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Tuesday, August 13, 2002

"It's Pat" Revisited, Part 2

By Kevin John

Like so many cultish figures ("The Three Stooges," "Ren & Stimpy" and everyone in George Cukor's 1935 meisterwerk "Sylvia Scarlett" come to mind), Pat (the central character in "It's Pat — The Movie") has difficulty taking up a proper place in late capitalism. Before Pat's neighbor, Kyle Jacobs, ever appears on screen, we witness Pat failing at several jobs. There's a distinctly Gen X tone to Pat's scenes that displays a tantrum-prone aversion to hard work. And here the film makes use of another foil, Chris (Dave Foley), an androgyne with whom Pat has fallen in love.

Chris functions as a vaguely new-agey reminder of how work is overdetermined as the primary index of identity. Work links Pat and Chris from their very first meeting. Pat is at the strip joint where Chris tends bar only because Pat is checking the gas as a Gas Management Specialist and Advisor for Southland Gas. Soon we learn that Chris has adjusted quite well to the late capitalist vagaries: s/he knows to shake Kyle's hand when they first meet; s/he has a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology ("but I just love bartending"); s/he has held down the bartending job for 10 years; and s/he serves as Pat's perpetually malfunctioning superego.

When Chris discovers that Pat lost yet another job at the LaBrea Tar Pits, s/he tells Pat, "If you don't have a satisfying career by the time you're in your early 30s, which you are, Pat, then you'll probably never achieve any sort of real happiness, your marriage will fail and your chances of finding a good job are about as likely as being struck by lightning."

Pat, on the other hand, believes a stint on "America's Creepiest People" (fittingly, Chris watches the broadcast at work; even more fittingly, Pat gets home late and misses the beginning) will bring fame and riches. Yet even though Chris finds this "goal" of fame and riches to be "the goals of an empty soul," Pat manages to land a job anyway as a radio personality; laziness and chance instead of hard work pay off divinely.

For me, "It's Pat — The Movie" is not merely an archetypal Generation X fantasy; it's a fantasy of escaping ideological constraints overall and still miraculously managing to get ahead in life. Of course, that sentence is self-contradictory, as if "getting ahead in life" weren't itself an ideological constraint, and, for sure, the film never resolves that contradiction itself.

Nevertheless, Pat is a character so uninterpolated, so unhailed by common sense or status-quo wisdom that s/he doesn't even shake Kyle's outstretched hand when they first meet. For better or for worse (usually worse), capitalism has a place for the most hopeless anti-socialite. Like "Stir of Echoes," then, "It's Pat — The Movie" is an entirely apropos film for a generation coming to terms with this reality. And I cannot wait to see what kind of films get made once we fall off the edge of 40.

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