4 Extremely Normal Things Movies Struggle With Hard
When it comes to filmmaking, there are a lot of people who have input in the creative process. Between writers, producers, directors, actors, editors, SFX artists, focus groups, marketing consultants, and even Make-A-Wish kids and internet campaigns putting in their two cents an any given scene, it's honestly surprising any movie manages to pull off the trifecta of being on time, on budget, and good.
But with having that many chefs in the kitchen, you'd think at least one person along the line could spot when something takes place in a scene that never really happens in reality. And sometimes, these things happen so frequently they somehow become the industry standard. For instance...
Names And Jobs Being Perfect Metaphors For A Character's Personality
Here's a little exercise: Google the meaning of each part of the name given to you at birth, and see if any part of it matches your personality perfectly. We're willing to bet that even if the definition comes close, you still have to rationalize it into place like it was yesterday's horoscope.
Movies and TV shows, on the other hand, love to give their characters incredible names that are thinly veiled allegories for their persona: Darth Maul, Hiro from Heroes (really?), Jack Shephard from Lost, nearly every Bond girl. The villain of The Incredibles 2, Evelyn Deavor, gave away her own character arc by having her name sound like "evil endeavor" if you say it fast enough. Matt Damon's character from Interstellar, the guy who nearly doomed the mission to save mankind trying to save his own ass, was named Dr. Hugh Mann. Hugh... Mann. Once again, Christopher Nolan demonstrates his trademark nuance.
Another trope is to give the character a job that is a perfect metaphor for every strength and weakness in their personality. If a movie establishes a male character to be an architect, you can be sure that at some point everything he had carefully planned and built for his life is gonna come crashing down. Or the guy owns a bookstore, so that means he's smart, sensitive, and socially awkward. Even the guys who don't have a job have to be portrayed as lazy losers or borderline conmen.
For female characters, it can be downright insulting. Women, especially in romantic comedies, are frequently employed as magazine editors, television producers, or worse: an assistant to one. Those jobs leave them too busy and stressed to have a social life, while at the same time forcing them to focus on the lives of people way more successful than them. They're also taught that the only way to succeed at their job is to be colder and more manipulative than the colleague that's plotting to stab them in the back for that promotion.
Or, if these women run their own business, it's always a niche business like a bakery, a cupcake shop, or the tiniest bookstore on the planet... and business is not going great. If they're self-employed, they're freelance writers, photographers, or wedding planners; creative jobs where they still have to satisfy someone else's needs. If they're working retail or waiting tables, either they're just trying to make ends meet while they pursue their dreams, or they've completely given up on them.
Geez, did these people's high school guidance counselors force them to make a wish on a cursed monkey paw or something? Your name or your job doesn't define you any more than you allow it to, much less give anyone you meet a complete roadmap of your psyche. But between the bizarre baby name trends over the past thirty years and the current unemployment numbers, hopefully Hollywood will finally get rid of these tropes if they hope for any of their characters to be relatable.
Ordering Generic Beer
Here's another exercise to try: next time you go to a bar, as soon as you walk in, go straight up to the bartender and say "I'll have a beer." and watch what happens. The bartender may try to point out which brands they have on tap. They may direct your attention to a beer menu, or the row of cans and bottles behind the bar that display the brands they carry. But stick to your guns, and insist on ordering "a beer." While you do this, count how many times the bartender has to reboot their own brain trying to figure out what the hell you want before throwing you out or handing you the cheapest thing they have... or most expensive, depending on how much you piss them off.
Sounds crazy, doesn't it? Well, it happens all the damn time in movies and TV shows, and it doesn't make any damn sense! Beer is not like salad dressing. Bars don't have a house option. At least when someone in a movie orders "a whiskey" or "a shot of tequila", the bartender can give them the well option, but beer?
The only way it makes sense is when you consider that the filmmakers didn't want to look like sell-outs by allowing a product placement in the film. That's fair. But on the other hand, some brands will pay anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 to have their brand appear somewhere in a movie (which could definitely help with the budget), and this is usually just to have the product in the background of a scene. It's not like Budweiser is gonna ask for "McDonald's in Mac And Me" kind of placement here.
But if the filmmakers still don't want to go that route, there is another solution. Just make up a fake beer name. In-universe fictional beer brands have been done many times before: Duff Beer from The Simpsons, Pawtucket Patriot from Family Guy, Alamo Beer from King of the Hill, Cerveza Chango from nearly every R-rated Robert Rodiguez film. At worst it's a punchline, at best, it's an Easter egg.
Plus, it's not that hard to make something up. Just combine an emotion, an animal, and an airport code, and BOOM! Instant regional craft beer name! Have the guy order an Angry Ostrich ATL, Happy Hippo PHX, Sad Beaver SeaTac, and so on. Is it silly? Sure! But is it really any sillier than having a character order "a beer" like an alien that skipped their "blending in with the humans" orientation video?
Hollywood's Strange Ineptitude With Phones
Here's another exercise: call the person you care about the most, talk to them for two minutes, then hang up without saying goodbye. Time how long it takes for them to call or text you back wondering what the hell just happened. If they don't, there's a good chance your relationship isn't working out. Sorry you had to find out this way.
Hanging up without saying goodbye is just one of many phone faux pas (phone pas? Faux-n pas?) that are only committed by fictional characters in pop culture and sociopaths in real life. There's also talking way too loud on the phone in a crowded public space... eating while on the phone... saying "Hi, it's me!" despite Caller ID being around for the past 25 years... or not even looking at the Caller ID before answering.
This is how you learn the hard way not to answer a call from an unknown number.
Phone calls on the movie screen are slowly dying out because, well, phone calls are now obsolete. In the real world, we're now in the age of texting, social media, and video calls. Hollywood is still trying to adapt to make that part of the cinematic language, and no one's really nailed it yet. The biggest problem is they're only presenting an idealized version of how this new technology works.
When texting first made its way into films, they didn't quite know how to show it on screen. They'd have visually boring closeups of the phone screens. They'd have the sender read the text in a voiceover like a letter in a Civil War documentary. Or, perhaps the weirdest version: a character would say their message out loud to themselves while they typed ... at the same speed they were typing it. Now, it seems that filmmakers have all agreed to just superimpose the text on the screen, leading us all to the thrilling cinematic experience of reading words next to a silent schmuck looking at his phone.
But what they're often missing are the texting frustrations we're used to seeing in real life. They don't show someone cursing their autocorrect for typing AFTERSHAVE instead of AFTERNOON. They don't waste precious screen time showing the dot-dot-dot animation while the other person types for five minutes, only to have the message come back: "K." Most notably, the text exchange is always free of GIF reactions or the occasional, accidentally sent nude pic (again, sorry Mom).
Now that the pandemic has forced video conferencing into the mainstream, we now have that to look forward to in movies going forward. This means that Hollywood will really stretch our suspension of disbelief by showing us (gasp) Zoom meetings that actually work! No one's screen will lock up, everyone's paying attention, no one will be using a filter that turns them into Pickle Rick, and no one will be sending secret chat messages to each other making fun of the guy who forgot to mute himself before farting.
Brushing Teeth, Or Anything We Do In The Bathroom For That Matter
Considering the number of gross things we do in the bathroom, it's just plain weird how many movie scenes take place in them. It's particularly strange when it's a dialogue scene between two people and one of them is brushing their teeth.
From the standpoint of character development, it kinda makes sense. It shows that those two characters are comfortable enough around each other to be able to share that intimate of a space, free from any personal boundaries. However, from the standpoint of dialogue, why would you have one actor carry on their part of a conversation while doing an activity that hinders their ability to speak normally? Combine that with the fact that, more often than not, they're brushing their teeth without using toothpaste. Who does that in real life?
Still better than when toothpaste foam is played as somehow romantic.
Which brings us to a bigger point about bathroom scenes: it is very difficult to believably portray any bathroom activity on screen. Why? Because the actors know they're on a movie set. They avoid using toothpaste on screen because they're doing multiple takes, and that is a lot of time to be standing there with a mouth full of minty foam. If a woman in a movie is removing her makeup, she's always doing it very gingerly so she doesn't remove her screen makeup. When a character takes a shower, they are almost exclusively washing their upper torso and arms because those are the parts of their bodies they know are in frame, plus just out of frame they're wearing a swimsuit.
No one on film can pretend to pee casually, either. It's one of the most boring, mundane things we do as human beings, and in the movies it's always the men who have to make it way too exaggerated. If a guy in a movie goes to take a leak, the actor mimes unzipping his pants like he's ripping off a Band-Aid, then rolls his shoulders to make it look like his package really requires that much heavy lifting. Dude, you're just pulling your junk out of your underwear, not pulling a boa constrictor out of a pillowcase. Get over yourself.
Thankfully, we don't see a lot of realistic pooping scenes in pop culture. Sure, there are those scenes in Dumb and Dumber, Bridesmaids, Friday, Van Wilder, American Pie, White Chicks, etc., but those scenes played out more like demonic possessions than your average bowel movement. It's never the dull “sitting quietly on the toilet reading a shampoo bottle because you forgot to bring your phone” kinda dump. No, it has to be the kind of dump that would've been a death sentence on the Oregon Trail.
Here is an easy fix for these bathroom scenes: don't. Just... don't. Unless an epic fist fight is about to happen, or someone's getting stabbed in the shower, there is literally no reason to set any scene inside a bathroom. But if you still insist on having a dialogue scene take place in a bathroom, at least have one of the lines be "Can you please give me a minute alone in here?" Or at least shoot for realism and punctuate your Elizabethan period drama with some biologically sound “battleship discharging ballast” farts.
Top image: Dimension Films, Paramount Pictures