Feel-good Films

What to watch when reality bites

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

If you’re reading this, it’s after Election Day and… something… has happened. Or not happened. Or is in the process of happening. Or could happen.

Maybe it’s best if we all just divorce ourselves from reality until reality works itself out.

As I’ve mentioned a time or 10 in the past several pandemic months, movies are excellent for that kind of thing—and we continue to consume them at unprecedented levels. It used to be that I’d show up to my movie theater job and the first question out of people’s mouths would be, “What have you watched lately?” The conversation was constant and ongoing, and it acted as a surprisingly effective movie-recommendation service.

Though I miss nearly all of the aspects of my projectionist shifts—even cleaning theaters sounds alluring to me at this point—I have not had to live without the “What are you watching?” convo as it now happens online in my social media feeds. On a daily basis, someone is either asking for film suggestions or taking to the internet to recommend something they’ve seen.

Now that Halloween has gone and has taken its horror movie marathons with it, I’ve noticed an uptick in social media posts detailing the feel-good films people would either like to watch or are watching. If movies are a necessary form of escapism from our current reality, it only makes sense that we’d want to escape to a place that comforts us. Given that my personal playlist of cheery flicks is a little on the dark side (we need not talk about how many times I’ve worked my way through the Coen Brothers’ filmography), I consulted Google to find out what are actually considered feel-good films and came away with some suggestions, none of which are Forrest Gump, which all of the internet seems to think is a delightful romp. It is not that. At all. But I’ll save my feelings about that issue for another time.

You know what is a delightful romp and also appears on many feel-good film lists? Legally Blonde, and I have to say that’s an opinion I wholeheartedly agree with. At the beginning of the film when Elle Woods (a perfectly cast Reese Witherspoon) is dumped by her full-of-himself boyfriend, and then forces her way into Harvard Law School in an effort to win him back, you think it’s going to be a standard rom-com in which he realizes she was the one for him all along and she realizes she doesn’t really need to be a lawyer to be smart—or something like that. But by the time Elle says, “If I’m going to be a partner in a law firm by the time I’m 30, I’m going to need a boyfriend who’s not such a bonehead,” you’ll want to stand up and cheer.

All right, I know it’s early in the season, but hear me out: If you’re looking for low-stakes, high-humor cinematic fun, I’m going to suggest you queue up Elf. Personally speaking, even though I plan to lean all the way into the holidays this year (just try and stop me), my suggestion doesn’t arise from trying to make you join me in my surfeit of Christmas spirit. It’s more that Will Farrell as Buddy, the man-sized elf unleashed upon the big city and looking for his father is just so dang wholesome while being hilarious at the same time. There’s more to Farrell than Ron Burgundy and “more cowbell” after all.

If it’s a crime caper you’re after, you’d be hard-pressed to find one that fits the “feel-good” description. However, one that’s on my personal pick-me-up list is Ocean’s Eleven. High-quality cinema, it is not, but in terms of high-quality entertainment, it has definitely aged well. Among its strengths are a very easy-on-the-eyes cast that includes George Clooney, Brad Pitt (eating something in every scene), Julia Roberts, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, Don Cheadle, and more, the whip-smart direction of Steven Soderbergh, and a perfect setting for an over-the-top heist movie in Las Vegas. Throw in a plot line that involves stealing from a smarmy rich guy (played by Andy Garcia) and you’ve got a low-stakes movie about a high-stakes heist.

Speaking of Soderbergh and casts that are as much fun to look at as they are to watch, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Magic Mike in this category. I’m just going to say what anyone who has seen this film well knows: There is no way a movie about a bunch of male strippers should be this good. It should be the equivalent of Glitter but with a male-focused cast. But maybe because Soderbergh is such a nimble director or because Channing Tatum (whose life the script is loosely based on) is able to imbue his character with surprising depth without going too deep or because Matthew McConaughey is quite obviously the ideal person to play Dallas, the owner of the Xquisite Male Dance Revue, Magic Mike crackles with life—and is rife with eye candy. Will this movie make you smarter? No. Will it take your mind off the world while thoroughly entertaining you? I’m going to say hell yes. And right now, that’s what movies are for.

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