' ' Cinema Romantico: Forgotten Great Moments in Movie History

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Forgotten Great Moments in Movie History

A couple weekends ago I found myself thinking a lot about Bon Jovi. Not because I saw a cover band, or because I stumbled into “Bad Medicine” while listening to my Arena Rock Pandora station, but because of March Shredness, which is, for those not sitting at the cool kids’ lunch table, “a 64-team, March Madness-style tournament of songs.” It was inaugurated in 2016 with March Sadness, pitting the most melancholy college rock songs against one another, and followed last year by March Fadness, in which 90s one-hit wonders squared off. This year, it’s a bracket full of hair metal. My beautiful, perspicacious girlfriend is at into March Shredness as she was into March Fadness as she was into March Sadness. (Loyal frustrated readers might recall we had a big fight about March Sadness. She’s still wrong.) And over the weekend, we spent our mornings drinking coffee and listening to, pontificating over, and reading about hair metal, including the big Bon Jovi v Bon Jovi first-round showdown between “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “Wanted Dead or Alive.”*

I confess, I have always viewed “Livin’ on a Prayer” a little snidely from on high. If I know using Springsteen as a reference point to bludgeon Bon Jovi isn’t exactly fair, as a Bruce fanatic I nevertheless struggle to hear “Tommy used to work on the docks” without thinking of it as Jon’s musty attempts to muster up his own “My name is Joe Roberts / I work for the state.” Such an admittedly snobbish sentiment, I assumed, put me on par with rock critics of era, and, sure enough, in Jimmy Guterman’s original Rolling Stone review he laments Bon Jovi “reducing every emotional statement to a barefaced cliché.” I mean, it’s difficult to disagree, even if you like Bon Jovi and “Livin’ on a Prayer”, but……does reducing every emotional statement to a barefaced cliché have to be a bad thing? Let us now consider the self-proclaimed Dean of Rock Critics, Robert Christgau, often thought of as a crank who doesn’t like anything. And yes, he argues that Bon Jovi goes to show “youth rebellion is toothless enough to simulate and market.” But he continues: “who the hell thought youth was dangerous in the current vacuum? Would you have preferred the band market patriotism?” He concludes: “And are you really immune to ‘Livin’ on a Prayer?’”

Leave it to Xgau to summarize “Livin’ on a Prayer” in a single sentence without really saying anything about “Livin’ on a Prayer” itself. Yes, Lisa M. O’Neill’s righteous accompanying March Shredness essay gets Bon Jovi’s anthem just right, not least because that is precisely what she deems it — an anthem. And not so much the band’s anthem as ours, one the New Jersey rockers created to grant us catharsis night after night after night in arenas across America. That catharsis, however, is not really something you really feel when standing back, looking at the song from afar, analyzing it; that catharsis can only be felt when you are inside of the song and living it.

You probably haven’t given a thought to “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” in, well, fifteen years (it was released in 2003), if ever. Why would you? It wasn’t really a movie so much as a kind of frivolous grab bag, isolated moments strung together to be patched into a sequel to throw into theaters to try and make some money. And though the movie thankfully is never smirking, it’s definitely winking at you, perhaps best emblemized by Jaclyn Smith’s cameo where she appears in a halo of light and dispenses advice to Drew Barrymore’s Dylan by way of every platitude in the book. That sort of sentience makes it difficult to anything seriously, including the flashback scene to young Dylan and young Seamus O’Grady (Justin Theroux) – chief villain – to happier times as they burn rubber while singing along screaming along to “Livin’ on a Prayer.”

We are meant to laugh, and I would cite the Tom Cruise/Kelly McGillis-ish tongue kiss that Dylan and Seamus share midway through as evidence of this theoretical cringe-inducing comedy. Yet even if we are laughing, or staring emptily in place of laughter, the characters are not laughing. More importantly, the characters are not winking. This is a Drew Barrymore specialty. She did this in “The Wedding Singer” where even if nearly every detail was meant to communicate to the audience “Can you BELIEVE the 80s?!”, Barrymore still seemed to organically inhabit the space. And she seems to be organically inhabiting that front car seat in “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle”, not standing outside of it, as performers sometimes do, essentially commenting on the moment they are supposed to be in. No, she is living the catharsis the song elicits. Boy, is she, never more so than when she screams “I would die for you, Seamus!”

There are so many deaths in “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle”, all of them rudimentary movie masquerade, but if in that moment Drew Barrymore had thrown herself in front of oncoming traffic, I would have believed.

*I voted for “Livin’ on a Prayer”, btw 

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