April 7, 2008

Movie Musings: Leatherheads

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There’s a point in “Leatherheads” where both football teams are completely layered in mud. This poses a great challenge for the sports reporters, who note that they now can’t tell any of the players apart.

And that’s the problem with this movie, which wants to be a lavish, romantic and fun period piece about the early beginnings of professional football, with a touch of comedy thrown in for good measure. These are the ingredients for a good experience, to be sure, but the film simply doesn’t generate momentum by doing anything particularly special. Imagine any romantic, drama or sports movie about the 1920s, and you have this movie. It’s not bad, just indistinguishable.

Particularly forgettable is the writing. As a film critic who reviews movies on a weekly basis, I make sure to remember as many details as possible from each movie I see. This is the first movie I’ve seen where I can’t remember any of the dialogue. None whatsoever. Oh, there were funny scenes involving rapid-fire dialogue between George Clooney and Renee Zellweger, as well as a hilarious scene with sports announcers trying to not use profanity on the air. Yet curiously, none of it sticks in my mind.

As I’m writing this, I’m checking the “Memorable Quotes” section for this movie on the frequently updated IMDB.com. None of the dialogue is listed. Not even one line from the trailer. Apparently I’m not the only one with this memory problem.

It goes back to the best rule I learned about writing: Think about what everyone else is going to write, and then write something completely different. The rationale? Imagine your teacher grading your class’s essays. If he or she sees several essays, each with the same argument, then he or she will rightly grow bored. Your paper will thus be a breath of fresh air, thus increasing your chances of a good grade.

Yet sometimes you can’t take a different position. If you’re one of many atheists in your class, for instance, and you’re all asked to write an opinion piece on whether you believe God exists, you might not be able to take a different position without undergoing some kind of conversion. In that case, you can still determine how most people are going to argue their opinion, and then find a different way to make the same point. Perhaps you can find and use some new information. Perhaps you can read counterarguments that people have made and then address their points. True, this all takes some time, but it puts you in a better position to succeed.

It’s a lesson applicable outside of English courses as well. Putting politics and the dreaded talking heads aside, knowing not to repeat talking points is something useful in every day life. If you can find ways to be unique and memorable in what you say and how you say it is something that will make people more interested to be around you.

I’m sure that some may say that they just want to be average like everyone else, but I don’t quite believe that. We all want to stand out in one way or another, and you can’t do that effectively if you’ve conformed to be like everyone else.

Why do I say all this? Because I know everyone cares deeply about something. Maybe it’s an important sociopolitical issue. Maybe it’s a great TV show or a band. Either way, we all have something, and we want others to understand our excitement for it. But if you repeat the same phrases, talking points or ideas that they’ve heard before, you’ll probably bore them to death. Telling someone that the new Batman movie is “the best movie ever” probably won’t get you far, for instance. But if you can describe some of the things you really liked about it that you haven’t seen in other movies before, you’re in a better spot to make some traction.

So the next time someone asks you about something you care deeply about, I’d ask you to stop and think about what they might have heard before. Then don’t say it. Say something different instead and see how it goes. You’ll be much more effective about what you say, and you’ll make people pay more attention to you too.