Last night I went to a screening of Paddington, a charming, sophisticated, exquisitely composed small-kids film all but ruined by a brain-dead story. The stupidity of the plot and the preponderance of klutzy-bear-causes-physical-chaos jokes (oops, another disaster!) pretty much killed the humor for me, but not for a friend of a critic sitting behind me who wouldn’t stop laughing. I almost turned around and glared at him. If I had been coarse and rude enough to do that, I would have have said “really?” Then if he kept it up I would turned around and said, “My God, you’re an easy lay when it comes to this stuff!” But I didn’t, of course, because I believe in at least a semblance of politeness in these situations, and because I respect the fact that what might seem infuriating to me can seem utterly delightful to others.
Yes, I realize that I’m all alone, a grump scowling in a corner. Critics are generally delighted with this thing because movies aimed at kids can dumb down all they want. They don’t have to acknowledge the rules of time or reality or anything else they feel like ignoring. They can just imagine whatever they want and whip up the marmalade and go “wheee!” Paddington is a little bit like E.T. in terms of the basic set-up (i.e., cute non-human looking for home, moves into family abode, causes trouble) but Steven Spielberg‘s 1982 film made some kind of basic sense and it didn’t assault you with absurdities.
Am I going to explain in detail what Paddington‘s absurd plot elements are? Of course not. I have a BBC Twitter chat on the Oscar race beginning at 11 am (it’s 10:25 am as I write this) plus I have a pan of Michael Mann‘s Blackhat to churn out.
Right after Paddington I saw that a few Blackhat reviews, which weren’t supposed to appear until this morning, had popped on Variety and TheWrap. Why hadn’t I simply written my Blackhat review after catching it last Thursday night? Because Blackhat had depressed the hell out of me and put me in an awful funk, and I didn’t want to dredge all that up.
But last night I knew I had to get going so I tried to tap something out but it wouldn’t come. Not even a little bit. It was the combination of Paddington angst along with my inability to figure out the commands on a new GoPro camera plus feelings of lethargy about Blackhat and particularly my longstanding respect and affection for Mann (which goes all the way back to Thief, which opened over 33 years ago…Jesus)…nothing was clear and it was just too much. So I gave up after an hour and flopped back on the couch and watched the first 45 minutes of Lloyd Bacon‘s San Quentin (’37), a second-rate prison flick with Pat O’Brien, Ann Sheridan and Humphrey Bogart before he started wearing a toupee.
If only Paddington director and co-writer Paul King had said during an early pre-production meeting, “Fellas, this is going to be a well-above-average and in some ways delightful family film…gently cloying, dry British tone, absolutely first-rate digital animation…but I couldn’t sleep last night and actually woke up at bloody 3 am because our screenplay, which I’ve co-written by Hamish McColl, is absolutely idiotic…it makes almost no rudimentary sense at all. What are we doing? So I got up, drank a hot tea and tapped out a new story. One that actually hangs together and makes at least some kind of sense and won’t bludgeon the parents. And as difficult as this might sound I really think we ought to go with this story instead of the ridiculous one we’ve been planning and preparing to tell.”
But of course that didn’t happen. The result is that all the writers I know love Paddington — the absolute toast of family movie town. And Blackhat is a near-wipeout and I’m way, way behind on everything, and the BBC Twitter chat starts in five minutes now.