How lucky were we that so many amazing, amazingly awful, funny, random movies came out during the decade? This is the decade that gave us Singles, Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption, Fight Club, The Usual Suspects, Clueless, Braveheart, Fargo, Cruel Intentions, and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar to name a few. I watch To Wong Foo anytime it's on a random cable station because it's genius. It's where I got the phrase "What fresh hell is this" from; thank you Patrick Swayze. Of course it's also the decade also gave us Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, and George Clooney as Batman, the Ace Ventura movies, and Reality Bites. I want to like Reality Bites as an entire movie but I struggle with it a lot. It's like Ben Stiller didn't know if he wanted to make a story about Gen X or a crappy love story or both. His leads, Lelaina (Winona Ryder) and Troy (Ethan Hawke), are so tragically boring it's difficult to not want to smack them both during the movie; his hair is too long and needs to be washed and he's just so tortured; Matt Dillon and hell, Campbell Scott did tortured better in Singles.. Lelaina is so blah it kills me; doily dress aside. I don't care what happens to either of them.
However, Reality Bites introduced me to the great Janeane Garofalo and Steve Zahn. The movie that inspired us all to dance in gas station mini marts and shop at thrift stores also brought us Vickie and Sammy (Janeane and Steve), the true power couple of the film. The movie would have been so much better if Stiller had spent more time on both of these characters; their story arcs are more compelling and they're just more likeable than the other two. I'd love for someone to do a cut of this movie that's only about them. It's only Vickie and Sammy that really make this movie work for me. I know a big part of that is the actors themselves; I've enjoyed both of them in pretty much everything they've been in.
It made me happy that after this movie Garofalo would star in movies like The Truth About Cats & Dogs, Romy & Michele's High School Reunion, Copland, and Mystery Men. My favorite of her films is Wet, Hot American Summer. In some ways we are all Beth. I also appreciate her politics (she's a staunch feminist) and that she tends to play smart, funny, cynical, and awesome women. One of my friends recently called her my spirit animal. I'm not 22 so I don't refer to people that way but I get her point.
My second favorite of her movies is The MatchMaker, an often overlooked gem from 1997. It involves several of my favorite things: a smart female lead, Denis Leary swearing, Irish men, and awkward matchmaking. So grab pint of Guinness and let's gather round for The MatchMaker.
- Do you remember when Denis Leary was in romantic comedies? Yeah, this is at the height of that period in his career. He's best when he's yelling and swearing so this movie is perfect.
- "How could it be a personal call? I don't have a personal life!" We meet Marcy, trying to avoid Denis Leary and not be called into the Senator's office to do something she doesn't want to do. In this case, go to Ireland.
- So a Boston politician wants to look for his Irish roots in a election season. This will go so well.
- Marcy arrives in Ireland, greeted by a mural of JFK. Throughout the entire rest of the film we'll be treated to random paintings of JFK in every home.
- She makes her way to a town called Ballinagra which, of course, is hosting a matchmaking festival at the exact same time she's there. The town name is a reworking of the Irish 'Baile Na Gra' which means 'Town of Love'. Plot device!
- The soundtrack! Every time I watch this movie all I want to do is listen to Irish music and mid-90s alt rock. You can take a look at the track list here. If you only know Shane MacGowan for "Fairytale of New York", this movie will give you a new song to love. Interestingly, the song "Haunted" was written for the film Sid & Nancy, a completely different love story than what we have here.
- In addition to Denis Leary and Janeane Garofalo, the cast also features character actor and perpetual crossword clue, Milo O'Shea and Maria Doyle Kennedy from the greatest movie about Irish soul singers ever made, The Commitments.
- Dermot's (O'Shea) videos: Dermot is one of the town's matchmakers and throughout the movie, there are little videos of him talking about how to find love and the art of matchmaking. These are some of my favorite parts of the movie. They also make me wonder why we don't rely on matchmakers anymore. Dermot has a lot of really good ideas.
- One of Dermot's clients is an old man who cannot understand why he has to complete a questionnaire about himself. "Bollocks to my favorite color!" Later, there's a bit of dialogue about his favorite animal that's pretty funny.
- The genealogy guy - he's Charlies grandpa in the Tim Burton version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
- What is with tanning in English and Irish movies? It seems dangerous on so many levels. I get it, there's not a lot of sunshine and warmth but tanning? I don't understand.
- Marcy sets out around town to try to find the Senator's family. She ends up with a pub full of single men who all think she's looking for a husband. Let's make fun of the tourist.
- Marcy to Sean: "Your laughter is really irritating me." I may use this line from now on.
- Senator McGlory to journalists: "I hate you all. When I'm President I'll have you all killed." (from the inside of his limo)
- "Is being an idiot like being high all the time?" Another Marcy gem.
- Of course there's a bet. It wouldn't be a rom-com if there weren't a bet.
- I like Dermot's theory about how a couple should get clunking heads out of the way early in their relationship. And then Marcy and Sean clunk heads. Foreshadowing.
- The old man in the Aran Islands - this is the type of old person I aspire to be. Cranky, a little crazy, and weird but not scary.
- Am I imagining things or did we have an obsession as a nation with all things Celtic in the 90s? I seem to remember Riverdance and Enya being super popular at this time. I assume that's why this movie even exists.
- My favorite exchange of the entire film: Sean: You could never live here. Marcy: What makes you say that? Sean: You're a big city kind o' girl. You're-you're Mary Tyler Moore. Marcy: Oh, yes. I am so very Mary Tyler Moore. Everyone says so. Sean: No, but you're- It's like you need to be hooked up to the city otherwise your batteries go flat. Marcy: Okay. So, I'm like a battery operated Mary Tyler Moore? If you flatter me any more I'm gonna have to toss your pale, Irish ass off the side of this boat.
- Things start to speed up very quickly after the Aran Islands: Marcy discovers Sean's almost ex-wife, the Senator and Denis Leary arrive, and we find out that genealogy guy has a computer. Let's make fun of the tourist.
- Are all houses and businesses unlocked in Ireland? It seems unsafe.
- The movie takes an unexpectedly sad turn towards the end. Dermot's death (this movie is almost 20 years old so shut it about spoilers) serves a "purpose" in the larger movie but it's still sad. I love that in his final moments, he's surrounded by all the happy couples he matched. He's surrounded by love.
- Of course Sean's ex, Moira, is a Kennedy. Of course she is. And what could be better than a beautiful Irish woman named Moira Kennedy marrying a Boston senator in an election year?
- Marcy rules. That's really all anyone needs to know. She gets stuff done, she tells Denis Leary what's what, and she gets the guy in the end without changing the things that are great about her. That's what I love most about Marcy; she learns about herself and improves but doesn't become someone else.
I leave you with a little Shane MacGowan and Sinead O'Connor. Enjoy!
Coming soon to the Island: It's almost time for Record Store Day! This year I'm taking the show on the road to Richmond to visit record stores and check out the GWAR Bar. Get ready for shenanigans and records - coming at you in two weeks!