Five pervasive movie tropes that need to stop RIGHT NOW

Monday November 28th 2011

I’ve seen a load of really great movies over the last week or two, but it’s Monday afternoon and I haven’t got the energy to be positive, so here’s a quick rant about five incredibly irritating movie trends that are currently killing cinema. (Please read aloud in angry tone of voice.)

A lot of people take the view that voiceover is, in and of itself, a Bad Thing. I disagree: you don’t have to look back all that far to find examples of movies that wouldn’t be a tenth of what they are without narration. But all too often, movie voiceovers seem like eleventh hour decisions included at the behest of studios or test screen audiences. The worst (yet most prolific) kind is the Bookended Voiceover, inserted at either end of a film to add some grand symbolic resonance that the pictures themselves were unable to convey — “Since I was a young boy, I dreamed of going to college.” / “In the end, I may have dropped out of school, but life gave me the education I craved.” Bish bash bosh, Oscar nomination.

This is mainly a biopic trope, but occasionally it pops up in other genres too. It seems that no matter how restrained, respectful and subtle a screenwriter’s treatment of his or her real-life subject is, they can’t resist slipping in a few irrelevant facts just to leave the audience with something to tell their friends at work the next day. Maybe it’s the fact that Eugen Bleuler coined the term ‘schizophrenia’ (as I learnt from A Dangerous Method); or the fact that Jesus invented the dining table (thanks The Passion of the Christ); or any old shit about Johnny Cash (kudos Walk the Line). Whatever it is, you can rest assured it’s got fuck all to do with the plot.

So you’ve got a really sad and/or horrifying scene but your actors aren’t quite good enough to convey the required emotion on their own. It’s time to call in the big guns: INCONGRUOUSLY UPBEAT SOUNDTRACK CHOICES. The thing is, I know these were pretty effective at one point (Blue Velvet reprazent) but it’s gone beyond a joke now. Case in point: We Need to Talk About Kevin. I mean, come on Tilda! If you’re that upset by the dissonance of Buddy Holly playing on your car stereo while you’re mourning the death of a loved one then TURN OFF THE FUCKING RADIO. It’s not that hard.

I’ve whinged about this before but it seems Hollywood is still intent on winding me up, so I’ll go ahead and say it one last time: please, for the love of god, stop having your characters announce the title of the film that they’re in. It’s fine if the title of the movie is a noun referring to something plot-centric (e.g. Hugo, Melancholia, The Smurfs) but in any and all other cases, it’s Definitely Not Okay. That means you, Did You Hear About The Morgans?

Remember at school when your teacher warned you not to use the ‘it was all a dream’ ending in your creative writing? Well in my opinion, the ‘and then the lead character wrote the story that you have just read/watched’ ending is even worse. And yet Tolkien gets away with it. Scorsese gets away with it. I’ve seen three movies in the last fortnight that have gotten away with it. And yes, there’s a time and a place for conclusions as simplistic as this one (it works pretty well in the half dozen novels that Roald Dahl used it in) but as a stock ending for a raft of major Hollywood blockbusters? Surely we can do better …