast to everything else that’s going on, it’s really poignant.” 

Filmed in Vancouver with exteriors shot in Los Angeles, “Girlfriends’ Guide” is set in Hollywood, where the divorce rate might seem disproportionately high. Adelstein chalks that up to publicity. “You might hear about people in Hollywood getting divorced more, but the statistics are the same,” he said. 

Married in real life to actress Liza Weil (“How to Get Away With Murder”) for eight years, Adelstein has a strong Jewish identity and is an active member of his Reform synagogue. “I consider myself religious and a cultural Jew,” he said. “We celebrate the holidays. We go to shul.” Jewish humor — everything from Groucho Marx to Woody Allen, The Three Stooges, even Looney Tunes cartoons “played a huge role in my house and my life,” he said.

Of Polish and Russian descent — his late step-grandmother was a survivor of Auschwitz — Adelstein did not become a bar mitzvah; the rabbi of his suburban Chicago synagogue banned b’nai mitzvot because they were “getting too ostentatious.” Adelstein said he’s considering pursuing an adult bar mitzvah, perhaps when his daughter Josephine, 4, becomes a bat mitzvah.

Adelstein also serves as a writing consultant on the series and wrote the fourth episode. In addition to acting, he is a musician and composer and wants to continue doing both. “I want to go where the good work is, work on stuff I care about,” he said. Travel is also on his to-do list. “We want to go to Israel, Italy, Greece, Sweden and Russia.”

“Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce” premieres Dec. 2 at 10 p.m. on Bravo.

On the CBS series “Madam Secretary,” Bebe Neuwirth plays the very capable Chief of Staff Nadine Tolliver, right-hand woman to the titular official (Téa Leoni). “What intrigued me about Nadine was her willingness, her desire, to be the person behind the power — the quiet support who elegantly and intelligently helps the person at the center of attention,” said Neuwirth, who loved the way the script “portrayed strong, intelligent women. There was nothing stereotypical about them.” 

Bebe Neuwirth in “Madam Secretary” Photo by David Giesbrecht/CBS

Although the Emmy (“Cheers”) and double-Tony Award winner (“Sweet Charity,” “Chicago”) wasn’t looking for a TV series, she was open to the idea, especially one that didn’t require her to leave New York, she said. 

Neuwirth grew up across the river in Princeton, N.J., in a non-observant family. “I’m not religious. I consider myself a cultural Jew. When I was very young, my family had seders and lit the Chanukah lights, my father reciting a prayer. But there was no discussion of religion in our home, I never went to temple and really didn’t know anything about it,” she said. Nevertheless, she added, “I identify unquestionably as a Jew. My husband is not Jewish. He, too, is not religious, so there was no problem when we planned our wedding.”

Neuwirth, who did consult the series’ State Department adviser for background, chose “to create a character defined by a personality and emotional life, rather than her job, although Nadine’s choice of work says, I believe, quite a lot about her,” Neuwirth said. Nadine makes reference to her Jewish ancestry in the sixth episode, when she toasts the memory of her grandfather, “Louis Grossman, who was killed at Auschwitz.”

With career highlights that range from TV’s iconic “Cheers,” to working with Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse on Broadway, to playing opposite Tom Selleck on “Blue Bloods,” Neuwirth isn’t planning her next step. “I’m not a strategist. I certainly dream about different ideas, but rarely act on them. The exception to that is when I create my cabaret shows.” Her latest, “Stories With Piano,” was recorded at the New York club 54 Below for a CD called “Stories … in NYC.” Both it and a studio record called “Porcelain,” produced by her husband, Chris Calkins, are available via iTunes. 

Neuwirth also keeps busy as a member of the board of trustees of The Actors Fund, for which she created The Dancers’ Resource, to help “professional dancers of all disciplines.”

Following the Nov. 30 episode, “Madam Secretary” will go on hiatus during December and return to CBS on Jan. 4 at 8 p.m.

“Friends” ended its network run 10 years ago, but Lisa Kudrow continues to thrive on cable television, simultaneously starring in two series, as a woefully inept shrink in “Web Therapy” on Showtime and as the has-been actress Valerie Cherish in HBO’s aptly titled revival of the 2005 series “The Comeback.”

Lisa Kudrow in “The Comeback” Photo by Colleen Hayes/HBO

“It’s nine years later and she’s not as much of a doormat. She’s a little crankier and less afraid of showing that,” said Kudrow, who missed playing Valerie “on a very personal level. I really enjoyed being someone for a period of time that just thought everything was OK.”

A Los Angeles native, Kudrow grew up in the ’70s aware of Jewish comedians, but said she can’t pinpoint a direct influence. “I recently saw a documentary about Jewish comedy and how well Jews complain, and it’s the source of their humor, but I don’t think that’s part of what I do. I do awkward,” she said. 

She found a bigger comedic source at her own dinner table. “When you’re the youngest one in the family, you’re absolutely not the funniest one in the room. But my family’s very funny,” Kudrow explained. “So I would steal their stuff and bring it to school and score.” 

“The Comeback” airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on HBO.

“Web Therapy” airs Wednesdays at 11 p.m. on Showtime