Thelma Adams is the film critic for US Weekly and, come to find out, my neighbor in upstate New York.  She’s also the author of Playdate, a hilarious new novel about a weatherman-turned-stay-at-home dad (or SAHD, for the uninitiated)-cum-Girl-Scout-cookie-distributor whose marriage may or may not go up in flames — flames, it might be added, that are being fanned by the Santa Ana winds (the book is set in Encinitas).

She was gracious enough to answer questions on her new book, her day job, and her guilty pleasure movie of the year:

 

(Adams, her novel, and Bari Nan Cohen)

 

 

Inveterate readers of TNB know that I’m a big fan of, and subscriber to, US Weekly.  Before we talk about the book, please give us outsiders the straight poop: are stars really just like us?

 

They’re just like us in that they are the same species, Homo sapiens. They’re just a lot more high maintenance.

 

I knew it!  You are now a published novelist, which means that you have a day job.  Yours is one that Belle Ramsay, the daughter in Playdate, would have had better luck talking about on career day: professional film critic.  How did you get such an enviable gig?

 

I was a self-sacrificing saint in a past life. And, in this life, I was never satisfied reading the existing film critics because I didn’t hear my voice, my point-of-view in their writing, however wise or witty. So I was relentless in getting my voice out there, first for college papers as a lark, then for Manhattan neighborhood rags, and then at the newspaper I always carried under my arm: The New York Post. The jump from a newspaper to Us Magazine when it went weekly was a millennial shift, the product of being at the right place at the right time with the right skills and a hand-up from a terrific mentor.

 

Who is your mentor?

 

In that case, it was Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers, although he would scoff at being termed my mentor. He’s too modest; entourage, maybe. He’s the greatest.

 

Do your kids dig your line of work?

 

Yes; it’s meant a lot of free stuff over the years and meeting celebrities from Melissa Leo to James Gandolfini to Robin Williams to the entire cast of the Narnia movies.

 

Tell us your “guilty pleasure” movie of the last few years—something you wouldn’t necessarily rave about, but like in spite of yourself.

 

Oh, this is easy and recent: Burlesque! I went on a weekday night to the Roosevelt Cinemas with my eleven-year-old daughter and one of my best girlfriends and the only thing that marred the evening was my daughter shushing us when we got overenthusiastic.  She couldn’t hear the music.

 

You must have been very overenthusiastic, because Christina Aguilera isn’t exactly quiet.

 

No one has ever accused me of being quiet, either.

 

I love it when somebody like Jessica Simpson is all over the magazine for weeks, in advance of some desperate flick like Private Valentine, and then your review comes out and you pan it and give it half a star.  Do you ever feel pressure from the editors or the celebrities themselves to be kinder in your critiques?

 

We go for the sin of omission. Sometimes, in reviews, if we don’t have any thing nice to say we keep silent.

 

Until now, you’ve been the one offering criticism on someone else’s creative endeavor.  How has it been for you, now that the tables are turned?

 

The process is scary. I try not to cry. Some days I’m more successful than others.

 

It can be really brutal.  You just have to accept the praise and tune out the negative stuff—easier said than done, of course.  But hey, at least Paris Hilton isn’t on Goodreads.  I could see her wanting to hurl rotten tomatoes at you.

 

Well, in Paris’s case, I’m not sure she could string the biting sentences together to really slay me.

 

Playdate centers around Lance Ramsay, an erstwhile weatherman who, when the success of his wife’s business compels the family to quit Barstow for Encinitas, quits his job and becomes a househusband.  I’m wondering about the impetus for the novel.  Are you, or have you ever been, a stay-at-home dad?

 

No. Never. However, Lance does have a daughter. I do, too. His wife Darlene had trouble with breastfeeding and so did I. And, like their daughter Belle, I had an autocratic elementary-school teacher named Mr. Baumgart who had a buzz cut and dandruff.

 

He was based on someone real?  Oh, man.  He’s a dick.

 

Mr. Baumgart, if you are still alive, I toss a chalkboard eraser at your head.

 

Lance is viewed as both loser and lover, hero and heel.  I find that there is this duality about stay-at-home dads, which I write about extensively in Fathermucker—our patriarchal society is not quite evolved enough to accept them wholesale.  You delve into this during the (highly awkward) dinner scene, in Robin’s speech:

[SAHDs] face social prejudice just for being who they are.  Even as America becomes more aware of their presence — like people with disabilities in the nineties, gays coming out in the eighties, or the civil rights and women’s movements of the sixties and seventies — these men are still rare enough to be considered a Jay Leno punch line.  And, like anybody else who works, like any stay-at-home mother, they want respect for what they do.  They want acknowledgement that raising kids is important, even if they don’t get that paycheck validation.

What do you think?

 

I think parents are underappreciated in the professional classes, and that goes double for dads because they can no longer define who they are by what they earn. On the other hand, if a father of triplets takes his kids to the grocery store, the other customers ooh and aah. Less so a mother with squalling toddlers. So like the loser-lover, hero-heel duality, SAHD’s get extra props for doing things mothers have done for centuries, but they also face a different wall of social criticism.

 

Well said. Lance’s wife owns Darlene’s Diner, an eatery whose popularity is based on the fact that it’s extremely kid- and mom-friendly.  I love this idea (the Barstow version, anyway).  Is this based on anything in reality?

 

Not that I know of although I’m sure that they are in the works. It came from my fantasy of a place to take my kids that was better than the ball pit at the Burger King.

 

The one in Highland?  That’s a damned fine ball pit!

 

And I’m sure it’s also a great place to contract chicken pox.

 

Yeah, it’s pretty much a CDC lab in there.  But there are some great diners in upstate New York.  Have you been to the Eveready?

 

I love the Eveready. My favorite diet meal: scrambled eggs and sweet potato fries.

 

My favorite diet meal: cheeseburger, onion rings, and large Diet Coke.  I don’t want to give anything away here, but there’s, like, a lot of sex and sex-talk in your book.  Is there really an Idiots’ Guide to Tantric Sex?

 

Yes!

 

I bet Sting has a copy. Your book’s greatest strengths, I think, are the plot (snappy, with a big finish) and the dialogue (witty, with a number of zingers).  This, plus the aforementioned sex, means that Playdate has all the elements of a Hollywood movie.  Did you approach the novel cinematically?  Did you have that in mind when writing it?

 

My first impetus was to write a script that crossed Shampoo with Mr. Mom. I’m the rare writer that was too lazy to write a screenplay and wrote a novel instead.

 

Last question: if they made a Playdate movie, what would happen when it came time to review it for Us Weekly?  Would you have to recuse yourself, like a Supreme Court justice?

 

Yes. I take my job as seriously as if I was a Supreme Court justice, and I spend almost as much time sitting.



Angelina Jolie has everything—a successful career, a romance with Brad Pitt, a crew of cute kids and millions in the bank—except for the one thing she really needs: friends. “Angelia is hungry for normal moms to be around,” a source close to the star, 34, tells Hot Stuff. “She feels like she lives in a bubble.” She’s also having trouble managing stress, says a second insider, who notes that Jolie “has been overwhelmed lately with the children. She has nannies, but she likes to do it all herself. She’s very hands-on—but she’s exhausted!”

Us Weekly, January 4, 2010

 

Dear Angelina,

I’m writing today in response to the above-referenced piece in Us Weekly’s “Hot Stuff” section, which I read as a cry for help.

Let me begin by saying that, as a “co-parent” to two lovely children, Dominick, 5, and Prudence, 3, I totally understand what you’re going through. It’s hard enough making friends with other mommies and daddies, but for someone as in the public eye as you are? Wowsers.

Put it this way: if my only option for parental peerage consisted of Katie Holmes and Victoria Beckham, I’d live in semi-isolation, too. Who wants to go to all those soccer games?

The truth is, other than your choice of profession—and the movie-star good looks—you have little in common with most Hollywood moms (Kendra and Kourtney? Kome on). Your slender physique and great beauty belie the fact that you are quite the heavy. You’ve got gravitas, girl. And that must take its toll. Between the visits to Third World countries, the U.N. Goodwill Ambassadorship, Beyond Borders, and Notes From My Travels—not to mention a slate of roles in particularly downer films (A Mighty Heart, Changeling)—you, my dear, are desperately in need of a little sunshine.

And I know just the person to provide that sunshine, not to mention the sororial bonding you need from another in-the-trenches mommy: my wife, Stephanie.

I think you and Steph would, like, totally hit it off. I mean, you have a lot in common: You both had reluctant C-sections. You both lost your mother to cancer. You’re both of French-Canadian/Native American stock. You both like Atlas Shrugged. You’re married to two of the sexiest bohunks alive, both of whom are repped by the same film agency. You’re the same age (OK, Steph is a tiny bit older than you, but she’s still way younger than Brad). And you know how you’re a political lefty but your dad voted for McCain? Same with Stephanie!

Because she lived in the East Village for fifteen years, my wife won’t be wowed by your enormous celebrity. She went to school with Taye Diggs, she has friends who write for SNL, her best friend played Marius in Les Mis on Broadway. (Plus, not to toot my own horn here, but she shares a bed with the author of Totally Killer and the senior editor of the hottest literary site on the Web). In fact, other than the time she accosted Matthew Broderick in the health food store and told him she thought he was “the best comedic actor ever” before turning tail and fleeing in shame, Steph is totally chill when it comes to hobnobbing with the rich and famous. She knows that what Us Weekly says about stars is bang-on true—they’re just like us!

What else you might like to know is that Steph is both a talented musician and a graduate student pursuing a masters in mental health counseling. So not only can she serve as a sounding board/therapist and help you manage the stress we read about in said magazine—and frankly, it’s refreshing to hear that movie stars feel stress about their children that doesn’t involve finding discreet babysitters so they can stay out all night with other movie stars—she can also belt out a killer rendition of “Wheels on the Bus.” Plus, she’s really funny, and she does a top notch Scarlett Johansson impression.

Me, you’ve obviously heard of, because of my affiliation with this fine online magazine and because I drew a standing-room-only crowd at my reading with Duke Haney at Book Soup in West Hollywood a few weeks back. What you may not know is, I’ve spent the last five years as a sort-of stay-at-home dad, eking out a living doing freelance work. Sort of like you with Kung Fu Panda, but with a much smaller paycheck. Also, I’m an astrologer, so I can do your chart (assuming the birth time on IMDB is accurate, I already know that you’re a Cancer Rising and that Venus conjuncts your Ascendant, which means, if you will forgive a technical horoscopy term, that you’re hot).


Brangelina, meet Grephanie

Brangelina, meet Grephanie

We live in New Paltz, a charming and crunchy college town in New York’s Hudson Valley. I know you spent time in Albany while filming your upcoming blockbuster Salt. Let me assure you: this ain’t Albany. Unlike the state capital, New Paltz is a place that tourists actually want to visit. Mohonk Mountain House is here—many movies have been shot there, as you are no doubt aware—plus we have Huguenot Street, the oldest residential street in North America. Brad will like that, because he’s an architecture buff.

You know who else is an architecture buff? Our son, Dominick. He just turned five, and he spent all afternoon reading A Field Guide to American Houses, which American Libraries cleverly calls “the definitive field guide to American homes.” He knows the subtle differences between the Beaux Arts and Second Empire styles, and he really wants to visit Cleveland because of all the lovely historic homes there. More to the point, there’s a girl in his dance class who sort of looks like Zahara, and he really likes her. This bodes well for playdates.

As for our daughter, Prudence and Shiloh are the same age, and they both have awesome names. (Let me take a moment to compliment you on your good taste in that department. Maddox, Zahara, Pax, Shiloh, Knox, Vivienne…not a clunker in the bunch. No Apples, no Moseses, and no Olives, because Olive Pitt doesn’t quite work.) If Shiloh enjoys riding tricycles, belting out tunes at the top of her lungs, and playing non-competitive games of hide-and-seek, she’ll get along with Prue just fine.

While it’s true that New Paltz is quite a distance from Los Angeles, New Orleans, Paris, Berlin, Phnom Penh, Namibia, and other places where we think you might maintain residences—and, while we’re on the topic, might I suggest that, exhilarating as globe-trotting must be, especially under the imprimatur of the United Nations, it might be easier for both you and your children to make friends if you commit to a single locale—we are right down the road from Woodstock, so it’s not like we’ve never seen celebrities before (although so many of our citizens support a mandatory death sentence for television that it’s entirely possible that you could accompany Stephanie to Bacchus for a few Fin du Mondes and TMZ would never be the wiser).

Another thing: Stephanie already has a really great circle of mommy friends. These are ladies you would really dig. Liz, who has four kids—including twins, like you—is really funny and down to earth and has great taste in music. S.L., like you, has lots of tattoos and tastes that run Goth; I don’t think she’d wear her husband’s blood in a vial around her neck, but the idea wouldn’t repulse her. And check this: Elizabeth and her husband Tim have two adoptive children from Guatemala, and next month, they’re getting two more, this time from Rwanda. That’s right—Rwanda. Plus, Tim’s car runs on vegetable oil. I bet even Leo’s car doesn’t do that.

Oh, and there’s this. I’ve heard the rumors that you and Brad occasionally run into conflict because from time to time you like to—how shall I put this?—put the “XX” in sex. (I’m guessing that’s what you meant when you told Das Neue last week that you “doubt that fidelity is absolutely essential for a relationship.”) Assuming these rumors are legit, and not a feeble attempt by your Foxfire co-star Jenny Shimizu to resuscitate her career, let’s just say that in these parts, we tend to be quite liberal when it comes to that sort of thing. We’re down with bisexual OPP.

True, Stephanie and I have never broached the subject. But say you guys were hanging out, availing yourselves of the drink specials while grooving to the Big Shoe show at Oasis, and one thing led to another…who am I to deny the happiness of the Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Refugee Agency?

The point is, you’ll find my wife and I very supportive of your lifestyle choices. Like, we think it’s really cool that you guys won’t get married until marriage is a universal right. In fact, one of the reasons we moved to New Paltz is because our then-mayor, Jason West, performed gay marriages at Village Hall. Like I said, this ain’t Albany.

If you’d rather not relocate from sunny Los Angeles to a place where the winters are cold and slush-filled and the Subarus outnumber the Porsches just to cultivate a friendship with a woman you met by reading a letter her husband wrote on a Web site whose influence, while mighty, was insufficient to convince Janeane Garofalo to boink a handsome and debonair Aussie fifteen years her junior…hey, I understand. I won’t take it personally. But if you’re willing to give it a shot, have “your people” call “our people,” and let’s set up a playdate. You won’t be disappointed.

Hope to hear from you soon.

Best regards,

Greg Olear

PS

We have a jumpy castle.