Film Logan Polk's Film Reviews Moving Pictures Ongoing Series

Moving Pictures Vol. 5: Someplace Uncomfortable

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Logan’s Moving Pictures gives meaning and understanding to a film that its own director had dismissed for a very long time; Mallrats.

I don’t remember the first time I saw Mallrats, but I do very much remember when I first BOUGHT Mallrats, as well as the reason why.

It was almost fifteen years ago, in a now-defunct electronics chain near Emory University in Atlanta. I was with my brother, his girlfriend at the time, Tabitha, and my girlfriend at the time, April. We were there because Ryan had been undergoing cancer treatment for quite a while, and up until that point he’d been getting chemo and radiation in our hometown of Columbus, Ga. When nothing worked and they’d damn near killed him, he finally was admitted to Emory, where they promptly decided that a stem cell transplant from his twin (that’s me) was the absolute best option to pursue. It would be fairly simple and would require me to be in a hospital bed for a few days.

When they told us the room had a DVD player we decided to hit up the closest retail chain and snap up a few movies that we both could enjoy. O Brother, Where Art Thou and Mallrats were the cinematic masterpieces of choice. And for anyone wondering “why just two?” I’ll remind you, DVDs weren’t always sold in the discount bin at your local Wal-Mart.

You’d think so much of that process was embedded in my brain, going through the tests, checking into the hospital, the drive up, all of the menial things involved with a big medical procedure; and while I remember a few notable things leading up to it, a lot of what happened over those few days has been lost to time for me. What I do remember is that Ryan got to be in the room with me for most of the day.

Ryan and my Mom, Gloria, finding some joy in his tiresome cancer journey.

He was in a pretty fragile state himself, and neither one of us felt much like talking, so we just sat and watched. Occasionally another visitor would show up; my mom, my grandfather, a doctor, a nurse, the girlfriends; that’s when the movies would go off and the TV would play whatever inane nonsense the hospital had on its five cable channels. 

Not that I didn’t appreciate anyone who’d come to visit, a big part of me wishes I could remember at least pieces of those conversations, but all I wanted was to lie in bed and watch movies with my brother by my side. So that’s mostly what we did.

Those two films were particular favorites for both of us, and I think he’d agree that Mallrats held more appeal at the time. We were young, we liked nerdy things, loved juvenile humour; It’s a movie that spoke to us, seemed to be about us, and it was primarily responsible for turning me into a Kevin Smith fan to begin with. I haven’t revisited it in quite a while, five or six years I’d imagine, so when it caught my eye while I was going through his movie collection, and the memory of watching it in that Atlanta hospital room came surging to the forefront of my thoughts, it only made sense to watch it next. 

And honestly, I could use something that was both familiar and funny. So I decided on Mallrats because I was looking for something simple; revisiting old characters I’d seen a lot of myself in, laughing at familiar jokes (Chocolate-covered pretzel, anyone?) and to reflect on my youth fondly. 

And in a very weird way, I guess that’s what I found.

The story follows Brody Bruce and TS Quint as they embark on a mission to revive their relationships with their recent exes. A feat that involves dodging mall security, convincing two stoners to derail a live game show, seeing a topless psychic, and meeting Stan Lee. Things don’t go exactly as planned, and the duo have to rely on their own wits and expressing their own emotions to come out on top. Except, watching it at 42 years old, I’m not so sure they should have.

You can dismiss a lot of faults with Smith’s sophomore film as youthful arrogance, and appreciate it solely because of a handful of key performances; chiefly Jason Lee as Brody. It’s easy to see now that he isn’t the good dude I thought he was in my 20s (Brody that is, Lee seems like a solid guy and turned out to be an excellent comedic talent), but it’s hard to deny the charisma on display. He just isn’t the hero of the story I once believed him to be. To be fair, almost every person he interacts with calls him on his terrible and dismissive behavior, so the film doesn’t exactly make excuses for him, it just simply gives him the happy ending he never truly earns. All of which goes double for Jeremy London’s TS. 

Unlike Lee though, London struggles to spout off the overwrought and unnecessarily flourished dialogue Kevin Smith earned himself a name for. In his early days, Smith was a stickler for keeping to the script he wrote, which requires a certain cadence. And if you’re not familiar with the beat, it’s almost impossible to find your place in it. It’s a trait London shares with several other performers, including his on-screen crush Brandi, played by Clair Forlani. It’s funny to see the established actors struggle with it while the relative unknowns (Lee, Joey Lauren Adams, Renee Humphry) all seem to find the rhythm most of the time.

The other standout act in the cast, also a relative unknown as an actor at the time, was Stan Lee. And, just like his fellow newcomers, he’s able to really deliver with the words he’s given. Possibly because Stan was no stranger to being overly verbose. No matter the reason, his moment with Brody is still the dramatic lynchpin of the movie, and the only place where it still shines as bright as it did in 1995.

Me on the left, Ryan on the right, I believe this was taken the day before we began the stem cell transplant.

This time around, watching Brody and TS while they try to win back their girlfriends inside America’s biggest money pit was like coming back home after decades away and discovering all of your friends are exactly the same people they were when you left. It’s comforting in a way that you don’t really want to admit, and sad in ways you don’t really want to think about. You can love them for all the reasons you loved them twenty years ago, but it doesn’t make their juvenile and selfish behavior any less reprehensible. They haven’t changed. But you have, and it’s easy to get caught up in both the guilt and superiority when you look at it in those terms.

I don’t know if Ryan would agree with me, and like every other column so far I’m lamenting the fact that it’s a conversation we’ll never get to have.

I love Mallrats. I always will. It gave me time with my brother when we weren’t sure how much time would even be left. It had a main protagonist who was into the things I was into, and it attempted to paint him in a positive light, something you didn’t really ever see back then. It’s young misplaced love; dumb and hopeful, something my brother and I were both experiencing at the time. It’s a time capsule, full of sugar-coated medicine and memories. And underneath that coating, there’s sometimes a bitter pill to swallow. You can cringe at the beliefs you held dear in the past, or you can laugh and appreciate the fact that you kept growing.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go get a kid off the escalator.

Moving Pictures will return in two weeks …

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