One of the great pleasures of being a dad is introducing my kids to the things I like, especially movies. About a year ago, I showed Abby Star Wars for the first time1. And just recently I showed her The Princess Bride
I hadn’t seen Bride for a very long time because I got kind of sick of it for a while. Seeing it after so long, I had a few thoughts on why I would now regard it as a clear classic and easily the best film of 1987.
I once saw an interview with Matt Parker and Trey Stone where they talked about plot. They said that a bad plot is just a series of events — X happens, then Y happens, then Z happens. A good plot flows from what has happened before: X happens because Y happened, which causes Z to happen. The fates of the characters in The Princess Bride do not turn on strange coincidences and kick-ass karate moves; it turns on their character and the decisions they make.
This is Spinal Tap (8.0) – Regarded as a classic comedy. And is.
The Sure Thing (7.0) – I haven’t seen this but have heard good things.
Stand By Me (8.1) – Good adaptation of King novella.
The Princess Bride (8.2, #183 on top movies of all time) – Recognized as a classic.
When Harry Met Sally … (7.6) – Very good romantic comedy.
Misery (7.8) – Excellent thriller. Made Kathy Bates a household name.
A Few Good Men (7.6) – Very good film. One of my dad’s favorites.
North (4.4) – Ouch. This is where it all seemed to go wrong. Roger Ebert famously said he “hated, hated, hated” this movie and said that Reiner would recover from it faster than Ebert would. He was wrong. After making seven straight good to great movies, Reiner would never make another great movie.
The American President (6.8) – Haven’t seen it; never will.
Ghost of Mississippi (6.6) – How do you put James Woods in a movie about civil rights and come out mediocre?
The Story of Us (5.9) – Haven’t seen it; never will. This was the impetus behind Posnanski’s post: he hated The Story of Us, especially as he went in anticipating a good movie.
Alex and Emma (5.5) – Haven’t seen it; never will.
Rumor Has It … (5.5) – There was some noise at the time that represented a return to form for Reiner. It didn’t.
The Bucket List (7.4) – This IMDB rating seems weird to me. It was savaged by critics. But it did make some money and people seemed to like it, despite its bullshit.
Flipped (7.7) – This must be IMDB’s recency bias.
The Magic of Belle Isle (7.0) – This is a very low rating for a recent movie starring Morgan Freeman. That’s three straight 7’s. We’re not back to the days when Reiner was producing minor classic. And given IMDB’s bias on recent movies, I would take this with a grain of salt. Still, it suggested he might be recovering.
And So It Goes (5.5) – Or maybe not.
No film has returned to Reiner’s early form. No film has even gotten close. No one goes online and says, “Hey, there’s a new Rob Reiner film coming out!” Posnanski likened Reiner’s decline to a great young baseball player that seems headed for the Hall of Fame based on his first few years but suddenly forgets how to play at age 26. Reiner has rebounded a bit but he’s now a utility player and pinch hitter. I don’t think he’ll ever recover the form he had in the his first few films. And that’s a pity, because his early films were great.
Looking back on it, the lack of attention the film received was kind of embarrassing and a big demonstration of the lacunae award givers have for both comedy and fantasy. Baby Boom, Broadcast News, Dirty Dancing and Moonstruck were the Golden Globe nominees for Best Comedy. Bride was probably better than all four (although News and Moonstruck were and are well-regarded). Best Picture nominees were The Last Emperor, Fatal Attraction, Broadcast News, Hope and Glory and Moonstruck. That’s not an unreasonable slate but Bride has outlasted all of them. Most silly is the lack of a nomination for Best Screenplay: Bride is generally and correctly regarded as having a classic screenplay, certainly better than the five nominees from that year.
Anyway, in a few years I’ll get to introduce Ben to the movie, which will allow me to experience it for the first time all over again.
In keeping with an earlier post, I showed her the movies in the order of IV, V, I, II, III, VI. I was stunned at how well this worked. It massively improves the prequel trilogy, making the parallels to the original trilogy stronger. And it moves the reveal of Lea to Episode III, where it is much better done than in Episode VI. I hesitated on showing Episode III to Abby because of the violence, but she bore it well. The violence didn’t bother her as much as the psychological trauma of seeing Anakin fall to evil. Anyway, I highly recommend this order if you have any good opinion of the prequel trilogies (and maybe even if you don’t).↩