You’re sitting comfortably in your bed, ready to delve into the latest shiverfest by your favorite horror author. Stretch your limbs and yawn. Shift your butt on the mattress until you find that perfect spot where they lock like a seatbelt buckle. Crack that book open.
The phone rings. Daryl’s voice explodes on the other end when you reluctantly answer.
“They’re doing the first screen test for a new movie! You gotta come see it with me. Everyone’s talking about it.”
You know exactly what he’s talking about. The newest romantic comedy, Something Cute and Clever, by Who-Gives-A-Fuck. You hate romantic comedies, you remind him. Everything they stand for makes you want to puke: male stereotypes, female worship, hack storylines, childish humor, Mtv Movie Awards nominations.
“Yeah, I know, Hater. But this one’s different. I hear it totally breaks the genre’s mold. You love that kinda shit, right? C’mon, we can heckle it if it’s no good. Just like the good ol’ days, am I right?”
You sigh. What could it hurt? You’ve been inside all day and it would do you some good to get out.
Daryl comes by and hauls you off to the flicker show, filling your ears with mundane film nerd facts about the director. He’d done several mediocre films prior to this one. Hated the surplus of formula and lack of creativity in Hollywood. Wanted to do something different, something that would shake Hollywood screenwriters out of their dusty routines of hacking out storylines and characters as stale as month-old dog poo.
You step out of a sunny plaza and into the womb-like darkness of the theater. The place is packed with chattering teenage girls, college frat boys smooching their girlfriends, mallrats texting their pals from only two seats away. Daryl picks two empty seats next to a pair of film buffs blabbering about Scorsese and Cronenberg and Tarantino. The smell of cheap popcorn oil poisons the air and tries to wrap its fingers around your throat.
For fifteen minutes you feel like all the noise is going to shatter your inner ear. Your thoughts tumble around inside your skull. Why did you agree to come? R-comedies are all identical. Horny boy meets goddess who can do no wrong, whose happiness becomes more important to him than his self-respect; boy does something childish that makes her walk out on him; boy chases after her at the end and says or does something sickeningly sweet that wins her back. And these writers still have the gall to go on strike.
The lights dim and the chatter stops. The screen glows and the reels start to roll.
Upbeat music by some mediocre punk band kicks the film off as the opening credits appear.
"Something Cute and Clever."
"A film by Who-Gives-A-Fuck."
You glance aside. Daryl is watching intently, his eyes big as bowling balls, his German-Jew beak jutting at the screen. He loves movies just for being movies. Shaking your head you turn back to the screen. That canola oil smell clings to the roof of your mouth like Pam.
You meet the protagonist, James. Or Justin. Something generic with a J (you forget his name instantly). He’s uncharismatic and unattractive, despite being a ruggedly handsome twenty-year-old, and lonely and horny because girls never notice he exists. He’s obviously immature because he plays videogames and reads comics and passes up opportunities to get drunk at parties or talk to girls. He naturally has three hiii-larious ubergeek friends (hey, who doesn’t?) who think of nothing but girls and geeky shit, but they’re so unimportant to the plot that you can safely ignore them.
Justin and his Wacky Weirdos go on a road trip. Destination: Comic Convention. Justin wants to be a comic artist, and he’s damn good at it, but nobody knows it because he never shares his work, because he’s afraid he isn’t good enough to be published. The history of the genre suggests he needs a woman to make him confident. And also because he’s a horny geek. You note that the film might be just a bit more engaging if it had tried immersing you in the character’s life rather than straight up summarizing it within the first four minutes.
Enter the love interest: Linda, the reasonably smart, impossibly gorgeous, and sexually aggressive “geek” girl (she wears glasses, so she’s totally a geek) who Justin has had a crush on since, like, freshman year of high school, but never had balls enough to ask out. Unbeknownst to our hero, Linda adores comics and talented comic artists. She finds herself inexplicably drawn to Justin at the convention, and less than thirty minutes into the movie they’re dating. Linda throws Justin not-so-subtle sexual innuendo. Justin fumbles and stutters like a half-assed Charlie Chaplin. Justin’s nerdy pals make nerdy sex jokes. The audience laughs. Something inside you dies screaming in agony.
You glance at Daryl again. He’s really eating this up.
Uh-oh, first sign of trouble has arrived: a new talented comic artist joins the cast. His name is Chad, the Evil Charismatic Mainstream Comic Artist. Chad churns out comics for Marvel with his steel biceps and He-Man pecs. Chad’s shiny white teeth are all the drawing light he needs. Chad has great timing, too: by the time he shows up, Linda is angry with Justin because he spends too much time with the comic he’s been trying to get off the ground all year and not enough time with her. Unlike the childish and introverted Justin, Chad is confident and mature and exciting, so the first time he and Linda meet she’s swept right off her feet and Justin’s program reverts to LHL mode: Lonely Horny Loser. The audience boos Chad for stealing Linda and hurting the film’s geeky hero (Linda has no will of her own, after all).
You think you know what happens next, but Who-Gives-A-Fuck pulls a fast one on you. In any other r-comedy, Justin’s faith in himself as a comic artist (and more importantly, as a man) would be crushed. Some wise sage (or his dumbass friends) would tell Justin to perk up and formulate a scheme to win the lovely Linda back from the diabolical Chad. And the scheme would work, thus giving false hopes to socially awkward movie-goers everywhere.
Instead, Justin shrugs: his dream girl obviously wasn’t worth it if she was so easily won over by macho charisma. He’s better off without her. He doesn’t try to win her back, nor does he try to “rescue” her from the guy that’s bound to mistreat her. Justin returns to his craft with new resolve and produces phenomenal work.
Someone adds soap to the dirty, jaded laundry in your washing machine and hits the switch. You feel the stains on your soul flaking away in the suds and it’s so refreshing it tickles your stomach and you smile a little. Maybe this won’t be such a bad flick after all.
The picture freezes a moment, turns black-and-white, shudders. The audience murmurs, laughs, whines and jeers. You glance over your shoulder and squint irritably at the projection booth. Twenty seconds later the film resumes and splits into two plot arcs.
Arc 1: Justin’s comic career
Arc 2: Linda’s relationship with Chad
Justin meets with the editor of an independent comic publisher at the convention and sets up a lunch date to talk about his comic. The movie jumps to a café up the street for the next scene, one long over-the-shoulder shot of Justin’s side of the table. A lot of Justin’s and the editor’s speech is mumbled and hard to hear as if the actors onscreen are conspiring against the audience. For at least six minutes the scene doesn’t change or progress. The film becomes a two-ton boulder rolling slowly downhill, too heavy to speed up with a well-deserved kick.
Your eyelids grow heavy and draw themselves closed, but you shake yourself awake and blink a few times.
Shot of the editor over Justin’s shoulder. Blink. Shot of Justin over editor’s shoulder. Blink. Back to the editor’s shot. You wonder if the angle is actually changing each time you blink.
No, it’s not. It’s staying on the editor. He keeps a toothy over-enthusiastic grin plastered on his creepy Mister Rogers face while mumbling incoherently to Justin. You could comb your hair with the teeth on his upper jaw.
His eyes are on you. That is, his eyes are on the camera while he speaks to Justin. Why are his eyes on the camera and not his scene partner? Why has the camera been on him for so long? He’s not a principal character! Why does it seem like he’s staring at you specifically?
When the scene finally changes, you realize your fingers are stone talons digging into the armrests of your seat. They relax and become flesh again (he can’t see you, you neurotic, it’s a movie).
Meanwhile Linda regrets getting involved with Chad. He’s condescending and treats her like a child all the time, but his jerky side really comes out when they’re on a dinner date at a yuppie sports bar. She looks bored and irritated. Chad notices, gets irritated himself, asks what the hell’s her problem. In the background an extra jitters rapidly like a sparrow ruffling its feathers.
Linda doesn’t like the place he picked, that’s the problem. A sports bar for a dinner date? Really? (Did her eyes change from blue to brown between cuts? There’s a continuity error — forgot her contacts!)
Chad slams his hands on the table, leans in close to her face, viciously whispers something you can’t make out because he mumbles like Justin and the editor — it sounds like slurred Spanish. What’s with all the mumbling?
It cuts back briefly to Linda. Her eyes are black. Or maybe they’re gone. Before you can decide, Chad drags her ass out the door and throws it in the car. He tosses her in like a sack of laundry and she doesn’t react. An awkward attempt at slapstick maybe.
The fratboy in front of you jitters like the extra in the movie. Your right leg trembles with the thought of kicking him in the back of the head and you miss the next minute of footage restraining yourself.
Linda calls a girlfriend and complains about what a jerk Chad is. Chad sneaks up behind her and gently caresses her shoulders: his fingertips fill her blood with lightning and her acid tone froths into silk. She doesn’t seem to mind his jerky behavior that much. The phone falls to the floor with the girlfriend whining on the other end in some bullshit language, “Ahi’ala! Ahi’ala!” The screen flickers and shudders again, but the film doesn’t stop this time.
Cut to jarring sex scene with weird rave music. A montage of very brief shots flashes by. Lips. Hips. Left buttcheek. Random shots of bedsheets, carpet, ceiling fan, something on the bedside table — a statue or sex toy, you’re not sure. A weird idol maybe. Chad and Linda kissing, shot from the lips down. Many shots like that, the eyes always cut off or avoided, no matter the angle or distance. One shot appears to show Linda taking Chad’s arm into her mouth up to the elbow, but it passes so quickly you aren’t sure.
The annoying voice never shuts up. “Ahi’ala! Ahi’ala!” The screen shudders a lot.
Maybe this was what Daryl meant by “it breaks the mold.” The director just wanted to pull some David Lynch crap to give a tired genre new life. What a tool.
Daryl’s still in his movie geek trance but his expression suggests a shocked child. He doesn’t respond to his name. Two more people in the audience do the jitter dance. The guy behind you and to your left is leaning so far forward you can hear his breath.
Justin sits in a chair in front of a panel of five men in gray suits. You don’t recognize the actors playing them and you can’t see their eyes: each has the upper half of his head blurred and warped with a liquidy computer effect. Their mouths look large enough to cram baseballs into.
Justin has oily skin and bags under his eyes. Low-key lighting makes every shadow thick as paste. He and the suits are discussing the merits of publishing his comic, but the suits speak with unnatural coldness. Justin looks uncomfortable in the scene — out-of-character uncomfortable, like he’s had enough of making movies before this one’s even reached the credits. The unsteady camera work suggests a handheld camera. The voyeuristic style makes you feel like you’re watching an interrogation in real life.
Chad and Linda get into an argument at Linda’s apartment. Chad winds back and plants her in the wall with a Mike Tyson haymaker and starts screaming in rage. He jerks his head to the side like he’s malfunctioning and keeps plowing her with his fist. Something in your gut contracts and squirms. It’s not acting. He’s really hitting her. Linda runs away crying, blood oozing down her chin from a split lip.
She runs up the street, presumably to see Justin, passing blurred human-like shapes on the sidewalk. Up a winding set of stairs, piss-yellow walls and shit-brown carpet. Winding up and around and up and around and your stomach spins in its seat and bile tickles the back of your throat, but you hold it down somehow. Two others in the audience aren’t as fortunate.
Finally opens into the hall to Justin’s apartment. Linda bangs on the door until he opens it. He looks like hell: thin, malnourished, red-eyed.
Linda sobs. She made a mistake and she’s sorry, won’t he please take her back? Are her eyes gone again? She actually asks if her eyes are gone again.
Justin’s face twists into a scowl. She wanted Chad and she got him. He’s not taking her back. He’s got more important things to do. He closes the door in her face.
Linda pounds it again, tears of rage pouring down her cheeks. Her skin is gray for some reason. Justin doesn’t reply. His apartment is dark except for a brooding yellow aura at his drawing table, lit as if with a stage light. You swear there are other people in the apartment with him, but it’s too dark to tell and the movie cuts back to Linda in the hallway whenever you think about it. Trying to distract you.
Knock it off. Movies don’t do that for Chrissakes.
Cut to eye-level medium shot of Linda in the hall outside the door. She turns toward the camera in a huff, sees you, stops in her tracks.
She sees the camera, idiot. Sees the camera, not you. She can’t see you.
She sees the camera, breaks character, stops. Her eyes are bloodshot, pupils shrunk to pinpricks. She presents a humiliated frown that ages her face fifty years as if all this time she’d had no idea she was being videotaped. She starts screaming at the camera. You only see her screaming because there’s no sound. She screams and screams in silence with balled fists at her hips like an angry little girl, her mouth yawning wider and wider each time as if she can dislocate her jaw.
Audience members all around you go into wild scarecrow seizures standing up. Someone behind you sobs quietly. This must be a prank. A cheap publicity stunt.
The picture shudders as if in an earthquake and now you’re not sure if the theater isn’t shuddering with it. Linda’s face is all screaming jaws, yawning wider and wider as the camera — or the seats — push steadily closer.
Linda’s face tears. The film tears with it, melting into oily orange at the edges and flooding the theater with blazing sunlight. Then the screen tears right in the center, wadding and spiraling into a white vortex. Three people in the front row are yanked into the swirling maw like dust into the vacuum. Everyone around you is screaming silently like Linda, some with their jaws ready to split as well.
The burn of a thousand red-hot syringe needles crawls up your arms and neck, nests in the pits of your eye sockets and starts burrowing like angry molten metal rats. Hot fluid clings to your cheeks as your vision quickly fades. You only get a few glimpses of the chaos around you. The flesh on your hands flaking off in chalky clumps. Seizing, flailing audience members catapulting into the white maelstrom on the screen by the armful, some accompanied by their seats. Daryl biting his bleeding tongue beside you, still facing forward, his eyes boiling in their sockets and running down his cheeks. Then your seat vanishes and you feel yourself tumbling head-over-heels through empty space.
Public Statement Addressed to Writer’s Guild of America:
What occurred at the test screening of Something Cute and Clever was an unforgivable tragedy. The loss of life and irreparable damage to the space-time continuum notwithstanding, it may be months before the public trusts any of us with their well-being again.
Let this be a lesson to you all: our formulas are there for a reason! To deviate from them puts our demographics, our reputations, and our existence as a species at tremendous risk! The next time one of you decides to get “artistic” or tries to do something “different”, let me assure you there will be hell to pay!
Tom Evan Schwartz
Written by Mike MacDee