“In the early aughts screenwriter William Goldman (Marathon Man, All The President’s Men, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) explained what a ‘drop-out’ moment is — i.e., when something happens in a film that just makes you collapse inside, that makes you surrender interest and faith in the ride that you’re on. You might stay in your seat and watch the film to the end, but you’ve essentially ‘left’ the theatre. The movie had you and then lost you, and it’s not your fault.” — from “Drop-Out Moments,” posted on 4.11.17.

After too much delay, Hollywood Elsewhere sat down last night and consumed the first three episodes of Scott Frank‘s The Queen’s Gambit. Now I know why it’s so popular. Then again three fucking hours on the couch and another four to go.

I don’t like binge-watching unknown quantities as a rule, although I’ll gladly and happily gorge myself on a longform series if I know and admire the creators (like with Joe Penhall and David Fincher‘s Mindhunter). Yes, I’ll definitely be watching the remainder of The Queen’s Gambit. And yet (and this is important) with reservations.

I went with it for the most part, and especially when chessmaster Anya Taylor-Joy began to defeat all those presumptuous and in many cases arrogant male opponents. It hooked me good and proper, partly because I love watching geniuses dominate the also-rans while re-ordering the known universe. I don’t like alcoholism or drug-addiction stories for the most part because they’re all the same thing, but I’ll tolerate them if the addicted protagonist is brilliant or clever or inventive enough.

But I dropped out at the very end of episode #1, and as a result stopped investing. And so my current attitude is “I like The Queen’s Gambit but I don’t trust it.” Because the stealing-the-sedatives scene is completely ridiculous.

As a young teenager, Taylor-Joy’s Beth Harmon may be emotionally uncertain or naive but she’s obviously a strategic genius in terms of outwitting her opponents. And yet we’re asked to believe that Beth is the world’s stupidest and clumsiest thief when it comes to ripping off handfuls of green-and-white pills from a locked office inside the orphanage.

She decides to make her move while kids and staffers are watching a 16mm showing of Henry Koster‘s The Robe (’53), which lasts 135 minutes. Beth may not know the exact running time, but most films are between 95 and 115 minutes, and any idiot looking to steal drugs during a movie knows that the smartest time to slip out would be around the halfway mark, at which point the audience is fully engaged (unless the film stinks) and less interested in the whereabouts of a young girl who’s gone to the bathroom.

So does Beth make her move around the one-hour mark? Of course not. She waits until the very last scene, when Richard Burton and Jean Simmons are being sentenced to death by Jay Robinson and the 16mm spool of film has nearly run its course.

You can say “but Beth is so addicted to sedatives that she’s lost her mind and all powers of reasoning.” Bullshit. Smart people might act foolishly or irrationally, but they never behave like morons. Addicts value getting high more than anything else in the world, and will use every clever gambit and connivance they can think of to score a good supply of whatever.

And then it gets even crazier. When Beth finally gets her hands on the big jar she wolfs down several pills (at least 10 or 15) while stuffing her pockets. And then she collapses from an overdose less than a minute later, even though it always takes at least five or ten minutes for drugs to enter your bloodstream. And then she drops the glass jar and it shatters on the floor and blah blah.

The scene is just absurd, and it told me that as good as the series is for the most part, Frank and co-creator Allan Scott are willing to fiddle around and flim-flam for the sake of fleeting impact, and so I couldn’t watch the rest with any sense of faith. And when faith goes, belief goes. And when belief goes, caring quickly dissipates. And that leads to alienation.

Continuing “Drop-Out Moments” excerpt:

I “drop out” of a lot of movies the instant I hear they’re being made. Don’t get me started but there are hundreds in this camp. If any movie is costarring Dwayne Johnson or Vin Diesel, I’m gone. If Ben Mendehlson is in a film, I’m 90% ready to to jump ship, sight unseen.

I was with Moonlight during the first two chapters of Chiron’s life, the ones that starred Alex Hibbert as “Little” and Ashton Sanders as the teenaged version. Both were “soft” in the same ways — tender, slender and frail — and I felt for their sadness and trepidation. But I dropped out when the muscular, panther-like Trevante Rhodes came along to inhabit the adult Chiron.

There was simply no believing Rhodes used to be a slender little wimp…no way. And the idea of this studly, good-looking guy having never had sex with anyone since that one heart-stopping handjob on the beach…no way again.

Caspar Phillipson‘s casting as JFK didn’t cause me to lose interest in Pablo Larrain‘s Jackie, but the instant I laid eyes I said to myself, “This guy is supposed to be Jack Kennedy? I don’t think so!” He was too short, for one thing — shorter than Peter Sarsgaard‘s Robert F. Kennedy, which was fairly ridiculous knowing that Jack was a good two inches taller than Bobby in real life.

Phillipson didn’t “kill” Jackie for me, but his presence did persuade me that it wasn’t a home run and that my only option was to wait for interesting stuff to happen. I said to myself, “A movie about the Kennedy White House uses a fucking Danish actor and then shaves his hair too closely so you can see whitewalls? Scalp was never visible on the sides of JFK’s thick thatch, and the makers of this movie didn’t know that when they prepared Phillipson for the part? Forget it.”

Goldman explained how Sofia Coppola‘s Lost in Translation caused him to drop out. He observed that as the film begins, Bill Murray‘s character “has just been in a movie where there is a fabulous vehicle chase, buses destroyed, explosions and, we find out, he did his own driving.” Murray, in short, “is playing a famous action star.

“Look, I started following him over a quarter-century ago, on Saturday Night Live Live and in the movies, from Meatballs on, and maybe in real life he can kick the crap out of Harrison Ford and maybe stripped he has pecs that make Arnold Schwarzenegger look flat-chested — but I do not believe this, not for a New York minute.

“Murray is a comedy star. He’s goofy and he fumbles, and the minute you try and shove this other persona at me, make me think he is the toughest guy on the planet, sorry, I do not go there. And I stopped, from this moment on, believing in this flick.”

Movies are rife with “no sale” moments these days, but I’m presuming there are standouts among the readership.

James Cameron discovered a drop-out moment in Titanic during research screenings — here’s the story: