Too Tired Not To Care

Published on September 19th, 2011

Alex brags about seeing sneak preview screenings of Drive and 50/50.

I find that I learn the most when I’m either extremely awake or exceptionally exhausted. For the three and a half minutes after finishing a strong cup of coffee, there is nothing I don’t understand. When I’m towards the end of a fifteen-hour workday of oscillating between standing still and running around – going on 4 hours of sleep – there is nothing I do understand. I’m just sort of standing, waiting for things to end so I can run to the next shoot location, always hoping that I don’t trip on anything on my way there. I’m not worried about hurting myself when I trip, as a cut on my palm or a scar on my shin can only add some Robert Shaw-esque character to my unabused skin. I’m more worried I might be too tired to stand back up.

For the last ten days, I have been working for the Toronto International Film Festival as a videographer. I will write about this in more detail tomorrow, but today is strictly about some of the perks I got to experience while working there. And by perks, I mean ‘movies I snuck into while I had time to kill and nobody kicked me out of them.’ I saw the first half of Guy Maddin’s new movie, the second half of a 3D Wim Wenders dance film, bits and pieces of about 10 others, and the entirety of Drive and 50/50. Since the last two are movies you have heard of, in that they star legitimate celebrities instead of Jason Patric, those were the movies I was most interested in, and the movies I desperately didn’t want to get kicked out of.

I saw Drive and 50/50 in the same cinema, two days apart, both with a full house. I was standing at the back of the theatre, leaning against a wall while holding my camera gear, periodically shifting my weight to one foot to temporarily alleviate the pain in the other. And while this is not the ideal way to watch a movie, I loved both films, enthusiastically yelling and tweeting about each after the screenings let out. This, of course, made me think that maybe being tired and physically uncomfortable during a movie is the best way to enjoy it.

The first of the two movies I saw in full was Drive, the Ryan Gosling action movie that’s about a professional getaway driver, Carey Mulligan being adorable, and exploding craniums. It was grotesque, beautiful, and borderline brilliant in its own sort of way. As the movie ended, I thought to myself, ‘This is a movie I will watch at least once every year for the rest of my life.’ (Or at least until I turn forty.)

Drive, directed by comically aloof Danish auteur Nicolas Winding Refn, wasn’t perfect, but it featured everything I love about cinema. The movie was atmospheric, had inventive action, glorious sound, and every frame of the movie was as pretty as its leading man’s tiny blue eyes. The one problem with it was probably the writing, which was barely better than mediocre. That hardly mattered, however. If the dialogue had been entirely removed from the film, I’m certain I would have liked it almost as much as I do now. The only thing I would have really missed in that scenario would have been Albert Brooks’ menacingly severe voice.

A couple of days later, I saw 50/50, the cancer comedy starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen. Like the action film I saw that weekend, I really loved 50/50 the whole way through, despite it having more glaring issues than Drive. There was a stupidly unnecessary volcano metaphor, and 50/50 probably should have been 20 minutes longer to flesh out some elements that are ignored, most specifically where the hell Philip Baker Hall goes in the third act. But like Drive, 50/50 successfully accomplished things that so many movies in its genre fail to do: director Jonathan Levine* absolutely nails the tone of the movie, allowing it to be at times depressing, at others hilarious, and occasionally both at once. Rogen hasn’t been this funny since 2007 and the rest of the cast is great as well, particularly Anjelica Huston as every overbearing mother ever. At its best, 50/50 feels like everything a mixture of comedy and drama should be; there are legitimately sad and depressing moments, but there’s always a tension-breaking joke on its way to release you from any sadness. And those jokes – extremely important for this type of movie – are consistently hilarious.

*Who did the uneven but entertaining The Wackness, and who speaks exactly like the lead character from that movie.

I would be lying if I said I feel I have an objective opinion on this movie; as it ended I was pretty confident I liked it as much as I did specifically because, like Drive, 50/50 seemed to be directly aimed at a person with my specific set of cinematic interests. My love of Drive came out of the intersection of an atmospheric, patient independent film with the type of action movie that I love, while 50/50 spoke to the comedy/drama fan in me that feels like it is the only genre in which a movie can seem truly realistic. Drive was basically a really incredible music video that left space for me to fill in the blanks with whatever I wanted to focus on, while 50/50 sucked me into a world that didn’t feel all too different from my own life (except for the cancer, of course). And that is the only way a movie can make anybody who isn’t overly emotional feel any sort of emotion at all.

I hate to sound braggy, but each of these screenings were TIFF Special Presentations, meaning that the filmmakers and stars of each movie were in attendance. Both movies got the applause I felt they deserved, and 50/50 got a standing ovation that made me think that maybe that type of movie doesn’t connect only with me. But there was also the thought that maybe the film didn’t necessarily connect with the audience; perhaps the audience merely wanted to connect with the people who made the film. And that kind of worried me.

The day after seeing 50/50, I was told there was an extra seat available for a screening of a movie that I was vaguely interested in. Instead of taking this seat, I opted to wait and pass the time by talking to the theatre ushers outside the doors; I was simply too tired to sit down and watch a movie. But had I seen an opportunity to stand at the back for Moneyball, I probably would have taken it. When asked by a friend about why I didn’t accept the invitation to sit down and watch a movie for free, I explained I was too tired to give the movie a fair chance. Had I sat down, I would have either fallen asleep during an action scene* or simply hated the movie. When I’m really tired, I turn into a petulant monster, simply getting pissed off when things don’t go the way I expected, so to try to sit down and pay attention to a movie when I could just sleep in that same chair instead becomes a chore. Which is also kind of the reason why I’m confident Drive and 50/50 were as good as I thought.

*For reasons that will never make sense to me, when I’m watching a movie while tired I am most prone to falling asleep during giant action set pieces. 

 

 

 

 

 

I participated in the standing ovation at the end of 50/50, and partook in my own standing ovation for Drive, but both of those were kind of just circumstances of my situation. Had nobody else in the cinema felt the need to applaud either film, I wouldn’t have started the applause, but since I’m a follower I felt I should audibly appreciate these movies along with the rest of the audience. I know there were others who wouldn’t have clapped had nobody else kick started the train, but I hope everybody that hopped on legitimately loved the movie. I’m normally staunchly opposed to people slapping their hands together in movie theatres, but that’s mostly due to the fact that the people who made the film never hear it. When those people are present, the problem becomes that people might clap simply because Nicolas Winding Refn will actually hear them.

Writing about whether or not applause is authentic is kind of ridiculous, but it is also the key to the way most film criticism operates. A lot of movie critics, since they are so knowledgeable about film, get to write pieces about certain actors or films, pieces that require a sort of detachment from their subject to remain objective. Very often, however, these writers develop personal relationships with the actors or filmmakers they are writing about. At a retrospective look at Sony Pictures Classics’ 20th anniversary, Michael Barker mentioned that Roger Ebert often has a hand in suggesting scripts that they should produce, which at least kind of invalidates Ebert’s opinions of their films (while also explaining his glowing review of Barney’s Version). And while I have no evidence of it, to say that other reviewers like Richard Schickel and A.O. Scott don’t have similar relationships would probably be a lie.

I wasn’t worried about my actual reviews of these movies being perceived as authentic; like I have said approximately 3021 times in the past, I don’t care what people think about my opinions on movies. What I cared about were my actual feelings about the movies, which sounds like the same thing but is entirely different. Watching Drive was like watching every technical element of cinema I love coming together in one sort of amalgamation of awesome, and watching 50/50 was like seeing a movie that tapped directly into the cinematic themes I find the most emotionally rewarding. Both of these experiences are incredibly rare, so when they happen I want to be sure they’re legitimate. I don’t care if I like something inauthentically, but when I truly love something, I want to be sure.

Perhaps standing during these movies was an important part of the experience. Ryan Gosling and Joseph Gordon-Levitt got to sit down during these screenings, but I didn’t. I don’t deserve a reserved seat in these cinemas, because I’m not in their cinematic league. And standing throughout the films was the only reason I didn’t fall asleep; I was so tired that the only way to stay awake was to pay attention to every detail of each film. It might not be the best way to watch a movie, but now I have never been more confident that I did truly love these movies. At the time I didn’t understand anything; I was too tired. But now, as I finish the last of my coffee, I see it. I couldn’t really form thoughts about these movies as I saw them initially; all I could do was feel what they meant to me. I wasn’t thinking about Bryan Cranston being in attendance, and I wasn’t thinking about whether or not I was authentically feeling like I loved these movies. I can’t wait to see Drive again tomorrow, and I’ll damn sure be seeing 50/50 again when it’s released on the 30th. And even though I’ll be more physically comfortable viewing them from a padded chair, I hope that the same initial experience still stands up.

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