When I was a kid growing up in Wyoming, my older sister and I would go to the movies once a week in the summer. These week day showings were sponsored by Dairy Gold and an empty milk bottle got us in free. Mom always gave us a quarter for popcorn, no candy or pop. I remember sitting down front in luxurious maroon velvet seats in a dimly lit theater with a bunch of noisy kids, crunching loudly on kernels like rabid chipmunks, waiting in anticipation for the show to begin. I can’t remember a single show from these adventures. I do remember going to the movies was a special treat, an experience to be savored.
This week in a New York Times interview (Buchanan, Sept. 4, 2019), Brad Pitt was not particularly bullish on the future of movies in the era of streaming. Pitt told Buchanan, “I’m curious to see if movies last, if movies stick around in the period of streaming.”
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on Friday of this week (Morgenstern, WSJ, 9/6/19) described the recent Telluride Film Festival as showcasing largely movies for streaming. A move Morgenstern described as “tectonic” or a major shift similar of the earth’s crust, movements that cause earth quakes.
This last month I have had foot surgery giving me lots of time to stream movies and series. My experience is that some streaming productions, especially movie length features are unbelievably terrible. For example, well known stars Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler’s “Murder Mystery” (released on Netflix, June, 2019) is a ridiculous farce, that transforms into a who-done-it, overlaid on a romantic comedy. My teenage daughter and I could hardly sit through the entire feature. Both of us spent more time playing with our phones than watching the show. I was left wondering why any reasonable woman would marry the bumbling Sandler character.
Just out is another example of the travesty of full-length streaming, “Otherhood” short for motherhood (Nextflix, August, 2019). Featuring 3 middle aged women devoted to their grown sons who said, “hasta la vista” many years ago and moved to New York, found apartments and jobs. The sons seem to be fully functioning adults. Their moms, on the other hand, literally have no lives and no real connections to their sons. As the mother of a 25 year old son, who has moved successfully from Idaho to Seattle, I found the premise offensive. Women can have children, careers, fun, hobbies and a life separate from their children and husbands. But in “Otherhood” these three lost souls journey into New York, dropping in unexpectantly on their non-communicative sons to manage their lives. The sons, by the way, are young, good looking and not the brunt of the writer’s humor. The writers seem to think three older women who obsess about their looks, drink too much, interfere with their adult children’s lives and haven’t been dancing in years are not only hilarious but representative of the older female. This movie should never have made it onto the production schedule.
The one streaming movie featuring a strong woman I have seen this week is “Late Night” (Amazon) staring Emma Thompson. I admit to my personal bias here. I’ve never seen a movie with Emma Thompson that I didn’t like. “Late Night” features witty repartee about women, ageism, diversity and the white male culture of TV. The basic plot is the difficulties of successful aging focused on the challenges of pursuing both excellence and change in later life. Would this show have drawn me to a major theater at a minimum $20 price point (ticket, parking, popcorn)? I’m not sure. But the show is the best of my recent viewing of women leads in feature-length online movies.
The streaming plots seem more nuanced when they are structured as episodes. “The Handmaiden Tale” on Hulu (Season 1) is gripping. It’s back for a fourth season but I haven’t watched seasons 2 or 3 because someone from Costa Rica stole my Hulu account. “ The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” on Amazon Prime is a great period piece, showcasing strong women in non-traditional roles with writing that leaves the viewer laughing at the pathos of the characters as they struggle with various neurosis. Both seasons 1 and 2 were outstanding. I am eagerly waiting season 3. “The Good Fight” (3 seasons streaming on CBS All Access), stars attorney Diane Lockhart (Christin Baranski) as a tough, high powered, older woman lawyer working in an almost all black law firm. She is the only white partner. For liberals, the plot focus on current events, dark humor, and undercurrents of an unknowable national conspiracy make the show binge worthy in my book.
Even when I enjoy streaming a show, I don’t get the same excitement as I do waiting in a big dark theater with my over-priced popcorn for the show to begin. Short, high quality streaming episodes with a solid plot line can keep viewers watching night after night or binging away an entire day. But to get us out of our cozy homes and entice us to spend at least $50 for a family, movie producers and writers need to continue creating that special spell-binding magic that transforms our ordinary lives for a couple hours. Without the magic, movies may go the way of my land line telephone which never rings or my dusty VHS collection, a relic of a past that was transformative at the time but unable to adapt to new technology. But for right now, I still love a great movie on a big screen in a dark theater .