Houston, I Apparently Have a Huge Problem

Being the only person on the planet who didn’t like Gravity feels kind of like being suspended alone out in space.

gravity movie

**Spoilers ahead, and grumpiness**

First let me practice some sloppy equanimity and point out the things I did like about this movie:

  1. The visual effects are exquisite and create a real sense of boundlessness, especially in the first scene, which goes an impressive twenty minutes or so without a single cut.
  2. A movie set in zero gravity is perfect for 3D, and there’s a great scene where Sandra Bullock’s tears leave her eyes and fly up into the air.
  3. She was pretty awesome as always, and at the end, when she laughs after experiencing gravity for the first time, I got chills.

But overall the film felt to me like a satire of Hollywood’s love affair with cliché, like the movies Jerry and the gang would go see on Seinfeld.

Or this:tumblr_lxqpz8wO571qey5y8

Does that make sense? Do you still care? Anyway, here are my problems, which I also explained to the bathroom mirror this morning, after the dog stopped listening:

The Writing

To me, when you take visually stunning cinematography and pair it with bad screenwriting, it’s like seeing a gorgeous woman put on too much makeup.

I'm still not over this.

I’m still not over this.

And hearing Academy Award winner Sandra Bullock say, “Welp, I’m either going to die up here or get home safe—either way it’s gonna be a hell of a ride!” is like seeing Heidi Montag the first time after her 19 plastic surgeries.

It’s like—why did you have to go and mess up something so perfect and beautiful?

The Characters

If I see one more “courageous cowboy” character I’m going to burn down the internet. George Clooney, I’m talking to you here. The only reason this guy is even in the movie is to ask Sandra Bullock expository questions before he floats away, all cool with dying and whatever, totally untransformed by the experience of suffocating in space.

And in an attempt to give Sandra Bullock’s character, Ryan, some insta-depth, they toss in the ol’ “I used to have a daughter…until she died!” line. ASTRONAUT PLEASE. For me, a tragic loss only works in a character’s backstory if it unlocks something now in the protagonist, but even though Ryan has ample opportunity to reflect upon the afterlife and annihilation while she’s floating around aimlessly in space, she doesn’t, leading me to suspect The Dead Daughter is just another lazy Screenwriting 101 trick to induce sympathy. (I have a heart of cold steel.)

The Tension

It’s a cheap move to prey upon an audience’s sympathetic nervous system response and call it narrative tension. I mean, yeah, I was squeezing my wife’s hand pretty hard. Because it’s anxiety-provoking to watch flames come close to human skin, and see an oxygen meter drop to 1%, and listen to a beloved actress gasp for air. Not because the character’s predicament was uncertain, or the storytelling was compelling. I mean, by half an hour into the movie, Sandra Bullock is the only character left alive. Did I ever for a second think she was not going to escape the drama she was in? Of course not—I still had a freaking hour left.


The Good Wife

The Good Wife

My wife loved the movie, because she’s the kind of smart and empathic viewer who is able to both be critical of works of art but also appreciate them for what they are. (She’s like a generous Midwestern Buddha whose good qualities go on so long they will need to be the subject of another blog, another time.)

“But it was just an action movie,” I whined as we left the theater (catching the glares of a LOT of George Clooney fans).

“And why did you think this was not going to be an action movie?” she asked me quite gently.

And that’s when I realized it’s all about expectation. Something about the trailer seemed to promise the existential chill of Melancholia, and I was so disappointed that Gravity didn’t deliver that I didn’t just appreciate the movie for what it was. I mean, typically I really like those kinds of blockbusters. But I spent the whole time complaining instead of just recognizing that I should have just stayed home and watched Melancholia again if that was what I really wanted.

Time for me to digress. Thank you Dog, and Wife, and Internet, for listening. I needed to get that off my chest.

P.S. Watch Melancholia.

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