Amplifying Black Voices: Queen & Slim from Melina Matsoukas

Queen: “He told me nothing scares a white man more than seeing a black man on a horse.”

Slim: “Why?”

Queen: “Cause they have to look up at him.”

When a story about an altercation between a black man and a white cop comes to light we are fed a typical narrative. The white man was a hero, doing his duty, had no choice to resort to violence. The black man was resisting, aggressive, had a criminal record. There are key words and facts intentionally used to paint a clear picture.

Queen & Slim feels like a free space away from the media slant and away from how we typically engage with stories like this. A bubble where there is no discussion of guilt or regret. No remarks over the dead cop or how he was a hero or how he had a family or how there are good people on both sides.

Instead we are put there. As a voyeur who gets to see exactly what happens. We get to focus on the black people and their journey. We see two young, intelligent black people get pulled over by a cop. We watch as they comply to the cop’s demands even as they get increasingly nervous. We get to see the misunderstanding that leads to Slim shooting the cop dead. And we feel their anguish as they get in the car to drive away. We yell at the screen telling them there is a better option, that logic is on their side, that they were defending themselves, that surely people will understand the circumstances. And then we realize it’s not that simple, there is no better option as a black person. They know exactly how this is going to end and driving away is their best option.

As a white person viewing this movie I’m grateful it provides a small glimpse into what it means to be a black person in America. Of course I will never be able to fully understand what that means but this film provides hints of unspoken bonds and assumed consequences black people face. There is subtext and nuance to this film that I am aware of but I feel only people of color can fully grasp.

It’s in the way Queen and Slim run without much acknowledgment to their options or lack thereof. It’s the knowing nods of, mostly, approval they receive from black strangers. It’s the lack of surprise when an estranged niece shows up at her Uncle’s house needing a place to hide. It’s all there in character interactions, unspoken, unflinching, unsurprised

These interactions are led by incredible performances from Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya. We of course know to expect this type of performance from Kaluuya thanks to Get Out but his effortless coolness and understated performance plays perfectly to the outstanding Turner-Smith. This is my first exposure to her and it left a hell of an impression as she plays a tough, wildly intelligent, go-getter. Even more impressive is the chemistry the two share as they experience the worst Tinder date of all time.

This film is without a doubt worth your time, especially in 2020. The black experience in modern day America, as far as I can tell, is strongly represented here by Melina Matsoukas in her directorial debut. Of course it’s telling that the best way to express the black experience is through a road trip genre film following the main characters avoiding racial persecution by running away from the police. Truly it’s a more ruthless and honest Bonnie and Clyde where instead of a bored white woman looking for cheap thrills with her amateur criminal boyfriend, it’s two young black people wanting to go home from a fucking Tinder date without being accosted for the color of their skin.

An Ode to a King: 42

My eyes are red and puffy this weekend. I’ve been crying. I started crying as soon as I heard the news.

It’s truly devastating that Chadwick Boseman passed away.

I’m not trying to be flashy with that title. Boseman was a true king in many ways: he selflessly gave his time and effort to others, used his considerable talent to portray multiple black icons in film and just genuinely seemed like a good dude. Oh, and he spent the last years of his life battling colon cancer without ever saying a word about it. I can’t imagine the courage and resilience it took for him to handle that the way he did, but Boseman never missed a beat. It’s truly difficult for me to fathom that he’s gone. 2020 has been cruel and unfair virtually across the board, but this one hurts in a completely different way.

We made a pledge recently to spotlight more films by black directors, actors and writers. While the circumstances are terrible, we thought it would be best to honor Boseman’s legacy by talking about his contributions. That brings me to 42.

I can’t think of anyone else who could’ve played Jackie Robinson. There are undoubtedly other fine actors who would have done justice to the role, but would they have brought as much charisma and defiance as Boseman? Could they have so effortlessly depicted a man who held up extraordinarily well under the duress he was thrust into? One of my favorite scenes comes early in the film. Wendell Smith has to move Robinson to a different house after a threat on his life is made. Speeding away in the middle of the night, Robinson begins laughing hysterically.

Wendell asks, “Man, what is so funny?”

Robinson replies, “I thought you woke me up because I got cut from the team.”

I think that says about all you need to know about who the man was and what his priorities were. And perhaps that partly explains how Boseman so naturally disappears into that character: he understood Robinson in a way that few of us can. Those two only ever had their eyes on the big picture.

42 has been accused of overdramatizing Robinson’s first season with the Dodgers, such as the dugout scene where the racism of an opposing manager causes Robinson to lose his temper, and he lashes out in anger. I continue to be befuddled by critics who hold a movie to the same expectations as a documentary, but that scene is also an important one. Robinson is the vehicle for the audience and we are disgusted to see how he was treated, and that these things still happen in our country today. A sane person would probably get fed up far before Robinson did.

It’s a real treat to watch Boseman and Harrison Ford exchange dialogue, expertly capturing the relationship between Robinson and Dodgers owner Branch Rickey. Ford, who said being apart of this story was a great honor for him, gave one of his best performances in years. I wonder how much that had to do with him playing opposite of Boseman, and how much a great man truly lifted everyone he came across.

While celebrating his films is one way to honor Boseman, an even better one is to uphold the values that he believed in while he was alive. Support the type of change that you want to see in your community. The best way to do that is to get out and vote this fall. That link will help you register if you haven’t done so already.

Amplifying Black Voices: 13th from Ava DuVernay

What’s more difficult? Earning someone’s attention or keeping it? Over the past few weeks the Black Lives Matter movement has finally earned the attention it has long deserved. We here at Flimsy Film Critics firmly believe Black Lives Matter and we do not want to see this movement turn into only a moment, we want them to matter every day going forward.

As two privileged white males the best thing we can do is listen and then use what we learn to help spread the message of equality and the need for systemic changes in every avenue of our world. Not only spread the message but use our platform to amplify their voices. Clearly this won’t solve everything but we feel it is our responsibility to do our part to help keep this obscenely important message alive and well and in the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Watch.

The best place to start in the film world is the documentary film 13th from Ava DuVernay. It’s probably the most recommended film in light of the recent week’s events and there is good reason for that. Just watch it. This documentary sets the stage and clearly lays out exactly how we got to the place we are today. It is harrowing, difficult to watch, and filled to the brim with so much information that it will demand a second viewing just to take it all in.

Listen.

The documentary breaks down how the current state of our judicial system was created to imprison as many people as possible, particularly people of color. It shows the clear transition from the end of slavery to the exploitation of a loophole in our constitution to keep entire generations of a portion of our society down.

Educate.

The film overwhelms the viewer with clear data that lays bare the clear racism that exists in our policies, our policing, and our politicians. It states plainly the horrors that black people face every single day.

Amplify.

Ava DuVernay is the first black female director to have a film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture for Selma. She was the first black female director to have a documentary film nominated as well for 13th. And yet it has taken weeks of protests and press and attention for my network of people, and myself, to start paying attention to her. Her talent is incredible, her work speaks for itself, and we need to stop ignoring people on the basis of their gender and their skin. We need her voice and we need to listen.

There is no justification for not joining this equal rights movement. There is no justification for not watching, for not listening, for not educating, for not amplifying. The time should have been decades ago but the time is now. Watch. Listen. Educate. Amplify.

Black Lives Matter.

BlacKkKlansman Entertains and Educates

Part of the reason that I touched on Charlottesville last week was because of the end of BlacKkKlansman. Before the final credits, the film cuts to a recap of the Unite the Right protests and counter-protests, ultimately coming to rest on a dedication to Heather Hayer and an upside down American flag. Spike Lee’s award-winning social commentary is a stark reminder that racism and white supremacy are still alive and well in our country, and you never have to go back very far to find the proof.

That ending had a profound impact on me. Aside from the fact that it was a classy gesture on Lee’s part to pay his respects to Hayer, he made it clear that we’re too quick to forget what happens in front of our very eyes. Upset as I was upon learning the horror that unfolded in Charlottesville, I admittedly moved on with my normal life and gave it very little thought until I saw BlacKkKlansman. Lee knows this about our society and isn’t going to let us off the hook just because we found his movie entertaining.

And that really doesn’t even do justice to the film. BlacKkKlansman is a riveting, surprisingly humorous account of Ron Stallworth’s infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan. He can’t do this on his own, since the Klan isn’t big on recruiting black guys, so he enlists the help of his white co-worker Flip Zimmerman to pose as Stallworth in person. What follows is a series of tense encounters between fake Stallworth and the Klan, and the real Stallworth and his fellow officers. Not surprisingly, racism emerges in both situations and the reluctant partners are forced to rely on each other more than they would like.

John David Washington, the son of Denzel, commands the screen like his father while simultaneously setting himself apart. His Stallworth is a determined, tenacious officer, forced to juggle multiple responsibilities in a town where some of his peers want to see him fail. He makes a connection with the president of a local Black Student Union, and she openly expresses her disdain for cops (with good reason based on how a certain racist officer treats her). It’s a literal no-win situation, but Stallworth remains steadfast through it all, The man turned in a remarkably impressive performance and I look forward to seeing the prodigal son in Christopher Nolan’s Tenet next month.

And what a relief it was to see Adam Driver with a script that matches his talent, considering they completely wasted him in Rise of Skywalker. To Zimmerman, this whole operation is just another assignment. He grumbles at Stallworth’s directions not because he’s a black man, but because Zimmerman doesn’t like a rookie telling him how to do his job. And yet, he sticks with it and stands in solidarity with Stallworth. At a certain point, you can see it slowly dawning on the Jewish Zimmerman that he should probably have personal motives for bringing down the KKK. Driver is a Rubik’s Cube of emotions, bringing a complexity to the role that resonates all the more in this day and age.

There are scenes in BlacKkKlansman that strongly evoke recent events. That’s because instances of racism in America are never that far removed from present day, if at all. The question isn’t what we’ll do to finally address this issue as a country, but when.

When will America finally own its racist ways and implement some meaningful change?

A Statement from Flimsy Film Critics

I vividly recall hearing about the events in Charlottesville back in 2017.

That was the summer of the Unite the Right rally, where white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other various pieces of crap protested the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, among other things. Tensions escalated and it ultimately resulted in the murder of Heather Hayer, who was killed when a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. I was despondent over how atrocities like this could still take place in America (which was incredibly naive to say the least) and I wound up getting drunk and despaired over the state of our country. This followed a pattern that I established for myself whenever something this awful made headlines in the news: sympathy for the victims from afar, silent support for any movement protesting against racism, but no action taken by myself to try and help be a part of the solution.

Fast forward to today. The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers sparked nationwide protests against racism and police brutality against black people. These protests seem a little different than others from the past 10 years, as the public outcry has been more vocal and united to address the never-ending issue of systemic racism in the United States. I haven’t personally attended any of the protests. At first, I didn’t really know what the hell to do. Kevin and I weren’t even sure if we should keep posting on this blog, because white guys like us should just be listening and learning right now. Writing about films may be a passion of ours, but it pales in significance to what is happening in our country and what has been happening to black people since well before either of us were born.

However, I also don’t want to revert back into my cycle: outrage at the atrocity and sympathy for the victims, but only silent support from afar. I want to do better this time. And I think the first step towards that, in addition to being willing to listen and learn, is to admit that I’m part of the problem.

Allow me to repeat that: I AM PART OF THE PROBLEM.

I am not a racist, but my white privilege has afforded me the luxury of resuming my normal life after each one of these horrific events. What I didn’t understand before is that falling back into my usual cycle only perpetuates the problem and allows it to continue. To quote The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., “Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

The appalling silence of the good people.

This is not about my guilt or my own inaction. All I really want is to help. There is a problem and I can do more to try and make a difference. I’ll take steps in my own life to learn and educate myself more. And I won’t allow myself to forget this time and blindly retreat back into my comfortable life. But what does that mean for this blog?

What I’d like to do is use the platform that we have to try and elevate films from black directors, black screenwriters and black actors. Shine a spotlight on those who understand what it’s like to be treated differently because of the color of their skin. Sure, we’ll talk about some movies and documentaries that you’ve heard of, but even more important will be to focus on the ones that you haven’t. Those are the voices and the people that need to be heard right now. And it’s not about furthering our own self-interest or about any sort of monetary gain. Truthfully, we’ve never made money off of this blog anyway, but that’s not the point. The goal would be to try and help these stories find a bigger audience. Then it’s up to the rest of us to open our hearts and listen.

That doesn’t mean we’ll never write about other films again. I have no idea when we’ll get back to that, but that doesn’t matter right now. What matters is that there is something terribly wrong with this country.

And we’re going to do what we can to help.

Jojo Rabbit Denounces Fascism, with a Dance and a Laugh

Taika Waititi is a name you should know by now. If he didn’t win you over with What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Thor: Ragnarok, surely Jojo Rabbit is the one that will make you want to hop on the bandwagon. And if you’re a fellow cinephile and the man still hasn’t earned your respect, I’m not really sure what else he has to do. His work over the past decade speaks for itself, and my word does Jojo Rabbit have a lot to say.

One reason why I prefer to go into a film as blind as possible (try and avoid trailers, don’t read reviews, etc.) is that it eliminates any preconceived notions that our minds tend to create. That way the story and performances present themselves as they truly are and I can form my own opinion. So when I heard that Waititi was making a black comedy about a young boy trying to prove his worth in the Hitler Youth (complete with Hitler as his imaginary friend), I was sold. I didn’t need to see or read anything else before watching the movie, because based on Waititi’s track record I fully expected he would deliver the goods.

Plenty of humor? Check. Absurd portrayals of Hitler and his Nazis? Check. A likable young hero that comes of age with the love and support of those older than him? Check and check. Tender moments that wallop you right in the feels, alongside poignantly voiced opinions regarding the pitfalls of bigotry and hate… wait, I’m sorry, what? That last bit caught me a bit by surprise. Waititi had already established himself as a reliably entertaining and amusing voice in cinema, but here he proves that he can educate us with those same elements. He doesn’t want us to forget this ugly period of history, lest we see it repeating itself in the modern day world. I’m sure there’s a lot of people out there other than myself that can relate to that.

Of course, none of this works if you have the wrong actor playing young Jojo. I have a feeling that Roman Griffin Davis is another name we’re all about to become familiar with. His Jojo is a very enthusiastic member of the Hitler Youth. The propaganda he’s been fed his entire life has him convinced that becoming a Nazi and upholding all of the ideals of the party is the best life that a little boy can hope for, and so he pursues that goal with relentless zeal and vigor. The Jewish Waititi turns in a wonderful and ironic performance as the imaginary Hitler, cheering Jojo along to become the best Nazi he can be. As expected, the boy’s pursuit comes to clash with both his true nature and the not so little secret that his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their house.

The perspective of the film is extraordinarily unique. Yes, a child who has been brainwashed by fascism is going to perceive his country in a much different way than the rest of the world, but Waititi ensures that this perception is still childlike in nature: Nazi officers are dashing and brave, Hitler can (and should) be your best friend and Jews are dangerous monsters to be feared and avoided. It’s the type of satire that the Monty Python boys would’ve strived for in the same position, and it results in some rather thought-provoking exchanges. When Jojo encounters Stephen Merchant’s Gestapo Agent, Merchant towers over him and compliments his admiration of Hitler: “I wish more of our young boys had your blind fanaticism.” Or when Jojo is confiding in his friend Yorkie about the Jew in his house. “I saw some (Jews) that they caught hiding in the forest last month,” Yorki says. “Personally, I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. They’re not at all scary and seemed kind of normal.”

The propaganda machine is telling Jojo one thing, while he begins to see the world and his own beliefs for what they really are. When those moments of childhood innocence are abruptly halted by real life horrors, that’s where the lessons begin and where Jojo Rabbit becomes more than just another fun time at the movies with Taika. Veteran actors Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell are strategically cast as Jojo’s mother and Hitler Youth Captain. They have the chops to be light and breezy when the situation calls for it, but also come through in some of the more dramatic elements of the film.

That tonal balance is a tricky line to walk and is my only real critique of the film. When the narrative is coasting rather comfortably through satire, then suddenly veers off into a very real and tense moment, that shift becomes a little jarring and at times it feels like you’re watching two different movies. On the other hand, growing up as a kid in Nazi Germany was probably chalked full of jarring shifts, so perhaps I’m being too nit-picky. I do reject the idea from critics that this subject matter is taboo and shouldn’t be poked fun at. What better way to truly see how dangerous and ridiculous this ideology was?

In case you’re wondering, there is still time to hop on the Waititi bandwagon. It’s getting a little crowded and a few people will have to scooch together, but we’ll make room.

100 Movies Bucket List: Moonlight

100 Movies Bucket List was a poster given to Jesse by his sister on Christmas 2019. We are committed to watching all of these movies and writing about them. We have no idea how long this will take. What even is time during the quarantine? And sometimes, these posts will include spoilers. Just a friendly warning from two friendly guys.

The 2016 film Moonlight is not just a character study of a young black man growing up in the streets of Miami working through his identity and sexuality. It does more than show his life and his struggles, it actually takes on the personality of the protagonist. The film, much like Chiron, is soft-spoken and pensive, layered with love but with a growing aggression boiling beneath the surface.

Midway through the film that aggression bursts through with a violent act that, in a traditional story structure, would be the climax of the film. However in the deft hands of director and writer Barry Jenkins, the real climax comes in a late scene and is accomplished entirely through dialogue.

The climax coming through dialogue only works because the real beauty of the film is its subtlety. Each cut, each word, and each moment is meaningful and succinct. This is not your typical critical fodder attempting to cash in come award season. Typically films that are upper case IMPORTANT and TRANSCENDENT go out of their way to be as long and drawn out as possible. Moonlight stands out from that way of thinking and proves that a movie can be tragic, lovely, and IMPORTANT without the fluff.

At just under two hours, Jenkins manages to take the audience through the life of Chiron  from bullied adolescent to withdrawn teenager to successful drug dealer. The transitions are smooth and timed perfectly. Just as you think you are understanding Chiron he grows up and changes in ways you didn’t expect. Broken out in chapters based on his nickname at each point in his life (Little, Chiron, Black), and played by three different and remarkable actors, we see the subtle growth of a young man trying to figure himself out. From a skinny, scared child to a muscular drug kingpin, the only trait carried form youth to adulthood is his uncertainty about his own identity.

The direction of Jenkins is best represented by how the three actors portrayed Chiron at different stages in his life. The transition from Alex Hibbert (“Little”) to Ashton Sanders (“Chiron”) and finally to Trevante Rhoades (“Black”) could have been jarring or confusing but these three actors, and Jenkins direction/trust, did a remarkable job losing themselves in Chiron so much that it feels like a natural growth of the character.

Rhoades especially stands out as he had the toughest job of them all to transition Chiron from a scared teenager with an identity crisis to a tough guy masking his insecurities with bravado. Rhoades’ ability to show the scared child in his eyes while walking around with a veneer of a tough guy is remarkable and represents the pains that “outcasts”, especially gay minorities, will go to to fit in or not to be bothered.

Moonlight’s beauty comes from what is unspoken, Jenkins trusts the audience to fill in the gaps based on subtle glances and body language. A trust he can bestow because he carefully constructed a multi-layered loving, tragic piece of art with perfect pacing. It’s akin to reading poetry or listening to a song, it’s best to watch it for yourself and, like the moonlight on your face on a cloudless night at the beach, let its beauty sink in.

 

100 Movies Bucket List: Her

100 Movies Bucket List was a poster given to Jesse by his sister on Christmas 2019. We are committed to watching all of these movies and writing about them. We have no idea how long this will take. What even is time during the quarantine? And sometimes, these posts will include spoilers. Just a friendly warning from two friendly guys.

This is the second time we have written about Her on our site. I don’t think we often feel the need to touch on a film more than once. We either collaborate on a Let’s Talk About post or just trust the other guy to write about it. I trusted Kevin when Her first came out and he nailed it, as usual. I’m not here simply to tell you how great this movie is, because he already made that point rather emphatically and there are plenty of reviews and articles to support that. So why am I here?

Is Her being revisited just because it’s part of this series? Partly, and as we continue to to forage our way through this list of 100 movies, maybe that will happen more and more. But I think I would have had something to say even if I wasn’t obligated to share. This film hurt me. It reminded me of a time in my life when I was very withdrawn and afraid. The story conveys those emotions in such a realistic way that I was right back there again: a depressed introvert that badly needed a connection, but wasn’t going out of his way to find it.

And for that, I’m grateful. While it can be painful to reflect on these difficult moments that we all experience in our own way, it’s equally important to not forget them. How else can we truly appreciate how far we’ve come in our lives if we don’t take a second to look back and remember where we used to be? I like to think that’s where Theodore, Joaquin Phoenix’s character, finds himself at the end of the film: accepting of the failures of past relationships, appreciative of the good times and the love that was shared, and finally willing to embrace the change and see what a new day has in store for him.

Did I mention this is a guy who rebounds from his divorce by entering into a relationship with his operating system?

A premise that absurd on the surface would’ve been a disaster in less talented hands or if a studio just wanted to make a fun rom-com out of it. It’s a testament to the performances of the lead actors and the tight direction from Spike Jonze that things don’t go completely off the rails. Is there another actor in Hollywood who could’ve done more with this role than Phoenix? Is there anyone that we could’ve related to so effortlessly when he is mostly emoting without anyone else on-screen? I don’t think so. To be fair, I can envision this type of OS actually being released in the real world and many men falling hopelessly in love with a voice that sounds like Scarlett Johansson. Credit goes to Jonze for depicting a future that is not too distant and entirely plausible.

And then there’s the score. It is the perfect soundtrack not just because it works for the film, but because you can easily picture it playing over all of those uncomfortable moments of your own past romances. The courtships, the instances of joy, the rough patches, the breakups and all of the empty spaces in between. It’s the empty parts that pack the biggest wallop, I think. When I listen to the score, I can remember myself floating for seemingly endless amounts of time in that relationship purgatory. I felt trapped there, as most of us do when we are in pain and aren’t doing anything practical to try and fix it. 

I hope I’m making sense here. The point is I don’t always connect with a film on a deeply personal level, but when I do I try to understand why. Her resonated with me and so many others because we’ve all been Theodore at one point in our lives. I certainly don’t think Jonze and his crew were trying to make us all miserable by digging up our past trauma. Rather, I think the message delivered is a very positive one.

It’s okay to not be okay, but don’t be afraid to embrace the opportunity to be happy when it presents itself to you. Love and heartbreak has a profound impact on us, but what we learn and take away from them can help us grow and change. I’m happy to say that I find myself in a much better place these days.

If you aren’t there just yet, give yourself some time. Eventually you will too.

100 Movies Bucket List: 3 Idiots

100 Movies Bucket List was a poster given to Jesse by his sister on Christmas 2019. We are committed to watching all of these movies and writing about them. We have no idea how long this will take. What even is time during the quarantine? And sometimes, these posts will include spoilers. Just a friendly warning from two friendly guys.

Once upon a time I was traveling through Southeast Asia on a quest to find myself. Well actually I was on a quest to travel around Southeast Asia and I wasn’t thinking about much else but I was young and looking to connect with the world outside of the suburbs of Colorado.

During my travels my wife and I made a lot of new friends. Most were ex-pats (ex-patriots, AKA extended travelers from the USA), others were from Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, and a few were from Southeast Asia. I wanted to connect with this region so obviously the few from Southeast Asia were my favorite (yes I pick favorites among my friends! Jesse is currently trending up so good for him.)

One such friend was from India. She told us stories of the wars her country had fought in, the struggles her family had endured to survive, and all of her favorite Bollywood movies. Yes we would often transition from the most haunting stories of war to her favorite Bollywood actor seamlessly. Travel friends are funny like that, you feel an instant connection and you have to pack your entire life story and personality into a constrained amount of time.

I remember her recommending 3 Idiots, a coming-of-age Bollywood film. At the time I wasn’t aware of how large of an impact this movie made in the film industry. Based on the name I assumed it was the Indian version of Dumb and Dumber except with three dummies instead of two.

I was very wrong. Unfortunately I didn’t pursue her recommendation, I put it on a list that has since been lost. Thankfully due to another friend (Jesse, you see why he’s moving up the rankings?) and his ‘100 Movies Bucket List’ project the recommendation was given another chance of life.

I’m profoundly grateful as 3 Idiots is an absolute delight. Despite being near three hours long the heart and fun never let up in this beautiful film. And as far as an introduction to Bollywood? Well let’s just say 3 Idiots piqued my interest in Indian film as Old Boy piqued my interest in Korean film. Albeit with far less blood and psychological fuckery.

3 Idiots is a typical coming-of-age story with a traditional collegiate setting that follows three young men as they attempt to survive the unrelenting pressure of a prestigious engineering school. And while the story hits all the usual beats it has a freshness to it thanks to the natural charisma from the wise-beyond-his-years lead in Rancho (played by Aamir Khan who plays a teenage character despite being in his 40’s during filming).

The film is also distinct because it has a secondary timeline, ten years in the future, that provides the audience with a natural fulfillment. Typically the joy behind a coming-of-age story is seeing a young protagonist grow into themselves and then by the end you are ready to let them go in to the world alone because you know they will thrive. It’s like being a parent to a fictional character. But in this film we actually get to see the people they become, in some instances, before we see their collegiate journey. Even better we see them in their grown state while they are on another journey in the present timeline which provides further growth! It’s a beautiful touch that teaches humans are constantly learning even outside of their formative years.

Perhaps that’s why the film resonated with me so much. I may not be Indian nor smart enough to be an engineer but the characters and the story still spoke to me. The two journeys the characters go on, with one journey explicitly shaping who they are in the other, is relatable no matter who you are, especially as you get older and more reflective and you realize how much of an impact your past has on your present and future.

Cheesy as it is the memory of a simple act, in this case a movie recommendation, by a travel friend from another country allowed my mind to jump back to the time my wife and I traversed the great region of Southeast Asia. And the recommendation coming back to me six years later allowed me to connect the dots of my own journey from a wandering 20-something in Bangkok to the present day 30-year-old living in Brooklyn. I discovered I have been in my own coming-of-age story this whole time and it reminded me there is always more to learn.

100 Movies Bucket List: Life of Brian

100 Movies Bucket List was a poster given to Jesse by his sister on Christmas 2019. We are committed to watching all of these movies and writing about them. We have no idea how long this will take. What even is time during the quarantine? And sometimes, these posts will include spoilers. Just a friendly warning from two friendly guys.

“Its been a rough year so far” will probably wind up being the most understated and repetitive statement of 2020. With all the uncertainty in the world and the negative impact that COVID-19 is having on all of our lives, it can be hard to keep your chin up and carry on through your normal day to day. Probably because none of this is normal and we all feel a bit powerless as we wait to see how the rest of the year is going to shape up.

Which brings me to Life of Brian. Our main character (shocking, but his name is Brian) finds himself in a variety of situations that are completely out of his control and mostly to his detriment. Just to name a few, he is mistaken as a messiah, taken on a ride in a spaceship with some aliens and ultimately finds himself condemned to die via crucifixion. Yes, there are aliens and messiahs and crucifixions all in the same movie and if that sounds absurd to you, it’s on purpose. Give the Monty Python boys their due: they don’t hold anything back and unapologetically stay true to their style of humor. Also, those set designs are on point.

Whether or not that appeals to you is going to go a long way in determining how you feel about Life of Brian, and if you agree that it should be on any 100 movie bucket list. And while it may be partially due to the times we live in, here’s one part that resonated with me:

Yes, that is Eric Idle breaking into song and convincing all his fellow doomed companions, Brian included, to always look on the bright side of life. “If life seems jolly rotten, there’s something you’ve forgotten, and that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing.” The sentiment is obvious, but it’s the execution and the people delivering it that makes it work so well. If Brian can sing and face death with a smile after the unfair hand that life dealt him, why can’t everyone else?

And for those who might object by saying, “Well, that worked then but there’s no way audiences would buy that these days,” here’s Idle performing the song again back in 2010.

Everyone in attendance sings along in unison to an absurd song from an absurd film about how absurd life really is, and that we can’t change that. But you can change your perspective and how you cope with it. I found that to be a refreshingly positive message. Life of Brian was streaming on Netflix as recently as the last few weeks, so if you’re sitting at home and feeling pretty down about the state of the world and all of your favorite events being cancelled, see if Monty Python can give you a little pick me up.

They certainly provided me with one.