' ' Cinema Romantico: Ruminating on My Favorite PG-13 F-Bombs

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Ruminating on My Favorite PG-13 F-Bombs

My childhood Lutheran pastor swore once in front of our confirmation class. It was not because he was mad at us, and it was not because he, like, tripped on a communion wafer, or something, and expressed foul-mouthed aggravation. No, he was proving a point, not unlike the one Q-Tip rapped in “Buggin’ Out”, from “The Low End Theory”, which was my personal Four Gospels rolled into one: “Occasionally I curse to get my point across.” That always stuck with me. A well-timed profanity is more impactful than a string of expletives, unless, maybe, we’re talking about Carrie-Ann Moss in “Memento” or Steve Martin in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”, though that’s a post for another time. No, I think of the climactic moment on Rilo Kiley’s “Spectacular Views” when, suddenly, Jenny Lewis unleashes that “It’s so fucking beautiful”, her voice cracking on the F-bomb, making it feel like the walls are metaphorically tumbling down all around you, leaving nothing but an awe-inspiring natural vista stretching out to eternity. That right there is what a well-timed F-bomb can do. And because movies rated PG-13 are essentially limited to a single F-bomb, if they choose to use one at all, it forces them to be more creative in their deployment of it than an R-rated movie that can drop all the livelong day. They have to make their F-bombs count.

This is why I cherished Matt Singer’s post over at ScreenCrush last Friday a couple Fridays ago before the world ended about The Greatest F-Bombs in PG-13 Movie History. You can sometimes still find members of the Film Twitter Cognoscenti, the ones who purport to despise gatekeeping even as they mind the gates between Scholars and wastoids, dweebies & dickheads, lament innocent listicles on an Internet that is rarely run anymore because it has been stripped of its wild innocence. For shame. We here at Cinema Romantico still love listicles, so long as they are spruced up and really, like, fucking unique, you know? Like Singer’s, in fact, which is so good we are jealous we did not think of it first. So while we give Singer all due credit, and pointedly link to his list right here a second time, we would be remiss if we did not weigh in, not as a commenter asking What About [insert movie name here], because Singer’s list is Singer’s list, but, well, more in the spirit of “High Fidelity”, a list for a list. Consider this my Barry Judd off-the-cuff rejoinder to Singer’s Rob Gordon.

Singer’s #1 in fact, taken from 2011’s “X-Men: First Class”, is one I am not judged to dissect because I have not seen it. He includes the F-Bomb from the Catholic Priest in “Million Dollar Baby”, one of this blog’s favorite movies, though that would not make my list. Singer’s #5, however, in which Tom Hanks, of all people, dropped an f-bomb in “Catch Me If You Can” would make my list because, hey, that was the Hanks equivalent of when Henry Fonda appeared from the underbrush as the bad guy in “Once Upon a Time in the West.”

Singer’s #2, quoting “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy”, would make my list too. And while I have thoughts, well, Will Ashton (@thewillofash) summarized them for me. He tweets: “I'm sure I've said it before, but Anchorman's F-bomb drop is not only a funny, punchy joke, but it also progresses the plot and it leads to the main character's redemption. A really practical and clever use of your one allotted f-word.”

“The Naked Gun 2 ½” would make my list, throwing out its lone F-bomb right away, when Zsa Zsa Gábor concludes the police siren POV opening credits by emerging from a car to slap the siren silent, both parodying herself and forcefully pushing past the point of self-parody, declaring, in that immortal accent, “this happens every fucking time I go shopping.” Who else needs to swear after that?

Obviously the F-bomb in “Adventures in Babysitting” would make my list. What is this, amateur hour? It’s not so much the F-bomb’s shock and awe – “Don’t fuck with the babysitter” – as it is honoring Elisabeth Shue earning her stripes as a legit fucking 80s action hero.

And while, as stated, Will Ashton is spot-on in his analysis of the depth to “Anchorman’s” F-bomb, I slightly prefer the depth to another F-bomb, one culled from the eternally underappreciated “Bowfinger”, as my #1 PG-13 F-bomb. Because its F-bomb, nobly allocated to Eddie Murphy by writer Steve Martin even though Martin co-starred, is itself a commentary on movie dialogue. In fact, let’s just roll the whole exchange:

Agent: “The script has that moment.” 
Kit Ramsey: “When?” 
Agent: “You say, ‘I enjoyed meeting you, Cliff.’ Then you push the guy right over the cliff.” 
Kit Ramsey: “That’s too much for the audience to have to think about. They have to know that the guy’s name is Cliff, they have to know that he’s on a cliff, and that Cliff and the cliff is the same. It’s too cerebral. We’re trying to make a movie, not a film. You’re supposed to be the agent! You better find me a line like the time I told Tommy Lee Jones ‘Fuck y’all,’ and blew his brains out.”

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