Five Movies That Look Like They Were More Fun to Make Than They Were to Watch.
These Movies Can Feel like inside Jokes the Audience Isn’t in On.
Felix Quiñonez Jr.
Given the opportunity, would any of us turn down the chance to be professional actors? When it comes down to it, acting seems like an enjoyable way to make a living. It’s good work if you can get it, as they say. After all, who doesn’t like to pretend?
Of course, acting is more than just pretending. However, one could also argue that acting is kind of like the ultimate version of playing pretend. Actors play everything from superheroes to doctors while wearing world-class wardrobes and working with other famous actors and directors.
Is it really a surprise to find out that they might be having fun while making movies? Of course, I think most people would agree that their main goal is to entertain the audience. However, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes you see a movie, and you can’t help but feel that it must have been a lot more fun to make than it is to watch.
Directed by Jack Henry Robbins and released in 2019, VHYES is yet another cinematic love letter to the Reagan Era. The premise is simple; in 1987, a young kid named Ralph receives a video camera for Christmas and immediately records everything. What Ralph records, is what the viewer sees. Meaning that about 90% of the movie, or perhaps clip show would be a better way to describe it, is made up of expertly crafted recreations of the kind of programming that would have been on TV during that time.
However, the movie soon reveals that Ralph has been recording over his parents’ wedding tape. Because of this, there are bits of his parents’ happy nuptials interwoven throughout. Occasionally, he does turn the camera to things other than his TV, thereby providing an ostensible thread. This includes clips of Ralph, mostly by himself but sometimes with a friend as they goof around, just being kids.
Throughout these candid slices of Ralph’s daily life, we also get to see, peripherally, his parents’ deteriorating marriage. These moments stand in stark contrast with the happy marriage scenes and add a layer of melancholy. On Paper, it’s an intelligent, even inventive concept. But as always, it’s the execution that matters.
It’s easy to see that a lot of time and effort was used to recreate the look, sound, and even feel of this era. Some of it is undeniably entertaining. But in the end, the movie feels like 72 minutes of flipping through channels. Or, more accurately, it feels like watching someone else flipping through the channels. Furthermore, what should be the heart of the movie gets lost in the repetitive succession of disjointed sketches.
Perhaps a more successful version of this movie would have put Ralph growing up at the forefront and used the pastiche to add specificity of the time era and to comment on how kids often retreat to the comfort of television when confronted with the difficulties of growing up. Unfortunately, the movie is more interested in creating 80s era television parodies than telling a story.
Although the movie never really takes off, it’s not hard to imagine how incredibly fun it must have been to make. It’s easy to think of the cast cracking up, trying to read the awful porn dialogue with straight faces. I can picture them getting nostalgic between takes and sharing tales of their favorite infomercials or the first time they stayed up late and caught a cheesy porno on TV. If anything, the wrap party must have been a blast. If only the same could be said about watching the movie.
2. Grown Ups
It would be unfair to dismiss Adam Sandler. Films like Punch Drunk Love, and Uncut Gems, among others, prove that in the right project, he can deliver powerful performances. He even seems like a nice guy who goes out of his way to take care of his friends.
While that certainly is commendable of him, it also leads to movies like Grown Ups. By his admission, a lot of his films are just flimsy excuses for paid vacations. And Grown Ups feels like one of those times.
The movie centers around a group of lifelong friends who return to their hometown to attend their middle school basketball coach’s funeral. It’s a simple premise the film could have used to explore some interesting ideas like death, mortality, growing up, and growing apart. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time a comedy dealt with mature content. And because death is the catalyst for the entire movie, it really wouldn’t be out of place here.
Instead, the movie predictably eschews anything of weight to focus on fart jokes, toilet humor, and fat jokes. But for what it’s worth, the cast certainly seems to be having fun. It genuinely feels like they just wanted to have a vacation trip together and shot a “movie” on the side.
Whether they are making fun of each other, pulling childish pranks, or committing sophomoric hijinks, it’s clear that they are enjoying each other’s company and making each other crack up. It feels like the only audience they cared about entertaining was each other. At times, the movie feels like an inside joke the audience isn’t in on.
3. Super 8
To be clear, this movie about an alien and the kids who help it go home is not bad. It certainly has charm, some genuinely exciting set pieces and moments that will tug at the heartstrings. It can even be seen as a precursor to Stranger Things.
But anyone with a passing familiarity with Spielberg’s early movies will see Super 8 for the superficial pastiche that it ultimately is. The film feels like someone covering someone else’s greatest hits.
Abrams once said, “It’s hard to separate the experience of growing up in the mid-70s and early-80s from the influence of Steven Spielberg’s films.” So, one can only imagine how much fun he must have had when he got $50 million to let his inner Spielberg fanboy run wild while working with his idol.
This movie is a passion project in the most real sense. It feels like this movie was made first and foremost for JJ Abrams himself, for the young kid inside him that fell in love with cinema through Spielberg’s work in the first place. The attention paid to every detail is a testament to the love and passion that drive this movie. Super 8 nails the feel, tone, and even compositions of early Spielberg films perfectly. At times, it almost feels like you’re watching a long-lost Spielberg movie the studio dusted off.
4. Step Brothers
Even when Will Ferrell’s movies are awful, they look like they were fun to make. Step Brothers isn’t his worst movie, but it’s certainly not his best either.
In it, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly play two grown men who still act like little kids, for reasons the movie never bothers to explain. At one point, their single parents get married. They become stepbrothers and…do a lot of dumb things together.
It feels like there was a pitch meeting where everyone agreed that it would be hilarious to watch the two grown-up actors behave like children but couldn’t be bothered to develop the idea any further. While that does provide some laughs, it gets old quickly.
Step Brothers is the type of movie that thinks having the characters wear silly, ill-fitting t-shirts, or adding a bunch of cameos count as jokes. At one point, it starts to feel like the movie is trying to test audiences’ patience more than entertain them.
Or maybe they just care about making each other laugh more. But at least we can’t complain that the actors didn’t commit to the role. They go all in no matter how ridiculous the circumstance. And there are PLENTY of ridiculous circumstances.
The movie has a certain anything-goes quality, and you get the feeling that any silly idea was met with a shrug and “Why not?” Like other Will Ferrell movies, Step Brothers has plenty of improvisation. It almost feels like the actors are just rambling the first thing that pops into their heads so they can go back to hanging out. You can imagine there were a lot more laughs on the set than what ended up in the movie.
5. Grindhouse- Planet Terror
Released in 2007, to mostly confounded audiences, Grindhouse was a double feature, directed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. It was a love letter to the violent, cheap movies they loved as kids and never stopped loving. Aside from the two films, Planet Terror, by Robert Rodriguez and Death Proof by Quentin Tarantino, Grindhouse, also packed in trailers for fake movies and advertisements for “local restaurants.” Just about the only thing they weren’t able to recreate was the decrepit state of movie theaters from that era. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried.
They achieved their goal of creating something that looked like it was made in the 1970s. Even someone who wasn’t alive during that time can appreciate the care that went into making Grindhouse. But the presentation alone isn’t enough. The movies should stand on their own and have a reason for existing outside of this experiment.
And that is where the movies vary wildly. Tarantino found a way to honor and pay tribute to the films he loved as a child, and that shaped him as a filmmaker while still making a movie that was recognizably his own. On the other hand, Robert Rodriguez simply made a hollow facsimile.
Planet Terror’s story centers on a plague that turns people into zombies and a group of people trying to survive the nightmare. There is plenty of gore, dismemberments, explosions, and even a go-go dancer with an assault rifle for a leg. It’s all basic George Romero stuff that we’ve all seen a million times before and also done better.
But you can practically feel the director’s gleeful enthusiasm in every frame of the movie. It’s clear he put a lot of effort into recreating the exact look of the era. Although shot digitally, the images were given a grainy look. The video is shaky as if frames are missing. It even employs the delightfully corny “missing reel” trick.
And just as much care was put into creating the zombies. The special effects are put to great use in producing their melting, oozing flesh in incredible detail. Bodies explode in the most gruesome, fetishistic way possible, and the camera captures every second of it. This makes it all the more disappointing that the movie itself is repetitive and too busy trying to recreate the past to come up with something original.