The Non-Movie Movie


Some movies don’t have to be movies, in the ole “character development-story arc-solid acting/directing-having any kind of artistic merit” kind of way. And here’s why.

Maybe some movies are like amusement park rides, and that’s okay. After all, would it be so bad to enjoy a multi-million-dollar, hour-and-a-half piece of entertainment without judging it on its storytelling merits? … No! It wouldn’t! Try it, you’ll see!

Normally, we’d classify these kinds of movies as “fluff”, “bubblegum,” or “a popcorn movie”. Or, as I usually say, a “guilty pleasure.” It’s not a new idea, this tolerance of popcorn variety fluff. But what I’m talking about is beyond that. I want to stop thinking of them as movies all together, and instead consider them as rides in movie form.


  • The Paranormal Activity series: Yes, they will be making another one in 2012. Yes, this is okay with me. Yes, I will see it opening weekend. No, I probably won’t care that it lacks story, good acting or that it’s a re-packaging of the same old thrills. That’s exactly what I want.
  • The Fast and the Furious series: If you listen to our podcast–and of course you do–you’ll recall that we discussed guilty pleasure movies once, and I chose this series as the cream of the crop. Except that I don’t really feel guilty, because it’s basically porn, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I have nothing to be ashamed of.
  • Dance movies: You know, like, Save the Last Dance, Step Up and even Bring It On, to a degree. They are a vehicle for delivering awesome-cool dance moves with a loose story to hold it together, and I love them for that. Again, akin to porn.
  • On that note–porn: See, no one expects porn to live up to the standards we hold other movies to. It’s crossed that line. We know what we want to see when we sit down to watch a bit of pornography. No pretence. No delusions. Just a beautiful meeting of expectations and delivery.

A counter argument: Okay, fluff can be really, really bad. And in these cases, you have to wonder what people are thinking when their functioning, human adult brains  seem to find a source of amusement in them. “This is actually an interesting plot!” “Those inane jokes about penises are pretty funny!” “I can’t believe the crazy adventures that hockey-playing monkey gets himself into!” And in these cases, especially when you see them raking in huge box office numbers while The Hurt Locker barely breaks even, yeah, that sucks, and you have to wonder what went wrong down the evolutionary conga line. But, I suppose ideally, fluff could co-exist alongside the good ones, the movies that are actually good movie-movies. And, of course, god bless the ones that seem to please nearly everyone.

Perhaps the key difference between a movie that’s just a fun ride and a plain old bad movie is how hard they try and fail to be a good movie. Example: Cowboys & Aliens was a bad movie because it was  trying to be a good movie. It thought it was interesting, when it wasn’t. It thought the characters were worth rooting for, when they weren’t. As for The Fast and the Furious? It knows it’s a fluffy action movie with hot people and fast cars. We’re all on the same page, which is essential.

I think, at times like this, of my mother, who has  very little interest in seeing anything that isn’t fluff. (She recently told me about this HILARIOUS movie called Tower Heist. She also really enjoys Two and a Half Men, as so many mothers, for some reason, do.) And I just can’t  fault her for that. After a hard day’s work and a lifetime of raising children who didn’t grow up to be doctors like she asked, I think it makes sense that she’d want to escape to a land of easy jokes and slapstick humour when she buys a movie ticket. Why not? If she can enjoy them, she should. [<– I would make this a pull quote, if I used pull quotes.]

So, let’s not just tolerate them with a shrug, and a flippant, “oh, it’s just fluff.” Let’s celebrate these movies for what they are! Joy rides! Vehicles of amusement! Various forms of porn, depending on what you’re into! And then we can go see a Fellini retrospective and feel good again. Because good movies are still good movies, even if we allow ourselves to make room for the pornography/amusement park variety. Just find a little room in your heart, and you will be justly rewarded.