I spent maybe the worst night I’ve ever spent at the movies last night, one of those outings that makes your eyes feel soiled, makes you want to ensconce yourself in ballet and leave this kid’s stuff alone. I like to think getting booted from my first (and likely only, extremely low-level) “industry” job that very same afternoon had nothing to do with my sour mood; I’ve progressed far enough in life and own enough blazers that, whenever the wolves get to the door, I’m confident I’ll find someone to pay me a living wage to nudge a cursor around an Excel spreadsheet. Of course getting shitcanned, even from a job you hate, is never pleasant—I’d liken it to being shot down by a girl you’re not particularly attracted to, but hit on from some sense of bored obligation. Nobody likes to feel unwanted. Anyway, maybe the job did have something to do with the malaise with which I’ve been seeing the Seventh Art lately: as product, as widgets to move from point A to point B, as cultural flotsam.
But I got myself excited at the prospect of spending the better part of two weeks in sweatpants, had dinner with some friends, and was revved-up to catch something in the theater. Date Movie, specifically. This was, with the benefit of hindsight, obviously a bad idea, but I have a more-than-usually high tolerance for piss-poor Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker retreads, if only for the head-buzzed feeling to be gotten from buying a ticket for something unfathomably dumb-looking—I’ve gone places in the Leslie Nielsen filmography most fear to tread. And as no-one in my party could figure out from the ad what Date Movie was specifically trying to spoof, beyond the obvious Napoleon Dynamite reference, we were understandably intrigued.
Now my life is based around surrounding myself, inasmuch as I can, with things that I love or at least am pleasantly frustrated by; I limit my TV to professional sports and an occasional "Gilmore Girls," prune my CD rack regularly, and try to keep my movie-watching, outside of a sense of semi-professional obligation, honed toward my own conception of truth, grace, beauty, etc. So getting a full blast of what really constitutes contemporary American popular culture in the face can be a stunner—I often lose sight of the vast seas of shit that my little dinghy of individual obsessions is adrift in, and when it crashes through my porthole, as last night, it’s pretty debilitating. By the time I staggered onto the sidewalk I was prime recruitment fodder for Al Qaeda, a sworn enemy of the Western world that fostered such sickness.
I learned about the following exciting entertainment products upon plunking into my $10.75 seat: some show (or movie, I really couldn’t tell) where two tanned-orange teenaged girls (one with the stage name “Jojo”) become friends with a mermaid named Aquamarine; some thing on NBC called “Conviction,” about young, sexually-active New York City District Attorneys, which was mashed-up with a music video by a piano-fondling twat with a trollish forehead named Gabe Dixon whose ditty featured the most insipidly “uplifting” chorus I’ve heard in recent memory (“All will be well/ You can ask me how but only time will tell”); a new loaf pinched by ever-herpetic unfunnyman Robin Williams called RV; some rancid mumbo-jumbo romcom featuring Lindsey Lohan Inc., Just My Luck; and another factory-line chunk of charmless CGI where Hollywood power player-voiced animals make badly-dated movie references “for the adults.” Do they really need to keep naming these things? Just give them serial numbers.
On to the show! Starlet Alyson Hannigan dons a fat suit, and references are made to some recent-ish pop culture phenomena, including My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Hitch, “MTV’s Pimp My Ride,” Bridget Jones’ Diary, Star Wars, and very possibly some other goodies that slipped by me. I say references, not parodies; the general consensus between the writers seemed to be that achieving brand recognition from the audience was a joke in and of itself. We filed out of the theatre around the time that Hannigan shouted “Bumfight!” and started to wallop a trenchcoat-wearing hobo—the homage, if you missed it, is to a briskly-selling DVD series for which a few camcorder-packing San Diego-based jerkoffs packaged footage of homeless dudes taking twenty-dollar bills to whale on each other. The idea that this little internet phenom has made a cultural blip sufficient that it can be counted on to get a Pavlovian in-the-know titter from a teenaged crowd is depressing in-and-of itself, but the “minds” behind Date Movie don’t stop there. What should score this outburst of violence but—oh, the ironic counterpoint—The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Do You Believe in Magic”!
Now, I really, really like this song. I liked it in In America, one of the most tender, human movies of recent years, where it was the unabashedly exuberant soundtrack of a first-glimpsed midtown Manhattan and the spree of potential it represented. I liked it when I watched my cousin Mai-Liis cross the floor at the dance party after her Bat Mitzvah, and it played. “Do you believe in magic/ In a young girl’s heart?” Man, do I love it—I can’t think of anything that better represents how intoxicatingly good and sweet-natured and glowing pop can be than this radio stand-by. And I can’t think of anything that better represents the sickest and saddest and most soul-shriveled uses mass media can be put to than “Bumfights” and the hiccup of notoriety it’s received. And that you, Date Movie auteurs Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, would see fit to juxtapose the two, thereby forever fusing them in my memory... Well. If I ever, by whatever strange turn of events, should be in the same room as either one of you, I will kick your teeth down your throat.
My theater-mates and I shared a curiosity about The Matador, so we headed upstairs to catch the 10:00 after we ducked out of Date Movie—if stills are to be believed, we missed a LOLocaust send-up of Say Anything. More new trailers, these intended for a more sophisticated demographic: V for Vendetta set in a dystopian (yawn) future and based on a graphic novel widely regarded by a bunch of dudes with stunted inner lives. Some British-accented gunk for those who need a patina of respectability on their twaddle (including a movie about a dude swimming the English Channel—“The story of one man who taught an entire nation to dream for the magical stars”-type of shit). Michael Douglas and Kiefer Sutherland, be-suited and wagging pistols around in the behind-the-scenes for a movie I’ll never, ever watch.
And guess what? The Matador’s a piece of shit too, with a self-pitying, critic-friendly “deconstructive” performance by actor/producer Pierce “Take me Seriously” Brosnan sporting a “Magnum P.I.” ‘stache, and Greg Kinnear delivering his “Kinnear Special” schtick at indie cut rates. Brosnan, by the way, is a hitman, probably the most over-represented occupation on celluloid in the last two decades outside of serial killing; there are several garish “Mod” theatrical gels so you know you’re in the hands of a real movie-mad artist, and I’m sure something quirky happens somewhere along the line—my friend leaned over, said “There’s no way I’m going to enjoy this,” and nailed our collective feeling, so we split.
And here’s the kicker: when I was waiting for the train, I realized I’d left a book in theater. Some days, I tell ‘ya.