Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Parental Disaster Movies

Tonight I rewatched Greg Mottola's neglected coming-of-age tale Adventureland, and I enjoyed it, but as the characters kept lighting up joints, making "boner" jokes, and depicting casual sex, I kept thinking, Oh my god, I showed this to my daughters 18 months ago, when they were 14 and 11.  

In retrospect, it probably deserves to join the ranks of what I call Parental Disaster Movies. Or, as my kids like to chant at me, "Inappropriate!"

When you have kids, you're really excited to show them the world
-- more specifically, your world. Movies are one of the major ways we learn about life around us: mores, morals, morons. (Personally, I learned to read at age three from a TV show for foreigners, and much else about the world from Warner Bros. cartoons -- from opera to who Edward G. Robinson was.)

I always thought of myself as a savvy, hip parent, and I’d prefer my kids learn about adult-ish life while I’m nearby to explicate. But like so much in parenting, it’s hard to judge until you’re already hurtling down the highway. And, as much as the Pixar people have labored to right the situation (God bless Toy Story et al.), once you've logged several years consuming kid-geared fare, you start chomping at the bit. The Lion King is actually a very funny and tuneful movie, but you want to be able to show your kids To Kill A Mockingbird [above]. The thing is, they have to be ready for it. (I ended up showing it to them separately when each reached 6th grade).

So many things about our kids growing up too fast can make us sad, but I don’t miss Barney or Raffi. As kids outgrow kiddie fare and aren’t yet ready for Citizen Kane, we have to help them navigate. As a divorced dad not wanting to be the bad parent,  I’ve tried to be extra conscientious. But there’s a large fuzzy middle ground. (I wanted to show them Kramer Vs. Kramer [above] for years, but waited till they were mature enough to appreciate it -- priming them first with Adam Brooks' underrated Definitely Maybe -- and their appreciation was gratifying) 

We wound up at Adventureland during their spring break trip to L.A. There was a special advance screening at the beautful old Aero in Santa Monica. They were excited because they liked Kristen Stewart from Twilight and Kristin Wiig from SNLI was excited because after the success of the raucous Superbad, Mottola, who had written and directed The Daytrippers and then spent years without making another feature, had gotten to do a small, autobiographical story. By the end, I think the sweetness of the story outweighed the darker elements for them, and the fact that it took place in 1987 helped me explain away some of the behavior.
In the pre-video 60’s and 70’s, my own parents occasionally brought me to movies that bared more than they’d bargained for: Katharine Ross [left] stripping at gunpoint for Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy (thanks!) or Robert Mitchum strolling among buck-naked prostitutes in Farewell My Lovely (Yikes! And what was a prostitute?).

Besides, even movies touted as benign can traumatize. Disney, for instance, kills Bambi’s mother, tortures Pinocchio, and gives Snow White seven mini-stalkers. And who could forget the cheerful musical Oliver! about a bunch of ragtag hooligan kids, when it suddenly veers into darkness as Bill Sykes beats his girlfriend to death? (My kids still balk when I try to suggest we rewatch it.) Even The Wizard of Oz has its terrifying moments. 

So after we practically wore out The Sound of Music and Singing in the Rain, I showed them Grease -- and they ended up watching it about 10 times. They loved the romance, remaining blissfully ignorant of pregnancy scares and lines like "You know I ain't shittin'/I'll be getting lots of tit in Greased Lightning!"

Other times, I couldn’t get to the pause button fast enough. On the surface, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective [right], seemed ideal – goofy Jim Carrey, a detective story, and lots of cute animals! Boy, was I surprised by the subplot in which Carrey reveals that Sean Young's character is actually a man, via anatomical proof.

Even with movies I have already seen, my already unreliable memory is particularly bad in terms of these issues.
I remembered A Fish Called Wanda being one of my favorite comedies. Until I popped it in the DVD player for them, I forgot that Kevin Kline screamed "Asshole!" at every passing car, that Jamie Lee Curtis was basically a sex addict, and that the F word was employed – as my younger daughter would tally and remind me for years – 26 times. Life of Brian was a real winner, except for the full frontal male nudity. 

In recent years, they've embraced classics like Groundhog Day and Tootsiewhich have their share of adult moments.  But society’s yardstick is a moving target: I judged Juno inappropriate; then the New York Times critic recommended bringing kids, and it’s become one of their favorites (and they were rightfully creeped out by the bad-guy dad who hits on her). Little Miss Sunshine was a great movie for them (excepting Grandpa’s drug use); but explicating it helped them through it and probably taught them more than censoring it would have (or having their friends watch it with them unsupervised).

Still, there have been many battles over the years, and I usually end up in a lose-lose situation. I remember one night years ago when we could not agree on a DVD. They vetoed David Copperfield – not because it was black-and-white, but because it smelled like homework. And I just could not stomach the prospect of giving any more money to Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Finally we settled on Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part 1, which I’d never seen. Yes, it was rated R. Sure, a good parent would have known better. But it was a 1981 R, no two R movies have exactly the same salty details, and face it, for today’s video-devouring generation, there’s only so many PG choices out there. (That night I had also rejected watchng Big Fat Liar for a fourth time – it would have meant me devoting more of my life to seeing Paul Giamatti getting dyed blue than I had Orson Welles as Kane.) 

Brooks's movie wasn’t the greatest – okay, it wasn’t even that good – but the kids were getting a visual gloss on historical eras and a few silly laughs. Then came the "Eunuch Test" scene in which Gregory Hines ogles a sexy belly dancer, and a feather covering his crotch rises at a right angle. My daughters both chorused heartily: “Inappropriate!” 

Before they left for camp this summer, I was racking my brains for a comedy, and thought I'd show them Election. They've loved Matthew Broderick ever since Ferris Bueller, love Resse Witherspoon, and had seen all the John Hughes movies. I thought they'd really like the politics of the high school election. 

Yes, I remembered that Broderick ends up sleeping with her. I thought we could get past that. What I didn't remember was Broderick's friend bragging to him about Witherspoon's, uh, you-know-what, or the scene in which a high school girl, to prove she's not a lesbian, services Chris Klein. 

At that point in the movie, my older daughter, 16, informed me it was time to turn it off. 

I obeyed. 

1 comment:

David said...

Our banner experience in this regard is a film we found on-demand with Simone one Friday evening (a regular fishing expedition where we end up watching too many mediocre compromises). R-rated, 2005, "The Amateurs," non-descript blurb emphasizing the premise: Jeff Bridges as a loveable loser being left behind by his kids and wife who has married an incredibly rich dude. so far standard fare, until about 8 minutes when Bridges, depressed and desperate sitting in the local bar with his other loser friends suddenly stands up and shouts: "Let's make a porno!"

Oops. click.