' ' Cinema Romantico: Some Drivel On...The Goonies

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Some Drivel On...The Goonies

Not long after the four misfit kids, billing themselves The Goonies, have set off in search of One Eyed Willie’s mystical riches, they enter the Lighthouse Lounge, a run down restaurant on the Oregon coast their treasure map indicates might provide access to the pirate’s booby-trapped cavern below. Of course, the Lighthouse Lounge has become temporary hideout for the Fratelli Family, a notorious band of criminals seen breaking one of their own out of prison as the movie starts, and so when the kids enter the establishment, the Fratellis have to act as if this is all normal, as if they are proprietors and the kids are customers. Needless to say, this doesn’t go so well, not just because hardened lawbreakers cannot really tamp down their malevolence but because a bunch of adolescents can’t really tamp down their inner impulse to be loud and over-inquisitive. Indeed, director Richard Donner mines great, if not truly cacophonous, comedy from this scene, transforming the dilapidated eatery into something more like a day care center, where low angled shots of the kids truly evince that frightening youthful sensation of unexpectedly being on your own and in over your head while high angled shots of the Fratellis, in particular Ma, brought to delightful life in Anne Ramsey’s aggravated air, suggests a substitute teacher who has had it up to here. The sequence ends with her leaning against the closed doors after she has chased out all the kids and saying, in a voice that Ramsey strips of any affect, like she’s about to collapse from exhaustion, “Kids suck.” 

That might have been the critical consensus too. “The Goonies” is frequently derided by grown-up critics as noisy. Leonard Maltin deemed it “exceptionally noisy” while Janet Maslin lamented for The New York Times how the Goonies traveled in “a noisy pack.” “The screenplay,” wrote Roger Ebert, “has all the kids talking all at once, all the time.” This is true and one of my most prominent takeaways in rewatching “The Goonies” for the first time in eons was how even when one character in the foreground was talking, often saying something important, another one, or two, or three, or four characters would be in the background chattering too. It has a cumulative effect of wearing you down. Donner himself cops to the noisiness. In a 2015 interview at Empire with Donner and the main cast for the film's 30th anniversary, when Josh Brolin notes how “The Goonies” sort of comes across like a movie kids might have made, Donner quips “A very loud one.“ No wonder I loved it so much as a kid: it was broadcasting on my frequency!

“’The Goonies,’” Maslin wrote, “doesn’t even pretend to court the grown-up set.” That’s true, if not something I was aware of back when I was younger and tended to catch bits and pieces of it here and there, again and again, at my best friend’s house on HBO. The movie was directed by Donner and written by Chris Columbus, but executive produced by Steven Spielberg who also gets A Story By credit. He was fresh off “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”, darker than its predecessor, which caused a hubbub with the Motion Picture Association of America and the proper rating for its graphic content, not as kid-friendly as its original PG rating might have made it seem. And though “The Goonies” has some bad language, as Ebert notes, it is nevertheless more kid-friendly in so much as it is kid-centric, making the youngins the star of the show, all little Indiana Jones’ in their own way, each one getting to save a portion of the day along the way. Even their reason for seeking out the treasure, to save the home of Mikey (Sean Astin) from demolition to make way for a golf course, is tinged with a childlike fear of having your whole life just suddenly implode.

This is why adults are the villains. The Fratellis, of course, certainly, but also Mr. Perkins (Curt Hanson), millionaire owner of the country club who wants to buy Mikey’s home to tear it down. Seeking Mikey’s parents to tie up some paperwork ends in an early scene, he condescendingly deems The Goonies “little guys” before asking “Is your mommy here?” You don’t even need to here the satiric response of Mikey’s brother, Brand (Josh Brolin), who might be older but revealingly without a driver’s license, like he still hasn’t graduated to true young adulthood, about his mom having gone out to buy them Pampers to glean the smug baby talk spin Hanson puts on his character’s words. That’s how The Goonies are viewed, of course, as nothing more than children, unimportant and always in the way. And yet, they are the only ones who take initiative, more than their mother, who has already mentally checked out, and more than their father, hardly glimpsed and talked about in such a way to suggest he has already surrendered to life’s cruelty. That initiative might be framed in storybook terms but fables have kernels of truth and I kept seeing parallels to modern child activists seeking to clean up the messes made by patronizing adults. Kids suck, but they’re our only hope. 

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