Friday, February 3, 2023

When characters buy tickets for movies already in progress

Mild Babylon spoilers to follow.

I was totally believing everything that was happening in Babylon until the very end, when a character returns to Hollywood after a lengthy banishment and stumbles into a showing of Singin' in the Rain.

(Sorry, that's a joke -- the movie is frequently ridiculous, though I suppose nothing that happens in it is technically impossible.)

Despite the spoiler warning, I won't say who the character is, plus it's not relevant to the current discussion. All you need to know is that the character is in a daze of confusion and regret and nostalgia and he plunks down 50 cents (or whatever it cost at that time) to see the Gene Kelly classic in its initial release. 

There are a lot of dumb things about this scene, which sets up an ending I found totally on the nose and totally bogus at the same time, making it one of the year's worst ways to end a movie. Did this character really know nothing about Singin' in the Rain and that it mirrored some of his very own experiences, especially since he presided over a shoot where they were filming people singing this song, which (unbeknownst to me) predated the movie by a couple decades?

No, the thing that bothers me is that he walked into a movie that was already half over.

Before you go quoting William Goldman at me, yes, I'm sure this would be considered a screenwriting shortcut, equivalent to something like a person paying with correct change or a person driving up to the courthouse and finding a parking spot out front. There's no better way to sap the momentum of a scene that's meant to be poignant than to have the character stand in a long line at the start of the movie, wait to buy their popcorn, then sit through the ads before the movie starts. I know it's usually more poignant to see the lone character buying a solitary ticket from the ticket seller, with no one else in sight because they are all already inside the movie.

But who goes to a movie expecting to see half or less of that movie? I get it if it's a movie you've already seen, and maybe you're buying the ticket as a place to shut your eyes for a few minutes. But from the events of this scene it's clear this Babylon character had never seen the movie, and seemed to have no qualms entering at whatever point in its progress it happened to find itself. 

If it were just this one movie, well, that would be even more reason to criticize Babylon. But I had only just seen this very thing two weeks earlier. 

That was The Fabelmans, and if this character in Babylon didn't know any better despite the fact that he should have, the characters in The Fabelmans really should have known better. 

Since this scene doesn't involve spoilers, no spoiler warning necessary.

Sammy Fabelman and his friends go to the movies probably somewhere around halfway through this movie. I believe it's just after they ride their bikes, wearing scout uniforms, in what seemed like a limp and perfunctory E.T. reference. (Remember, I don't like this movie.) 

They go to see The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence. Well, half of it anyway. They sit down to watch the movie and immediately begin talking over it, discussing what their own next film is going to be about. Eventually the other patrons shush them but it seems like it takes forever for them to do that. 

Multiple moviegoing sins in one trip to the theater, I tell you. Even as just a teenage version of Steven Spielberg, Sammy should have shuddered at the actions in which he participated. 

As is the case with most trends I discuss on this blog, these are only the examples I'm thinking of right now. There are countless others, meaning that neither Damien Chazelle nor Spielberg is really to blame. It's a hallowed tradition that might even go all the way back to Singin' in the Rain or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, though in the latter case, there wouldn't have yet been any movies to attend. 

The question is, why? Is there so much value gained from having characters take their seats in the middle of a movie that it's worth sacrificing all realism? 

Maybe there is, and maybe it is. I mean, if it had really bothered me, I probably would have written about it one of my previous 2,945 posts. 


Anonymous said...

I agree, the fact that he walked into a movie in the middle was silly. Given that he "owns a small electronics shop" in New York City, I would suspect he had to have known what he was going to see. Personally I chalked it up to he just wanted to go to a movie - almost like it was something he has not experienced in years, so I suppose that it was in the middle did not matter?

However, Babylon itself is not a good movie - I found your written review to be spot on. The entire third act, where he meets with Toby Maguire, the journey through the "party" den, etc. was awful and marred the movie (though at this point the bar was already low.

I am hoping that Damien Chazelle's next effort brings him back to something stronger. I have heard good things about First Man, so perhaps I will check that one out...

Derek Armstrong said...

Thanks for the nice comment Anon! Some people love Babylon so I have made a specific effort to try to see the movie from their perspective, without success. I'd say I'd watch it again someday but that seems unlikely. Maybe I will watch certain ten-minute stretches again.

Definitely check out First Man. I feel like it might be a little less than the sum of its parts but it is certainly well worth watching.