Transcendent moments in otherwise mediocre movies, pt. 1

Monday, February 20, 2012

Transcendent moments in otherwise mediocre movies, pt. 1

Note: I just spent the last three hours writing this post while herding my kids around, and then it published but was then somehow deleted. I'm pissed, and it might show through in my rewrite.

So, every week I borrow a crap movie or two from the library to watch whilst I fold laundry. The parameters are: must be good enough to keep me anaesthetized during the domestic drudgery, but bad enough that I can still multitask. This is not an introduction as much as an explanation as to why I watch so many crap movies. The title of the post pretty much explains where I'm coming from, I think.

Feel free to contribute/respond.

The Movie: Mamma Mia!
The Scene: Dancing Queen

Why It's Transcendent: In an earlier draft of this blog post, I had a rant about the unholy trifecta of Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan, and Christine Baranski, and what they mean to a movie meant for middle aged women, but now that I was able to use "unholy trifecta" again, I will move on.

Anyway, this movie is about an engaged woman who wants her father to walk her down the aisle, and so contacts the three men who could be her father and asks them to come to the wedding, unbeknownst to her mother, played by the in this case flatteringly made up and borderline hyperactive Meryl Streep. And the hijinx that ensue. All set to the dulcet tones of Abba. But seriously, I love Abba.

I realize that "transcendent" is a rather big idea sort of word, but here goes. First, this scene is transcendent in the way of all musicals: that the characters' feelings are so strong, mere speech is not sufficient. Second, there is the very obvious part that the rest of the movie (especially the men's singing and the clunky transitioning to the musical numbers) is absurdly bad and this scene rises above it; and the third thing that makes this scene transdendent is that this scene is the most perfect illustration of "Dancing Queen." Anyone who has spent any amount of time partying with sorority girls or theatre people (read: me) knows that "Dancing Queen" holds a special place in the heart of collective Womanhood. Chicks love this song, and at a certain point (usually around "Night is young and the music's hiiiiiiigh") when the song is playing, they stop singing the song and start living it. There's a faraway look in the eyes, a reminiscent and secret smile as a woman becomes that girl: young, dead sexy, the night ahead of her glittering with possibility, and knowing it. In this scene, Meryl Streep's character is feeling old and tired, and her friends sing her this song. They walk through the town, and as the women of the town hear it, they join in. Eventually, it's a huge parade of village women of varying ages, shapes, and sizes, singing and dancing their hearts out, as if overtaken by the song, by their own memories and joy. The whole scene is a celebration of Womanhood, experience, and the idea that within every crone is a dancing girl--and not just a girl but a queen--just waiting for the right song to bring her out.

The Movie: Excess Baggage
The Scene: The Pre-Kiss Exchange

Why It's Transcendent: This movie in general and this scene--line, really--introduced me to the unbelievable sexiness that is Benecio del Toro.

He spends the whole movie getting beaten up by Alicia Silverstone, running away from bad guys, being emasculated, put down, shot at, getting blamed for stuff that he's too dumb to foist off on other people. He's really quite pathetic.

And yet. And yet. You are strangely drawn to his pale, stringy body, how he's clean shaven yet gives the impression of having a poorly filled in goatee, how his character always seems confused, the slow, measured way that he talks that makes you wonder if he is perhaps high and that is why he seems confused. Because that is the wonder of del Toro. Alicia and Benecio are next to each other, leaning in for a kiss, in classic rom com fashion where they paaaaaaause, heightening I believe it's called. Benecio mumbles/murmurs/growls/stutters, "Come on come on come on come on." And suddenly you want to tear his pants off. Transcendence! It's a meta moment: he knows that he can make his character as weasly and pathetic as he wants but because of the rom-com formula, he will get the girl anyway. Also, with that one line you know that the character has viewed the entire preceding emasculating, humiliating, and pathetic episode as merely foreplay (both overturning traditional ideas of attraction and masculinity and keeping his priorities straight), and by then, he is ready to "get 'er done," as they say.

And an opposite: The crap scene that ruined an otherwise awesome movie
The Movie: True Grit (remake)
The Scene: Post-snake Bite, Journeying Back to Civilization

Why It Ruined the Whole Damn Movie: Do you remember this part of the movie? (BTW, this is an uber spoiler, so stop reading if you haven't seen "True Grit," stop reading right now!) They have killed the bad guys, the girl fell in the hole and got bit by a rattlesnake, and Jeff Bridges has to take her back to civilization, or the closest approximation thereof. I hate hate hate this part of the movie, because: 1, I do not believe Jeff Bridges' character, title of the movie aside, could carry her for hours and hours. I get tired carting my little daughter around Costco, and I am not a dissolute middleaged gunslinger who also smokes cheroots and has recently been shot; 2, the girl suddenly became super ineffectual. Yes, yes, I know she has been bit by a snake but what was with the the little arm circles and the mewling cries? It was as if she suddenly reverted to infancy, and if it's supposed to be artsy it's failing failing failing to be; and 3, the up-the-nostril being carried perspective shot, with the wide Western sky and all its stars surrounding Jeff Bridges' head like a blessing or a halo--yes, it sounds poetic(ish) when I describe it, but in reality it looked CGI super cheezy and made me want to punch someone in the face.

1 comment:

  1. benicio's hot. i fell in love with him in that very movie. he's also oh so good in things we lost in the fire, which is not a movie that i think falls into the category of movie you're talking about as it requires more attention than you would be willing to dedicate while also being Domestic Goddess. also, this is the very reason i used to watch that tv show girlfriends-- it was a fairly crappy show that was entertaining enough to occupy my time while i washed dishes.