| by Justin Thomas |
The theory is known: George Lucas and Steven Spielberg did nothing more than make exceptional B Movies early in their careers. That would be the worst type of Wikipedia entry because I can’t attribute it to anyone, but if someone wanted to theorize as to what Lucas and Spielberg did, makers of exceptional B Movies would be a good theory.
B Movies weren’t very good. Matinee and the Mant! movie-within-the-movie show how bad B Movies were and why they worked. The brilliance of Lucas and Spielberg isn’t that they made B Movies as they were but B Movies as they remembered them because if they’d made B Movies as they were, we wouldn’t know their names. It’s the fundamental flaw of Shyamalan’s The Happening because he made a movie based on the quality of the B Movies and not how they were viewed by audiences at the time. Mant! enjoys of having the luxury of making a B Movie of B Movie quality because it’s necessary to tell the story of Matinee so Mant! can have the ridiculous exposition, the terrible acting and the ludicrous idea and have it work. There’s simply no way Mant! could be a standalone “real” movie today, which is one reason why The Happening failed.
What Matinee wants to do is show a part of the movies that no longer exists where showmanship played a key role. John Goodman’s Lawrence Woolsey not only wants to be Alfred Hitchcock, straight down to the silhouette and introduction of his movies to their audiences, but he also gets Hitchcock because he thinks about the audience. A lot. To the point of putting buzzers beneath their seats. This existed but it does so no longer, and if you wonder if it might still be around, ask yourself when you last saw a trailer where the director introduces his movie.
The Cuban Missile Crisis serves a backdrop to Woolsey bringing Mant! and his version of 3D to Key West and he uses the heightened state of tension to his advantage. Should he be concerned about showing an atomic bomb blast complete with manufactured heat and smoke to an audience viewing it 90 miles from Cuba in October 1962? Nope. It’ll help sell the experience, which is what he needs because he has the next big idea in movie showmanship. It’s not a lack of concern for his fellow man but a prioritization of his needs slightly above concern for his fellow man, which Woolsey shows he can reprioritize when necessary when he gives up the gate money to save his girl from a knife-wielding, ant-costume-wearing JD.
Goodman is good as Woolsey but it’s not much more than John Goodman as a character named Lawrence Woolsey. It doesn’t seem as though there’s much acting going on, but Goodman is so likeable he doesn’t need to really act. Goodman as Woolsey works just fine. He has the ability to act, which he’s shown on occasion, but Goodman on screen just being John Goodman is sometimes worth the price of admission. Walter Sobchak is just John Goodman written with a lot of caffeine in his system and weird personal experience stories in his background. The point: he might not be of the order of Daniel Day Lewis but John Goodman has a place in the movies and one need only see Matinee once to know why.
Does Matinee work as a movie? Yes, in the same way A Christmas Story works but without the backbreaking laughs. Matinee is also 10% better than it would have otherwise been because it includes John Sayles in the cast. I first saw it in 1994 and remember loving it to the point of always mentioning it and my affinity for it during conversations about movies. Then I watched the movie again but didn’t love it as much. It didn’t work as well, or I’d changed, or something happened and it wasn’t as good as it was in my memory, which is interesting given Matinee is about B Movies. There’s a joke in there somewhere.