I spent my Friday night at the movies—part of it, anyway. I’ve always felt comfortable in movie theaters, so comfortable in fact that for most of my stay I didn’t even feel the urge to scroll through my Twitter timeline (a habit which inevitably ends in me rereading my own tweets).
I was alone. Usually there is Twitter to tame this sensation, but at the movies, there are posters and all sorts of things to pry the eyes from the seductive screen lying in wait in my right pocket. It’s not so bad. There are people—on dates of friendship and maybe even courtship. I was surrounded by people who, like me, were making a cold night of it at the movies. You can be more attune to a crowd if you’re alone (which really means that you people-watch more alone than you do with someone else) because you’re trying to act normal in front of the person watching you.
It wasn’t the first Friday night I’ve spent at the movies. Growing up, one of my friends lived (and still lives, actually) a suburban block away from the movies. That theater had an arcade and massive chandelier that seemed out of place with its “summer camp” vibe. I once applied for a job there and never heard back.
We used to get caught loitering in the Des Peres parking lot well after the last showing of whatever dumb movie we’d decided to throw 10 dollars at—you know, illustrious hits like Prom Night, Horrible Bosses, GI Joe: Rise of Cobra. A lot of the time there just wasn’t much else to do, or we didn’t know of anything else.
On Friday, Regal Cinema in Fenway was packed. It wasn’t the crowd I expected. There were people who looked like me—tired people. There are packs of high schoolers who surely looked a lot like we would have looked back in the day minus some homespun Midwest charm. I was set to see and review Kingsman: The Secret Service, both tasks now since completed. But something has lingered with me through the past few days, haunting my thoughts.
It wasn’t the first night I’d spent alone at the movies in college. I stood in line for tickets as a gaggle of girls spoke in hush tones in anticipation of Fifty Shades of Grey. I sat in the theater as Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman vaulted from scene to scene without a care or pulse. People (mostly male) really seemed to enjoy themselves. They laughed hysterically at Samuel L. Jackson’s lisp and “ohh-ed” and “ahhh-ed” as Colin Firth twisted his way in slow motion brutally killing an entire congregation.
Down the hall there were a neighborhood of Fifty Shades of Grey showings—a supposed spicy sexual thriller that received a PG-12 rating in France. There’s probably significant cultural differences between a 12-year-old living in Paris and one in Albuquerque, but the honest truth is that Fifty Shades is a sentimental romance tale, not a complex H&M thriller.
To sum some of this up, both violence and sex were portrayed without the care and attention movie makers usually give these righteous pillars. The two things we could count on let us down.
This isn’t a death cry of American culture. It’s still just February, after all. No grand declarations should be made in February, even and especially at the impending Oscars. This isn’t so much a death sign as a warning. A bad movie isn’t a bad thing if we can turn to our left and right and say, “Wow, that was shit.”
Back to old Des Peres, the land of Red Robin and The Great Herd of Deer, I’d wager 88 percent of the movies I’ve seen there were bad movies—not offendingly, just lost. A good movie is a rare thing. Most of the time, in my dear innocent youth, I couldn’t tell the difference between GI Joe and Up in the Air. I think I’m a little better now. I think there’s a difference between a movie like Guardians of the Galaxy that takes its fun seriously with real craft and a beating heart, and movies like Fifty Shades of Grey or Kingsman that leave me looking for more and feeling more alone. That’s why I go to the movies: to not feel so alone.
Featured Image by Breck Wills / Heights Graphic