This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
Movies Are Back, Baby!
It’s happened more often than I’d like to admit in the year/year-and-change/interminable hellscape/however we’ve been quantifying time during the pandemic before things started to open up again in cities like New York, where I live.
Movie theaters have been closed or, when softly reopened in pre-vaccine times, reserved exclusively for crazy people comfortable sitting in an enclosed space with strangers eating popcorn. So until now, all of the films I’ve reviewed or reported on have been viewed alone in my apartment on a laptop. Or, when my luddite self could be bothered with the effort to figure out how to do it, somehow beamed to my television.
(It honestly was a miracle any time I got it to work. God is real, and he answers prayers, such as: “Please, God, get this fucking app to work already!!!”)
There are times when, watching these films alone in my apartment, I would laugh. And then I would scream.
After so much time in near silence, to hear a voice—even my own—startled me to the point that my head reflexively whipped around behind me, certain that I was about to come face-to-face with the Babadook. Surely, my house was haunted. Turns out it was: by the human-adjacent husk of a person that was me.
Yes, it’s fine and normal and often enjoyable to watch movies at home. But I was at a point where merely laughing at a funny movie confirmed my suspicion that a serial killer had in fact been living behind my shower curtain this whole time because who else could possibly be audibly emoting in my humble abode. That fact speaks—at least to me—to how much has been lost when it comes to taking in the cinematic experience in solitude.
I cannot explain how much being around other people at a movie theater used to annoy me. And now I can’t believe how much I miss those rude, inconsiderate, armrest-hogging, sitting-in-my-reserved-seat (every time…literally, how?), utterly beautiful trash animals. I miss the communal experience, and I think my appreciation of these movies—aka my job—has missed them too.
Last week, on three consecutive days I saw three different films in an actual movie theater: A Quiet Place II, Cruella, and In the Heights.
I admit to critic’s privilege here, in that they were advanced screenings and far more socially distanced than any normal showing will be this weekend, when Quiet Place and Cruella open. There were barely two dozen journalists in theaters that seat hundreds, all scattered around in separate rows, cowering in their masks. Call it a slightly paranoid, post-apocalyptic return to normalcy, but a return to normalcy nonetheless.
I wouldn’t have known it before I watched them, but I can’t think of three better movies to mark a return to the big screen and the experience of watching with real people, not ghosts or serial killers who happen to actually just be you.
I laughed. I screamed. I cried, kind of constantly.
There were moments in A Quiet Place II that explore how intangibly the pain of loss calcifies into something you can actually mourn, grieve, or, in the case of this film’s characters, avenge.
Who knows when the insufferable lens of “given the events of this year” that I can’t help but view things through will go away. (You should have seen the look on the face of an actor from Mare of Easttown that I interviewed for a piece publishing next week as I waxed rhapsodic about how the show could be a metaphor for surviving pandemic life. Deranged.)
“There’s one particular scene during which I yelped. Well, screeched. Let’s say a cat being dropped into a bathtub would have been more subtle.”
Nonetheless, there were moments in which the family in the film accepted their loneliness, weathered isolation, and leaned on each other to get through that triggered about 47 different tripwires about the past year. I immediately got choked up. You try looking at Emily Blunt stoically emote into the camera, one single tear dripping down her cheek, without emotionally losing it. Good news, now you can!
A Quiet Place II is more of a creature feature than the original film was, but it rises to the occasion and warrants the big swing. There were times when it was so thrilling it recalled watching Jurassic Park for the first time. In a way, too, it’s akin to what Sigourney Weaver pulls off in Alien, with powerhouse actor Millicent Simmonds absolutely owning the movie.
There’s one particular scene during which I yelped. Well, screeched. Let’s say a cat being dropped into a bathtub would have been more subtle. But the beauty is, so did other people. We were wusses together. Our hearts were racing, but they were racing in unison. It’s the corniest shit ever, but it felt nice. Cozy, even…as much as that is possible in a film in which you are constantly afraid that Emily Blunt’s baby is going to be eaten by a monster if it so much as cries.
Then there was In the Heights, the movie adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s pre-Hamilton, Tony-winning Broadway musical from Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu. Just after about the 45-minute mark of the movie, I started weeping…and then never stopped. And this is a two-hour-and-25-minute film. Hydrate.
For as popular as movie musicals have become, with La La Land, The Greatest Showman, and The Prom, there has not been one this heartfelt in maybe decades. Each song is staged in its own inventive way. “96,000,” one of the most athletic dance sequences in a movie musical possibly ever, takes place entirely in a pool. The infectious “No Me Diga” makes Grease’s “Beauty School Dropout” look like community dinner theater.
But more than one specific number, it’s the undercurrent of emotion erupting constantly: The joy, the desperation, the dreams, the celebration of culture, the importance of family. The climactic “Carnaval Del Barrio” is such an exuberant explosion of pride, diversity, and the resilience of community that—brace yourself for more insufferability—witnessing it given this last year, tears sprayed out like one of the film’s broken fire hydrants.
I’m not going to pretend that Cruella rivaled the poignancy of either of those other films. But it’s a ludicrous, ostentatious, enjoyable big swing from a cynical corporate creative entity not quite known for that ambition. Watching it on the big screen was a total delight. I was giddy leaving the theater.
The costumes are a visual buffet. The needle drops can’t help but lift your spirits. And the Emmas Stone and Thompson are as delicious a duo as they come, doing their Devil Wears Prada/All About Eve best in a film you’d least expect that from.
There was a man at my screening with the most irritating banshee laugh, which he would unleash at the most base-level moments of humor. It was the kind that gets louder with every glare, like you’re feeding a Gremlin and making the nuisance more powerful. I hated him. That loathing made me feel so good. Things were normal again.
Around this point last year, I was warring with various industry folk from the Warner Brothers, Christopher Nolan, and film exhibitors camp over the dastardly push to put Tenet in movie theaters at a time when any rational person could see it was dangerous, and possibly deadly.
It was an unmooring experience, as if I was living in a different reality from these spokespeople insisting that everything was A-OK, so grab some Buncha Crunch, girl, and sit down for some time-bending fun!
A year later, the safe return is an emotional one, and a relief. Finally, I no longer feel haunted.