One of a critic’s imperative responsibilities is to retain some form of objectivity in their analyses. Subjective taste will of course always partially influence opinion, but those tasked with critiquing for the benefit of the general public should strive to value that which can be justified—or at the very least explained—to others in their proclaimed judgements.
When faced with movies that defy this goal for any number of reasons, they often label them using the superficially positive but slyly pejorative phrase “guilty pleasures,” as in, “What I’m praising does not actually conform to my oft-described, hopefully stringent definition of quality, thus the reason I feel guilty in admitting that it nevertheless still brought me pleasure.” Two weeks ago, the combination of Power Rangers, CHIPS, and Life inspired a deliberately contemplative (and soon to be published…I promise) rumination regarding the flimsy bases upon which the very concept of “guilty pleasures” resides.
Hopefully that more in-depth piece will allow you to forgive me for allowing Going in Style—the only notable wide release of April 7’s three offerings (click here to read about my aversion to religious-agenda-driven movies like The Case for Christ, and click here (also soon to be published! Also also, welcome to the first parentheses WITHIN parentheses of Write All Nite’s SUPER STORIED history) to read about my aversion to most mainstream animated fare condescendingly intended for children like Smurfs: The Lost Village)—to basically force yours truly to throw my full weight onto that same flimsy base.
For some unknown reason—if it was even remotely known, I’d be writing about it here—this sort of geriatric extravaganza that injects elderly legends of the stage and screen into action comedy plots usually reserved for far younger thespians (the pitch: “It’s like Ocean’s Eleven, (with a subtly masked reference to the original Rat Pack to boot! Also, for those keeping track, welcome to the second example) but starring…wait for it…OLD PEOPLE!!!”) induces INDESCRIBABLE bliss throughout my entire being. The only sensical defense of this unimpeachable (at least for me) formula’s latest iteration revolves around the casting; more than just the big three in front (Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin), the ensemble is comprised of cameos varying in size between long-lost icons (Matt Dillon! CHRISTOPHER LLOYD! ANN FREAKING MARGARET!!!) and—per the norm for movies shot in the Big Apple—theatre performers who deserve greater widespread recognition that they’ve thus far received (John Ortiz! MARIA DIZZIA! NICK CORDERO!!!).
Besides them, I would not only accept but probably agree with any of the many obvious faults that could be cited herein. What’s that you say? Director Zach Braff—you bet Mr. Scrubs turned Garden State turned why-isn’t-he-still-writing directed this!—brings the aesthetic sensibility of a viagra commercial and the comedic timing of a quickly-killed sitcom (with an accompanying score to match)? I wholeheartedly concur! Oh, you think everyone tries waaaaay too hard selling a preposterous premise and derivatively expired jokes? Preach, sister! You were offended by their complete disregard of contemporary identity politics, often deriving humor from increasingly inappropriate and mindlessly unoriginal stereotypes? Makes sense to me!
Wait, what was that at the end there? You didn’t laugh a single time? Well…I have to disagree on that one. Despite understanding full well I could and probably should be labeled as a moron for doing so, I giggled my ass off throughout these old-folks shenanigans. Seriously, I loved every minute of this…thing. As an aspiring critic with some self-respect, I definitely feel a little guilty. But as a normal moviegoer, almost nothing else contains such unadulterated—if not particularly adult…or I guess perhaps too adult?—joy for me.
But for fear of coming off like a lunatic homer, I’ll end by at least suggesting one way that these types of flicks can improve, albeit this has nothing to do with their actual content.
Complaining about trailers revealing too much is about as tired as Going in Style’s story structure, but comedies may actually suffer from this all-too-common phenomenon more than any other genre. Sure, spoiling an important plot twist may sap the tension of a dramatic thriller, but that pales in comparison to the degree to which repetition kills humor. To utilize an on-brand analogy, you know how every family has that one grandparent who tells the same jokes over and over and over again, each becoming gradually more obnoxious and less funny? When comic movies reach cinemas after the multitudes of trailers—each purportedly aimed at attracting a different demographic!—have been forced down audience’s throats, they basically resemble that grandparent at the point in any reunion when everyone starts silently wondering to themselves how many more years they could possibly live. There were too many moments in Going in Style that would’ve elicited roars of laughter (…at least from me) if they hadn’t already too many times before.
I’m only touching upon this topic here because comedies can sooooo easily avoid this disappointing result. Have you ever noticed that some funny trailers end up advertising jokes that don’t appear in the actual movies? That’s because most comedians improvise on set, providing the editor with an overabundance of material to choose, all of which could never fit within a normal running time. I’m sure a few of these instances can be explained by jokes being cut late in the editing process AFTER initial trailers have been released, but can someone answer why any and every comedy trailer doesn’t prominently feature jokes that end up on the cutting room floor? Detailing the premise—a necessity—requires minimal joke-telling, while the rest could be composed exclusively of the best thrown-away lines. Far from being throwaways, deleted takes are often the funniest, and only wind up discarded for other reasons (pacing, failing to forward the narrative, comedic balance, etc.). How often do you walk away from a movie most fondly remembering the concluding bloopers? Exactly.
Hopefully this simple yet potentially game-changing alteration would ease a little of the admittedly pleasurable guilt from my inevitable future enjoyment of “cinematic” enterprises ala Going in Style…