4 Silly Little Movies With Surprisingly Deep Messages
There are some movies we’re collectively told to pay attention to. Even if you don’t love one of these Important Movies, you’ll walk away with a fresh emotional message, even if that message is a deep misanthropic hatred for a film that brings people joy. Then, there are the movies dismissed as “low-brow.” The messages people take away from these movies are sometimes ironic, sometimes mere frustration with the filmmaking choices, and sometimes manifest as a genuine love of the chaos. Yet there are also some pretty meaningful dynamics in them that we miss, and digging out those messages makes for one heck of a more intriguing rewatch.
The Lindsay Lohan Movie Just My Luck Explores The Halo Effect
On the surface, the 2006 movie Just My Luck is a silly gimmick rom-com that gives viewers an excuse to gush over Chris Pine in fingerless gloves. However, when you dig in, the movie meticulously showcases the Halo Effect, and how your life gains momentum in the direction it’s already going.
The Halo Effect describes the ways a positive first impression can catapult you in the workplace, romantically, or in life at large. The Horn Effect is the opposite effect, where people have a difficult time believing or projecting good traits onto you. These dynamics play out when successful Manhattanite Ashley Albright (Lindsay Lohan) kisses down-on-his luck musician Jake Harding (Chris Pine) at a masquerade ball. Unbeknownst to both of them, this kiss causes them to swap their luck, and sets forth the beginning of Ashley’s downfall and Jake’s come-up.
Mere moments after the kiss, Jake accidentally saves the life of record label bigwig Damon (Faizon Love), who signs Jake’s band (played by actual English pop band McFly) and gifts him a spacious mansion. His access to connections rapidly accelerates him into more friendships, cold hard cash, and time to hang out with his inexplicably British bandmates.
On the contrary, Ashley becomes homeless when her apartment is demolished due to a gas leak, and when her friend offers up a couch, Ashley knocks the power out with a hairdryer. Her inability to even take a walk without falling into mud causes restaurants to deny her service, and she only lands a job after Jake runs into her (not knowing who she is), has empathy, and vouches that she can indeed clean toilets.
If Jake and Ashley weren’t both white and cishet, this could easily be a movie about systemic privilege. Even still, the ways it connects luck with money show just how much momentum you gain or lose based on classist assumptions. Rather than drawing a direct line to privilege, the comedy contrasts Ashley and Jake’s fate through the lens of the halo and the horn.
When they eventually find their way back into each other’s mouths (not sorry), the movie magically wraps up the drama by concluding that falling in love is the ultimate good luck. They also … accidentally kiss a random woman at a train station and leave her with the bad luck. Okay, there's a lot of silliness here, but even with all that in tow, Just My Luck expertly shows how quickly a bad day turns into a bad year. Conversely, if you accidentally get Sarah Jessica Parker’s dress dropped on your doorstep, you’re in for an unearned promotion.
Mary-Kate And Ashley's Double, Double, Toil And Trouble Is Anti-Capitalist
The 1993 Mary-Kate and Ashley Halloween movie Double Double Toil and Trouble gets into gear when the twins’ parents Don (Eric McCormack) and Christine Farmer (Kelli Fox) discover their business has majorly slumped, and they’re on a fast track to foreclosure. With no other options, the Farmers pack Kelly (Mary-Kate) and Lynn (Ashley) into the car and drive towards their last and only financial hope: the notoriously cruel Aunt Agatha (Cloris Leachman).
Aunt Agatha is unwilling to part with any money, and she takes great joy in the misfortune of the Farmers—and by extension, anyone in a lower financial bracket.
While the parents are getting screamed at about the evils of the welfare state, the twins befriend an anemic gravedigger (Wayne Robson) pitting a fresh grave on Aunt Agatha’s property. He quickly spills the juice about how Aunt Agatha is an evil witch who trapped her sweet twin sister Aunt Sophia (also Cloris Leachman) in a mirror years ago with a magic stone. This inspires the girls to start a quest to free Aunt Sophia from the trammels of her greedy sister.
So, the villain is evil and rich—pretty standard childhood fare, right? Well, the movie takes the class struggle theme quite a bit further than that. In their quest to become housing secure and liberate Aunt Sophia, Mary-Kate and Ashley form a strangely wholesome working-class collective. On top of their friendship with the gravedigger (who dresses like a roughed-up extra in Newsies), the twins form an alliance with a homeless man named Mr N. (Meshach Taylor), a psychic named Madame Lulu (Babz Chula), and a misunderstood clown (Phil Fondacaro) named Oscar.
Through all of the ridiculous antics, the twins learn that struggle brings people together, and greedy people like Aunt Agatha make the world painful. The sweet-but-questionable scene that best illustrates this dynamic takes place when the twins happen upon Oscar the Clown’s house. Shocked to greet unexpected visitors, Oscar (Phil Fondacaro) explains that he likes being a clown because people laugh with him, and this is a refreshing change from just being a little person who people laugh at.
A similar exchange happens with Mr. N when he shares his dreams of getting off the street, and the girls learn it’s not as simple as they thought. These clumsy but well-intentioned humanizing moments elevate the side characters from goofy plot devices to people the twins identify with. This manifests in the ways they all pool resources to defeat the shrewd magic-wielding capitalist Aunt Agatha.
It’s clear this movie is first and foremost a campy children’s Halloween movie with both the charm and cringe you’d expect. But at the heart, the movie hammers in a story of the have-nots setting aside toxic competitive individualism in favor of a group effort to vanquish a hoarder of wealth.
The Thirteenth Year Shows Why You Should Never Erase Someone’s Cultural Heritage
The 1999 Disney Channel Original movie The Thirteenth Year is a wild ride through the trials and tribulations of puberty, and what happens when you discover you’re actually a mer-person (the typical 8th grade experience).
It all begins when an environmentally hazardous fishing boat wrecks the habitat of an unnamed Mermaid (Stephanie Chantel) and the net rips her baby straight from her arms. While heading on a boat towards island life, Whit (Dave Coulier) and Sharon (Lisa Stahl) find the baby wrapped in a fishing net. Rather than reporting the mysterious baby to local news, or searching for potential parents, they decide to “keep him” like a puppy and name him Chez even though neither of them are French.
The life of baby Chez (Cody Griffin) is pretty simple until he reaches the age of 13, and he starts growing scales and turning into a merman. Because his parents never inquired about the truth of his origins, and his mom has a strong anti-vaxx “no doctors” policy, they’re not only unable to help him, but don’t want to go through the pain of admitting he’s not their birth son. It’s only when Chez befriends the bullied classmate Jess (Justin Jon Ross) who is deeply interested in aquatic life, that he starts to make connections about the existence of mermaids.
During all of this, he reaps the benefits of his merman roots by winning all the local swim meets. This scores him a girlfriend Sam (Courtnee Draper) who he hangs out with roughly twice before traumatizing her with his personal truth (most realistic aspect of the movie since they’re in junior high).
While the absurdity of a teen turning into a merman cements this as a pinnacle Disney Channel Original movie, the comedy takes time to explore why it’s important for Chez to meet his birth mom and learn about his culture. It’s not simply about figuring out how to live with fins or locating his birth mom, it’s about the specific combination of losing his familial and cultural heritage with one fell swoop of a net.
Luckily, in the end, Chez ends up with the best of both worlds, transparency from his adopted parents, and the promise of a summer where he can connect with his real mermaid mom. During their corny backlit meeting in the water, you can see Chez finally understands the fullness of his fishy self, and why it should never have been erased.
A Bad Moms Christmas Dives Into The Danger Of Unresolved Parental Relationships
It’s not exactly a shocker that Bad Moms centers the pressures of motherhood, how moms are held to impossible standards, and the many ways Kathryn Hahn makes getting sloshed at noon look charming. Amy (Mila Kunis), Kiki (Kristen Bell), and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) collectively snap under the weight of double standards and underappreciation, go on a bender, and rebel against the expectations of being a “good mom.” Then in the 2017 sequel, the women are back to face what is deemed the Super Bowl of motherhood: organizing the perfect Christmas. Only this time, their own mothers have all decided to come to town, which makes them so stressed out they get day-drunk at the mall and give Santa a lap dance (we’ve all been there).
While the movie traffics in action-filled scenes that don’t give space for the emotional dynamics between the bad grandmas and the bad moms, it clearly underscores how unresolved parental tension doesn’t magically go away. We watch as Amy struggles under the judgmental eye of her perfectionist mother Ruth (Christine Baranski), and it’s quickly made clear that Amy’s past perfectionism was shaped by her mother’s judgments. Amy has never made peace with her mother’s limits, or been able to set boundaries in a healthy way, and this fueled the ways she’s neurotically parented her kids and waffled between self-hate and exhausted indignation.
Similarly, we see Kiki forced to look at the ways her mom Sandy (Cheryl Hines) is clingy to a fault, even going so far as to make a shirt with Kiki’s face. Sandy’s obsession with being Kiki’s best friend makes Kiki feel simultaneously smothered, isolated, and like she’s constantly disappointing Sandy. This childhood pattern of being treated like a doormat influenced Kiki to jump into a marriage with a man who expected her to reshape her life around raising kids, while he made no sacrifices (classic love story).
Of the three, Carla is the only one happy to see her mom Isis (Susan Sarandon), and we soon learn that’s because Isis (this name choice is an act of warfare) has been consistently self-involved and absent from Carla’s life. Carla’s tendency towards avoidant attachment styles, and veering from vulnerability, is directly influenced by how her mom neglected her and made her feel silly for expressing normal human feelings.
While the movie uses two generations of moms to show how the concept of a “good mom” or “bad mom” is a false binary that erases nuance, it also shows how ignoring toxic parenting only leads to living your life in reaction to it. Each of the three main characters are forced to face the ways their moms have hurt them. They also begin to notice the ways they’ve passed on new versions of that pain to their own kids. In between the horrendous musical numbers, and the many scenes where these mothers would be jailed if they weren’t white, the movie hammers in the fact that you can’t run from how your parents affected you, and the best way to move forward is by actually processing your feelings.
Top image: STX Entertainment