I once expressed an interest in fanfiction about the television show Succession and she looked at me with infinite pity in her eyes and said “I think we’re just very different people.”
In fifth grade, Annaliese Rozos was tasked with dressing up as a historical figure and giving a presentation on their life for a school project. You can imagine rows of prepubescent Abe Lincolns and Amelia Earharts, maybe one JFK in a little suit (maybe multiple JFKs—she went to a very Catholic elementary school). Annaliese dressed as Katharine Hepburn. And, of course, spoke in a Transatlantic accent. This is what we in the entertainment biz call “foreshadowing.”
“Why didn’t I pick someone normal?” She laughed. “I remember trying to figure out how I could say that she had an affair.”
She has maintained her childhood love of movies—and then some. As of 2023, Annaliese knows every winner of Best Picture in the history of the Academy Awards. In order. (“I started learning about it in 2020, because it was 2020. What else was I gonna fuckin’ do?” Her speech has just a little old school New York in it—gerunds might lose their gs, “jewelry” always loses its l, “horrible” is “haww-rrible.”) She also knows all the lead actresses and most of the lead actors, with a solid grasp on both supporting categories. Name a year, she’ll tell you the winners. It’s impressive, if unsettling. She is also a prolific user of the amateur film reviewer/film bro social network, Letterboxd.
Annaliese sat in her bedroom in the Bronx for our conversation. The wall behind her was covered in posters and artwork mostly made by friends, including a postcard-sized portrait of her with a cigarette, a drawing of two of her best friends as characters from The Simpsons, and posters of such trailblazing women as Nina Simone, Fiona Apple, and Katie Maloney of the reality show Vanderpump Rules. On the dresser (of Ikea provenance) to her left was a plastic display case for her collection of earrings, mostly hoops: giant silver, golden with her name in script, heart-shaped. In general, her personal style. . . well, you’ve heard of a lipstick lesbian? She’s a Chapstick Kinsey 5. Partial to overalls and combat boots, keeps her hair shoulder length, wears absolutely no makeup, and keeps her keys on a carabiner hanging from her belt loop. Functional. “I don’t like to think about getting dressed. It’s the worst part of my day.” The perennial earrings are her lone concession to conventional femininity—announcing that, whatever her misgivings about the beauty industry or dressing for the male gaze, she is, in fact, a Black girl from the Bronx.
Annaliese is my older sister, and I flounder a bit trying to come up with a pithy descriptor for everything else that she is. I once described her as a Manic Pixie Dream Hag (“hag” in the “friends with a gay man” sense, not the “lives in a bog” sense.) She goes with me to the theater, loves pop divas, and knows a lot about queer theory. Sometimes I halfway believe she is the product of my own fevered homosexual imagination trying to create the ideal best friend. I would also describe her as the coolest girl in the lunchroom, if your high school happened to be the cinephile side of Twitter. And, at the risk of trading in broad caricatures, she is also a High-strung Intellectual Type, with a degree in sociology from Columbia and an anxious personality that combines Felix Unger-level hypochondria with good old-fashioned paranoia (She blames her star sign: “When you’re a Sagittarius, you feel like you’re living in Three Days of the Condor.”)
She has described herself, variously, as an “uptown bird with no tact” (we were raised in Washington Heights and the Bronx); a “pot-bellied sex symbol” (verbiage she stole from an old tabloid headline about Jack Nicholson); a “woman, Sagittarius, New Yorker, and commuter, in that order”; and a combination of Sex and the City’s Miranda Hobbes, Katie from The Way We Were, Kat from 10 Things I Hate About You, both Peggy Olson and Don Draper from Mad Men, and “any character Katharine Hepburn played where she wore pants.” So: sarcastic, maybe a skosh too absorbed in work, not too terribly emotionally open, unapologetically left wing and feminist, and outwardly agnostic about romantic love. If she were a character in one of her beloved Old Hollywood films, she’d be the tough-as-nails career gal.
About Old Hollywood overall, she says she is “ambivalent, but ultimately positive.” The rampant labor rights abuses and the blackface? Not her favorite. But she is a film lover, and that era and system gave us film at its most filmic. The constraints around sexuality made everything more erotic, the complete lack of realism only made the emotional stakes all the more real, and the stars were stars. Hepburn in particular, with her non-traditional femininity, the rumors of queerness that surrounded her, that I dare you set to her jaw and her quick wit, is an apt mirror of Annaliese. And her affinity for these films shows that, for all her practicality, my sister has a deep-seated love of grandeur and romance. (The tough-as-nails career gal, after all, usually ends up being swept off her feet by the end of the movie.)
She works as an administrator for an arts program, and runs a music program (that she co-founded at the age of twenty-one) for girls and trans youth during the summers. “[If I hadn’t gone into arts education,] I probably would have become a writer,” she says. I pressed her on that: does she ever think of sharing her opinions through a podcast or writing a newsletter? She replies immediately that she thinks about it every day but resists the urge because a podcast hosted by her and her friends would be “unintelligible to the average human being.” She means it self-deprecatingly, but it’s also true in a more complimentary sense. Sometimes, you feel like you need an MFA in media studies to keep up with her. Her jokes (alternatingly highbrow and goofy, arch and empathetic) rely on a comprehensive knowledge of the past hundred years or so of film, television, and music. To construct a Rozos-typical quip, take references from various levels of popular culture—from Pulitzer Prize-winning drama to the Real Housewives, quite often in the same breath—throw them in a centrifuge, and give the resulting slurry an Ivy League education and an outer-boroughs accent.
One of her favorite joke constructions is to describe a piece of media (or a real life situation) as “a gay fantasia on national themes,” which is, of course, the subtitle of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. Season 2 of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills is a gay fantasia on national themes, for example. So was the post-COVID re-opening party for Broadway’s Phantom of the Opera. So is the season of Sex and the City that aired right after 9/11.
It is of course possible I find Annaliese so funny largely because our frames of reference overlap so closely and because I’ve known her for my whole life. There is an understanding in our family that we are to be separated in games of charades because we are so disconcertingly attuned to each other’s thoughts. It’s a nice thought, if you feel like dwelling on it: I know her so well it’s actually unfair.
Rozos was raised— and I can say this with some certainty— by two New York natives: her mother is an “opinionated, jovial” Black social worker-turned-homemaker with an almost uncanny ability to make friends, get out of speeding tickets, and take control of planning any event that may be happening in her general vicinity, and her father is a “cerebral, introverted” first generation Greek-American civil rights lawyer. (Something of a latter-day hippie, he has stealthily been trying to grow his silvering hair back into a ponytail since his wife made him chop it short in the ’90s.) From her father, she says she inherited her “taste in music,” “orientation toward social justice,” “work ethic,” and “anger issues.” From her mother, she inherited “everything else.” She has one brother, a dashing but approachable and really quite charismatic writer-actor—okay, okay. I must admit that I stole the structure of that joke from the 2003 film adaptation of The Cat in the Hat, if only because that film is a nostalgic favorite of my sister and I. The Cat (Mike Myers, because who else?) gets interrupted in the middle of describing himself as “witty and cultured and… tremendously attractive, but in a sort of real way, you know, kind of approachable—”
Like a lot of people of our generation, she had a love of hyper-referential movies: the aforementioned Cat in the Hat (there is a full Carmen Miranda pastiche musical number), Shrek 2, et al. Unlike a lot of people in our generation, she tended to catch most of the references. Our parents set to work fairly early showing us classic sitcoms (Annaliese remains faintly sexually attracted to Desi Arnaz to this day), Christopher Guest films, screwballs (hence the Hepburn cosplay), and late twentieth century rom-coms. She elaborated on the other influences on her sense of humor: “I am a child of the Internet, unfortunately, so I love a good one-liner. [Living in] New York, you’re exposed to a lot of different kinds of comedy . . . Doin’ the dozens is different from a very wry, New York Jewish sense of humor . . . it all goes down to the ethnic humor, I would say.” Her favorite comedian working today is Patti Harrison (who once impersonated an official brand account to tweet “We, the brand Nilla Wafers, are pansexual”), but the funniest celebrity (unintentionally) is Mark Wahlberg (second place goes to Matt Damon, specifically for saying “I say that in Stuck On You!” in defense of using the word faggot). Tellingly, when asked the old chestnut of dinner-with-anyone-dead-or-alive, she immediately said “Fran Leibowitz.” Then, after a pause: “Or Spike Lee.” She then proceeded to tell me about the time Lee interviewed Leibowitz at the 92nd Street Y.
I recently took a course on Sophocles’ Antigone. The ill-fated protagonist says she is willing to die for her brother because, unlike a husband or a child, she can never have another brother. No one else will ever share your childhood with you.
I want to take a moment to dispel a few understandable but erroneous assumptions a reader might make about Annaliese. First, due to her tendency to be not so much “closed-off” as “hermetically sealed” about difficult memories, one might conclude that she’s spent her entire life taking bubble baths, watching MGM musicals, and attending cocktail parties like the one from You’ve Got Mail (You know, the one where Tom Hanks eats the caviar garnish?) I tried to coax her into telling serious stories from her life by asking her to explain them as if they were pivotal scenes in a biopic. The results were not wholly satisfying: she included the story of her wandering home drunk and attempting to pee in a cup in Times Square without getting undressed (successful—“I was wearing wide legged pants”) and dispose of it (unsuccessful—she immediately spilled it on herself) but no tales of trauma, grief, heartbreak, or even the college essay-friendly story of working with refugees in Athens one summer. “I don’t want to share my harrowing stories. I think those are better kept within,” she said, apparently not entirely self-aware of how 1950s-dad-who-doesn’t-talk-about-the-war that statement sounds. “I’m a shark, baby, I swim forward,” she elaborated later.
Secondly, Annaliese might appear on the page as indistinguishable from any number of Hip Young People who own a sizable number of Criterion Collection DVDs. NYU is crawling with these people and they tend, as a group, to be glib, unbothered aesthetes. In contrast, Annaliese cares deeply about—well, most things. She can get halfway to tears (or violent rage) thinking about gentrification, misogyny, or the mistreatment of children. She also feels passionately about: prison abolition; dismantling diet culture; Judy Garland (she has a recurring fantasy of driving past the houses of everyone who mistreated the former child star, ringing a bell and crying “murderers!” This plan might be complicated by the fact most people implicated are long-dead and Annaliese does not know how to drive); what really happened to Natalie Wood (her theory: Robert Wagner pushed her off that boat “and Christopher Walken knows about it! […] You know that movie where he [Wagner] pushed Joanne Woodward off the ledge? […] He was practicing!”); and media where John Corbett plays a supportive husband to a difficult or quirky woman (See My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Sex and the City, and United States of Tara. “Really good representation for people like me. Gave me hope.”). This may seem like a far-flung group of interests, but to me it all goes back to the “orientation toward . . . justice” she inherited from our father. Annaliese is the type of person who gets mad at you if you wash the dishes when it was supposed to be her turn—it’s just not fair, whether or not it benefits her. (You can see how she, from a young age, was drawn to the oddly egalitarian partnership of Hepburn and Tracey.)
Her ethics and passion should not be mistaken, however, for sweetness. She is, like most truly funny people, capable of being a real asshole. She has the curious ability to insult you in a way that makes it subtextually yet abundantly clear that she had written the insult in her head, perhaps weeks ago, and had just been waiting for the right time to say it. (I once expressed an interest in fanfiction about the television show Succession and she looked at me with infinite pity in her eyes and said “I think we’re just very different people.”)
One of my favorite books of all time is the novella Seymour: An Introduction by J.D. Salinger. The story is all about a man trying to get down on paper a fullish description of his strange, wonderful, larger-than-life older sibling. The text is so rambling, so sentimental, so overly stuffed with detail yet completely incapable of conveying a human totality that the story becomes less about the titular Seymour and more about his brother’s abject terror at the thought of losing any detail of him.
Back in her Bronx apartment (her MacBook laying on her taupe bedspread, decorated with homemade Nichols and May stickers that, incidentally, I gave her for Christmas), she gave one token to sentimentality in the course of our discussion: she recounted the time her favorite teacher presented her with an award for excellence in AP Composition. That teacher was “so amazing and wonderful—and sexy. But—you know that line in The Cat in the Hat where he’s like ‘but in a different way–’”
I interrupted her. “I WAS GONNA MAKE A CAT IN THE HAT JOKE!” (Recall that charming bit of business a few pages up.)
“I WAS GONNA DO THE SAME BIT BUT ABOUT MYSELF . . . ‘In really quite an approachable way’ or whatever.”
“Yes, that’s it!”
I’m not a math major, but the odds that we would both reach for a reference to a Certified Rotten Dr. Seuss film adaptation/Mike Myers star vehicle, within twenty-four hours of each other, without any prior consultation, have to be remarkably slim.
(Presumably this is why everyone hates playing charades against us.)