Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Movie buffs and braggarts

My dad is by far one of the best people in the world to see a movie with. I don't use that qualification lightly. He really is a pretty awesome companion.

There are several reasons for this. The first is that he is incredibly punctual and never makes me wait for him to get ready to go - which is an integral function in the art of movie-going. The second is that he has great taste in film, so we always end up going to see interesting things together. The third is that he'll get up right before a movie starts and buy me popcorn (okay, this one is stupid, but it really is nice to have someone who's willing to do such a stupid favor for you).

But the thing that makes my dad the best movie companion is that he understands and relates to the aspect of films that I enjoy the most: the search for meaning.

I wish we could go to the movies more often together. On the rare occasion that I go to the theater at all, the follow-up conversation with the person I'm with generally consists of one of the following:

1. A brief recount of my opinion of the film followed by an inquiry as to theirs. No analysis, no interpretation, no hypotheses or contention. Just a simple "it was all right" or "could have been better."

2. An impassioned tirade on what was done well, what went wrong, why the filmmaker is the devil and/or a God, who they remind me of, why the film confirms what's absolutely perfect/wrong with cinema, etc. etc.

You get the picture, right?

What I've discovered is that, although I can attribute the better category to being raised by an awesome film connoisseur like my dad, I can also locate its origin in the movies themselves.

The types of films that I see depend heavily on who I'm with. Because I have a pretty wide array of tastes - at least comparatively to many of my friends or even to my dad - I can be caught seeing a horror film, a fantasy film, an animated feature, an indie classic, a documentary, a satire, a political drama or any other of the many genres and subgenres that exist. But there's no one person in the world that I can see all of these films with because in all honesty, I don't know anyone who likes them all.

But there's a logical reason why my dad always ends up being someone I can talk to incessantly about film and why many of my other movie companions I just end up spouting off 1-10 ratings with. My dad and I see the cream of the crop of artsy fartsy, slightly arrogant and absolutely wonderful film.

There are so many movies in theaters I want to see right now. But atop my list was a recent release from the wonderful mind of Wes Anderson, one Moonrise Kingdom. I have long been a fan of Anderson, and all thanks to my dad who chose to rent The Royal Tenenbaums one year when we were stranded in New Jersey visiting family.

In my opinion, I was slightly too young for the film - if only for the scene in which one of the main characters attempts suicide - but I thank my dad wholeheartedly for never actually caring about parental warnings and ratings on films.

Because my love affair with Wes Anderson is one of the surest reasons that I have such a passion for film.

When we left the theater after seeing Moonrise Kingdom, my dad and I didn't walk away talking about how the film was fine, good, an 8 or a 9 or a 10. The first substantial commentary we had - which was also the first commentary we had - was that the film was a perfect example of Wes Anderson's ability to make a movie into a series of beautifully artistic almost-photographic images.

Amidst the surrealism and the quirkiness, one of the most quintessentially Anderson aspects of Moonrise Kingdom is its commitment to memorable pictures. There are shots set up to capture one character on the far edge of the frame and the other walking into the other far edge of the frame. Others are arranged to look like still life paintings with various objects scattered across the screen. The colors are all in complementary hues and there's a consistently rustic look to every piece of architecture, accessory or otherwise.

So as we're stumbling through the theater trying to find the door underneath the neon "Exit" sign, we're also discussing the value of photography in film and how the two mediums are not necessarily standalone concepts.

Another thing that Moonrise had to offer was a descent into surrealism. In the film we watch a boy and a girl wander through an almost-forest that runs along raging waters of an island. They survive for days off a tiny knapsack of equipment and sustenance, with a pet cat to feed and an entire suitcase filled with library books.

You have to go into this film aware that it's a work of fiction. But what's so great about the script is that the lessons transcend reality. In Moonrise Kingdom, we're free to explore true love, friendship, adventure, freedom and family while breaking the confines of the traditional explanations of any and all of these issues. While we can't exactly place ourselves in our favorite characters' shoes, we can immerse ourselves in the story so as to take away something even more valuable than the most true-to-life independent film could ever portray.

But movies don't have to be so outlandish to carry that message. One of my favorite movies is a film called HappyThankYouMorePlease, by Josh Radnor (better known for his role on How I Met Your Mother). Though the movie is in some ways a dry reflection on reality, it is also an impassioned critique of humanity that relies heavily on stretching the world past its natural order.

In one scene, one of the main characters (who has Alopecia), goes on a date with a man who has been pretty evidently in love with her for a while. She acknowledges that she's not incredibly attracted to him, but when he tells her to close her eyes and listen to him speak, his words speak to her in a way that his face and his actions never could.

A good movie can speak to you even when its special effects, its outrageous costumes or make-up or its Pin-Up handsome lead actors never could. While sometimes we just love to bask in the superficiality of a good romantic comedy (obviously I do) or a science-fiction adaptation, can we really expend those moments walking out of a theater with our fathers where we can't help but go on and on about what we learned about life in just two hours that we've spent 20 years wondering about?

I recognize my own shallowness in a lot of my entertainment choices. Heck, I watch TLC. I listen to Taylor Swift and I go back in time to play Hansen and the A*Teens on my iPod. Some of my favorite books are supernatural teen fiction novels (The Mediator Series, not Twilight).

But I'm lucky that I have a broad taste in film and a dad to go along with it, because without those things I'd have a much looser grasp of reality - even if reality isn't necessarily what I look for on the screen. What you find in a movie doesn't have to match what you're given, but there's certainly a way to argue for that hypothesis.

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