Yesterday I had the chance to attend the MTV Movie Awards live in-house, an opportunity I assume I was granted because everyone else wanted to watch Game of Thrones. Begun in 1992 when it was hosted by Dennis Miller, the MTV Movie Awards is, of course, an awards show that feels like it wants to be young and hip and fun – best kiss! best scared as sh*t performance! a lifetime achievement award for Kevin Hart! – as if the guiding principle was “what if we could do the Oscars without all the boring junk for adults?”
And yet, it can’t quite commit. It feels like it wants to be an awards show voted on by the students instead of the teachers, but the way it tries and so frequently fails to not be the same old self-important wank helps explain why every awards show seems to turn into a self-important wank in the first place. Sure, it’ll have fun categories, a fun host, fun bits, and a talent roster so young and hot half of them sound like anagrams. But it still grudgingly hands out awards and nominations to traditional prestige movies like Boyhood and American Sniper, almost as if to say “Hey, we teens care about important stuff too!” (The “teens” are actually heavily botoxed adults in pigtails, but we’ll get to that).
Hell, they even gave Meryl Streep an award (best villain for Into the Woods, she did not show up to collect). And so it is you get the kid from The Maze Runner nominated alongside David Oyelowo, Selma clips set to Vegas pump up jams during the Movie Of The Year montage. Shailene Woodley, winning both female performance of the year and a “trailblazer award” (HER TRIUMPH IN THE FORMER IS TOTALLY UNRELATED TO HER BEING PRESENT TO ACCEPT THE LATTER, I AM SURE), attempting the kind of life-affirming speech you’d expect from the maid of honor in act three of a weepy rom-com. Can you really blame her though? After 23 years, still no one knows what the hell these awards are supposed to mean.
It’s a testament to Shailene Woodley’s charisma that she can still seem reasonably likable during speeches so unrelentingly earnest.
I’m getting ahead of myself though. Say what you will about the MTV Movie Awards, they were prompt. The awards were scheduled to start at five, and when I walked into the auditorium at 4:57 (past a woman holding a microphone that said “Tiger Beat TV” on it at one point), the pre-roll video introducing Amy Schumer as host was already in full swing.
I’ve always liked Amy Schumer, but I’m not sure there’s ever been a better host of any awards show than Amy Schumer was for the MTV Movie Awards. It almost felt like she took it as a personal challenge to see how many masturbation jokes she could cram in without getting censored. “Those guys from Magic Mike really are magic, every time it comes on, two of my fingers disappear,” she said, while introducing our best friend C-Tates and the Magic Mike crew. Along with “I’m making it rain in my spanx.”
Of course, not getting to our seats on time (“on time” meaning 10 minutes early here) meant a big group of us had to stand in the hall waiting for the next commercial break. Which meant I had a clear view of Vin Diesel’s teleprompter when he showed up in his nicest t-shirt to introduce best female performance, and got to watch as he went off prompter to comment on his intro music (Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again” from the Furious 7 soundtrack). “The last time I was on this stage, I was with my brother, Pablo, so I loved that little intro.” Which was apparently enough prompting (from himself) to reprise his viral hit from four days ago. Between the shoehorned intro, the cutesy nickname for his friend (you wonder if Paul Walker would even answer if you called him Pablo, or if he’d just be like, “Who?”), and the attempt to plan a spontaneous moment, it feels a little like Vin Diesel is trying to get us to associate him with Paul Walker the way Rudy Guiliani tries to get people to associate him with 9/11.
Maybe he just really likes the song?
After a fine speech by Shay-wood, the show broke for commercial and everyone flooded into the lobby for drinks. I saw Baron Davis on the way out, and a guy I thought was Jamie Kennedy for a second. But mostly it was a lot of women in backless and sideless dresses accompanied by unnaturally smooth-skinned men who looked like they wanted to suck my blood. If you’ve never been to an event like this, walking through any crowd, everyone studies your face for a split second, until the moment when you can actually feel them toss you into the “not important” pile as they scan the room for famous people. If Google Glass had facial recognition software integrated with IMDB, everyone would be wearing them at events like these.
The most conspicuous person in the crowd was a shirtless man with his hair in a top knot wearing a long fashion cape, made of rough-hewn rags all sewn together, blue-steeling his way down the aisle in a practiced pout like he was being filmed for a Zoolander bit. “Who the f*ck is that?” we all murmured to each other, which I’m sure was his (management team’s) plan all along.
Turned out it was “Machine Gun Kelly,” who I’d actually seen headline the AVN Awards last year. I remember his music sounding like someone stuffed me in a metal trash can and kicked it down a hill. I can’t tell if the kids know who he is or if his management is desperately trying to convince other adults that kids know who he is. And that’s kind of this entire event in a nutshell. On MTV’s official press site, the musical performances were described thusly:
“Legendary rockers Fall Out Boy shredded through an eardrum-shattering performance of their hit single “Centuries” before being joined on stage by white-hot rapper Fetty Wap.”
It’s like a mad lib of hyperbolic praise. And thanks to Fetty Wap, my phone’s search history now includes the phrase “Fatty Wop,” from when I saw that name flash across the screen too quickly to read during one of the pre-rolls and wondered if my uncle’s accordion band had finally hit the big time.
Point being, throughout the show, you find yourself constantly trying to determine whether you’re watching things kids like or things some Lou Pearlman-esque character is desperately trying to convince kids to like. Every time an actor from The Fault in Our Stars or Divergent or The Maze Runner was mentioned (seriously? the f*cking Maze Runner?) there was a deafening tween scream™. But looking around, you couldn’t actually see any screaming tweens, save for the hired, Mouseketeer-style tweens near the stage. Was it real, and coming from the balcony, or piped in? I sat behind three kids under 14 and didn’t seem them scream once. It also added a layer of comedy to see a movie montage where The Maze Runner would get a huge roar and footage of Dr. King’s march to Selma elicited deafening silence. It’s one thing to recognize “fun” movies alongside “serious” ones, the problem with doing it in an awards show format is that you inevitably have to pit them against each other. “Who was better?! Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking, or Zac Efron’s abs?!”
Bradley Cooper ended up upsetting Miles Teller and Ansel Elgort (so hot right now, Ansel) to win best male performance, and got onstage to thank Chris Kyle and the men and women of our armed forces. I mean, okay, sure, I suppose he has to, but it does feel a bit odd sandwiched between Farty Whip and jokes about Amy Schumer getting fingerbanged. And a musical performance by Charlie XCX and “MTV Artist to Watch” Ty Dolla $ign, who collectively urged us to “Drop that kitty down low” (it could’ve been just me, but the audience seemed confused).
You wonder, does this really need to be an awards show? It’s at its best when it’s just cracking jokes (every single one Amy Schumer’s sketches and monologues killed) and handing out awards to people they wanted to show up. Robert Downey Jr. won the “Generation Award,” aka the we-wanted-Robert-Downey-Jr.-to-make-a-speech award, and why not? I did want to see Robert Downey Jr. show up to accept an award. There’s no need to pretend otherwise. To invent a nomination category and name non-winners like a Stalin-era show trial. Even Kevin Hart’s laughably-named “Comedic Genius Award” turned into a net positive when he brought his adorable children onstage and did a cute little handshake dance thing. I get the feeling even people who hate Kevin Hart’s comedy would enjoy hanging out with Kevin Hart. Even the over-the-top hyperbole occasionally worked in the show’s favor, like when Miles Teller (looking like he raided Ellen’s closet in a tucked in white polo with shiny baseball jacket) introduced Shailene Woodley as someone who “emits radiant positive light” wherever she goes. (“My God, she’s turning into pure energy! Shailene Woodley has become singularity!”)
The fact that the MTV Movie Awards are a dubious awards presentation tends to detract from the fact that it’s a fun show. And if it it’s hard to tell whether it’s identifying trends or trying to start them, I guess that’s just the youth biz™. At the very least, it gets Bai Ling out of the house.
(You can see the full list of “awards” here).