That’s right, because my quest to figure out what is the best movie of my lifetime is just getting started. As usual, I will watch movies and write short reviews with my thoughts. I’ll try to be as regular as I can with posting. And before I get into it, I want to point out that I’ve written extensively about three 1995 movies already for this blog: Pocahontas, Whisper of the Heart, and a bit on Batman Forever.
Before Sunrise (Directed by Richard Linklater)
Before I get to my feelings about ‘Before Sunrise’, I must make it clear that I have never known a world without the movie’s sequel. ‘Before Sunset’ came out when I was 12 years old, and thus, in the middle of discovering the “amazing world of cinema.” The fact that I saw ‘Sunrise’ and ‘Sunset’ back-to-back didn’t affect my love for them, but for a long time I argued quite strongly that ‘Before Sunrise’ was a good movie made great by the existence of its sequel.
This might sound ridiculous, but I think I’m much more mature now than I was when I last saw ‘Before Sunrise’ two years ago. Not only I am now the same age as the main characters in the movie (Celine says she’s 23, and while Jesse does not specify, he is most clearly around that age), but I’ve had some similar experiences to what the characters go through happen in my life. Now, I don’t mean to say that I had a magical one-night romance with a European stranger, but many of the things Celine and Jesse say about their experiences sounded especially true to me. I know it sounds cliche, but I connected with the movie in a way I hadn’t before. I already loved the movie, but this was a very special experience. It makes me very excited to revisit ‘Sunset’ in nine years and ‘Midnight’ in eighteen.
Anyway, I don’t only think ‘Before Sunrise’ is a great movie because I connected with it on a very personal level. If anything, I think i connected with it because it is a great movie. Richard Linklater has an uncanny ability to put truthful moments on screen. I often describe him as a “relaxed” filmmaker. At his best, Linklater is so at ease making a movie that you forget there is any artifice to what you are watching. It happens in the best parts of ‘Boyhood’, and it absolutely happens in the ‘Before’ trilogy. If we’re going to talk about ‘Before Sunrise’s merits as just one film, one must talk about this “relaxed” slice-of-life feeling. The fact that Linklater captured such a magical and unique moment, and the he made one of the most truthful movie romances.
Of course, Linklater had the great fortune of Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke being perfectly suited to his style of filmmaking. The poster’s tagline sells the movie as a wish fulfillment romance, but Jesse and Celine are not star-crossed lovers, they are real human beings, and that has a lot to do with Hawke and Delpy’s performances. I’m not going to lie, they get better as they get older, but ‘Before Sunrise’ is a beautifully naturalistic start to what are the greatest creations of their careers. On that note, it’s silly to deny that, yes, the sequels make ‘Before Sunrise’ into a better movie than it is. Knowing what the future holds for these young lovers makes their first encounter all the more poignant. However, let nobody -not even me- try to convince you that ‘Before Sunrise’ is not a great movie on its own.
The Brady Bunch Movie (Directed by Betty Thomas)
The Bradys came back into the spotlight earlier this year, when a scene from ‘A Very Brady Sequel‘ went viral. I’m assuming that their popularity was somewhat restricted to the more active corners of the internet, but in any case, after watching ‘The Brady Bunch Movie’, I understand it was only a matter of time until this generation rediscovered the Brady Bunch. In their review of the movie, Siskel and Ebert recognized the movie was part of a trend of television sitcoms being revived on the big screen, and likened it to 1994’s uninspired ‘The Flintstones‘. They were wrong. ‘The Brady Bunch Movie’ is on another level. It is second only to ‘Addams Family Values‘ as far as clever nineties television adaptations are concerned.
It’s not only that ‘The Brady Bunch Movie’ is smart. It’s the way it goes about it. Directed by television veteran Betty Thomas, the movie takes the Brady Bunch -a staple of early 70s family corniness- and puts them in the middle of 1990s Los Angeles. With its love for all things kitschy and campy humor, it is a perfect fit with contemporary sensibilities, especially those of young people. No wonder Siskel and Ebert didn’t get it. The humor of ‘The Brady Bunch Movie’ is the kind of humor that is usually delivered by drag performers. Today, you could find it in ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race‘ (RuPaul himself makes a cameo in the movie as a school counselor). Back then, you could find it in movies like ‘The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert‘ and ‘To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar‘, which were praised by critics while the Bradys were ignored.
The clip that went viral in January features a failed attempt by middle child Jan Brady (Jennifer Elise Cox) to convince her family, older sister Marcia (Christine Taylor) in particular, that she has a secret boyfriend. It is a bit of comedy representative of the movie’s overall humor, and not in small part because the by far best sub-plot in the movie is the treatment of the one-sided rivalry between Jan and Marcia. I won’t dance around the fact, Taylor and Cox are the MVPs of this movie. Taylor’s Marcia is unbearably upbeat and seemingly oblivious to her bitchiness in a remarkable way. Meanwhile Cox, in her acting debut, is absolutely outstanding as Jan, perfectly copying the mannerism of original Jan Eve Plumb in one of the best physical comedic performances of the nineties. How everybody ignored this masterpiece of a performance I will never understand.
Like many mainstream 90s comedy, the plot of the movie isn’t very engaging. It is rather lazily structured around the Bradys having to raise 20,000 dollars to not lose their house, but then again, the pleasures of the movie are in the little bits of absurd and campy comedy. The clash with the nineties might have been a little underwhelming when the movie was released, but twenty years later, the movie’s version of the nineties is as cartoonish and ridiculous as the Bradys’s version of the seventies. Maybe the movie couldn’t stand a candle overtly pronouncing itself against nineties’ cynicism when it was released, but it has aged surprisingly well. A movie ahead of its time if I ever saw one.
A Goofy Movie (Directed by Kevin Lima and Paul Brizzi)
Unlike ‘The Brady Bunch Movie’, ‘A Goofy Movie’ is so trapped by its mid-nineties origin, that it has aged particularly badly. Some of the things that go wrong with the movie, the filmmakers couldn’t help. First of all, this wasn’t an official “Walt Disney Animation Studios” production, but an assignment for the second-tier “Disney Toon Studios” division. Now, by second-tier I don’t mean the animators are less talented or hard-working, but that they had a much smaller budget to work with (probably around an eight of what a “big” Disney Animation release would get). Second of all, this was clearly a way for Disney to capitalize on the success of the television series ‘Goof Troop‘ which was itself a way to capitalize on the success of the animated series ‘Ducktales‘.
This being a semi-adaptation of ‘Goof Troop’ means that the animators couldn’t help the fact that Goofy would have to be cast a suburban single dad, and the movie would have to prominently feature his son Max, who is your typical “cool” nineties cartoon character designed to appeal to young boys (not quite Poochie, but fairly close). The movie does a surprisingly earnest job of trying to build a narrative around the relationship between Goofy and Max. As a matter of fact, this might be one of the most psychologically complex portrayals of a pubescent boys that Disney had attempted up to this point, which is not to say that it was particularly complex, but that it at least went beyond your standard Disney protagonist (who are often well-developed characters, but not particularly specific to the pubescent experience).
The bad news about ‘A Goofy Movie’ is that, like I said before, it is trapped and hurt by its ultra-nineties setting. Max is clearly representative of what was “cool” for kids in the nineties. He skateboards, he likes pop music, he is a teenager. His favorite pop star, Powerline, -around whose concert the movie revolves- is a Prince-type R&B artist (who was originally meant to be voiced by Bobby Brown). The character design (especially the clothes worn by Max and Powerline) and the music are also very dated, including the fact that this is a musical just because that was the way animated movies were made back in the nineties. The music isn’t very good, although I’ve always had somewhat of a sweet-spot for the mid-movie number “On the Open Road“. Worst of all, both in terms of datedness and quality: one of Max’s friends is voiced by Pauly Shore.
However, being dated is not the same as being a bad movie. ‘A Goofy Movie’ tries -with all its limited resources- to be a sweet story about father-son dynamics, and it comes somewhat close. However, the movie’s biggest problem is right there in its title: it has to be about Goofy, and the people who made this movie have no idea of how to turn him into a compelling father figure. I loved Goofy as a kid, but it was always mystifying to me why they decided to turn him into a dad. Nothing about his character in the classic Disney shorts suggests he’d be a good authority figure. And he isn’t. The silliness of the character is meant to be endearing, but in such a realistic milieu as the nineties suburbs, he becomes a irritating. Not a terrible movie, but a misguided one.