It’s Valentine’s Day Week here at Pajiba, which means everyone’s got you covered, whether you’re looking for that perfect card, or need help with the soundtrack to your evening, or want to give the most romantic gift that is totally not a scam: putting your message of love out onto the Blockchain.
Because my brain is an independent contractor and does not always go where I request, all this talk of Valentine’s Day reminded me of movies!
Specifically, romantic movies!
Even more specifically, romantic movies that I saw with my family because sometimes that’s just what happens even though I have agency over my own actions and really could have made better choices in my life!
(I think we overshot the mark, brain.)
Oh well. Since we’re here now, these are a few of those stories.
Unlike the other examples I’ll get to in a moment, the content of the movie itself isn’t what made this experience so embarrassing. I haven’t seen Titanic since the original release, but at least it gave us Billy Zane at his Billy Zaneyist, and of course, it gave us a couple of great hypotheticals, such as “Would Jack have survived if Rose had just stayed on the damn lifeboat?” (yes), or “Would Jack have survived if Rose had just moved over slightly on the damn door?” (also yes).
But when Titanic was released, I had no particular desire to see it — I mean, it was pretty clear to me that this was a date movie, and I wasn’t dating anyone at the time, so why would I?
My mother figured out a reason: “because you love movies!” Which was fair. But it soon became clear that I would be seeing this movie with my sister and her boyfriend whose name I don’t remember.
We went, and it was fine, and thankfully, did not leave me with a significant number of scars for my therapist to uncover. But what I am left with are a lot of questions. For example:
-How did my mother actually convince me to see this movie? I had no particular interest in it, yet I went anyway. Did she blackmail me? Or was I paid for my time? I honestly do not remember, and thinking back on it now, I don’t really have a sense of what she could have offered me that would have made me want to go. Yet I did.
— Why did my sister and BWNIDR agree to let me go with them? I mean, they were in college. It’s not like they would have faced some kind of punishment for going to a movie by themselves. On top of this, it’s not as though I had to go with them because I wanted to get out of the house but couldn’t drive, because I definitely had my driver’s license by this point. And my sister and I are close enough, but we’re definitely not “come on my date don’t worry this totally won’t be weird at all” close. (And obviously, I also wasn’t that close with BWNIDR, considering all he gets out of this is a mediocre acronym.)
— Why didn’t we just lie? Even if I went to the theater with them, I could have gone to another movie, like Good Will Hunting, or As Good As It Gets, or Scream 2, all perfectly reasonable options at the time that I could have easily gotten in to despite being under 17 because let’s be honest nobody gave a shit about checking IDs at the local theater.
— What did my mother think was going to happen? Because if she thought I was going to sit in between the two of them, like some kind of angry, pimpled buffer, she was sorely mistaken: I sat several rows away, by myself, and kept my eyes glued to the goddamn screen the entire movie, lest I accidentally see something that I can’t unsee.
Bridges of Madison County, 1995
Before the movie existed, I remember seeing the book a few years earlier. It was everywhere, like a virus. I didn’t really know what it was about, but I do remember that it seemed like everyone’s mother was reading it, including my own. I remember when I discovered the book in my mother’s handbag feeling simultaneously comforted and confused by the fact that my immigrant mother seemed to be as interested in something so mainstream and conforming and, well, American, as this (most of her books were in Japanese and incomprehensible to my disappointing, monolingual brain).
When the movie came out, my father, naturally, had no interest in it at all, because he knew better. And my mother had a rule of never going to see movies by herself, which is how I ended up being volunteered for a Saturday afternoon trip to the movies.
“It’s directed by Clint Eastwood! You love Clint Eastwood,” was the sales pitch.
She wasn’t wrong; I had enjoyed Unforgiven a couple years prior (which, now that I think about it, leads me to another question: why was I allowed to watch Unforgiven when it was originally released? Don’t get me wrong, I loved the movie, but also, I was, like, eleven), and I loved all of the Man With No Name movies, so I agreed.
What I did not know, was that this movie was not at all like the westerns that Eastwood helped make famous, but instead a slow burn romance about infidelity and, I don’t know, drinking lemonade or something? Honestly I’ve blocked most of it out, and remain blissfully ignorant of the finer details of the plot, as remembering them would likely trigger an incredibly uncomfortable sense memory of sitting next to my mother as the movie plays (although it would likely help my therapist pay for her new kitchen which she just won’t stop talking about).
But as weird an experience that was, it was not the most problematic movie I was forced to see with my mother.
Have you seen Indochine? If you haven’t, you are missing out on an award-winning tale of sexual awakening set during the anti-colonial uprising in French Indochina starring Catherine Deneuve. And if there’s one rule I live by, it’s that there’s nothing better than seeing a movie that features a love triangle between a wealthy French plantation owner, her adult adopted Vietnamese daughter, and a French soldier, all while fidgeting uncomfortably in between your mother and sister in a small museum screening room, where they don’t even have popcorn to distract you, because food is not allowed in the establishment.
I have no idea why it was decided that seeing this was a good idea — it’s not as though my mother had a particular love of Catherine Deneuve or French film. I also have no idea how my mother was able to convince me (I love movies, but even I have my limits) or my sister (who was old enough to drive by this point and almost certainly should have been too busy with something else) to see this with her.
By the end of the almost three-hour film, we were all in varying stages of uncomfortable, hungry, upset, and really having to use the bathroom. If we all ended up in The Bad Place together, that theater, with Indochine playing on loop, is almost a perfect eternal torture for the three of us.
There are undoubtedly other uncomfortable films that I’ve seen with my family, but thankfully, these are the only ones that I could conjure up off the top of my head.
So. What embarrassing movies have you (unfortunately) seen with your family?