My “Favorite Movie,” A 10-Year Introspective
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, an impossible-to-replicate combination of Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry, and Jim Carrey, turns 10 this week. It’s a film that I’ve often called my favorite, but not entirely by choice. I’d just as soon say nothing, but when you tell someone you write about movies for a living, “what’s your favorite movie?” is inevitably the first question out of their mouth. As a result, I’ve developed complicated feelings about the concept (another way to say this is that I’ve given it altogether too much thought). Do people really have one favorite movie? What does that even mean?
Is your “favorite movie” one you watch over and over, developing a greater affection for every time? Or is it one you watched once, and it was such a special, singular experience that you worry about cheapening that by watching it again? And if you have a definitive answer, what does yours say about you? (Let’s not pretend we don’t use movies to say something about ourselves).
For me, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was that second kind. I certainly haven’t seen it as often as I have, say, The Big Lebowski, or Goodfellas, or Zoolander, or even 8 Mile (God help me, I watch 8 Mile every time it’s on cable). But Sunshine had that intense spark, like a first love. A vacation romance. Was it real, or was it just a fling untroubled by commitment, seeming pure because it was so temporary? With Eternal Sunshine turning ten, I had to go back, and try to see if I could remember what I thought was so great about it.
Meet me in Montauk
Firing up Eternal Sunshine, my first thought is that it feels surprisingly dated. Usually when we do these anniversary posts, it plays on the simple, Upworthy-style You’ll Never Believe How Old Blazing Saddles Is Today! reaction. But Eternal Sunshine somehow feels older than it is. Every actor seems like he or she has gone through three or four separate career iterations between then and now. Jim Carrey spent years trying to find that same sweet spot as a dramatic actor but never quite found it, and now he’s back doing a Dumb and Dumber sequel. Kirsten Dunst became a gossip blog whipping girl in the intervening years, derided for her weird teeth and paleness, but watch 2004 Kirsten Dunst dance on a bed in her underwear and a tiny tank top and tell me she doesn’t look incredible. Elijah Wood… well, Elijah Wood is still Elijah Wood, at his best playing the creepy elfin pervert, as he is here, but he had a goatee and sideburns back then. He’s completely believable as a guy who steals Kate Winslet’s panties. The whole film feels like a rare example of stunt casting gone right.
I don’t need ‘nice!’
The opening scenes are jarring. A grey Valentine’s Day on a train platform. Shaggy Jim Carrey in a beanie freaks out and heads to the beach. I groan inside every time I see a mopey, awkward male lead now. Would I have had that initial reaction to slouchy Jim Carrey 10 years ago? I’m almost positive that watching the mopey guy in the beanie have a meet-cute with the pixie with multi-colored hair on the train would make me embarrassed if I’d made someone watch this today (sort of like Tig Notaro’s Rolling Stones story).