If you missed the Part I of The Beckie Project, you can discover what it’s all about here. It’s now time to move on to our second round of films:
Beckie’s pick for me: The ‘Burbs (1989) directed by Joe Dante
My pick for Beckie: Locke (2013) directed by Steven Knight
So many things in life are completely beyond our control. (I think that could actually be the theme of this week’s Beckie Project films…) We might spend months or even years deciding where we want to settle down and live, but we usually can’t choose our neighbors. When a trio of oddballs move into Ray Peterson’s (Tom Hanks – 2nd from right) typical American suburban neighborhood, everyone becomes suspicious. And when weird sounds begin emanating from the Klopeck’s house, Ray and his buddies – an eating machine named Art (Rick Ducommun – 2nd from left) and wacked-out former soldier Rumsfield (Bruce Dern – right) – start a not-so-covert investigation of the goings-on next door.
Thanks to the charm of Hanks and nice supporting performances from Ducommun, Dern, Carrie Fisher, Brother Theodore (below right), Henry Gibson and others, The ‘Burbs is a fun adventure/comedy that looks like the 80s (which it should), but feels like its characters could be living right next to you right now, which is scary.
I told Beckie that what’s frightening about the film is how much things haven’t changed. In fact, they’ve probably gotten worse. Near the end of the film (without giving away too much), Ray gives an impassioned speech about how ashamed we should be at how we look at people we don’t understand and assume the worst, which is that they’re all trying to kill us and we’ve got to get them before they get us. It’s somewhat a contrived moment in the film, but this recognition of American paranoia has it’s own level of impact, even in a comedy from the 80s. That impact is lessened by what happens after the speech, which otherwise would probably have ended up as preachy. But it’s there.
I also pointed out something that Beckie had recognized for years, that the men in the film all act like little boys. There’s a great scene where Art and Rumsfield stand in Ray’s front yard, begging Ray’s wife Carol (Carrie Fisher) to let him come out and play. Interestingly, the most mature person in the film is Ray’s little boy Dave (Cory Danziger).
The ‘Burbs isn’t a great film, but it’s good. Audiences in the 80s knew director Joe Dante made good movies (The Howling, Gremlins, Inner Space), but unfortunately you don’t hear his name that much anymore. I also wasn’t expecting to laugh as much as I did, which was quite a bit. I can certainly see why this movie is in Beckie’s rotation of favorites. I’d certainly watch it again.
Locke is another film about things beyond our control. It isn’t for everyone and I wasn’t sure it would be the right movie for Beckie. It is, after all, a movie with one guy driving a car, talking on his phone for an hour-and-a-half. There’s more to it than that, however. Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is driving from Birmingham, England to be at a London hospital in time for the birth of his child. The problem is, the woman giving birth to his child isn’t his wife. She was a one-night stand, something Locke did only once, but once was enough. During his drive, Locke tries to hold his life together, speaking to his co-workers and boss on the eve of a major construction project (which Locke is responsible for), his son, his wife, and the pregnant woman. For a film that’s confined to one small space, it covers a vast emotional landscape.
Beckie told me that what resonated most with her about the film is Locke’s commitment to perfectionism. Here’s a guy who’s in charge of everything in his life except this one area. It was just one mistake. Beckie said “I have a fear of screwing up,” realizing that everyone is going to stumble, yet that fear of stumbling is a constant threat. I feel that, too. I want to be in control and when I can’t be, it creates anxiety. I think we all want that control and when we can’t have it, we have to have something or someone to go to when things fall apart, whether that’s God or another person (or group of people) in your life. At some point, we come to the realization that we will all have to depend on someone other than ourselves. And there are some wrongs we simply can’t undo.
One of the other things I’d never thought of was something Beckie mentioned: Locke would’ve been a far different movie without our modern technology. Had this story taken place before cellphones, Locke would’ve had a good hour-and-a-half to reflect on how he was going to try to make this right with his workers, his boss, his wife, and his family. Counting the return trip, that’s at least three hours. You can come up with a lot of strategies for dealing with all the messes your one mess has created, bouncing all that around in your head. But with a cellphone, you’re never very far away from the next conversation, the next explanation, the next hard talk (unless you just never answer the phone, and how many people with cellphones do that?).
I had no need to worry that Beckie might be bored with the film. It clearly affected her in a powerful way, which led us both to discuss how this and some other films have had an impact that you just can’t shrug off as, “Well, that was just a movie.” Locke resonated with both of us and while we both agreed that we probably don’t need to see the film a second time, it’s one we’ll never forget.