This year, I turn thirty.
Pick your cliche; age is just a state of mind, thirty is the new twenty, you’re over the hill but should be living under a bridge. That last one is just mean, guys. I recognize my own inability to halt the progression of time (for now, don’t worry about it), but I do find myself feeling especially sentimental as my twenties come to a close.
Since I was twenty-four, my life has been shaped and guided by my love of film, and by the pursuit of that passion. Moving to Austin, as I’ve now mused to the point of rhetoric, was solely motivated by an obsessive desire to be nearer the Alamo Drafthouse. The obsessive viewing and attending of film-related events lead to networking with writers and critics, which in turn lead to my contributing to local sites, and the rest is blah blah blah.
What this boils down to is that I’m an incredibly lucky bastard who has been able to make a living doing what he’s loved doing since childhood. For all intents and purposes, I’ve been a big kid for as long as I can remember, but now I fear I may be ill-equipped to pay the tab for my deferred adulthood. So I do what most people do, I begin to take stock; taking inventory like the poor bastard in charge of the warehouse where the ark of the covenant is stowed.
There is of course the question to digest, posed by great philosophical minds the likes of Phoebe Buffay, as to what personal accomplishments have thus far been left on the proverbial table. To a person of any considerable worth, these accomplishments venture into the realm of wealth accrued, houses purchased, or even mountains…mounted. Staggeringly conversely, to a film geek unencumbered by worth, someone like myself, accomplishment walks hand-in-hand with viewing, and inversely failure is measured in cinematic blind spots.
With that in mind, I decided to launch The 30 Dozen. In this blog, I will be clearing my blind spots. Specifically, each month I will be striking from my must-see list one film released in the year I was born: 1984. I am spotlighting these dozen films that turn thirty as I do, and in so doing I hope to draw parallels to my own feelings on being an über movie geek entering a third decade.
It’s not my intention that this be a vanity project. You don’t really care what movies I’ve seen and which I haven’t, and Cthulu knows that no one associated with the films featured here will be laying eyes on the words I digitally scrawl across the world wide bathroom wall. My hope instead is that like-minded soon-to-be-30-something movie geeks will join me for a series of discussions prompted by our most cherished artistic medium. Every single person possesses a different approach to turning thirty, and to aging in general, but cinephiles like us have always used movies as a means to make sense of our world and enrich the context of our lives.
To wit, let’s get this party started. The first film inducted into The 30 Dozen is Bachelor Party.
Much like the gents in the film, I might enjoy parties a little too much. Point of fact, the line of chuckle-worthy dialogue, “let’s have a bachelor party with chicks and guns and fire trucks and hookers and drugs and booze,” sounded eerily reminiscent of me planning my annual New Year’s Evil bashes. I remembered that I was convinced, during the first year after my college graduation, that there had to be an expiration date on those carefree, booze-swilling shenanigans.
…and then I made friends with writers in Austin. These guys, by and large, drink like they are constantly attending Hemingway’s wake (a Hemingwake?), and it becomes very easy to get washed away in the warm frivolity and clink glass after glass in celebration of being accepted into such a fantastic community. Still, as the years trudge forward and the hangovers hang around longer, I can almost hear middle-aged me shouting backwards across what we perceive as time, “knock it the hell off, you infantile stooge!” Apparently future me is very fond of silent-movie-era insults. “So you like to party, and the people in the movie are partying,” derisive future me continues, “that’s not a significant parallel to draw from the narrative.”
Stuff a corn dog up it, future me. You’re missing the bigger picture, old man.
What makes Bachelor Party such an apt film to discover on the threshold of one’s thirties, is that the eponymous celebration is not merely another party…it’s a last hurrah. Traditionally, a bachelor party is an opportunity to be, for one last time, completely unburdened by responsibility. Now granted, I am myself a married man, and indeed my bachelor party in New Orleans got out of hand, but it did not bear that note of finality. At that point I had been with my wife for eight years, so I never felt like I was losing any freedom marrying someone I had known that I wanted to be with since I was in high school. Yeah, I know, “awww….vomit.”
So when does the grown-up sword of Damocles plunge down into my skull?
Bachelor Party shares the gleeful id-expulsion of more contemporary boner jams like The Hangover…which, given its emphasis on male bonding, might be more appropriately labeled a “bro”ner jam. I watched all three of those films as a critic, and found them incrementally less charming with each sequel. Were they really dropping off in quality, or was each year’s push toward thirty slowly waning my desire to vicariously indulge my own id? If my distaste for that series was charted via notches on the wall, could I actually measure the height of my impending crotchetiness?
This was the kernel of a thought planted in my head when I walked out of The Hangover III, and one that grew into ripe concern as I struggled through Bachelor Party. It’s not that I didn’t find it funny. It was, at points. Nor was the film without its charms, but that charm was nearly solely contingent upon Tom Hanks’ screen presence.
Having little to no exposure to younger Hanks (apart from Big, in which he is intentionally playing his adult character with childish overtones), I was under the false assumption that Bachelor Party, while raunchy by reputation, would be a bit more sophisticated than the average boner jam. I was incorrect. Still, even as the boobs ran rampant–satiating the prepubescent boys born woefully ahead of the advent of internet porn–I couldn’t help but latch on to the genuine affability of Tom Hanks’ character. Why was it that amid that marauding depravity and tit-for-tit-sake nudity I found Tom Hanks so damned likable?
And then it hit me, not just the answer to that question, but perhaps the comforting resolution to the troubling internal debate brought to a head by this Bachelor Party viewing. Tom Hanks’ character differs from those in The Hangover, our modern equivalent, in that through every moment of this rager thrown to send off his freedom, he never compromises the things that define him. He gets drunk, but unlike those Hangover bros, doesn’t have to descend into a drug-addled fugue state in order to traverse his own misadventures. And even as he is drowning in a sea of half-naked loose women, he’s the only one who doesn’t have sex with a prostitute nor indeed commit even the slightest of fidelity infractions. In fact through much of the film, he’s a sarcastic observer of the next-level debauchery of others morseo than a participant.
The script goes out of its way to establish this strength of character within Hanks’ Rick Gassko. In fact, the guy is so steadfast in his refusal to compromise his relationship for a moment of carnal indulgence that he actually ends up bucking romantic comedy convention. In most rom-coms, there is a moment which, for lack of a better term, I have dubbed the romantic MacGuffin. It’s the totally facile misunderstanding that leads two people who are supposedly madly in love to separate until the end of act three. When that moment arises in Bachelor Party, Hanks simply climbs up on a ledge and asks the party to vouch for his fidelity. And it’s done, the misunderstanding is instantly cleared up. It’s phenomenal. He’s that solid a guy.
So it clicked. Maybe it’s not the partying that needs to stop, and perhaps there is no definitive temporal no-fly zone for id-indulgence. The lesson here is not to retreat into a “party version” of oneself. If the drinking and less-than-responsible cavorting is altering your personality as opposed to augmenting it, you’re doing it wrong. I’ve learned that I want to be Tom Hanks, not Tom Sizemore. It’s not that I’m getting too old to party, I’m just fed up with not remembering the party’s best moments. Further satisfying was the knowledge that Hanks himself was twenty-eight when he made Bachelor Party; teetering on the precipice of the big 3-0 himself.
Send the hookers home, break out the guitar, and sing a goddamn chorus of Kumbaya. We’ve just had a bona fide moment of clarity here.
The other fascinating thing about being a near-thirty movie geek watching Bachelor Party for the first time is its accidental prescience with regard to the corporate destruction of the film-going experience. Near the end of the film, as the gang races to save Debbie from the clutches of her ex-boyfriend, a.k.a obligatory rich blonde 80s douchebag, they enter a movie theater with so many screens that they can’t find their way around. There is literally a sight gag involving a twisty, impossibly-complicated map of all the theaters in the building.
The early 1980s, according to my limited research, is the era in which the multiplex really began to have a presence in America. Before that, it was all about the smaller movie houses or the left-over, but still functional, movie palaces from the golden age of cinema. These days, the multiplex is the standard of film-going; standard as in ubiquitous, not in terms of quality. I find myself pining for the two-screen movie houses the likes of which I briefly got to enjoy as a sprat whenever I visited my grandparents in tiny Mt. Vernon, Illinois. What was a casual jab at silly novelty, is now a painful portent of the loss of theater individuality. Funnier still are the jokes about the absurd gimmick that was (*cough cough* still is) 3D. Maybe I’m alone on this, but that unintentional foresight still bums me out.
One month down; cutting it entirely too close by posting on the very last day of January. Still, perhaps one celebratory shot is in order. Just one shot…and a pinata…actually is it too late to order a Greyskull-shaped bouncy castle and a barrel of fireworks?