Quit It


I’m not someone who hates clichés and formula in movies in and of themselves – things tend to get used over and over for a reason: because they work. However, there are some recurring plots, scenes and beats even I’d like the industry to take a year or twenty off from. Here’s a sampling…

He had to lose Everything to find the One thing that really matters.
We’ve all seen this movie, right? Wealthy, successful person hits hard times – sometimes deservedly, sometimes not – and is forced to work it out as a “regular joe.” At first they’re indignant, but ultimately they not only learn that money isn’t everything… but that “normal” life is both more fulfilling and morally superior. All of “the stuff” was getting in the way of the things that were really important, invariably meaning vestiges of a socially-traditional “average” existence. It’s been the basis of a few good movies, a lot of really bad movies…

…and I’m sick of it.

I understand the appeal of this story: Most of us are “regular joes,” and the notion that we’re “better off” that way, that the world of wealth and power that’s perpetually just out of our reach and is actually a corrupting influence we shouldn’t want anyway, is a nice, reassuring fantasy. I’m just wondering why we so seldom see the other side? Where are the stories about an individual whose unhappy in Averageville not because they’re missing “what’s really important” but because banal normality is suffocating them? It’s not like such people don’t exist – talented, creative, driven individuals who escape the confines the ordinary and strive to attain the wealth/power necessary to create their own definition of a good life are the people who invent our machines, write our books, film our movies, etc. Why do we need to pretend that their drive is somehow not worth having just to make ourselves feel better? Oh, wait. I’ve answered my own question.

Y’know what I’d like to see? A movie about a rich, powerful talented/creative type who wigs out and decides he needs to “get back to what’s important” by going back to whatever Nowheresville “good ol’ fashioned community” he came from… only to rediscover what a soul-crushing existence it really is, and how fortunate he was to get out. Y’know, just for some balance if nothing else.

Heh! Our source-material sure is stupid, huh?
At the climax of the first X-Men movie, Wolverine shifts uncomfortably in his new uniform – a black leather onesie like everyone else on the team wears. He quips about it to Cyclops, who smugly replies, “Would you prefer yellow spandex?”

It’s a stupid line, in the first place, because it doesn’t make any damn sense: No one in the movie has ever mentioned spandex, or even worn it, and the color yellow seems not to even exist in the perpetually blue/gray-tinted world of the X-films. It’s nakedly nothing more than a preemptive “piss off” to inevitable fan complaints about changing the costumes. Remember, this was before the first Spider-Man came out and made that level of fidelity “cool.”

Worst of all, it shows a remarkably shortsighted grasp of how to manage a movie franchise: The X-Men have now spawned a prequel, First Class, and given that it’s being made in the post-Iron Man Hollywood where the fanboy set are folks you bend over backwards to please instead of actively ignoring… guess what they’re wearing?

Recommended Videos

Man… my mid-life crisis is sooooo deep!
I am so bloody tired of suffering through the whimpers of pathetic married guys, particularly in movie “comedies.” If you believe modern Hollywood, every middle-aged family-man lacking a strong sense of self is actually a Philosopher King waiting to be unleashed, usually by the realization that his “boring” life is actually the most awesome thing ever. Our hero will go through some kind of “wacky” reaction to his surroundings – a ridiculous purchase, an “edgy” conversation with the wife, a near-affair (which he will not consummate because then we wouldn’t be “rooting” for him, apparently) whatever – only to instead learn the potent depths of his psyche, and how closely they’re tied to embracing his own “good-enough”-ness.

A brief memo, from me to the guys who keep writing/greenlighting this movie (and book, and sitcom): I understand. You “settled down” right before social-media and shifting-social-mores in general made the “hookup culture” explode. Growing up, you were told that if you hit 35 without a ring and a mortgage society would see you as an immature loser… and that turned out to be (increasingly) not the case at all. Part of you is incredibly bitter about this, even if a bigger part really does know (or at least believe) that you’re actually better off. I understand. I get it. You have my sympathy.

But please STOP asking me to sit through you carping about it via your movies. No, as a matter of fact, I don’t find your “journey” particularly enlightening, nor do I find any humor in your “jokes” about lawncare, telemarketers calling during dinner, and “crazy” stuff your kids leave in the van.

He tampered in God’s Domain!!!
In real life, scientists do some of the most important and far-reaching good of any vocation on the planet Earth. They cure disease, revolutionize industry, clean the air and water, solve pressing global concerns and invent the technology by which our better-publicized do-gooders, er… do their good. It’s one of the noblest and most tangibly-worthy professions one could possibly pursue.

In the movies? Not so much. Science is BAD. It unleashes monsters, provides fodder for sinister conspiracies and changes society is scaaaaary ways. And the scientists who carry it out? Awful, awful human beings, shirking their responsibility to maintain the status quo and choosing the unclean path of knowledge over the pristine, flower-strewn road of blind faith and unquestioning loyalty to tradition and “the norm.”

“There are things man wasn’t MEANT to know!,” goes the saying… presumably, one of those things is how such an insipid sentiment has survived all the way into the 21st Century.

Get a job, hippie!
Of all the sloppily-assembled “funny” moments in the recent movie Hall Pass, the one that sticks out for me goes as follows: Owen Wilson, playing a middle-aged suburban doofus, annoys a college-aged coffee-shop clerk by trying to make time with the pretty female coworker. Said clerk retaliates by smugly pointing out a terribly unhip pop reference Wilson just made, at which point Our Hero – portrayed as an almost Clark Griswold-level dolt throughout the rest of the film – suddenly morphs into The God of Snark. He dresses his “enemy” down in the name of sarcastic serviceperson “victims” everywhere, reminding the “kid,” “When you’re done spending your parents’ money on your independent avante garde whatever project and need to get a real job, it’s guys like me who hire!”


It’s just such a pandering, blatant moment of empowerment fantasy. Yes, I recognize that it’s in-part a reaction to the reverse of the same routine as seen in movies like Clerks which lionized witty Gen-X servicefolk verbally striking-back at their obnoxious customers. Fair enough.

Except… is it really fair? Call it a double-standard if you want, but the appeal (outside of audience-identification) of the Randall Graves-style sarcastic clerk character was in part a classic David & Goliath scenario – the powerless figure getting in his licks where he can against those holding all the cards. But when the scenario is reversed, the power-balance remains the same. The “hero” in the Hall Pass scene is a comfortably well-off, upper-middle-class white suburban breadwinner already absurdly more powerful than this kid. Every “privileged” status you can have in lopsided modern American society (economic, gender, racial, class, etc) he’s already got. How much more empowered does he (and those expected to identify with him) need to feel?

The distinguished gentlemen from the Generic Party has the floor.
In the immediately-forgotten Chris Rock vehicle “Head of State” (summary of plot and every single joke: “OMG! What if a BLACK GUY ran for President!!??”) a political party facing a sure-to-lose Presidential election conspires to choose an unknown man (Rock) as the first-ever African-American major party nominee (it was 2003) so that even though they lose anyway, their noble gesture will ensure that the “traditional” candidate they run next election will benefit from the residual goodwill in the Black Community. “Wacky” hijinks arise when the “decoy” candidate discovers the ruse and actively tries to win. Oh, and his opponent is a folksy braggart whose campaign slogan is “God Bless America – And No Place Else!”

On that description alone, you can probably tell me which Political Party both the hero and his nemesis were “supposed” to belong to… but you won’t find mention of them, or even the WORDS “Democrat” or “Republican” in the movie – or in most American films set in the world of politics that aren’t based on a true story. According to the popular cinema, U.S. elections are a quadrennial clash between nameless, interchangeable groups of basically-good and vaguely-evil candidates.

Why? Because moviemakers are afraid that identifying one side as “good” and the other “bad” will cause supporters of one party or the other to boycott the film. Sensible-enough logic, but the box office hardly bears it out.

Hollywood, here’s the thing: Everyone knows you’re overwhelmingly a Democrat town, or more precisely that creative industries tend to lean more to what’s called “The Left” in Western politics. If you don’t have enough investment in your viewpoint to be open about it, why should I want to see your message-movie in the first place? Bite the bullet, take a stand, have the courage of your own convictions (and yes, this goes for “conservative” moviemakers, too.) Fortune favors the bold, remember? Avatar had its bad guys flat-out QUOTING the Bush Administration. How many combined nations is James Cameron currently wealthier than, again? You’re not making your boxoffice bigger by playing it safe; you’re just making your movies worse.

Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you’ve heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.

The Escapist is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more
related content
Read Article About the Amazing Spider-Man, I Told You So
Read Article Historical Blindness?
Read Article Fantastic?
Related Content
Read Article About the Amazing Spider-Man, I Told You So
Read Article Historical Blindness?
Read Article Fantastic?
Bob Chipman
Bob Chipman is a critic and author.