People ask me why I drink. Well, to be honest, they’re often asking me what I drank, and the setting is usually an emergency room in a region where I don’t speak the language, and, naturally, I have no pants. Wait, what was I saying? Right: People wonder why I medicate myself when my life is so great. I have a loving wife (the lovely and fearsome Duchess), four cute cats (and the facial scars to prove it) and a thriving writing career. What’s to get hum about?
Other writers, of course.
Professional jealousy is a terrible thing. I’m not talking about people who strike bigger money lodes than I do, or people whose sales are higher – I actually don’t worry about that. No, what I get hum about in regards to other writers is when they have better ideas than I do, or ideas I simply wish I’d had. Pretty much the moment I meet another writer, right in-between the friendly handshake and the polite cocktail banter, I start hating them because of some idea they had that I would kill to steal.
Which brings us to Hot Tub Time Machine.
Went to see this over the weekend despite mixed reviews and several warnings that it was gross, immature, misogynistic, homophobic, and dumb. The sheer power of that title was too much to resist, so The Duchess and me and our friend Ken went to check it out. Is it misogynistic? Yep. Homophobic? Yep. Dumb? Yep. Funny? Off and on – overall I enjoyed it, and there were some side-splitting moments, but overall it’s a mediocre movie. I honestly wouldn’t steal much from this movie – the SFnal aspect of time travel is treated as a gonzo plot device and nothing more, and they quickly borrow some well-worn tropes to set the main story in motion (Butterfly Effect anyone?). There aren’t too many surprising twists as the story resolves itself, and most of the jokes wouldn’t work outside the framework of this movie and the combined charm of the lead actors, which is considerable.
What would I steal from this movie? Cincinnati.
Here be spoilers, so turn back if you regard spoilers as bad. The one thing I think this movie does that is interesting and effective from a writing point of view is fail to explain several running jokes and references. Not fail to explain them, actually, but rather boldly lampshade them and then stand around with its chest thrust out like Mussolini soaking up the crowd as it refuses to explain these bits of business. There’s a moment early in the film when John Cusack’s character is reminiscing about his old girlfriend from the 1980s, and the three middle-aged friends who form 3/4s of the main characters start chanting “White Buffalo, white buffalo” over and over again in decreasing volume. The younger kid in the car with them demands they explain themselves but they just keep chanting. It happens once more in the course of the story, but it is never explained in any way.
At another moment one of the characters refers to something that happened in Cincinnati, and the kid mentions finding a shoebox in Cusack’s closet labeled Cincinnati. The other two friends react violently, aghast that Cusack would a) keep it in the closet and b) label it clearly, adding that whatever it is is “admissible”. Again, despite thirty seconds of screen time devoted to it and the strong reactions of the characters, Cincinnati is never explained. Or even mentioned again.
Finally, and perhaps my favorite, there is the Boozy Bear: A man dressed in a bear costume shows up constantly throughout the movie, drinking and dancing. He’s just there; no one comments on it, no one asks about it, and the bear is never explained.
I love this stuff. A lot of writers get caught up explaining every single grace note and reference, terrified that people might not get what they’re trying to say, or so caught up in their own perceived cleverness that they have to underscore every bit to make sure you see it in all its glory. The three credited writers didn’t exactly create the Schindler’s List of Sci-Fi, or even a movie you’ll remember two years from now. But these kinds of bits, left for you to make up your own backstory to explain, elevate even a lame story at least slightly, and I am a complete sucker for them. I’ll spend the next several months trying to figure out if there’s any clues I missed as to their provenance, and then I’ll spend several months having dreams about Dancing Bears in Cincinnati. Trust me, I’ve been through this before, though usually it’s a David Lynch movie, and not frickin’ Hot Tub Time Machine.
Still one of three movies that always makes me cry. The other are discussed in Volume 10, Issue 3 of my zine The Inner Swine.