"Filmgoing Adventures of a Furloughed Federal Employee"
Previously on Part 1: Gravity (in 2D), Rush, and Mr Smith fantasies
DAY 8: Museum Hours is the film that’s been eluding me for the past month, and the only place it’s still playing at locally is the Avalon, on the border between D.C. and Maryland. The Avalon is one of those old-school theaters with a balcony in the main theater but creaky, decidedly non-stadium seats, and a more cramped secondary theater that can only be reached by a set of steep, narrow stairs. Still, the place has a certain rickety charm, and offers my last chance of catching this movie before it leaves theaters altogether. So there I go, feeling more than ever like I’m playing hooky because this time I’m solo. It’s just me, one older woman, and two senior, clearly retired couples who I’m pained to watch ascending those awful stairs with difficulty.
I can’t speak for them, but for me the film turns out to be well worth the trip. Ostensibly about two strangers who meet and forge a platonic connection at an art museum in Vienna, at its heart it’s about the connection between art and life, and the human instinct to capture the fleeting beauty of ordinary people going about their lives—whether as an observer, an artist, or both. It makes me suddenly aware of how little we see of random passers-by just doing their thing in most movies; whenever our attention is drawn to a person, it’s for a very specific, plot-driven purpose. Museum Hours lacks that narrative compulsion, and while it may feel aimless to some, to me it feels like a revelation. I walk down the arthritis-baiting stairs in a strangely exalted state of mind.
DAY 9: Lazy day after a late night out. Ponder on Museum Hours and decide it’s on the short list for favorite film of the year so far. Also ponder whether to see Gravity again in 3D.
DAY 10: Another day, another schlep to Maryland—this time Bethesda, to see Short Term 12, about a temporary group home for troubled kids and the barely-older adults who work there. It’s a dreary rainy day, Bethesda is far, and I’m tempted to wait for the DVD. But I resist the urge, and once again, the film rewards my journey. It isn’t perfect; some of the character arcs feel a little overdetermined, and the conclusion just a little too neat. Yet emotionally, it feels completely organic, thanks in large part to the terrific acting, and it may be the only movie I’ve seen all year that actually deserves to be called “heartwarming.” My fellow audience members—another smattering of older couples—seem to agree, even the man who kept asking his wife in what he probably thought was a whisper what the characters were saying.
DAY 11: Lunch with four fellow furloughed work friends—aka Ladies Who (Normally Don’t) Lunch—at which Congress gets thoroughly skewered, followed by a matinee show of Enough Said, the Nicole Holofcener rom-com in which a fortysomething divorced woman (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) strikes up a relationship with a nice, age-appropriate divorced man (the late James Gandolfini) only to discover that he’s the ex-husband of her new client and BFF (Catherine Keener).
The film’s less screwball comedy and more a ruefully funny, surprisingly poignant look at the difficulties of moving on to a new stage of life. I find myself tearing up towards the end, and am glad to find my friends similarly afflicted.
DAY 12: The AMC theater two blocks from my place was recently refitted with cushy reclining seats - perfect for watching a movie as tense as Captain Phillips, Paul Greengrass's white-knuckle take on the true story of the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama by four Somali pirates in 2009. Tom Hanks is his usual capable Everyman self as the captain, though he's nearly upstaged by the actors playing the hijackers. Turns out all of them are friends and first-time actors from a Somali community in Minneapolis, but they fully inhabit the fierce, desperate lives of the pirates; Barkaad Abdi is the standout as their diminutive but strong-willed leader. Last third of the movie could have been shortened up a bit, but the prolonged waiting does underscore the agony for everyone involved.
DAY 14: I finally see Gravity in 3D IMAX. Verdict: you should see it that way if you can; but if you can't or have already seen it in 2D, don't worry, it's the same essential movie. It's not so much the big, scary action set pieces that benefit from the 3D as little touches like Sandra Bullock's tears, instead of falling down, rolling up into a bubble and floating towards you. I still find the last scene with her and Clooney kind of clunky; but the one right before that, when she's about to give up, is one of the best scenes I've seen in any movie all year. It loses no punch the second time around, even knowing what follows.
BACK TO WORK: Gravity turns out to be the last film I see in theaters before Congress finally does what it should have done two weeks ago and passes an appropriations bill that reopens the federal government. I can't say I'm sorry to go back to work, but I also can't help thinking a little wistfully of how much I enjoyed all those afternoons at the movies. Of course, given that the current bill only funds the government through mid-January and the ongoing dysfunctionality of Congress, I may well be back in the movie theaters a few months from now, getting a head start on all the Oscar contenders. Here's hoping it doesn't come to that - but I know what to do if it does!