Oh, she may be weary

In 2 Brothers and a Bride (aka A Foreign Affair, 2003), two brothers (Tim Blake Nelson and David Arquette) run a farm. After their mother dies, they travel to Russia in search of a bride to help cook and clean for them. It’s an odd film, and I think the filmmakers were going for quirky. Real-life clients and would-be brides appeared as extras as the film, and scenes were shot during an actual “romance tour” in St. Petersburg, Russia. You can feel the desperation from both the male suitors and the mail-order brides.

And that desperation also comes through in the library scene. In an early scene — just ten minutes into the film — the elder brother, Jake (Nelson), goes to the public library to look at newspaper ads, where he spots the ad for mail-order brides. The plot of the movie hinges on this two-minute library scene.

After spotting the ad, which includes a web site address, Jake looks over his shoulder at the librarian, seen stamping books in the background. This small gesture reveals his nervousness.

He braves the reference desk and asks the librarian (Allyce Beasley as Library Lady) for help.

Jake:  I want to go on the Internet.

Library Lady:  Ok. You may.

[He just stands there, unsure.]

Library Lady:  You need help. Go ahead. You can say it. I really need help. [putting fist to her chest, see below]

Jake:  I need help.

Arghhh, the clutter! This is probably a real working library.

I think they were going for funny here — and it may be funny, I’m probably just too close to it — but the librarian’s actions in this scene seem VERY condescending to me. I said out loud at the screen, “You’re not making us look good here, lady… ”

The scene cuts to Jake seated at a computer carrel, with the librarian leaning over his shoulder and giving him directions.

Such a good camera angle to demonstrate how trapped and awkward Jake must be feeling. And this physical set-up — the wooden study carrel adapted for computer use — feels so familiar. I’m sure this was filmed in a real library.

Library Lady:  See, move the arrow like this, then you click, to go to…

[Looks at Jake, he looks back]

Library Lady:  Where? Name of the web site. You got to type it.

Jake [quietly]:  Loveme.com

The librarian’s reaction? She stares straight ahead, her expression hardly changing, and then a little sigh escapes. “There’s a 20-minute time limit. You got 16 left.” She then whispers to him, “I’m watching you, buddy”.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of her facial expression before and after he tells her the web address URL.

She’s on porn alert. You can tell. And he can tell. After he looks around the site a bit, he looks up and finds the librarian standing and stacking books and watching him, a weary expression on her face.

I’m watching you, buddy.

As he is shown preparing for the trip in the next few scenes, he obviously got what he needed at the library. The Library Lady character serves in an Information Provider role in a variety of ways: she provides info to Jake about computers and library use policies, and she provides info to the audience as an example of the obstacles these brothers face, as well as reflecting the social attitude toward mail-order brides.

In many ways, this is a pretty realistic scene. I’ve dealt with this kind of situation in real life, especially back when I started out in public libraries (in 2003, also the year of this film’s release!). I taught computer classes and helped people learn how to use computers and the Internet and what a computer mouse was used for. There was a regular male user who would come in to look at these kinds of “international dating” sites — heck, it might have even been the actual site used in this movie! — who wasn’t very good with computers. So I get it. I get the weariness this librarian must be feeling, with all that stamping and book processing and showing people how to use computers and having to be on the lookout for porn use in public spaces like the library. But the understandable weariness of this reel librarian gets turned into condescension in this film, which isn’t very flattering to our profession. And her look isn’t very flattering, with her drab colors and buttoned-up clothing and I-give-up hairstyle. And she has given up. She’s jaded. That’s what makes this portrayal a little too close for comfort. (Sigh.)

Like I mentioned earlier, real-life clients and would-be brides were used in this film. And “A Foreign Affair,” the original title, gets its name from a real “international dating” site. When we were taking screenshots of the site Jake looks at in the film, I was thinking to myself, “Oooh, this would be a good example to point out these old-school kind of websites.” Then I tried out the URL mentioned in the film, and it’s the SAME site. Same URL, colors, layout, frames, much of the same wording, even the same phone number (see below). After almost a decade. WOW. You don’t see that very often.

The site as shown onscreen in 2003

The site in 2012

What’s odd, though, is that this film — which could be seen basically as a movie-length commercial/testimonial for this obviously thriving business — is NOT mentioned on this site’s Media page. Hmmm…

Yes, this is the kind of stuff librarians look up. For the benefit of mankind. 😉

And in case you’re interested, here’s an interview with David Arquette about the movie, in costume as Josh Adams.

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