The more a movie tries to feel not like a movie, the less appreciate it. And, of course, vice versa. The less a movie tries to feel not like a movie, the more I appreciate it.
This insight came to life in my brain thirty-five thousand feet above the earth, winging home from Paris, an extended ordeal, which, in Business Class, is mitigated by a system that allows passengers to endure the hours of confinement and defying gravity with the rescuing beneficence of multiple movies.
I partook of four of them on the flight, or more accurately, three and three-quarters, meaning that, since they turned the system off before landing, I am unfortunately in the dark as to the resolution of “Wreck-It Ralph.”
The third movie, I can’t remember. So you will not be hearing about that one. (It’s amazing. People worked months on that movie, and I have no recollection of what it was. Ah, well. At least it ate up a few hundred miles.)
The other two movies I watched were diametrically different, both in style, and in intention. These were Skyfall and Silver Lining Playbook.
Skyfall celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the James Bond franchise. Like all James Bond movies, Skyfall is deliriously “over the top.” I believe there is a moment early in the film where Bond literally falls…from the sky. And, of course, he lives.
Hoo-ray! (I actually shouted that on the plane.)
I cannot claim to have seen all twenty-three (or twenty-five, depending on how you’re counting) Bond movies, but I imagine I’ve seen, I don’t know, ten of them. I like James Bond movies. By now, part of the “Enjoyment Factor” is undeniably nostalgia; they seem so retro. They most likely use “green screen” effects these days. But it still feels like they don’t.
The daredevil stunts, the credulity-testing escapes, the overheated stories of world domination, the signaturely-alluring “Bond Girls” – they may be “Bond Women” by now, but I can barely detect the difference – the producers concoct this recipe, they adhere to it for half a century, weathering Star Wars’s, Batmen and Matrixes, and even with serial Bondses – we can differ on our favorites, but the most recent fellow is growing on me – they dish up a cinematic confection of crowd-pleasing excitement.
And the best part is, they never for a second claim that it’s real.
It’s a movie. Or what they once called, in the eponymously-titled film paying tribute to this crowd-pleasing genre, a “Movie Movie.” I don’t know about you, but I’m not a spy. Not that Bond movies bear any resemblance to what spies actually do. Though I hardly think real spies complain about that. It probably got them a lot of girls.
Okay. A movie that does not pretend that it’s not a movie – I’m there! Even if James Bond movies contain violence – which would normally mean I would never go go near them – the mayhem is so cartoonishly exaggerated, a voilo-phobe like myself can easily handle it. (My problem with movie violence is I over-identify. I imagine that happening to me. In Bond movies, there is no chance of anything close to that happening to me. A trap door with alligators swimming underneath? That just makes me giggle.)
Movie movies, I like. Then, there’s…
Silver Lining Playbook.
Which concerns two emotionally troubled twentysomethings who find each other and, eventually, their mutual love makes them healthy. Or at least capable of a possibly normal future together.
Okay. First, I am married to a psychologist. Because she knows what she knows, Dr. M has close to zero tolerance for cinematic portrayals of the mentally messed up. For openers, that’s not what they’re like. Secondly, if there’s a therapist in the movie (Ordinary People, Good Will Hunting), they can cure these nutcases in two-and-a-half hours, and she knows that, for her – and every other non-movie therapist – it takes considerably longer. To even help them a little bit. Thirdly, though it’s an appealing convention, love in real life does not necessarily conquer all. (Especially if it’s only in one direction. That kind can actually make things worse.)
This is what brought to select Silver Lining Playbook on an airplane – she nixed us seeing it when it was playing in the theaters months earlier, and I was curious to check it out. My reaction, likely affected by the fact that I had just finished watching Skyfall…
I did not care for it.
Everybody in Silver Lining Playbook was acting. The crazy guy, the crazy girl, the guy’s withholding father, his hyper-anxious mother caught in the middle – all of them, trying their darndest to convince me that I’m not watching a movie, but instead that these people are real and their problems are real and I should care about them and be emotionally invested in what happens to them.
I thought they were silly. Not James Bond silly. Bond movies know they’re silly. And we know. And everybody’s having a ball!
Here, I mean, it’s a movie. Which, by definition, is not real. Despite that challenging obstacle, the actors, with their swearing, their crappy furniture, their regular speech patterns, and their crying, they’re trying to convince me that it is!
What can I tell you? I’m not buyin’ it.
Part of this falls into the category of “occupational hazard.” Because I have witnessed things being made, I am alive to the reality of “Action!” And “Cut!” Every scene is a distinct movie segment, with an identifiable beginning – (“Action!”) – and an end – when the director says “Cut!” – the scenes’ boundaries determined, first, by the screenwriter, and later, in editing.
When they change angles? That’s from another “take”, the original “take” covering one actor, and now, it’s another. I am watching two separate performances. Nothing’s spontaneous here. These scenes were filmed over and over, until the director thought they were right. After that, the editor, under the director’s supervision, pieced the entire hodgepodge together.
Aside from the distancing awareness of what I’m looking at, Silver Lining Playbook’s story arc is numbingly familiar. The guy comes home from the institution, but he’s still acting crazy. By the end of the picture – when he expresses his love to the girl – he sounds totally normal. If you walked in at that point – I mean, you can’t do that on a airplane…just walk in…but in a theater – you would never know he was previously delusional.
The man is acting his head off, and all I’m thinking is: The transition is not believable.
One movie, I accepted on its own terms. The other, I rejected, because it insisted I pretend it was real, and I couldn’t.
But that’s possibly just me.
And only when I’m flying.
(Though I’m writing this on the ground, and I still feel the same way.)