I don't go to the movies much.
Every now and again, my girls collar me and drag me to some girlie flick with them, but by and large, I'm not big on the theatre experience. Too many people, and too large a percentage of them are ignorant and unresponsive to even the acid bath that is my "Shut the Fuck Up" look. I also don't like being charged $3 for a SMALL Diet Coke, the sticky floors (I know, I know, could be worse, ever been in a porn theatre?), and the fact I have to rely on somebody else to set the volume controls.
I have a big TV and a DVD player and patience. So I rent a lot of movies. In fact, the revolving clerks at my video store are always impressed that I can reel off my seven-digit membership number. (I say "Look in the top right corner of the screen, where it has "Number of total movies rented". They go "Holy shit." Because it would be rude to say "Do you have no life?")
When you see as many movies as I do, you're always on the lookout for some gems. I've given up relying on movie trailers to offer me a sense of what I'll be seeing ever since the trailer for "Throw Momma From the Train" promised the funniest movie experience of our or anybody else's lifetime, and it turned out that all three jokes in the movie were crammed into the 30 second clip. I don't have any reviewers with whom I consistently agree. Ebert and Whoever give it Two Thumbs Up? Yeah, they did that for some real crap, too.
Sometimes - not always, but sometimes - I'll listen to my kids about movies they've seen. And sometimes they'll rave about a movie and I'll agree, and other times I'll get home, slap it into the DVD player and a half hour into the flick, I'll think "Did that child really spring from my loins or was she switched in the nursery from some other infant with no sense of humour?"
It's odd, isn't it? I can like a person - even love a person. I can see eye to eye with him or her on 95% of any topic we choose. I can rely on their judgement with life decisions, fashion, music, cooking, gardening, anything. But then I bring home a movie that he or she has adored and think, "I don't know this person at all."
And later they'll see me and say "So? Didn't you love it? Wasn't it great when the elephant started to goose the fat lady and she turned around and punched it and it fell down and squashed the cat?" And I'm thinking "Keep the smile on. Don't let her know that was the one part of the movie you were hoping they'd apologize sheepishly for, and that now you're pretty sure she's either a racist or an advocate of cruelty to animals or she just didn't understand what she was watching." And you have to re-think your whole opinion of that person.
So I was hesitant when my friend Laura recommended "The Family Stone" to me. What if I hated it, thought it was moronic or badly written or boring or banal and predictable or just plain offensive? Would I have to re-think my opinion of her? Was a five-dollar rental enough to risk a decade-long friendship over? Well, evidently it was, because I did rent it.
I loved it.
I was actually a bit surprised in watching it, because Laura's recommendation had been fairly vague - "It's the kind of movie I think you'd love" - and she knows my tastes run to romantic comedies. And that's what the packaging on the box promised - a comedy about relationships and love and family and life. Perfect.
But in the end, I don't know that I'd call it a "comedy" - at least, not primarily. There are some chuckles, some cute moments, some moments that even caught me by surprise and made me laugh out loud - something I rarely do at home in front of the TV. But on the whole, I'd call this a very well crafted relationship drama about a large, rollicking, extended family who get together for Christmas. This year, they get to meet the severe, mildly distasteful, very different girlfriend brought home by the favoured eldest son. And she gets to experience the joy of not being instantly accepted by a tightly knit family.
This movie is well-crafted in every sense. The writing is crisp and believeable; people actually say whay they would say, instead of what a screenwriter would have them say, if that makes any sense. The cast (including Sarah Jessica Parker and Diane Keaton, two actors I am pretty ambivalent about) is uniformly wonderful with not a weak performance to be found, and the direction moves the story beautifully along. There are some lovely non-verbal moments - moments that will warm your heart and make you seep tears. It's an emotional movie in the very best sense of the word. I echo Laura's recommendation. So, two thumbs way up.
I rented "Must Love Dogs" because I've learned to trust John Cusack's choices in scripts. If he's involved, I'm pretty sure I'll like the writing. And this one had a bonus - Diane Lane, who I think is not only drop dead gorgeous (her kind of beauty just weakens me), but is also an amazing actress who is not in nearly enough movies.
It was a lovely romantic comedy - not, perhaps, an enduring classic but one that was thoroughly entertaining from the start to the end. It's about the pitfalls of re-entering the dating world - including some hilarious dates gone bad - and it's about finding and pursuing something that you can't deny is just ... right. I loved it.
And finally, last night I watched "North Country" with Charlize Theron starring in a story inspired by true events in the Minnesota mining industry. In the mid-1980s, women were finally employed by the mines, only to go through harrowing abuse and horribly aggressive sexual harrassment. This is the story of a woman who decides to fight it, stands up to a thousand men and a hostile corporation, and who won the first ever class action sexual harrassment lawsuit.
Charlize Theron can act the hell out of anything, and here she's joined by Frances McDormand (one of the great actors of our time, and consistently underrated, says me) and another fine cast. It was sometimes disturbing to watch, especially if you remember the time as being fun and carefree, and then think that while you were enjoying life, people were doing such awful things to one another, and not a million miles away in some foreign country but right in our own back yard.
It's inspiring and uplifting, has a burst-your-heart final scene, and turned out to be another great evening in front of a roaring television set.
Oh, and did I mention that there's this scene where an elephant ...