Road to joy
There are times in life which call for direct action and goal-setting. Then, there are times in life which call for yoga pants, carbohydrates, whiskey, and uncontrollable sobbing interspersed with hyper-ventilation. We’re talking times when you’re knee deep in some serious existential shit, when you don’t even have the energy to crack open your copy of The Sickness Unto Death, launder your black turtlenecks, or walk across the room and flip over that Leonard Cohen record. There’s really only one thing to be done during those days, weeks, and months when the fifth food group becomes “your feelings”: retire to a dark room, envelope yourself in a cocoon of blankets (seek professional help if this ever becomes a snuggy) and bask in the cool RGB glow of entertainment until everything is okay again.
Had a bad breakup with your boyfriend? No fear: in Movie Land you can enlist the services of Lacuna Inc. to have him erased from your memories completely. Feeling as if life could just be a tadbitbetter? If princesses are your thing, in Movie Land you can have a dowager queen for a grandmother who’ll turn up in your life informing you that you are, in fact, a princess and the sole heir to a fictional country. She’ll give you a makeover and help you self-actualize yourself, as you begin to gain confidence and become wise beyond your years. Plus, your best friend’s cute older brother will also confess at your coronation that he’s been in love with you for quite a while. Feeling as if you’re trapped inside your house while zombies are banging away at your barred doors and windows –an extended metaphor for life giving you crap, crap and more crap than you can ever handle? No worries, because Simon Pegg and Nick Frost will turn up and beat the sh*t out of those f*ckers with cricket bats and Sade records.
It’ll never happen, you scoff! Of course it’ll never happen. It’s Movie Land, remember? A land where every fantasy comes true for at least ninetysomething minutes. My point is: what I find most heartening about comfort movies is that they essentially make you feel better, and convince you no matter how bad or stressful things are, everything will (or can, at the very least) be okay in the end.
A modern-day fairy tale about a young woman cursed with the nose of a pig who, after being kept indoors for most of her life, breaks free and ventures out into the world. As per Disney fairy-tale conventions, Penelope’s journey of self-discovery opens her eyes to the world around her and the beauty inside herself, as well as leads her to the arms of the man who loves her for who she is. And yes, there is a happily ever after. Light, heartwarming and well-acted, it’s pretty much the cinematic version of a fluffy, strawberry-topped slice of cheesecake. The film is made all the more delightful by Joby Talbot’s whimsical soundtrack and James McAvoy’s very lovely face.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Thematically, this movie isn’t at all comforting. In fact, it’s kind of the antithesis to a comfort movie and, in a strange way, a kind of reality check that warns its viewers that simply finding comfort in forgetfulness doesn’t do much to solve one’s ongoing relationship problems. It’s not a story about picking up and moving on; rather it is a movie about eventually coming to terms with a relationship gone sour. Eternal Sunshine is complex, startling, and the narrative occasionally anxiety-inducing. On the flipside, it is also full of subtle humor and pathos, and punctuated with a melancholic, but hopeful ending.
By the way, the trailer isn’t misleading; it’s ironic.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Okay, so it’s not the most obvious comfort movie in the world. You’ve got violence, gore, zombies banging away at windows and doors, hungry for brains. But you’ve also got a cast of quirky, well-developed characters who suffer from a host of relatable problems, such an overbearing roommate for instance, or ennui with a mundane job. The movie is visceral, satisfying and hilarious: I personally live vicariously through the characters’ cries of “Fuck-a-doodle-doo!” against every impediment or obstacle in their lives, be it an unbearable roommate, a car that won’t start or a horde of flesh-eating zombies. Plus, it also involves the Holy Triumvate of Edgar Wright, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, and they always make everything, even a zombie apocalypse, a hundred times better.
I’m up for anything film-wise on an average day. Ten minutes of fighting dinosaurs in The Tree of Life? Bring it on. The Human Centipede? I’ll skip lunch! When it comes to comfort movies, though, I have two modes: something familiar and sweet, or any movie which is the visual equivalent of listening to Elliott Smith and staring into space. The whole exercise of indulging in comfort movie watching is sort of polarized like that. It’s saying “well, I’ve given up on making any meaningful change in my life, but I still will make some tangential effort to remain interested in something about the world, even if that is watching Sex and the City for twelve hours. I don’t actually like Sex and the City, but at least I’m committed to something.”
If you are feeling depressed, you can always watch a movie about someone who was likely even more depressed than you are. Who is that person? Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, of course. Black and white, quiet biography, desolate and lovely – perfect for a good emotional wallowing.
Pretty in Pink (1986)
John Hughes is basically the king of the comfort movie. He’s got relatable characters in neon fashions, humour ranging from black to toilet, relationship drama, a crisis moment of pathos, and this ability to operate on a very kind, humanistic level. Try not to throw empties at your laptop during the disappointing, focus-group-altered ending, and remember that watching Ducky lip-synch to Otis Redding makes everything better.
I have a problem with box sets. This is kind of like having a problem with eating mayonaise – it’s not a romanticised addiction and nobody wants to talk about it. Full immersion into an alternate universe is intoxicating – I love the way a series can unfold slowly and focus on small details, like a novel. I also love British detective shows, like the fusty old Agatha Christie mini-series that the BBC makes every few years, be it Marple or Poirot. There’s something weirdly comforting about British history and accents. Recent binges include Firefly, Black Books, Mad Men, and The Hour, which is historical and British and much better than that other show called “The Hour.”