by writer/director/star Josh Radnor
There’s a great old movie house in my hometown called the Drexel Theatre. One of my earliest moviegoing memories is of my father taking me there to see a double feature of Errol Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood and Gunga Din. I loved Robin Hood and lasted about ten minutes into Gunga Din at which point my father threw me over his shoulder and carried me home. (In my defense, it was well past my bed-time.)
Going to the movies was a particular thrill for me as a kid. I vividly remember the excitement of being packed into a dark room elbow-to-elbow with popcorn-eating strangers and taking in E.T., Star Wars, Tootsie and Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time. I was from Ohio and hadn’t yet been on an airplane. Movies granted me access to all sorts of astonishing worlds and taught me major life lessons. (In my 20s, when I fell in love with a mermaid, having seen Splash was a great help.)
I worry about the movie theater, especially now that I’ve directed my first movie, happythankyoumoreplease. So few experiences are shared anymore. As we all (myself included) grow more deeply hypnotized by our Blackberries and iPhones, it feels important to find time to look up from those tiny screens and reengage with the world. In a movie theater, we might not be talking with the people sitting next to us, but we are sharing an experience—an increasingly rare thing as these little machines hijack our attention and draw us ever more inward.
Watching a movie on a computer or television screen feels like Skype-ing with someone you love—they’re right there in front of you but you can’t touch them. It’s a bit of a tease. Movie theaters, on the other hand, provide an immediacy, an immersion, an almost tactile sense of closeness with a film that you can’t get anywhere else. When I watch a movie, I want the sound up a bit too loud, I want the screen to be clear and enormous, and if possible, I want a very short person sitting in front of me.
More than anything, I want to leave the theater feeling different than I did when I came in—hopefully better. This cinematic mood-shifting, I’ve found, occurs far more often when I watch a film in a theater. We have a complicated relationship with movies and the people who populate them because the whole thing is designed to be larger than life. Movies can contain big emotions and big explosions because they are big. If we shrink how we view movies, are we somehow, by extension, shrinking ourselves?
There are no aliens, Wookiees, cross-dressing actors, or treasure-hunting archaeologists in happythankyoumoreplease. But there are big emotions and honest moments. I hope you can see it for the first time on a big screen in a room full of people you’ve never met.