I don’t know if it’s because I spend a lot of my time in a classroom with teenagers who shrug when I query their opinions regarding pretty much anything, but lately I’ve been craving decisiveness.
If I’m traveling, when the server asks what I’d like to order, I tell her that this might be the only time in my life that I visit her fine establishment and that she should choose each course for me. Sort of like those “last meal” scenarios you discuss when the conversation runs dry at book groups. I don’t allow any “fish or fowl” follow-up questions, and I have to say that the meals I’ve had using this method ended up being quite extraordinary.
But then again, as my son London so aptly puts it, “Dad, you’d eat worms with beer.”
So, given my definitive kick, I’ve been eager to help others wallowing in the world of “I’m not sures” and “maybe, but I don’t knows.” My family was in a video store seeking the perfect film to accompany a cheese pizza when I saw a couple approximately my age struggling to choose a movie. I’m no Anthony Lane, but I am an ardent film fan, so when I saw them ask another patron if the movie they had in their hands—Charlie Bartlett—was “like Juno,” a movie they’d liked, I had to chime in.
“Not as good. Great liftoff,” I admitted, “but no flight and a most disappointing landing.” Why I used airline terminology to describe the film, I’m not sure, but I thought it captured the essence. Pleased with myself, I joined my wife Lala with our kids in the section devoted to those in the PG-and-under category of sensibility. A few frames later, the husband came on screen and said, “Since you told us what you didn’t like, maybe you could recommend some films you did.”
As eager as Oprah at a hotel buffet, I scurried back and conducted my own Siskel & Ebert show, offering detailed synopses followed by acting critiques, story arcs (or lack thereof) and even high-concept pitches (Old Yeller meets Waterworld). In the end, I settled on Eastern Promises, a Russian mob film in which Viggo Mortensen has to fight naked (every man’s nightmare) and The Lives of Others, a cozy little drama about stone-cold surveillance in East Berlin.
“I think my work is done here.” I clapped my hands like a blackjack dealer and skipped away. Just to be sure my new charges were taking my sage advice, I peeked back around the corner and couldn’t believe my lenses. My female pupil was holding, of all films, The Bucket List.
“Put that down,” I said, perhaps too loudly, “unless retina pain is what you’re after, missy.”
When I rejoined my clan, it was clear my wife was more interested in the drama her husband was causing than the comedies her children were clutching. “What did you do?” Her voice deepened as if she was narrating a trailer about a man who was about to meet his untimely demise.
“Just recommended two great films to a couple in need,” I said. “You know, everyday superhero stuff.”
She asked which films I thrust upon them, so I told her.
“Those are pretty dark,” she said, glancing over her shoulder. “I think they wanted something more family oriented.”
“How do you know?” I asked, indignant. Unlike her, I was helping total strangers enjoy the magic of the movies.
“Because I just saw them drag their two children out the door. You ran those people off, Mr. Big Mouth.”
“Really?” Sure enough, my apprentice viewers weren’t in the foreign, horror or classics sections. I even ventured deep into anime territory.
“I think those kids go to my school,” London said flatly about the departed.
“That’s just great.” Lala turned away and my life suddenly became a silent picture.
Rob Wilder’s latest book is Tales from the Teacher’s Lounge. His column, “Daddy Needs a Drink,” appears the first Wednesday of each month in the Reporter.