I’m officially old. I know because I spent most of Lady Bird identifying with the mom instead of the teenager, even when she wasn’t such a great mom.
Over the weekend, I walked up to the Georgetown theater to see Denial. I sat near an old married couple, near enough to hear him quietly give her his one-word opinion on each trailer. Skip or see. He’s apparently a tough critic because everything got a skip, but she contradicted him on Loving and Collateral Beauty. And the way she said “see” made me think that he is definitely going to have to sit through those two movies.
Despite the highly emotional nature of the controversy at its heart, Denial is a cerebral pleasure. To watch it is to view an inflammatory topic as an invisible member of a highly skilled legal team, dispassionately and strategically. I enjoyed it, but probably will not revisit.
Watching The Way, Way Back called to mind those Diary of a Wimpy Kid books*. How can that be when one is a tenderly vulnerable coming-of-age drama and the other is a series of deliberately unpolished, brashly misanthropic illustrated books for the elementary school set? I know it’s an odd connection to make, but bear with me.
Once upon a time, I worked as a children’s librarian, and that was during an era when the Wimpy Kid was A) insanely popular and B) controversial. The series drew scorn from a certain type of parent for all the usual reasons: It isn’t a “timeless classic” they read as a kid. It models inappropriate behaviors. It’s completely insubstantial (i.e., “they’re just cartoons”). It’s junk food for kids’ brains. Blah, blah, blah, hell, hand basket, something, something**.
Anyway, because it was my job to have an informed opinion on such things, I read all of the books that existed at that time (I think there are at least twice as many by now). And I actually thought they were terribly clever, but at the same time, I found them too frustrating to be truly entertaining. And here’s where we arrive at the point. What TWWB and the Wimpy Kid share is keen observation of the reality of youth. They remind me of the lives children really lead every day, and they put me back in a kid’s shoes. And that is somewhere I never want to be again. Ever. I’ve heard so many otherwise seemingly intelligent adults claim that they wish they could go back in time and be a kid again, and that level of delusional nostalgia blows my mind.
For starters, how can they not appreciate this? When I was a kid, I thought being a grown-up would be completely awesome. And I was correct. Spare me your whining about jobs, bosses, bills, and taxes. To me, it all seems like a fair trade. You don’t have to win the Nobel Prize. All you have to do is manage to achieve a baseline level of functional adulthood. Provide for yourself, and cooperate with the rest of society. That’s it. And in exchange for that, there are cars. And meals in restaurants. Vacations. Pets that you get to name. Relationships with people who actually choose you. Making your own decisions. Taking naps in your own living room on a couch you paid for. And reading whatever books you like, dammit.
Secondly, and more importantly, childhood blows. Yes, adulthood involves chores, but I remember having chores as a kid. Yes, adults have problems. But I had just as many problems when I was a kid, compounded by no control over my own life and thus zero ability to solve them. You could never in a million years convince me to go back to that. And that’s why it’s so uncomfortable when a piece of art can truly make me see life again through younger eyes with all the tiny injustices and huge misunderstandings. And that’s TWWB.
The first half-hour of TWWB is cringe-worthy. I literally watched some parts through my fingers like it was a horror movie. Because isn’t that an apt descriptor for the life of a 14-year-old trapped in a beach house with his meek mom and overbearing would-be step-father? But it’s worth sticking with the film for the sweet and believably low-key transformation the main character undergoes, as portrayed by Liam James. His Duncan will never be a cool kid, but he can find his crowd. And amazing performances abound with a cast list filled with notable character actors. It’s impossible to talk about this movie without bringing up the great Sam Rockwell, but everyone contributes in their own way to a memorable experience. I’m quite fond of this movie. I seriously doubt I’ll ever re-watch it, but it’s probably going to stick with me all the same.
* The movies based on them are unwatched by me.
** You folks at home can’t see it, but I’m making a jerking-off motion with my hand. I’m allowed to do that now because I am no longer a public servant.
We have a Level-Orange Dramedy Alert. If you’re interested in seeing the movie advertised in the trailers and tv spots, there’s a good chance that you’ll be disappointed. If you’re wondering why it underperformed even with a heavy promotional campaign, I suspect it has at least a little to do with targeting the wrong crowd.
Classic Bait and Switch
That said, I enjoyed it immensely. And I say that as someone who actively loathes the dramedy genre. Seriously, it’s the worst. But Don Jon is more like dramedy-lite. In that at least it’s not sad. I would characterize it not as sad, but rather just serious. This is some Serious Art House Stuff. And I do indeed dig that kind of thing every once in a while. Also, to give it proper credit, there are some laugh-out-loud funny moments; it’s just that the vast majority of them are spoiled in the trailer.
It’s worth seeing. Just make sure it’s up your alley before you plunk down your hard-earned dollars.
Stunning Realization: I have never seen a JGL movie I didn’t like. Even when he isn’t writing and directing, he picks awesome projects. He was in not one, but two of my favorite 2012 flicks: Looper and Premium Rush. I only recently came to this conclusion, though. So I might have to go back and explore a little more of his oeuvre.
Late Addendum: I have been reminded both that Gordon-Levitt acted in The Dark Knight Rises and that I hated that movie. Yes. This is true, even though it’s perhaps not quite as simple as that. His performance was almost my favorite thing in that movie. I say almost because the asinine “reveal” about his character leading into the film’s denouement pretty much ruined what was otherwise one of the very few entertaining elements for me and also because, well, Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman. So I still liked him even in a project that I didn’t ultimately approve. Hmm. Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.
Warm Bodies vs. John Dies at the End!
This deathmatch comes to us from last February. I saw Warm Bodies at the theater, and I streamed John through Amazon, as part of some sort of deal where slightly more obscure theatrical releases are available concurrently online. John is now already available for normal streaming through Amazon Instant Video and VUDU, but Warm Bodies won’t be released until early June.
Warm Bodies is officially the only zombie movie anyone will ever (accurately) label as “too saccharine.” But I liked it in spite of that. In the pantheon of zombie comedies, it takes a third to (obviously) Shaun of the Dead and even Zombieland, but it was the clear victor in this deathmatch. I was surprised how much I really enjoyed the competition this time, though.
Before I even cued up the opponents, John already had one point in its favor because it’s based on a book written by a gentleman who also wrote this article and this article, which are among my favorite things from the Internet. While I’m at it, I might as well recommend his entire Cracked article oeuvre.
As for the movie itself, John is really inventive and exciting, but also kind of rough. I’d almost say that I’d want to see a version of the same movie with the same actors only made through a big studio, just so that someone would’ve sanded down the edges a bit, but I’d be afraid the weird little bubble would burst and the whole thing would be ruined. As it is, I did belly laugh at least three times, but I’m not sure if it’s because what I was seeing was actually funny or because I was so startled. It feels more like a strange, strange little television pilot than a movie, but damn, I would watch that show.