Mister Rik Grimaces for Ninety Minutes (but not at the movie...)

Alternate Title:
Michael Phillips and Richard Roeper Are Dead Fucking Wrong and Irresponsible (even though they seem to have enjoyed the movie like I did...)

I spent an undue amount of time on the Pylon the other day railing at infantile filmmakers running amok in my backyard, so perhaps its time to swing things around…

For all of my continuing frustration with the way people act in movie theaters, and mankind’s constant de-evolution back to its most primeval state, I must admit that Generation-Oops! (to coin a phrase, so named because the bulk of these kids just have to be mistakes) is not the only target of my ire regarding movie etiquette.

Old people talk during movies, too. A fucking lot.

It seems every time Jen and I take the time to see something that isn’t laden with CGI or animation or robots or dinosaurs or pirates or superheroes or unshaven men in fedoras swinging about on whips, upon entering the theatre, I am struck with the notion that we have mistakenly wandered into a retirement home by mistake. This is not a bad thing; no, not at all. Old people are often swell, in the general way that most people, at least until you get to know them too much, are basically swell. And I am swiftly approaching that divider where I will be counted, at least in censuses, more with the elderly than with the young. (This is why censuses, the census takers, and the people who keep censuses must die…) In the last few months, I have walked into this trap more than once.

At Atonement, because we arrived late, believing “it’s a Saturday night -- the crowds will be at the holiday movies,” we ended up on the edge of the fourth row, just on the outskirts of a solid acre’s worth of septuagenarians. When Keira Knightley bursts forth from the water fountain, sopping wet and practically naked due to her sheer garment’s absolute clinginess, the sweet, possibly dotty lady next to me went, “Oooh, my…” This is precisely what went through my mind, as well, though my unspoken version of her statement was far more that of the craven Wolf Man than that of the grandmother. Outside of that, she and a group of her friends rambled on throughout the film anytime anything of mild interest – teapots, soldier’s uniforms, a keen old car – popped into view. Oh, and then there were the bathroom breaks. Many, many bathroom breaks. I believe that any pants-tightening brought about by the presence of Ms. Knightley was shortly undone by the scanning of a half dozen aged backsides as they shuffled past my view of the film.

Death at a Funeral, another British import, found us in a similar situation: a far more crowded theatre than we had anticipated and much of it far older in years as well. Although things got more than mildly randy in this Frank Oz-directed farce, the elderly crowd was fairly OK with the proceedings. I could hear them all about me, the buzz building around me as though I were a bear who had stuck his paw into the wrong hive, the chit-chat becoming more and more obtuse with each confusing turn of the plot (such as it is) and the jammy thickness of the various British accents. "Why did she go there?" "I don't understand what he's saying." Etc., etc., etc. It wasn't all annoyance from this crowd though. At the sight of a particular character with a penchant for disrobing, after numerous poo-poo and necrophilia-tinged jokes, one lady sitting behind me said to her friend, “Well... I don’t have a problem with that, Margaret.”

Walking into the Frances McDormand-Amy Adams teamup farce, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, I feared more of the same. Yes, the crowd was older than the norm, but they were all sitting politely and, surprisingly, hardly anyone was talking. In fact, it was weirdly quiet amongst the thirty or so mostly aged attendees, considering that the previews were already going and many people naturally took the opportunity to continue their conversations straight through until the first production credit popped up on the actual film. At the close of the last trailer though, there was a definite silence heading into that certain credit moment... and then it broke. Suddenly, like the voices Cameron hears throughout Scanners that slowly drive him mad, I was assaulted with about a half-dozen pairs of old ladies nattering on about this and that, none of it really clear, though I am certain most of it had no bearing on the film at hand.

The buzz just grew and grew, and I began to worry that it might overtake the film. But at the ten-minute mark, just as the jokes in the film started to fly, the buzz dissipated. The crowd fell into the film, laughter became the "new" buzz, and my attention turned fully to the single-day adventures of Miss Guinevere Pettigrew.

Until the Honking Man, that is...

The Honking Man was a rather rotund man sitting three rows to the left in back of us, who found the movie quite amusing. Perhaps too amusing. With every punchline came his laugh -- low, gutteral, more of a "Hennnh!" really, than a "Ha!" But his odd laugh did not come as a solo act. Each low "Hennnh!" would then be followed by a series of louder ones, four or five each time, until he began to sound like an old movie serial super-villain with a serious case of emphysema.

As the film continued on, getting screwier with the introduction of each succeeding character, the laughs amongst the older lot (and ourselves) increased. But, so did those of the Honking Man. To my ears, at least, it seemed the theatre was becoming infested with geese. But because I seemed to be the only person outwardly struck by the severity of this attack on the senses (and his lungs). I tried to be a better person and fought not to begin laughing at something outside of the screen. Eventually, containing myself mightily, I no longer noticed the Honking Man. (I am a liar...)

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day also managed to subvert the constant threat of a porky human-goose mutant ransacking the theatre on a wing-flapping rampage, unable to lift off from the seats due to his mass, becoming trapped between his armrests and tearing out his entire row in a frenetic attempt to escape, honking all the way. The actors -- McDormand, Adams, Lee Pace, Ciaran Hinds, and Shirley Henderson -- were more than up to the task of matching the farcical tone of the script, and Adams, as usual, was a delight. I was surprised, though, by what I discovered due to seeing the film after watching its review by Michael Phillips and Richard Roeper on Ebert and Roeper a couple of weeks before.

They both referred to the opening of the film (Phillips said "the first 20 minutes"; Roeper, 15) as being unnecessarily shrill and hard to get through, and the direction haphazard, before the actors settled into the material and the film took off. This surprises me, because -- though I am unaware as to how this film was actually directed -- the vast majority of films are not shot in a linear fashion, and this myth about actors "settling" into a role or material is just so much bullshit. And, for the record, they are dead fucking wrong about those opening minutes, which are actually of an even more underplayed tone than the remainder of the film. That there is more outright drama at the onset of the piece is obvious, as the desperation of Miss Pettigrew's situation must be established. If a couple of scenes of her losing her job and then being denied a new position, and her subsequent loss of possessions and scrambling of food equal being discussed as shrill, then they have a different understanding of the term than I do. I consider it necessary to the plot.

Or maybe I started to believe that, however shrill the opening may have actually been, it seemed sensible next to the constant stream of patter assailing my ears from all around me. Jen has always maintained that I am strangely attuned to and overly edgy about other people in theatres, and she is very, very correct about this. Things that drive me crazy in an audience -- living room talking levels, wrapper crinkling at quiet moments, babies, idiot teenagers, more babies, more idiot teenagers, even more babies -- either bounce right off of Jen or she blocks them out wholesale. I cannot. At the same time, in the right setting, such as horror films, superhero blockbusters, or children's flicks, I am more than happy to share the loud, boisterous communal experience.

And perhaps that is what I need to accept with "films of a certain vintage or type." If I continue to go to films that tend to be frequented by the elderly, then I should just learn to accept the behavior of that crowd. And that is my secret delight here: I do enjoy the insane rantings and the dotty old ladies and even the bathroom breaks.

I even enjoyed the Honking Man, and someday, I hope to keep him as my own pet. He can help me keep those damn kids out of my backyard... the movie theatre.

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day

Director: Bharat Nalluri
Focus Features, 1:32, color
Cinema 4 Rating: 7


Eric H said…
I went to see "The Talented Mr. Ripley" right after it opened, right around Thanksgiving weekend, at a big downtown theater. A big noisy crowd chattered their way through the first few scenes, drinking in the Matt Damon charm and getting ready to noisily enjoy a nice, fun, uplifting, life-affirming show. "Good Will Hunting" goes to Europe.

Of course, after a certain point, it got real quiet, and mostly stayed that way.

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