There are scores of generic movie-dialogue lines that everyone recites on cue. “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” “Laugh it up, fuzzball,” “”Jack, I swear,” “Who are those guys?,” “I can see you’re really upset about this, Dave,” etc. Basic stuff, right?
But the greatest loser line of all time — “I’ve been waiting all my life to fuck up like this” — has yet to make it into the pantheon. Run a search and it doesn’t pop up on any of those movie-dialogue sites. Which doesn’t seem right. Because this is a great and lasting utterance — one of the truly resonant and mythical lines of ’70s cinema.
The reason it hasn’t caught on, I suppose, is that despairing humor doesn’t connect with people all that well. People don’t like to chuckle about the possibility (one that is actually quite vivid and unmistakable in many instances) that their lives haven’t amounted to much, and that one way to quantify or evaluate this state of affairs is by those little realization-of-failure moments, as opposed to moments of pride and glory at some black-tie awards dinner.
When I first heard this line some 32 years ago, I saw myself as teetering on the edge of loserdom. I hadn’t really made it as a journalist, and had begun to consider the possibility that I might eventually enervate myself to death, or simply get sent to the showers. I was half-confident but also half-dispirited, and the latter was gaining. It had gotten to the point that I was starting to develop a bitter sense of humor about my prospects.
So when Michael Moriarty said this line about 35 minutes into Karel Riesz‘s Who’ll Stop The Rain?, I didn’t just chuckle or laugh — I went “hah!” and slapped my leg in tribute. A movie had finally said what that little man inside my chest (i.e., the one who had reminded me of my low self-esteem since I was seven or eight years old) had been whispering for years. Hang in there, Jeff — your greatest fuck-up is yet to come.
Every couple of years I’m going to chime in and remind everyone of this line (which was taken straight from Robert Stone‘s “Dog Soldiers,” which this film was called until the Orion marketing guys got scared and switched titles). I wrote about it a couple of years ago, and I’ll probably do it again in 2012. By the time I’ve quit doing this column maybe my tenacity will have had an impact. Maybe.
There’s also this Rain passage, a back-and-forth between Nick Nolte and Tuesday Weld, and this chess-playing scene between Richard Masur and Ray Sharkey.
I’ve said over and over that 21st Century dramas, action-driven or otherwise, could really use more dialogue of this calibre. “More” is actually a generous allowance because this kind of sharp, echo-filled, rebop dialogue has all but disappeared from movies entirely. Tell me I’m wrong.