I’m sure many of you are tired of reading about Manic Pixie Dream Girls, the quirky, hyper-verbal flibbertigibbets perpetually filling frowny sad sacks with joy and a renewed lust for life in various independent films, books and television shows. There has been all manner of conversation about these strange fantasy creatures as of late thanks to their appearance in recent projects like Ruby Sparks and Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World as well as Louie.
Hell, I’m tired of reading about Manic Pixie Dream Girls and I coined the fucking phrase but it’s damn near impossible to write about the latest episode of Louie without mentioning the seemingly ubiquitous archetype. That's because “Looking For Liz”, the first half of the episode, is essentially a meta-meditation on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl that finds a new, somehow even more disturbed Manic Pixie Dream Girl helping Louie look for an earlier Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
“Looking For Liz” even posits Liz, the unhinged book-store employee played by Parker Posey in “Daddy’s Girlfriend Pt.1” and “Daddy’s Girlfriend Pt. 2” as a literal dream girl, a treasured, seductive and deceptive memory that haunts Louie’s sleep in a series of split-second, almost subliminal flashes out of a David Lynch or Wong Kar-Wai movie.
Though Louie has managed to forget about her for a few episodes, it’s apparent Liz still occupies a privileged place in Louie’s fractured psyche so after their strange night together failed to end with an exchange of phone numbers or email addresses or even last names, Louie decides to go back to the bookstore where he met Liz and discovers that she no longer works there.
Unfortunately for Louie, Liz’s replacement at the bookstore (Chloe Sevigny, looking very Manic Pixie Dream Girl in grad school glasses, a Cosby sweater, corduroy skirt and immaculately mussed bleach blonde hair) takes an interest in Louie’s tale of love, or at least, infatuation, won and lost. She takes more than an interest in Louie’s faltering love life: she develops a questionable instant obsession with Louie’s dilemma and decides to make it her mission to help Louie find what she seems convinced is the love of his life and his soul mate.
Like many Manic Pixie Dream Girls, and also the un-medicated mentally ill (there’s a whole world of overlap between the two groups), Sevigny’s overly intense dreamer alternately sees the quest for love as a test, an adventure, a dare and an elaborate cosmic scavenger hunt. In other words, she sees it as anything other than the beginning of a healthy, stable romantic relationship. Yet Louie tags along after her all the same because, well, she looks like Chloe Sevigny and because the prospect of spending an afternoon riding her crazy train is a lot more appealing than simply giving up and going home.
If Sevigny’s character is romantic to an almost pathological degree, she’s not alone. A moony, love-struck Louie says of Liz in a wild fit of hyperbole, “She changed how I feel about everything, in one night.” Surely you can’t just let something like that go without a long, hard fight, right? Even if everything in the universe, and especially Liz's own behavior screams to let it go?
“I want to help a romantic thing happen.” Sevigny's book-loving stalker-type says of her desire to help Louie find his lost love but it’s not entirely clear that she doesn’t want to help a romantic thing happen for herself as well, since there’s a weird, uncomfortable element of flirtation in her intense emotional investment in the love life of a total stranger or rather two total strangers. Like Liz, who is so similar to Sevigny’s character that they often seem like variations on the same person (and archetype), the new bookstore clerk needs the world to be a never-ending string of climaxes (some more literal than others, as we will see) or it’s hopelessly boring and bland and barely worth bothering with.
So Sevigny’s character ventures out into the big city with Louie in search of Liz but her pixie charm doesn’t work on a doorman at Liz’s building who immediately pegs her as an unbalanced liar and refuses to divulge Liz's last name or apartment number. Sevigny’s character wants to facilitate true love between two strangers and when that proves more time and labor intensive than previously imagined, and Louie’s already-wavering commitment to finding Liz fades, she freaks out and begins masturbating desperately to Louie's understandable horror. After finishing, she tells Louie, “Just so you know, I’m married. So please don’t come by the store or anything.”
I wonder if C.K had to resist the urge to tag “Looking For Liz” with Louie abashedly looking at the concerned coffee store clerk and saying, “I’ll have what she’s having.” I guess not, because C.K is a genius and I’m the kind of guy who couldn’t resist making a joke like that.
Louie is rightly praised for its cinematic qualities: the arts world would be a much richer place if the average independent film was half as cinematic as Louie. But “Looking For Liz” feels more like a short story than a short film, more Philip Roth than 1970s-era Woody Allen. The segment resembles the episodes that precede it so strongly that it could just as easily be named “Daddy’s Girlfriend Pt. 3” but it has a disturbing personality all its own, and ends with a gut-punch of a final line, as memorable in its own way, if not quite as hacky, as “I’ll have what she’s having.”
The episode’s second segment similarly explores the unfathomable mysteries of the female psyche. “Lilly Changes” finds Louie temporarily freaking out when he can’t immediately find his older daughter Lilly while picking his daughters up from school. Louie eventually finds Lilly but is disturbed to find her getting bullied by mean girls.
Louie desperately attempts to cheer Lilly up by buying her ice cream and taking her to the park but she is beyond cheering up. She’s experiencing the kind of brutal growing pains no amount of ice cream can alleviate. There’s a great shot of Louie looking on with a look of lunatic hope as Lily rides a horse on a merry-go-round morosely.
Louie’s fears of not being able to understand his daughter’s pain, or get her out of a funk are exacerbated when Louie comes home to find Lilly gone. “Lilly Changes” captures the sense when you lose something of value that the whole world is spinning out of control, that everything is off-kilter and cannot be made right again until what’s missing is found.
One of the great joys of Louie’s unconventional structure lies in the surprising way characters re-appear from episode to episode and season to season. In “Lilly Changes”, for example, a zaftig teacher Louie fantasized about in an earlier episode badgers him for help at an inopportune time and the saintly gay couple that earlier helped Louie in a time of need are seen in the midst of a hellacious fight.
“Lilly Changes” ends on a sly note of anti-climax, with the police arriving at Louie’s home to discover that Lilly has been reading in a closet the whole time her father has been worrying about her. A contrite Lilly apologizes for being moody and unpleasant to her family after being bullied and Louie is left in a familiar position: profoundly confused and overwhelmed yet resigned to his fate and the fundamental unknowability of the universe in general and women in particular.
- I really like how different Louie’s relationship is with each of his daughters.
- Life in a nutshell, according to Louie: “Buy some shit, use it, it breaks. Try to fuck somebody. Hope your shits don’t hurt too bad.”
- So Louie thinks Liz is 32? That’s got to be off by at least a decade.
- Is this the end of the Liz saga? I honestly have no idea. That’s part of what makes Louie so great: it’s damn near impossible to know where it’s going to go. I suspect that’s true even of CK.