John Cusack

Hot Tub Time Machine

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Of course, I wouldn’t have a hot tub because they are unsanitary skin flake stews marinating in secreted bodily residue, and traveling through time shouldn’t be done when damp or barely dressed because that is asking for a more awkward than necessarily fish out of your own time zone experience than landing somewhere in your own past would be otherwise,

I’ve been pondering 1986 on and off since Rob and I snuggled in to watch John Cusack‘s Hot Tub Time Machine. Destined to be another non-classic in his mid-life crisis collection along with the equally phoned in 2012, it begs two questions. What would you do if you had a pivotal weekend in your life to live over and what kind of mid-life hell is Cusack going through to have not only starred in but produced such a puerile piece of a complete time suck like this?

The first question occupies me more than the second though it is hard to watch yet another movie in Cusack’s slow fall from watchable to just another movie star cashing a paycheck. The movie for all its seriously lowbrow reach focuses on the question of going back in time to “right yourself”. The main characters are Al Bundy off-track and stuck so firmly in the weeds they’ve wandered into courtesy of poor life choices and the plain old drift that most of us allow to direct our course. You know what I mean. We paddle furiously until we find that sweet spot in the river and then allow the undertow to do the rest. We figure that the channels we’ve chosen should simply flow along, carrying us to where we want to end up, but the reality is that this only happens for those yellow plastic ducks in wading pools at carnivals. The kind that bob in an endless loop, waiting to be plucked for possible fabulous prizes.

I find that back to the past stories fall into two categories. There is Ray Bradbury‘s “butterfly effect” where any deviation from the original past, no matter how slight, spells doom for the future. Or there is the big fix that puts everyone into a utopia ala the McFly family‘s hunky dory happy ending in the first Back to the Future. The possibility that the past can’t be altered because it’s fixed (as some scientists theorize) is never entertained. It’s never like Emily Webb trying to relive her 12th birthday, stuck in a play where ad-libbing isn’t allowed.

“Where were you in January of 1986?” I asked Rob after the movie was over.

“Mick had just turned one, and I was in my first year of university,” He said.

Rob was already righting his path. An old married man of 24 going back to school to secure that better life.

In January of 1986 I was living in an apartment near the TKE house in Iowa City. Challenger was a couple of months away from blowing up. I was finishing up course work to get ready for my student teaching in the coming fall. It was a crappy winter. I was feeling sorry for myself because everyone had a boyfriend but me. Not having a boyfriend was a huge drama-rama thing for me though the reality – that I never bothered to really acknowledge – was that I did next to nothing to actually remedy the problem. Prospects abounded and one that I was even interested in a more serious way (that being relative to who I was at the time), I let slip because the truth (not something I was big on admitting) was that I didn’t want a boyfriend. My ambivalence couldn’t have been higher or more plain but nothing is as blind as 22.

But if going back to 1986 were an option, what makes us think that the outcome will be horror movie or happily ever materialism after? It’s like people who believe they’ve lived before are only ever victims of great historical tragedy or famous people. There is no ordinary. No average option.

Time travel theory – the serious shit – postulates that traveling backward is the only option. The future doesn’t exist and you can’t travel to somewhere that isn’t yet. Back is done. It’s like photos in an album or stepping into a home movie and wandering about like visitors to a re-enactment of a historical event. The outcome has already been decided. Nothing left to see there but the details that you’ve forgotten or altered as you’ve aged and waxed nostalgic.

My 22-year-old self would be too annoying and it would drive me crazy to be stuck inside her limited worldview.

Cusack and company naturally improved their futures in the superficial sense. They had money, goods and the women of their dreams. Presumably better attitudes and a little gratitude came along with the upgrade but the film doesn’t go there really.

I’ve gone over the side of the wading pool a few times in my life. Saw opportunity or took a chance. The only way to effect change is by going forward. The past has been and done.

We watched most of the film Being John Malkovich over the weekend. Well, maybe not most. Half at least. I gave up and had to get some sleep right after John Malkovich was John Malkovich, a disturbing statement on a person’s inability to back up from his/her own point of view in order to gain perspective.

This film represents our ongoing quest to exhaust the John Cusack option. The reason I was too tired to finish BJM was that we’d tried to watch Cradle Will Rock first. Twenty-six minutes in, however, Rob invoked a recent film viewing rule we have put in place and pulled the plug.

I am not sure if it was the truly awful acting, or the fact that one of seemingly major sub-plots involved a musical playwright who was talking to someone who could have only been his dead wife – we never did get clarification on that* – but Susan Sarandon’s Transylvanian inspired accent pretty much did the film in for me and poor old Johnny (who was portraying Nelson Rockefeller, really)  barely spoke three lines before Rob invoked the rule.

The rule?

If either of us is bored past coherent thought, the movie is over.

The premise of  Being John Malkovich is people entering a portal into his mind to be John rather than themselves for 15 minutes, a cute twist on the 15 minutes of fame thing. Cusack’s character goes further in that he manages to hijack Malkovich and live through him rather than merely be a vicarious spectator, again interesting indictments of the preoccupation society has with the rich and the famous.

Being me, I went to Wikipedia and found a synopsis of the movie and preferring reading to watching, I find I am satisfied and don’t need to finish viewing. But the idea lingers. Who is my John Malkovich? Whose brain would I crawl into and eyes would I peer out of if given the opportunity?

I really don’t know. There is a line in Sondheim’s Into the Woods where the characters admit that once upon a time they would have traded their lives for someone else’s but that was before their wishes were granted. I felt too once that I would have traded lives with anyone really, but that was before.

Do you have a John Malkovich? Or are you okay looking at life through your own eyes?


*Ah, the streak lives and to compound the matter for family movie night, we watched Nim’s Island with Jodie Foster and Gerard Butler. ED gave it to us for Christmas. Within the first minutes the little Nim loses her mother in a tragic whale encounter of biblical proportion. Seriously, can we pick movies or what?

Chick flicks can be viewed comfortably from an angle as I usually lay my head on Rob’s shoulder for maximum bum rubbing access and this is best done in our comfy memory foam enhanced bed. Manly movie fare is a sofa thing. There is still reclining but minimum rubbing. Air popped corn is essential as is surround sound.

On New Year’s Eve day, Rob met BabyD and I for lunch and a sojourn to the movie rental store a few doors down from our Subway dining spot. We rarely pay for dvd’s. There is no need because we don’t care much about seeing films the instant, or as close to that as possible, they are released, and our public library is more than adequately stocked with all manner of viewing matter. But it was the holiday and we decided to splurge.

I let Rob do the majority of the selecting and encouraged him to go as action oriented as he liked, so we have spent the last few evenings sampling from the smorgasbord of he-man delights. Pushing Tin. Iron Man. Hancock and I Am Legend. Read Full Article