Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Little Fockers with my little focker
When I wrote last week about how much I was not looking forward to Little Fockers, I could never have guessed I'd be seeing it in the theater within a week of its release.
Nor that I would have my son sitting next to me -- my four-month-old son, who is not suited for watching anything, let alone a movie in which a man (Ben Stiller) gives an injection in the erect penis of his father-in-law (Robert DeNiro) after the father-in-law takes a Viagra-type pill called Sustengo.
But when I discovered that there was one theater showing a Mommy Movie on my extra day off after Christmas -- I took a day off on either side of the paid holiday (Friday) and the weekend -- I jumped at the opportunity. Even if the only choice was Little Fockers.
Most cities -- LA being no exception -- have a program designed to help stay-at-home mothers (and fathers) get to the movies. In LA they are called Mommy Movies, though I was misidentifying them as Mommy and Me Movies, because almost everything else involving a mother and her child is described from the child's perspective: "Mommy and Me." The Mommy Movies play Monday mornings at 11 a.m., and they show films intended for adults. I suppose there are certain guidelines of decency -- you're probably not going to see Saw 3D at a Mommy Movie, for example. But a Fockers sequel where most of the "humor" is linguistic, and will go over the head of any children in attendance? That fits the bill fine.
We first researched these Mommy Movies a couple months ago, but not primarily for my wife -- who does in fact stay at home with our son, though she also works out of the house. We researched them for me, so I could see a movie on a Saturday morning with my son, while she enjoyed some much-needed downtime. The only problem was, Mommy Movies don't play on Saturday mornings. They play on Monday mornings, when Daddy is at work. Which I suppose makes a certain sense. If the theater is going to "sacrifice" one screening a week, where everyone has signed off on the sight of dozens of baby carriages and the sound of dozens of crying children, then they better make it the matinee screening on Monday -- when no one else will be there anyway. A Saturday morning doesn't make sense financially -- not only because the regular customers won't want to be there, but also because the Mommies won't want to be there. They'll be spending Daddy's day off either with him, or at the salon while he takes the kids.
So I figured it was pretty unlikely I would ever get to a Mommy Movie with Jasper. However, it occurred to me last week that one of my upcoming days off would be a Monday, and that the planets might actually align. In fact, Little Fockers would probably be a better choice than a movie I actually wanted to see, because I wouldn't be frustrated if my son ended up "ruining" the movie for me. With Little Fockers, there shouldn't be much to ruin.
The Pacific Theaters chain hosts the Mommy Movies in the greater LA area, at four different theaters, one of which is reasonably close to our house. But three of those theaters were not doing a Mommy Movie yesterday, presumably because many of the Daddies were off work for Christmas, reducing the utility of such a Monday morning screening (and potentially cannibalizing the theater's own regular customers). One, however, was -- the theater in Glendale, which was showing Little Fockers. Glendale is the second closest of the four, but it's still a half-hour drive under the best of circumstances.
However, the Monday after Christmas is probably the best of circumstances -- at least, it has considerably less than the regular dose of weekday traffic. Figuring this might be my only opportunity for this kind of life experience -- and thinking it could also make a great blog post -- I put the wheels in motion.
My wife had suggested I leave at 10, because I'd never been to the theater, and it would help to give myself the time to get situated. I thought 10:15 would be fine. Of course, I didn't actually leave until 10:25. And by following the directions of my GPS with unquestioning loyalty, I took a very slow route to get on the 10 freeway, which set me back further. If I had been 100% certain I'd be using the 10 to get there, I would have shaved off at least five minutes with a different route. Live by the GPS, die by the GPS.
But I ended up rolling into the parking garage at about 11:02, making good time after the poor start, and breathing a sigh of relief as I narrowly avoided an accident -- one of those jam-on-the-brakes situations where everyone slows down for an exit more quickly than you're expecting. (The car in front of me actually swerved to avoiding hitting the car in front of him).
Naturally, it was one of those serpentine parking garages that serves the whole mall, and once you drive up several ramps to find your own spot, then you need to figure out the best route to the theater. A sign by the elevator at least told me I was in the right place, advertising the Mommy Movies, but it didn't actually direct me to the theater. I had to ask two other people before I even learned whether I'd be taking the elevator up or down. Down on the street level, I weaved my way through a very charming outdoor mall still dressed for Christmas, getting further encouragement I was heading in the right direction from various passersby, until I finally saw the facade of the theater.
The line to the ticket counter was one of those disorganized affairs that seem to perfectly encapsulate the parenting experience. It was more of a glob of people than a proper line, with each mini glob consisting of a stroller and either one or two parents fussing around the edges of the stroller. Hating to miss the beginning of movies, even movies as frivolous as Little Fockers, I started to feel the agitation of stress building up inside of me -- or, I should say, feel it even more, as stress had been spurring me onward the entire trip. Jasper was unaware of all this, sleeping peacefully in the car seat strapped into the stroller.
From my spot in the back of the slow-moving line, I called out to the woman taking tickets, to ask her if I could buy Mommy Movie tickets at the automated kiosk on the other side of the lobby. She got that apologetic/guilty smile on her face and said she didn't know. But the ticket seller at the front of his line picked up on our exchange and said I could. I guess that was probably obvious, but I didn't know whether there was a special protocol for the Mommy Movie -- whether they had to ascertain not only that I had a child, but a child who bore a resemblance to me, before they would issue me a ticket.
So I hit the kiosk, but of course, the kiosk wasn't recognizing my card as I tried to swipe it. Figures. Meanwhile, I looked over my shoulder, and somehow the impossibly convoluted line I had just been in had dissipated down to almost nothing. Just when I was about to make a second course correction, the swipe registered and my tickets were issued.
The ticket taker apologized for not knowing the protocol, but ensured me that the movie had not started yet. "Whew," I thought, passing a cordoned-off area that was described as "Stroller Parking," and had about a dozen strollers in it. For a moment I wondered if I was allowed to bring the stroller in, or would have to leave it out here. I was relying on that stroller. But there was no one there to tell me otherwise, so I went on in with it, finding numerous others inside as well.
And also finding that the ticket taker had been wrong a second time. The movie had started. In fact, the first images I saw were of Robert DeNiro in the midst of a very slapsticky heart attack, in which he was using some wires from the surveillance equipment in his basement as a makeshift defibrillator.
For a moment I was annoyed. I had hoped at least to come in during the opening credits. But then I adopted a new perspective on my lateness, for which I had only my own poor planning to blame: I had gone into Little Fockers knowing that I could be distracted for large portions of it because of my son acting up, or that I might even feel the need to leave the theater altogether if I just couldn't manage to calm him down. Coming in a few minutes late seemed to be very consistent with the kind of distracted viewing I expected to have -- in fact, you could say it guaranteed that this would be the kind of prototypical Mommy Movie viewing experience I was hoping to have. So I just settled in and enjoyed myself.
Finding many of the key aisle seats either to be taken, or to be on a riser that wasn't big enough to accommodate the stroller, I moved straight down to the front row. This was about the best front-row scenario you could ask for, as the rows of seats curve back in an arc, leaving you with a more than decent view if you position yourself near the middle. Being the only person in the front row, I had plenty of room to spread out, and had plenty of room to push the stroller back and forth if Jasper got fussy.
Which he didn't do for the first 20 minutes. In fact, he slept so soundly that I had to give him a little touch on the face just to make sure he was still with me. (It's a parent thing -- we do it all the time.) When he did finally awaken, I took him onto my lap and played with him a little bit. I knew he'd need to feed soon, so I sunk the frozen vial of breast milk into the boiling water I'd been carrying in a travel mug. It had last been boiling an hour ago, so it was merely hot at this point, but it did the job of unfreezing the milk to the point where he could drink it. You ideally want the milk to be a little bit warm before he drinks it, but the best I could do was not-cold/a little bit cold. He drank it anyway, appreciatively.
Having my son with me was not nearly the difficulty I thought it might be. He only got fussy before he had eaten, which was understandable, and once later -- and with the one time later, his fussiness was cured almost immediately with a few times backward and forward in the stroller. The rest of the time, he was simply a joy. It's no secret babies like the moving images of a TV screen, but Jasper was absolutely transfixed by the larger-than-life images of a movie screen. Not only did he stare, as I have seen him do with the TV, but he also smiled. Maybe he just thought Little Fockers was really funny.
And the funny thing is, I found Little Fockers a lot more enjoyable because I had this cute little guy by my side. The movie itself was sloppy -- more on that in a minute -- but I will probably always remember it fondly because Jasper was there watching it with me. We genuinely had fun, and he was one of the best-behaved children there.
Because I was down in the front row, I probably didn't have the immersion in the rest of the scene that I would have had if I'd been back with most of the other mommies (and daddies, of which there were plenty). But I didn't think this would be a complete post about the Mommy Movies if I didn't give you some other atmospheric details.
For one, I was very surprised at how little the other children bothered me. Yeah, there was some crying, but not as much as I expected. Yeah, there was a girl two rows behind me who got her head stuck between two seats, and needed to be extricated by her mother. And yeah, there were mothers walking up and down the aisles, holding children in their arms who wouldn't shush in a stationary position. But I think I actually could have been watching a movie I cared about, and not had that experience significantly diluted by the environment. Maybe all those kids were also transfixed by a 20-foot-tall Ben Stiller.
A couple other funny things: 1) In the final scene, which takes place at Christmastime, a little girl walked to the front of the auditorium and yelled out "Merry Christmas!" which got a sprinkling of laughs; 2) Immediately afterward, about four sets of parents were seen changing their children on changing tables that had been set up between the back section of seats and the front. Since my son was not showing any signs of a dirty diaper, I just hightailed it out of there.
And a couple thoughts on Little Fockers as a movie:
1) Teri Polo has been working regularly since Meet the Fockers in 2004, but she was so underused in this movie, it was like they'd had to bring her out of mothballs to play her part, and only for the sake of continuity from the two previous films. Jessica Alba, as the woman trying to tempt Stiller's Greg Focker into adultery, has twice as much screen time.
2) This movie is barely about little Fockers at all. Yes, there are five-year-old twins, the children of Pam and Greg. But the plots barely involve them at all, focusing more on the shenanigans between Jack (DeNiro) and Greg, and on the potential that Greg and Pam's marriage is threatened.
3) Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand appear so briefly in this movie, if you blinked you'd miss them.
4) Owen Wilson is on-hand as a temptation for Pam, but this too is handled sloppily. He starts out dating a Russian woman named Svetlana. Is it just me, or is every impossibly hot Russian woman in the movies named Svetlana?
Okay, I've taken up enough of your time.
In conclusion: I already know you're a movie fan, since you're reading my blog. If you're also a parent, try the equivalent of Mommy Movies in your city. We go to the movies first and foremost to have fun, and even though Little Fockers wasn't good, it was fun -- thanks to my son.