Monday, April 13, 2015

The benefits of excess exposition

I was nearly late to another screening last week. Or, I should say, I was actually late, and nearly late enough that I might have been better off skipping it altogether if I hadn't made it just when I did.

Instead of writing an entire post about it, as I did with Agora (years ago) and Shaun the Sheep Movie (last month), I figured instead I would sing the praises of the movie in question for something that would ordinarily not seem praise-worthy.

After deciding to walk to a studio screening room I'd never been to (instead of taking the tram), then thinking I knew where I was going (instead of consulting the directions I'd printed out), I ended up overshooting the place and having to reverse my steps through back streets with only a vague sense of where I was going, running as long as I could stand to run before allowing myself the occasional walking breather. After eventually getting help from a police officer, who required the GPS on her phone to help me locate the place, I finally arrived around 6:04. At which point I discovered that The Age of Adaline had started promptly at 6, perhaps even a minute or two earlier than that.

The discomfiting thing about coming in late on a movie is that you have no idea how much of it you've missed, beyond the general sense of when it was likely to have started, nor whether anything crucially important to the plot has already transpired. The Age of Adaline was in the middle of a scene that didn't necessarily strike me as the first scene in the movie.

I was hoping for some delayed opening credits to reassure me that I hadn't missed much, but I got something even better than that: a complete and on-the-nose back story for the title character, delivered squarely and without a hint of irony by the narrator.

Ordinarily, the deluge of exposition that came about five minutes after I'd sat down (hoping my sweat-soaked shirt wasn't offending my neighbor) would constitute a cardinal cinematic sin. In a show-don't-tell medium like the movies, you should use a narrator sparingly if at all. In the rare case -- say, Goodfellas -- a narrator ends up feeling like an indispensable ingredient. Suffice it to say, The Age of Adaline is no Goodfellas. I could hear the errant titter from our audience as the rather extraordinary events that befall Adaline were laid out in no uncertain terms.

I was smiling, but I wasn't laughing. No, I was just resting comfortably in the certainty that I could review this with confidence, knowing that I'd been properly oriented on the story all along.

Because so much relies on an understanding of Adaline's past, though, I'd have been completely at sea if I had arrived just after these nearly ten minutes of exposition, rather than just before.

Thank goodness I can run quite effectively with untied shoelaces, and that one of Melbourne's finest was around to lend a helping hand.

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