Sunday, November 20, 2011

Has It All Been Done Before?

A student of mine said he feels as though every movie plot has already been thought of and made- and then he qualified that, saying that it's still possible to write something original, but that increasingly, you've got to come up with unexpected and absurd ideas in order to do that.

I almost wanted to agree with him, because in that moment I forgot the truth that a movie like Terri can bring roaring back to you: plot is not necessarily equivalent to subject matter, and that for the latter, our small lives are inexhaustible.

Terri didn't have to squeeze, wring or scrape to get novelty out of its premise. It didn't have to turn life on its head or pose some fantastical "what-if." It simply observes reality, and not even in a way that I would call particularly wry or cockeyed- it's patient, sharp, and empathetic, and that's enough. Not only does it feel utterly original, it leaves you thinking that if this is the kind of movie that can be made in 2011 using nothing other than daily life as its raw material, the well of cinema could never run dry.

It defies convention not merely to be defiant, but out of joy, because it can't help but find things in our world to point to that are never pointed to. When the two men on skateboards rolled past Terri, what did you expect them to say to him? What did you think that scene was going to be about? And how much better- and how much more delightful and real- was the actual scene than the scene you thought you were going to get?

There was hardly a scene that helped you predict what was going to follow it, hardly a line that you could anticipate. Some of the dialogue is almost violent in its terse and unexpected impact. And a sequence late in the film, in which the young leads are alone together, hums with a kind of terror, as the possibilities in the situation multiply but refuse to promise anything.

Why couldn't this have played to a wider market? Was it really so opaque, so obscure? Was it suspected that most people couldn't relate to it? Why did Juno make it to more than a dozen screens and not this? Not snarky enough? Seriously, I had to wait until it came to my local Redbox in order to watch it. It played in exactly 0 theaters within 100 miles of Boston. Come to think of it: if there was no market anticipated for this film in the entire city of Boston- not even at (I hold my nose as I write the phrase) "art house" theaters like Coolidge Corner- why is it now considered worthy to sit in the Redbox machine at the grocery store next to Captain America and The Green Lantern?

Well, what am I complaining about anyway- watching this at home with mushroom ziti from our Al Forno cookbook was one of the many highlights of this past weekend, along with:

- doing sit-ups on the cold ground in Prospect Hill Park with hawks wheeling around the tower
- intense conversations about future plans, including our next summer adventures
- pie, coffee and grading at the corner cafe
- shopping for vintage clocks in Harvard Square
- reminiscing in an Inman Square bistro
- long phone calls with friends and family
- tormenting the cat (with affection).