Inspirational Lubricant Du Jour: Some Pinot Grigio I drank at like 2.00 AM last night. Don’t judge me.
I’m embracing my inner Bro this afternoon and talking to you all about the Brotacular topics of fast cars, hot girlz and gratuitous violence. Maybe I’ll balance it out next week by telling you how much I love Pitch Perfect.
You’re going to hear a lot on this Father’s Day about family values and general Dad-honoring from traditional sources including The US Open, baseball games and Dwyane Wade, whose father was apparently rather confused about how vowels work. It all matters and it’s all deserved. Even Tommy Moon, should he emerge from his self-induced cloud of world-hating curmudgeonliness, deserves a pat on the proverbial back. Way to be, old man.
Alongside all of those obvious sources of Dad-doting, I’d like to offer up a rather less obvious source of morality and family values:
It’s easy to dismiss the Fast & Furious series as the kind of prodigality-meets-pulp filmmaking that represents everything bad about movies. In fact, that’s precisely what I’d been doing until about a week ago, when I happened upon Fast Five at a friend’s house. Before I knew it, my initial skepticism was disappearing faster than Vin Diesel’s neck beneath rolls of skin. The movie was remarkably, fantastically, incredibly fun.
Fast & Furious 6 is every bit as fun as its predecessor, with gigantic and hilariously improbable set pieces at every turn. The girls are hot, the cars are fast, the engines are loud. In fact, just about everything is as predictable as you’d expect, right down to the plot twists and the ending, not to mention the supa-crazy-post-ending-reveal that has now become a stock ingredient for these films.
What surprised me, however, was just how much the heavy-handed and cookie-cutter themes of the film resonated, despite, well, being heavy-handed and cookie-cutter. Now, I wasn’t weeping and I’m not saying you should be using this film to teach your kids about life and how to be a good person. In fact, you really shouldn’t do that. Please don’t do that. What I do think, is that amidst the extravagant wastefulness and gaping plot holes, there are some fantastically unsubtle moral lessons that are fun to consider. Despite the director’s best efforts to quash them, they persist undeterred, like stubborn moral weeds in a garden of soulless garish flowers. Fast, furious flowers. To wit:
Lesson #1: Embrace your identity.
This is perhaps the finest lesson this series has to offer. Admittedly, I’ve only seen the most recent two, but whatever has happened to get to the series to this point, it’s led to one really excellent outcome: embracing its ridiculous identity. The film makes no bones about actual character development, arc, screenwriting or any of the studio concerns to which puny, human-sized films are beholden. It’s not trying to re-invent the wheel. It just keeps on rolling.
Lesson #2: Be able to laugh at yourself.
Related to the first lesson, this is mostly to do with the sheer volume of cliche lines delivered over the course of these two hours. Never before have so many characters in one movie simultaneously “got this”, while riding or dying and/or working “one last job” after they thought they were out of the “the life.” Fish: meet barrel.
Lesson #3: Get by with a little help from your friends.
Like Ocean’s 11 and The Avengers, the F&F crew recognizes that movie-goers are suckers for teams of specialists faced with impossible tasks, the accomplishment of which requires everyone to team up and combine their skills, thereby achieving together what they could not do alone. It never gets old. Ever. Not even when noted thespians like Ludacris and Jordana Brewster are predominantly featured.
Lesson #4: Family and friends matter most in life.
Here’s the Father’s Day-ish angle. “Family” is the thematic backbone of this movie and it’s not a spoiler to tell you that family wins out in the end. Exhibit A: Toretto and O’Connor have amusing conversations about whether O’Connor’s new son will drive American cars or imports.
And everyone can understand the importance of family. Come hell, high-water or ridiculously extravagant luxury, these folks will stick together. Dom Tortetto has always considered his team of whacky, vehicular-manslaughtering, richer-than-God, apparently indestructible miscreants to be his family. And they’ve still got nothing on the Mooneys at Christmas time.
I’m not really sure why these movies work as well as they do, but my best guess is that it’s because they take themselves just the right amount of seriously. The spectacle is truly spectacular and the hilariously over-the-top moments are balanced out by truly awful character moments that the actors sell with complete conviction.
I think F&F6‘s closest cousin is the above-GIF’ed Bad Boys II, for which I also have unabashed and boundless love. If we learned anything from Bad Boys II, it’s that one way to get your message across as a filmmaker is to ignore tedious things like nuance and subtlety.
Instead, just take those incredibly trite and hackneyed themes and fucking square-peg-round-hole them into your viewers eyeballs through the vehicle (!) of fast, shiny, hot, loud, exotic, beautiful things.