This edition of Required Viewing is from the vault. Not just the vault of ’90s movies that Annemarie (mostly) has to choose from, but the RV vault itself. The google spreadsheet we forgot about that had a nice neat order and organization. The Thing Called Love was on that list, but our watching of Sneakers a few weeks back (which naturally spawned the “peak River Phoenix” conversation) prompted AM to move TTCL to the top of the list. Call it a mini film festival looking at the final act of Phoenix’s career.
Brooke, it’s tradition. Tell us what you thought of this film, why I picked it, and of course, what is “the thing called love”?
B: First let me say this, I think the plot I proposed about our sometimes New York-accented heroine, Sandra Bullock and Dermot Mulroney teaming up to form a band of misfits and take Nashville by storm was a huge opportunity missed for this movie. However, as it was, I still found a great deal of joy in The Thing Called Love, mostly because of Sandy Bullock. We’ll get into this more, but I really, really don’t get the central relationship. On the other hand, I love the friendship elements of this picture. And I think that’s part of why it factors into the Annemarie canon of essential ’90s films. I think the other half of that is that this narrative fits in pretty neatly alongside the like of Center Stage, where we have a girl chasing her dreams and boys and eventually finding her way. These were the things that spoke to young AM, so they are also the things we will speak about now.
To be honest, I’m not sure that I get what this movie wants me to think the definition of the thing called love. Presumably, it refers to the way River and Samantha Mathis keep getting together when they should be apart, cause: love. But for me, I got love a lot more out of Sandy letting Samantha move back in after she did a dumb, dumb thing and moved in with a boy she barely knew.
Now, Annemarie, tell us why you really picked this movie. And if you be so bold, please convince me why I should want the central romance to work out.
A: For starters, River Phoenix is the Classic Bad Boy, and Dermot Mulroney (who hadn’t quite grown into his face just yet) is the Classic Good Guy. They’re both handsome and talented musicians, and you understand at the end that if Good Guy had just gone for Sandy Bullock, the whole fun of a love triangle would have been avoided. Silly kids. That’s the first thing to note: these characters are supposed to be 23. They’ve never really been away from home (aside from Bad Boy, who of course probably comes from a troubled home and has been on his own awhile), and they’ve never really been in love.
That’s the “thing called love” for these characters: they’re really bad at it. They’re doing the stupid and impetuous things you can do when you’re 23 and single and away from home for the first time.
So the “central romance” you speak of? I don’t disagree that it’s hard to root for the Bad Boy and the Grieving Girl. (Would we call her a Manic Pixie Dream Girl type? I forget the rules, but Samantha Mathis really does do pretty much whatever the fuck she wants, so maybe not.) She’s still grieving the death of her father, he’s incapable of communicating his feelings, and they not only move in right away, they impetuously get married during an impromptu trip to Graceland. I think they both have a lot of growing up to do, so I don’t really root for those two crazy kids to work out.
I also like what you’re saying about friendships being the true “love” we speak of. I think that’s the other factor, that you are seeing characters completely out of their element and searching for a place in the world. The success rates of country music writers in Music City cannot be high, so the odds aren’t in our gang’s favor. Also, I’d like to point out that they actually DO storm Nashville, maybe in sort of a sideways direction, but storm nonetheless.
Have I convinced you of any of my ’90s love triangle logic?
B: Your argument is a convincing one, but as I’ve been proclaimed (by you) the third-worst millennial of all time, I just don’t totally get young people doing absurd young people things. But, if I ever go to Graceland (or some more geektastic point of pilgrimage) and get married to someone I barely know, I give you full permission to point out that I’m not immune to the silly things the thing called love will make you do.
I must also take a beat here to respond to your Manic Pixie Dream Girl query. Samantha Mathis isn’t vivacious or eccentric enough to be a MPDG — Sandy would be closer on that front, see Viv in Pretty Woman for a peak example. However, Samantha does flirt with the line of “exists only to inspire a greater appreciation for life in a male protagonist,” so there are elements here, but she’s her own woman to a point.
Okay, there are a couple of things I really, really need us to talk about. First, the hotel. It’s erratically themed and sometimes has very pensive messages on its lightbox sign thing. What goes on there? Is the hotel a character all its own?
A: The motel! (Did you know? It’s a motel because the doors open to the outdoors, instead of a hotel, which has room doors that open to a hallway… or so I was lead to believe years ago when on road trips we frequented Motel 6 establishments.) I would say the motel manager is a key character in our gang’s lives, and the theming, country music messages and general support of our girl Miranda Presley makes him a winner of this story. Also, I’m fairly certain his name is Ned. Ned the Motel Manager. See, this motel resides just across the street from the famed Bluebird, which is THE place in Nashville to be discovered as a country music writer. One can assume that Miranda and Linda Lue aren’t first hopefuls to stay there, and certainly not the last.
Brooke, was there a quote that caught your eye on the motel’s sign, and assuming that each motel room has a different theme, what theme would you prefer for your room?
B: I don’t recall the exact phrasing, but I recall an instance of the sign saying something in the spirit of “home is where you are, but you can’t go home again,” which prompted an outburst from one of our co-watchers about why the sign had to get so philosophical. I actually rather liked that fortune cookie of a sign, because it seems like something a motel owner would put up as free advice to the world after years of watching would-be songwriters and stars pass through those doors and into the elaborately themed rooms.
We don’t get to hear too much about the many available room themes, so I’m going to take the liberty of inventing my own. It should come as no surprise to anyone that I would favor a room that made me feel like I was living in a castle. Clearly, if I had my druthers it would be a bit better executed than what we see of Miranda and Linda Lue’s rooms, but in any case it would have pretty furniture, boldly colored walls, luxurious blankets, a fireplace and maybe a coat of arms or a bit of fine antiquity to establish those castle vibes.
Okay, AM, give us some sign wisdom and your pick of a room. Then I need you to lead us down the dark path of ’90s fashion. Explain the LEWKs in this picture, and per grand tradition, pick one for yourself.
A: I like your castle motif, and I shall also invent a room as we only have “Disco” and “Southern Flower Explosion” to review. Mine would be themed after a French country cottage, complete with plants everywhere, crisp white linens, and a mini kitchen so I wouldn’t have to rely on the diner across the street for all my nourishment at 2 a.m.
My favorite sign by far is the one done in homage of Miranda’s song: “Makes me think God’s a woman too.” It’s the best line in her original song, and seeing the sign as she leaves town and the conflict of marriage is what ultimately changes her mind and convinces her to give it one last go as a writer. It’s also the first and only time we see Miranda (who is still in deep grief over her father) actually shed a tear. That’s one of the moments that keeps me coming back to this movie.
Oh the clothesssss. Miranda seems to wear every piece of black clothing ever owned, but she does mix in a few fun dresses paired with jean jackets and cowboy boots. Linda Lue is our sunshiney ray of sunshine, and my favorite of her looks is her “Southern Flower Explosion” outfit (that matches her room!) she models for the beauty pageant. I think I’d ultimately have to go with the New York black look myself.
Brooke, back to you. Pick a closet, and pick one of the available men as well while you’re at it.
B: The New York black is definitely closer to my natural state, but I’d like to think that if I found myself in Nashville I would be able to capture some of Linda Lue’s Southern flair. She runs the gamut from jean jackets to purple flower blazers to flow-y, off-the-shoulder white numbers and I’m there for it.
You know, I knew this question about the available gents would come up — it’s tradition, after all — but I’m really not ready for it. One the one hand, Kyle is open about his feelings and quite a decent dude. On the other, he’s an alcoholic who needs to learn how to deal with life without buying a sixer. Then there’s James. He’s talented, devastatingly handsome and oh-so-aloof. He macks on Miranda and then ghosts, because you know, he might actually like her. They get together and move in basically all in one fell swoop, so he decides they should get married, but he keeps living like a single dude, albeit one with someone to do his laundry. (Ugh). On the whole, James is the mistake I’d make in this scenario.
AM, which man would you pick? And if we found ourselves in Music City, what would you write your songs about?
A: I’m here for an agreement but also a slight counter point, specifically about the living situation. It’s established early and often that Miranda doesn’t sleep at night. (You know, PTSD from her father’s death, which is a HUGE driving factor in her life at this point.) Living with Linda Lue probably wouldn’t work out long-term for her either, as she’s on an opposite schedule as the rest of us hoomans. So I see it as perfectly natural that she’d jump to James’ house but then not really know how to live with him. He has no idea either, so of course they’re kind of a hot mess. James only requests (kind of dickish, but that’s how Bad Boys roll) that Miranda wash his shirt that she wore. As the laundry handler of my household (but I do no actual cleaning as a tradeoff), I would recommend that these crazy kids (when they inevitably move back in together, post-movie) get on board with figuring out a division of household labor.
Kyle is the sweetest of all time, but yeah there’s that pesky alcohol abuse and self esteem issue, making him a bit of a fixer upper. However, since I queued this whole movie up with the declaration that this film is “Peak River Phoenix,” of course James is my pick. Yes, he ghosts. Yes, he’s damaged. But I actually happen to think he and Miranda are perfectly suited for each other, if they can both grow up a bit.
My songs would probably be story based, like Miranda’s first performance at the Bluebird about poofy Texas Belle hair. I don’t have a lot of angst to draw on, so you know that’d be my jam. Brooke, wrap us up! What topics are you just dying to write a country song about?
B: AM if I was going to go country, I would do it properly and write about unrequited love and a broken heart. I don’t know the details, but you better believe it’ll be the kinda tear-jerker that only Dolly could do proper justice. All the fans would softly sob, “sing it sister.”
Next time on Required Viewing we indulge in all of our favorite British thing as we kick it with the sweetest bear you could ever hope to meet.
Main image credit: Paramount Pictures
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