There is a magic to movies that allows them to be something more than they are. A movie needn’t be artistically pure. It need not be well acted or scripted by the gods. It needn’t be inspirational or transformational. All a movie need be is the right movie at the right time. That is when the magic happens.
You and I, we can sit side by side watching the same movie and one of us may hate it and the other may love it. We may agree on almost every other movie we’ve ever seen, but at that moment we disagree. I find this especially true with art films, those quiet and character driven flicks that almost no one sees, but win all the awards and praise of the critics. I hate almost all of those movies. They just never seem to be the right movie and the right time. The magic doesn’t happen. In fact, no matter what the movie the magic doesn’t happen nearly as often as it once did.
Maybe I’ve become jaded. Maybe I’ve just seen too many films. Maybe I think I’m more sophisticated than I really am so that the movies I think I should fall in love with are the movies I hate the most. And just when I think I’m done with movie magic altogether along comes one that isn’t the perfect movie, isn’t going to change the world and most assuredly won’t be winning awards. It’s the film for this moment, though, and that makes all the difference.
In this case the movie was a sneak preview of Dan in Real Life starring Steve Carell and Juliette Binoche. It may have been a little too sweet. It may have struck only one note, but it was the right note.
When it comes to movies I’m the biggest sucker for any movie that casts a quirky family or tight knit group of friends. While You Were Sleeping – sure Sandra Bullock for whom I’m also a sucker helped, but oh, that sweet, adorable family. The Family Stone – that one snuck up on me but has stayed with me. The Goonies – it’s all about that strange clan of miscreant friends.
So there I was, on a Saturday night in Los Angeles, sitting alone in my favorite theatre. My college roommate has left after a busy 3 month stay. My brother has disappeared into a 12 week stint at Army basic training. I’ve already talked to my sister and my best friend back home a couple times this week. The holidays are coming up rapidly and once again the southern California autumn is disappointingly similar to the summer and the spring and even the winter and none if it is at all like autumn in Nebraska (or anywhere else I’ve lived).
This is the hardest time of the year for me. When January comes and the weather is blistering cold in the Great Plains and the Christmas trees are stowed away for another year, then I’m fine. I’m happy to sit on my balcony watching the palm trees sway in the breeze, but here in this three month stretch before then, that’s when I realize how far from home I really am.
When the Burns family of Rhode Island appeared on the screen I felt that old longing for family and home. Then there was Dan Burns who seemed to be a man not all that unlike me – especially when he was dancing. The movie probably could have been about anything at that point. The magic had happened. These were people I wanted to know. This was a story I wanted to hear.
Like any movie that grabs hold of me the images keep swimming up to the surface of my thoughts today. That’s another sign of the magic. Suddenly I want to be home sitting around the kitchen table playing a game of Scrabble with all the cousins. And since even when Christmas rolls around in the real world that may not happen, I’m ready to go back to the theatre and watch the fictional Burns family playing football along the Rhode Island shore. It’s why I watch the movies in the first place. It’s why every time the lights dim and the screen lights up I hope for the magic – to be transported to places I’ve never been or to places I always want to be.