When I mentioned the upcoming perspective to a psychoanalyst colleague of Dr. M’s recently, she called it “very mature thinking”, making this my first blog post in almost 1500 to be certified by a professional. Have you ever seen a sixty-eight year old man look giddy? That’s how I felt when she said that to me. Before that, the most encouraging thing a therapist ever said to me was, “I will see you next Tuesday.”
This is better.
I can’t wait to share it with you. So without further ado…
Continuing my unbroken record of commercial tone deafness – striking when the iron is cold – I shall focus on a movie that is likely no longer playing in your city – and if you’re from places like Michigan City Indiana probably never did – called The Way, Way Back, written and directed by Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, who won screenwriting Oscars for co-scripting The Descendants (2011) with Alexander Payne.
Okay so for the people who don’t mind me writing about something that’s no longer current in order to make a larger and psychoanalystically approved point – I am so proud of that! – here we go.
In the past – Wait! In the way, way past – in tribute to the movie – I would watch a movie and if I didn’t care for it, I would utter some more of less disparaging version of “That movie was not for me”, and move on.
Then came just the plain past (versus the way, way past), when things started to change. In the just plain past, I would, on occasion at least, watch a movie I did not care for and then, at some unspecified later date – sometimes, it was the next day, sometimes it was years later – the memory of that movie would resurface in my brain, and second thoughts would find me more positively disposed to a film I had originally dismissed.
One example – among many – of this revisionizing upgrading would be the Penny Marshall “girl’s baseball” movie A League of Their Own (1992), which I originally disliked because it was too long and had three endings, one of which was ambiguous, many of the actresses couldn’t play baseball, and Tom Hanks did not look like a homerun hitter, but on further consideration (and re-watching) decided it was too long, it had three endings, one of which was ambiguous, many of the actresses couldn’t play baseball, and Tom Hanks did not look like a homerun hitter, but despite all that, it progressively “grew on me”, becoming ultimately one of my favoritist movies of all time. (Even though it consistently made me cry.)
(What I learned from such retrospective reevaluations is that my numerous – I won’t call them “quibbles” because that would insult my legitimate reservations – let’s call them “the things I found unsatisfying/slash/wrong” about a movie –inevitably informed my overall opinion, only to discover at some later date that the totality of the movie was greater than the sum of its unevenly enjoyable parts. I was still right about what was wrong. But I was wrong about how much it mattered.)
The quite recent past (in contrast to the way, way past and the just plain past), as exemplified by The Way,Way Back, reflects a notable advancement in my strategy.
I am watching this movie, a boy’s coming of age in the summer guided by a renegade-ish mentor – which brings to mind, among other movies, the Bill Murray-starring Meatballs (1979) – and I’m thinking, “There’s a lot of things about this movie that I’ve seen before, and the previous versions of them were better.”
I am about to press the well-worn “I don’t care for this” button in my head, when out of the blue – or, more accurately, out of the blackish darkness of the theater, I instruct myself to take note of the original and unexpected elements in The Way, Way Back. Not later. But while am still sitting there.
The part of me that watches the rest of me do things was flabbergasted. Right there in the theater, I am reprogramming my evaluative process. With people sitting around me, and everything! You could almost hear the gears in my brain re-aligning. A tectonic adjustment is taking place
I am doing a new thing.
In real, present time, , I am evaluating the movie, not globally or in the extreme – “I loved it!” – “It sucked!” – but moment by moment, awarding points for originality and surprise, while also acknowledging – in appropriate proportion – the predictable and the trite.
I recall a The Way, Way Back peripheral younger character with a “wandering eye”, whose mother insists that he wear a patch because, otherwise, people could not tell who he was looking at. I had never seen that in a movie before. (Somewhat uncomfortably, though with the tickling pleasure of “‘My people’ are in a movie!”, the characterization hits believably close to home.)
I also remember a quintessential “First Kiss Moment” that took a startling and, in my view, realistic turn. (Which was later generously explained.)
I was warmed too by the movie’s “small moments” resolution, involving no big speech or cathartic illumination, just a little victory carrying the understated suggestion of a brighter tomorrow.
In the final tabulation, I found The Way, Way Back, overall, to fall comfortably into the category of a “Good Enough Movie.” No Manhattan or Lawrence of Arabia. But how many movies are?
(A Cautionary Side Note: Have unreasonably high expectations inhibited my own screenwriting development? You betcha.)
The hardest thing is to permanently jettison my evaluative standard of perfection in favor of a truer, fairer, relativistic approach. I am encouraged, however, by the knowledge that I am on the right track.
A psychoanalyst called it “very mature thinking.”