When the Movies You Loved as a Kid Don’t Hold Up
Shedding film nostalgia
When you're 9 years old, there are few things that earn you any modicum of adolescent street credibility: definitively knowing where babies come from, scream-whispering a bad word you heard your sister call your mom, and of course, getting to watch grownup movies. While most kids are gently dangled into the PG-13 section of the pool first, my parents had no problem throwing their prepubescent children right into the deep end when Se7en, the Brad Pitt/Morgan Freeman thriller about a murderer with a penchant for righteousness, began running on basic cable. Too young to develop a hot take on the derivativeness of David Fincher's gratuitous use of tracking shots, I instead began watching Se7en regularly, reveling in my ability to lord my relative maturity over my friends as I explained for the last time, Eric, it's centered around the seven deadly sins.
Se7en was forgotten shortly after, traded in for Jerry Maguire's lessons on how to fornicate against an Ikea bookcase. While Se7en had already been elevated to perfect film status in my then-developing brain, it wasn't until almost two decades later that I happened to catch the movie again when it was streaming on HBO. Old enough to now call malarkey on Fincher's heavy-handed directing, it was quickly becoming apparent that Se7en was no longer the movie I idolized when I was young. But it was the film's penultimate scene, when Pitt finds out his wife was one of the final murder victims, that my innocence was officially lost. A scene that used to render me inconsolable now had me convulsing with laughter as an unnecessarily frosty-haired Pitt dolefully wailed "What's in the box?" at Kevin Spacey, stretching out each vowel for seconds at a time.
Faster than you can say "Wait, the number seven doesn't even look like the letter V," my sinful film boner was extinguished, rose-colored glasses removed. Sure, the movie still had its merits, I suppose, but it was off my shelf, anachronistic with the seemingly measured acting I'd come to prefer. (I watched Jackass next.) Se7en may have been the first movie this happened with, but it certainly wouldn't be the last. Tom Hanks' inextinguishable optimism in Forrest Gump no longer felt inspirational so much as it did cloying. The Usual Suspects and The Sixth Sense both had re-viewable enough plots, but given their large third-act twists, subsequent views were truly devoid of any fresh enthusiasm on my end. I've yet to forgive goth classmates for robbing me of my adoration of Keanu Reeves in his Matrix trench coat, just as I haven't forgiven myself for not realizing sooner that Fight Club may as well have been named Toxic Masculinity and it wouldn't have made a shred of difference.
Which movies don't hold up can be a fun dinner-party game, but trying to pinpoint why they didn't grow with us is a losing battle. While sitcom television used to hew to the tenet of making as few references as possible to pop culture, current events, and technology, lest a program feel dated were it to make it to syndication, by nature, movies are static – designed to capture a specific moment in time both in entertainment history, but also our own. Jodie Foster's portrayal in Nell may be reductive by 2016 standards, but it's a reminder of how I learned not to be a schoolyard bully. The big, fat Greeks have gone home to roost, but 14 years later my father and I still get too large a chuckle out of suggesting friends and family looking for advice of any stripe "just put Windex on it."
While watching an old standby that no longer fits your needs can be briefly cringeworthy, it's nothing compared to the delightful schadenfreude of watching movies you refused to get into fall from grace – looking at your entire oeuvre in particular, Mike Myers. But it's the movies that subjectively got under our skin yet fail to hold up; those are the ones that hurt. An unabashed annual celebration of Rex Manning Day wasn't enough for me to explain to my 18-year-old cousin who's never had to step foot into a music store, or, likely, hold a record, why Empire Records is one of the most underrated teen movies of all time. A few years prior, an afternoon basic cable viewing of The Bodyguard was teetering on the precipice of just barely holding up. That is, until E! blasted ad upon ad for Whitney and Bobby: E! True Hollywood Story at each break, delivering a sobering reminder that even if the movie sustained, the character at its core had already irreversibly altered how we viewed her in life and on film.
But your life vis-à-vis viewing habits needn't be a sentient BuzzFeed listicle, running on a steady diet of manufactured nostalgia and a yearning for the days of the laser disc. Acknowledge your outdated faves, even if you can't in good conscience rep them sans mockery; let go of the ones you've outgrown. Embrace your problematic faves – for me, it's overlooking step-cest in Clueless because of Paul Rudd's eyes and substituting every item of my deli meal like I, too, am a pre-orgasm Meg Ryan. Nostalgia can be a powerful drug, but its antidote isn't finding films with more object permanence; it's knowing when to let that Austin Powers Condom Boxed Set finally go.