Why I Love Bad Movies (& Will See The Visit This Weekend)

Photo: Courtesy of Universal Studios.
Something dawned on me over this past Labor Day weekend: most groups of thirty-something friends must be texting each other the details of a BBQ they were all attending together or asking them how their trip to the Hamptons was treating them, right?

They probably weren’t sending each other stills of the infamous pie baking scene from the so-bad-it’s-wonderfully-bad misfire Labor Day. Or they weren’t testing out crackpot theories on each other that the old lady in the new M. Night Shyamalan movie The Visit is actually the origins story of the old lady in The Happening, like me and my group of friends were. But, I’m pretty okay with that, because I’ve realized that our collective love of bad movies isn’t some snarky hobby, it’s actually a tie that binds us in a pretty great way.

My actual love of bad movies didn’t take shape until I moved to New York City in my early 20s. Sure, I had the occasional guilty pleasure or I liked certain movies that no one else seemed to (I still stand by your underappreciated charm, 200 Cigarettes), but sitting through a shitty movie for the sake of it felt like a waste of time. I can remember, to this day, being legitimately pissed off having paid for Speed 2: Cruise Control. I was 12-years-old.

Being so young, perhaps I was just trying to wear my movie snob badge of honor, or maybe I hadn’t sat through enough crappy movies with the right people. I had moved to the Big Apple to start an internship at Entertainment Weekly and it was there that I met two of the best friends I’d ever make in my life (and, by association, some other amazing film aficionados). Together we discovered there is no higher comedy and no greater bonding tool than the shared experience of watching a legitimately terrible movie together.

This all really began thanks to our colleague’s fascinating piece on the cult of The Room. This film, in case you haven’t seen it yet (and, my god, stop what you’re doing right now and change that), is the most unintentionally hilarious comedy of all-time. It’s about a San Francisco man named Johnny (played by the film’s writer/ director/ human myth Tommy Wiseau) and the ultimate betrayal of his fiancée Lisa, who is sleeping with his best friend Mark. The premise sounds simple enough, but I assure you, it’s the most ridiculous thing you’ll ever watch.

I know this because my dear friends and I went to a midnight showing of The Room in the East Village, where we screamed with laughter at the truly bizarre one-liners and where we learned why the entire audience had plastic spoons (and more importantly, when to throw them). My friends and I were close at that point, but I can say with the utmost certainty, it solidified our bond. We became obsessed with The Room, and we became just as obsessed with sharing it with our other friends. Truth be told, this movie functions as a pretty great litmus test.

If The Room was our jumping-off point for all things deliciously awful, then Shyamalan's horror movie about the wind — better known as The Happening — set it in stone. I had initially caught the movie alone on HBO and sat there dumbfounded at everything that was unfolding on my television. Wait, does this movie actually have a monologue about hot dogs getting a bad rap? Is Mark Wahlberg really talking to a plant? Did they just shoot that kid after a stirring rendition of “Black Water”?!? It was the greatest thing I have ever seen, and I couldn’t wait to watch it with my friends. When we did, we formed a drinking game out of it, endlessly recited lines to one another (“Why you eyein’ my lemon drink?”), and became convinced this should be the next midnight cult movie classic.

Photo: Courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

To this day, The Happening is one of our favorite topics of discussion, and as soon as the trailer for Shyamalan’s latest, The Visit hit, we knew we had to all see it together. I mention this because we no longer all live in the same city. I eventually moved away, but our time together in New York was not only spent celebrating landmark moments in each other’s lives like new career paths and marriages, but enduring the exquisite awfulness of movies like Winter’s Tale, From Justin to Kelly, Jack & Jill, August: Osage County, and the aforementioned Labor Day together. When we do get the chance to see each other, we make sure we pick out a crappy movie to watch. Last time around it was the campy, nonsensical sci-fi spectacle Jupiter Ascending, and it we adored it. (A sincere thanks to you, Eddie Redmayne, for turning it up to 11.) I can only hope we’ll hate-to-love The Visit just as much.

Since our time apart, we’ve all come to love the podcast How Did This Get Made?, not only because we wonder, how the hell we didn’t think of this first, but because their conversations so closely resemble ours. When we’re not trying to dissect inane plots, we’re picking up the bizarre little things that make a movie so uniquely bad. And we’re making each other crack up in the process. It sounds as cheesy as Safe Haven, but that podcast — just like the very terrible movies they’re covering — keeps us connected.

(Sidenote: I have another bad-movie-appreciating friend in my new hometown and we attended a live HDTGM podcast together back in May. In anticipation of our show, we watched the wildly outdated Hercules in New York together, and spent a hilarious 75 minutes trying to decipher what in the hell a young Arnold Schwarzenegger was saying. For the record, it was mostly just him butchering his own character’s name. I can say with the utmost certainty, it was one of my favorite nights all summer. Again, no matter where you are, or who you’re with, crappy movies have a way of bringing you together.)

Look, I understand that flop movies aren’t a joy for everyone. I recently watched Lost Soul, the utterly fascinating documentary about the failed remake of The Island of Dr. Moreau. I know that a lot of time and effort went into this this, and things went terribly wrong, and it's since become the butt of jokes by nerds like me. But there’s something beautiful in that, too, when you think about it. No, these weren’t the movies these filmmakers set out to make, but they’ve become something else entirely. There’s a deep love and appreciation for these films. The documentary Best Worst Movie, which chronicles the cult devotion to Troll 2, relays that perfectly.

Much like the shared experience of watching a great movie together, the crappy ones have just as much a way of sticking with you. There’s something cathartic about being able to shut your brain off and laugh like a maniac and think to yourself, “Well, at least we all make mistakes, even with a $50 million budget.” You can watch a great movie alone anytime, but a good-bad movie (believe me, there are more bad-bad ones than good-bad ones, and there’s an art to weeding them out) is a perfect shared experience. You can be far apart from your friends or endure tough times, and still know that something so silly and ridiculous from The Happening can still crack you up and remain a tie that binds.

I look forward to upcoming Oscar season as much as the next movie buff, and no moviegoing experience will top the mind-blowing awesomeness that was Mad Max: Fury Road. However, I’ll be damned if I didn’t also have an awful good time watching junk like The Boy Next Door, too. (J.Lo’s creepy teen suitor got her a first edition of The IIliad!!) As is the case with anything bad, crazy or flat-out unexpected in life, if you have the right people by your side during it all, it’s worth the ride and in the end, they make it all so much better. You gotta take the good with the bad, and your friends will always make you appreciate that so much more. They teach you an important lesson: when life gives you lemons, make a lemon drink.

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