While writing up the reasons why I was perfectly willing to go and see many of the new holiday season movies I suspect will be very mediocre, I left a big one off the list - the people I'll be seeing these movies with. The big Christmas releases are child-friendly, but more importantly, I can usually find some that are Mom-friendly. My mother loves movies, but she's in her fifties and belongs to a different generation with a different standard for acceptable content. Every time she says "Let's go see a movie," I have to scramble to figure out which ones she's likely to enjoy and which she's going to grimace through.
First and foremost, she isn't big on kids' films. I can get away with the occasional PIXAR spectacular, but she has no interest in "Harry Potter" or anything involving superheroes. Too silly. I know she used to like kids' movies of the Disney generation, until the pop culture gags and scatological humor got overwhelming. On the other extreme, any studio film R-rated for violence or language is out of the picture, because filmmakers in those cases tend to feel the need to really justify their R ratings by piling on the vulgarities and gore. That nixes practically every comedy of the Judd Apatow generation and more and more action films and dramas every year. Also, no horror films or thrillers where the visuals are too dark, like "The Others" or "Pan's Labyrinth." Art house offerings are safer, but not always. I took a serious misstep with "Babel" a few years ago, which had that highly sexually charged segment with Rinko Kikuchi. Mom found it too disturbing.
So what does this leave us with? PG-13 action films are my current standby, as long as the action isn't too silly, like "The A-Team" or too crass, like the "Transformers" movies. The "Bourne" movies are good. "Bond" movies are better, especially since "Casino Royale" did away with some of the glitzy excess that the later Pierce Brosnan films indulged in. Roland Emmerich and Ridley Scott are usually okay; Michael Bay and Tony Scott are not. As you might expect, romantic comedies and melodramas are also pretty safe, though the quality and quantity of both genres has been sliding precipitously over the years. Meryl Streep is a godsend. I also keep an eye out for Diane Lane, Susan Sarandon, Diane Keaton, Julia Roberts, and the occasional Sandra Bullock film. I really miss Meg Ryan and Goldie Hawn. Nancy Meyers and Nora Ephron may garner scoffs from other corners, but I depend on them to come through every year.
It's disheartening to see how many of the Mom-friendly genres have been in decline. Historical films and biopics? Shrinking. Musicals? Still trying to stage a comeback. Mid-range dramas? Only HBO and CBS seem to be interested in financing them these days. Oscar season is usually very helpful in putting prestige pictures in the spotlight, but I'm already mentally ruling out about half of this year's likely nominees. "127 Days"? Too gory. "Black Swan"? Too sexual. "The Fighter"? Vulgarity galore. "The Kids are All Right"? Too sexual. "Blue Valentine"? Too sexual. "Toy Story 3"? For kids. On the safe list - "Inception," "True Grit," "The King's Speech," "Winter's Bone," "The Social Network," and maybe "The Town." Of those, only two are current releases: "True Grit" and "The King's Speech." Sorting through the mainstream releases, I can add "The Tourist" and "TRON" to the pile, and that's about it. "TRON" is iffy though, because Mom doesn't do so great with science fiction, especially when it's this kind of stylized CGI-heavy stuff. Last year she was emphatic that she didn't want to see "Avatar" before anybody even asked.
What about the romantic comedies "How Do You Know" and "Little Fockers"? "Little Fockers" is probably too vulgar and Dad won't sit through a romantic comedy. As difficult as Mom is to find appropriate movies for, Dad's worse. He won't watch anything animated. Doesn't like fantasy or science fiction, hates modern comedies, and grouses about anything too human interest or touchy-feely. Has an even lower tolerance for silliness in action films - no more "James Bond" after "Die Another Day" - and he's a lot pickier about everything else. I remember one year where we were literally going through the movie listings page by page and the only thing he had any interest in was Oliver Stone's "W," which was playing in one theater about three towns over by that time. With him, my best bets are Clint Eastwood, Chinese-language epics, and WWII films. On the other hand, I don't have to worry so much about content. He really, really liked "Babel." He actually went back to see it again with my cousins after the first time.
"True Grit" and "The King's Speech" will probably work for him and Mom both. I hope.