The new realism

If you want to see how low Hollywood has sunk, watch THE BREAKFAST CLUB again and imagine the remake.   THE BREAKFAST CLUB is a unique film in a lot of ways, but mostly in the way it treats its adolescent characters with honesty and respect.  It sets them in an environment that they recognize and that doesn’t seem false.  Characters swear constantly, they talk about sex a lot, they smoke pot: and the realism that this adds is hard to imagine being recreated in our current system.  Think of NICK AND NORA’S INFINITE PLAYLIST, a film that proudly marks its main characters as straight – no drink, no drugs, no sex, no swearing, no problem.  The girl who gets drunk is treated like a sad joke.   It’s a cute film, but it doesn’t exactly recreate the real world that those characters would have to navigate.  Molly Ringwall’s character isn’t too far from them, but she’s obviously used to dealing with all sorts of pressures that Nick and Nora casually shrug off.

As I’ve said before, I have mixed feelings about realism, but what I would give for some realism in today’s films.  What’s awful is that films these days come out intending to be realistic, but end up being a cross between a sort of naturalism and some sort of Hollywood fantasy.  Naturalism is the goal of the “indie”, naturalism being the most superficial and bland brand of realism I can think of – made worse when the contortions of handheld cameras and improvised acting strain so hard to achieve something that comes across as so fake.

But it is truly amazing that with Hollywood making films almost entirely for people under the age of 25, that they cannot offer them anything other than overblown fantasy superhero crap.   They cannot present the world that we live in because drug use in movies hardly exists, while in the real world it’s so popular that it’s becoming legalized.  This need for sanitizing the movies has always been around, but challenging it seems to have gone out of style.   Pushing boundaries isn’t really what I’m talking about.  I’m just talking about presenting a world that looks something like the world I live in.

Imagine this story: a man, married for a few years, falls in love with another woman  and runs off with her, leaving his wife and kids with nothing but alimony.  You could say, “what a jerk” to do something like that, or you say, “you know, that’s kind of romantic.  He fell in love.”   I know a few friends that this has happened to, but I don’t see any American films about them.  What’s the Hollywood version of that?  Or the “indie” version?  Why do movies feel the need to moralize or act as role models?    Is Mary Jane’s boyfriend problem in SPIDER MAN all we’re going to get from now on?    Or Cameron Diaz trying to figure out how to live up to her super CIA Tom Cruise character?

The main reason naturalism isn’t going to save film is that it’s boring.  The main reason that Hollywood keeps trying to up the ante on the action, blowing up bigger things, etc. is because it’s not boring – except that it’s becoming boring because that’s all they do and they’re not as good at it as they used to be.   If realism is the goal of filmmakers, and I don’t think it has to be, then they need to figure out a new way of bringing it to life.  They need to start by being a little more honest with themselves and the world they live in.

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2 thoughts on “The new realism

  1. You seem to be articulating that this problem is endemic to Characters and Story. I do agree, but couldn’t you make the same argument that it is also a failure of Direction due to either inadequate Directors or Studio Interference.

    Its interesting that you mention superhero movies because it does seem like they are trying to push “realism” into them and if the superhero doesn’t have super powers, then I guess that could work, but I don’t want realism in my superhero movies, not that I want any anymore. I’m heroed out so to speak.

    Another great post, Michael!

  2. It’s a failure of the whole system and our society in general that has gotten so conservative that it can only handle teenage sex as a metaphor a la TWILIGHT.

    Thanks, Raz.

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