Drinking at the Movies
by Julia Wertz
Three Rivers Press
There’s something to be said for having goals. For being responsible and readying yourself for the next big challenge and having your ducks more or less in a row. For growing up smart and successful and being in a good position to take advantage of opportunities whenever they are presented to you in life.
That sounds like nice work if you can get it. But is there any help or advice for us poor fuck ups?
Drinking at the Movies says to me, well, if you can’t put yourself together the best you can do is hang on and see what happens. Rings true enough.
After a string of bad jobs and empty bottles of bourbon Julia Wertz finds herself, by the end of the book, in a pretty good place. After not so much learning and growing as just staying true to herself and, frankly, being lucky.
Those familiar with Wertz’s webcomic and its ups and downs will vaguely remember her past life back in San Francisco.
‘Oh, that Julia Wertz? When she had a boyfriend and her brother and mom were like her best friends and she said awesome crazy shit all of the time? I remember and liked her. Sure.’
Clearly, since moving to New York in 2007 a lot has happened for her. She’s gotten more exposure through publishing and it wouldn’t surprise me if the people coming to her books now — books like I Saw You…Missed Connections Comics which she edited and Drinking at the Movies which she wrote — were completely unaware of her early work. However, though Drinking at the Movies relies heavily on the reader knowing how good she had it to appreciate how far she fell, I do think she succeeds in bringing the newbie Wertz reader up to speed.
The book works for us obsessive fans too, answering questions like ‘WELL WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN, JULIA WHAT DOES IT MEAN?’ Because obviously her move to blogging, cessation of drinking and desire to disassociate from the fartparty.org webcomic that launched her must mean something, right? Sure it does. And this book lays it out for us: a lot of her memories from that period just fucking suck! Poor Wertzie. This book looks like a prelude to homelessness.
Without saying it straight, she’s definitely alluding to the fact that years of her life have been spent somehow, miraculously, not hitting rock bottom. She pushes away relationships — you could read that generally as people who would look out for her — in favor of friendships that allow her to indulge in bad habits like drinking. Constantly. She self-destructs regularly in the workplace. She takes no pride in herself physically. It’s funny in the right context — this context — but her constant brushes with the homeless and crazy in the book also remind you that if she didn’t have some percentage of a good head on her shoulders she could easily slip and be one of them.
So what does it all mean? It means she had a pretty good life for a bit, and so did those around her, until finally shit went crazy and when it all came back together it’s a miracle nobody died. Her move to New York was hard, finding work was hard, being a good sister to her drug-addled brother was hard. But somehow it all worked out. And she did it all alone too.
It’s evident through this book, and kind of shocking, how much she must have relied on Oliver back in San Francisco. Wertz is a wily bitch and me and my friends admire her a lot for that. But I guess there was something significant about that relationship at that time in her life that made losing it really hard. From the looks of it, she took years to recover.
It sucks. The first time you lose something you thought you could hang on to. The first time you free fall and try to make a life for yourself. Some people thrive under these circumstances and some people are lucky to just stay afloat — even if on a sea of booze. Miraculously, through it all, she managed to make friends, have new experiences, create art that is meaningful to people and have her work published. We learn in the book that someone even wants to turn her story into a television series, one that she would get to write. How cool is that?
So what’s weird to me as a reader and a Wertz fan is that the only time I really wanted to shake her like a baby and speak sense to her was when she decides not to commit to the TV show. ‘WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU TV IS AWESOME WHY DON’T YOU WANT TO WRITE FOR TV?’ But, you know. It’s not my life. And if I’d been at the helm, probably I wouldn’t have made it half so successful. Probably I would have stayed in San Francisco, sweeping up the remains of my brother’s life, feeling abandoned, living in an apartment I couldn’t afford, feeling sorry for myself and by all accounts miserable.
So while it may look like, geez, Drinking at the Movies is demonstrable proof of fuck-up-ery I’d say it’s definitely not. I’d say being risky and open to change and finding ways to accept and deal with change is something a person with a really bright future would do. As always, I look forward to Wertz’s next steps. As a cartoon character or a blogger or (PLEASE PLEASE) as a screenwriter.
— Sarah Morean