It’s interesting to me to watch a sports film like Friday Night Lights and get a glimpse into a world completely different from my own. In this world, people actually care about sports. We’re not talking about the kind of caring that causes someone to watch a few sports games per season or to know the difference between a quarterback and a point guard or anything relatively minor like that. No, the people who are watching the football games in Friday Night Lights are obsessed to the point where I can only assume there is some kind of chemical imbalance in their heads.
These people are truly, madly, deeply insane about football. And it’s high school football at that! Now, you may be sitting back in your chair thinking I am about to spend my next 1000 words insulting people for, essentially, taking part in an activity that brings them joy, but I’m not going to do that. I actually feel an odd sort of kinship with these small-towners. The kinship isn’t due to the fact that they go mental over the athletic abilities of 17-year-old boys, but because their obsession, from an outsider’s perspective, looks completely insane.
And that’s something I understand.
While others may have looked at my high school lifestyle and seen a boy who couldn’t stop watching movies until the sun came up and who was so interested in cinematic adventures that he disregarded nearly all human interactions for four years, perhaps the football fanatics of Friday Night Lights would simply identify a youngster with a crippling desire to explore his passion.
So, we make a connection between a man who loses his mind over the events of a football game and my own outbursts regarding a great (or terrible) film. Both are extreme reactions to things that we actually have no control over, and both would probably cause normal people to look at us with confusion and unease. Now, I’ve never actually gotten violent over the events that take place in a film (unlike one of the fathers in Friday Night Lights), but there have been times when my screams could probably have been heard by neighbors in an adjacent state.
I don’t remember the exact day when I first watched Riki Oh: The Story of Ricky, but I will never forget the feeling. It was joy; it was pure, unadulterated joy and it shot through my body and sprang out of my fingers and had me on my feet punching invisible warriors and high-kicking imaginary enemies. After only one viewing, the movie instantly shot to the top of my “favorite movies of all-time” list. (Years later it ended up being replaced in the top spot by Princess Mononoke.)
Riki Oh isn’t an especially great film in any respect; in fact, it’s a downright terrible movie. But it knows it is terrible and it showers itself in buckets of fake gore, some truly bizarre situations, and a total willingness to be one of the most insane films of all time. It’s the kind of movie that inspires fierce declarations of love or hate, but (thankfully) most of the people who sit down to watch a terrible movie like Riki Oh know what they are about to see and appreciate it for its eccentricities.
If I have some kind of strong emotional (and audible) reaction to a film, it is almost always a positive. These days, I don’t bother watching any movie without already knowing how it has been critically received. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to watch all of the brilliant movies in the world, so I don’t want to waste a second watching something that I know will be only mediocre.
That being said, the closest I recently came to being emotionally disappointed in a film was American Hustle. Before you grab your pitchforks and torches and march on my house, let me clarify. I did like American Hustle. It was a perfectly solid film, and it contained all of the right touches and hit all the right spots in order to make it a crowd-pleaser. But due to the immense hype that surrounded the film when it was released and the award shows that it was steamrolling through, I was expecting more. Much more. Upon finishing the film I remember a distinct feeling of disappointment. This is notable because it’s a feeling I have all but eliminated from my mind’s dictionary.
If I do happen to happen to stumble into watching a film I know nothing about, I can never be disappointed because I am simply watching a movie without any expectation of its worth. So when American Hustle stood before me straining under the weight of its award season accolades, I was bitterly let down to realize the story, the characters, the twists, the jokes, and even the “surprise” cameos, were all terribly familiar.
American Hustle is, undoubtedly, a good film, but it is not a great one because the entire episode held the distinct stench of we’ve-been-here-before. I want to be shocked and surprised. I want to see things I had never before imagined. It’s that wonderful inventiveness that elevates a movie from being just good to being great that I found myself wistfully pondering during the course of the film.
The emotions that flooded my body when I first watched Riki Oh, Princess Mononoke, or a hundred other amazing films, were probably evident if anyone happened to be sitting nearby. My flushed face, the low murmurs of “ooo yeah!”, and the fact that my body continues to draw closer and closer to the screen with every passing moment of pleasure (literally on the edge of my seat), usually make my impressions known to those in the immediate vicinity.
It’s around that point that one of my friends will usually punch me in the ribs and oh-so-gently remind me to “shut the fuck up.” And like the obsessed sports fans in Friday Night Lights (or in real life), I’ll quiet down. But then a few more moments will go by, and another brilliant surprise unfolds onscreen, and, damn it all, there I go dancing in the theater aisle again.
Some people just can’t be helped.