' ' Cinema Romantico: Which Did It Better?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Which Did It Better?

“Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation” is set to drop to drop in theaters this week and this got to us thinking, as each new “M:I” release gets us to thinking, about the not-really-immortal moment in “M:I-2” when Tom Cruise totally goes Daniel Day-Lewis and apes perhaps the most famous moment of my all-time favorite movie “Last of the Mohicans” and yells at Thandie Newton “Just stay alive!” And each time I think about Cruise yelling it at Thandie, I think about when Jerry yells “Just stay alive!” at Kramer in the 175th episode – “The Maid” – of “Seinfeld.”

It’s the hip thing these days on the Interwebs, you know, to take one thing and pit it against some other thing by positing the question “Which Did It Better?” and then proceed with a breakdown to determine the winner because this is America and in America you're either first or last. So, which did the “Just Stay Alive!” homage better – “M:I-2” or “Seinfeld”?

First things first, I haven't actually seen “MI:2” since seeing it in the theater all the way back in 2000 and so I totally forgot about this Tom Cruise expression.

Look at that! In retrospect it seems obvious he would grow up to jump up and down on Oprah’s couch and ruin his career, doesn’t it? Crazy-Eyes Tom Cruise is my favorite Tom Cruise after Maverick. Wait, wait, wait. Crazy-Eyes Tom Cruise is my third favorite Tom Cruise after Maverick and “Hippy Hippy Shake” Tom Cruise. No, no, no. Crazy-Eyes Tom Cruise is my fourth favorite Tom Cruise after Maverick, “Hippy Hippy Shake” Tom Cruise and “The goldfish are coming with me” Tom Cruise. Uh, well, actually Crazy-Eyes Tom Cruise is my fifth favorite Tom Cruise after Maverick, “Hippy Hippy Shake” Tom Cruise, “The goldfish are coming with me” Tom Cruise and the Tom Cruise that smacks his hands in “Eyes Wide Shut” (00:40 of this trailer).

Second, however, is that Tom Cruise doesn’t actually completely homage Day-Lewis. Day-Lewis, of course, yelled “Just stay alive! No matter what occurs, I will find you!” Cruise yells: “Just stay alive! I'm not going to lose you!” Jerry, on other hand, does the full Day-Lewis. I imagine Robert Towne, who admittedly cribbed from all over the annals of Hollywood for his “M:I-2” script, was afraid of getting hit with a Michael Mann right hook at some screenwriter's cocktail party. That, however, allows “Seinfeld” to score some massive bonus points.

I also like this idea of Jerry and Kramer at their most vulnerable just sort of inadvertently admitting to their 90’s-styled neighborly bromance.

“I'm infected with Chimeria.” God, does Thandie Newton sell that line. I like that line so much that I’m surprising myself and giving it a slight nod over Michael Richards’ patented and eternally hilarious through the phone Kramer-ish shriek.

Let’s be frank. It’s hard for me to say that my all-time favorite TV show paying homage to my all-time favorite movie could ever be topped by anything else paying homage to it. “Seinfeld” and “Last of the Mohicans” intersecting is an astonishing case of worlds colliding; it’s almost as good as this photo. Of course, “Seinfeld” did it better! And yet…

I didn’t really like “M:I-2” the first time around…or, at least that’s how I remember it. But was the whole movie’s tone equivalent to this scene? Because this scene has an operatic romance, so heightened in cinematic inflection, so merrily absurdist that I find myself to drawn it. Tom & Thandie are not Hawkeye & Cora because they can’t be because no one is. And so even if Mr. Cruise’s homage is still, like, a billion miles away from the impassioned yell of Mr. Day-Lewis, they nonetheless exist in the same solar system, one where the homage trends away from parody and more toward tribute. And yet...  

Jerry was never earnest. Jerry was always a horse’s ass. For a moment, though, even if it was a couple lines explicitly referencing something else, Jerry afforded himself an actual heartfelt moment. Yes, there was the episode earlier in the 9th season that found Jerry becoming briefly emotional when a girlfriend encourages him to get mad, but this is something else. This isn’t just Serious Jerry; this is Selfless Jerry. And the fact that “Last of the Mohicans” triggered it, warms my heart. Even Jerry Seinfeld, sitcomland’s pre-eminent tin man, found himself moved by Hawkeye & Cora. How can we not say “Seinfeld” did it just a little bit better?

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