Movies better than they should be: a defense of Mannequin

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Movies better than they should be: a defense of Mannequin

#1  Postby sepermeru » Mar 01, 2010 9:06 am

The overrated movies thread got me thinking about how there are some movies which I don't just enjoy the hell out of, but truly feel a sincere critical argument can be made in favor of, despite their appearance or reputation. I ended up writing all this about one of them instead of making a list, but I'm interested to see about other examples.

Sometimes there are movies which have no real right to be quite as good as they are. Unless they do.

An example that has become a pop culture joke: Mannequin, from 1987, directed by a guy you've never heard of who, well, let's just say one of his alternate names is listed as 'Alan Smithee', so at some point he must have worked on something even worse than this movie's disastrous sequel, Mannequin 2: On the Move, which he was happy to take credit for.

Yeah, okay, it's a really silly movie about a guy who falls in love with an Egyptian goddess or something who has lived thousands of years as various forms of inanimate ladies until modern time when she's, well, yes, okay, it's goofy. But goofy isn't bad in itself, especially when every movie made is stitched together from shit copied from every other movie made. Just by having a story that is strange, truly strange in a way that can't be assembled from various fairy tales and religious gibberish and the director's favorite Twilight Zone episode when he was a kid -- just that alone, for me, makes a movie infinitely better than most of the ones that get taken ever so seriously.

So the main thing about being goofy is that you cannot be half-assed. Nothing is worse than somebody being mildly wacky at you. It's the opposite of amusing; it fills you with ennui. If you want to be campy, you have to be fucking John Waters levels of campy or you're just going to look foolish. The fine line between foolish and campy consists entirely of how confident you are that you can be just as garish, celebratory and bizarre as a Chinese New Years' parade if that's what you please, and anybody who doesn't like it just doesn't get the joke. Similarly, the line between tediously ridiculous and wonderfully absurd lies between those who are being silly to show how silly they can be, and those who are doing it to show how much fun it can be.

Mannequin is fun. It's warm, and sweet, and it believes in magic that doesn't come from the already strip-mined mountains of Acceptable Fantasy Tropes. It's funny -- I swear, it really is funny, not just in 1987 but right now, and how many comedies from 1987 are still funny right now? You probably know their names already because they are the only ones you still care about. The Princess Bride, Raising Arizona, and Spaceballs (which isn't that funny, but counts because it is still loved and certainly funnier than the rest of 1987's forgotten miseries, like the inexplicable Madonna vehicle Who's That Girl -- I can't stand Mel Brooks but I still know which of these films I'd choose on an airplane) were all released the same year as Mannequin. So were, somewhat less mentioned but still seeming to be fondly remembered, Throw Momma From the Train and Roxanne. All these films contain fundamental absurdities in their conceits, some arguably even less believable than Mannequin, and all have plots which look pretty damn ridiculous when you write them down. Yet it's Mannequin that has become a recurring joke, and I think I know why that is.

Alain Silver called Billy Wilder's classic noir Double Indemnity (may it never be remade) "a film without a trace of mercy or pity". Mannequin is the opposite -- it is a film without a trace of cynicism or cruelty. We find that somewhat embarrassing in grownup movies these days, all that naked joy and playfulness. It makes us cringe a little, makes us feel a need to disown it, in case anybody thinks we're dumb enough to fall for it. We would never run around a shopping mall at night, trying on all the outfits and pretending to be the people who might wear them. We would never be friends with a fey black man who wears tinfoil on his face and goes around waving his wrists loosely and hooting like he's trying to get rescued from an island. We would never fall in love with a mannequin and take it for a ride on a motorcycle. It's just a stupid doll.

Last year, there was a very popular movie about aliens called District 9. People liked it a lot, because it let them both enjoy and feel guilty about racism. At the end of this movie, the image of a single, fabricated flower is used to signify hope. If you really do live in a trash dump -- and people do, a lot of people, people so poor they've not only never been inside a shopping mall, but don't even own clothing -- then a single flower, any small bright thing that lives, can be the very essence of hope. But here in a world made of gardens, why do we so often sneer at the ones who invite us to just come down off the pile of sludge and play where it's sunny for a while?
I assert that there are no gods, that any possible "god" discovered wouldn't fit any existing definition of the word, and that any theology or theist claiming to possess any truth about a god or gods is wrong.
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