Over the weekend, Hail, Caesar! managed to pull off something truly remarkable: It earned a C- Cinemascore grade. For comparison, Alvin and The Chipmunks: The Road Chip earned an A-. Film purists will dismiss the Cinemascore because who cares what paying customers think, but I find it fascinating – if, for nothing else, because it’s really hard to get a bad Cinemascore.
I’ve seen the questionnaire that’s handed out, it’s basically a lot of questions that all add up to, “Do you want to publicly admit that you ruined your night by picking a movie you didn’t like?” No one wants to admit that. No one wants to say, “Yeah, you know, I get two nights off per week to spend some time away from work and see my family and I just ruined one of them, complete stranger. Thanks for asking.”
Usually this comes down to marketing. It’s a special kind of anger that’s needed to admit, “Yeah, you ruined my night.” In most of these situations, the moviegoer feels tricked. One of the more famous examples of this is when the Ryan Gosling movie Drive received an almost impossible “D” Cinemascore rating because the Drive trailer made it look like an action movie with a plethora of car chases. Drive is a lot of things, but it’s not a “car chase” movie. I would be mad, too, if I were in the mood for a car chase movie, paid to see a car chase movie, then, instead, got Drive. (For the record, I like Drive very much.)
I knew nothing about Hail, Caesar! when I saw it three weeks ago. Oh, yeah, I loved it (loved!), but I had no expectations other than “I like the directors.” I suppose if I saw Hail, Caesar! based on the kind of screwball trailers, I might not be happy with what I got. I don’t know. I don’t have all the answers. But people did not like Hail Caesar!. Someday I will be on the right side of history, but not today, I guess.
Regardless, I do love when there’s a new Coen brothers film because, for a couple of weeks, everyone wants to talk about Coen brothers movies. This topic always seems to revert back to The Big Lebowski – which isn’t a personal Coen brothers favorite of mine – but does lead me to one of my favorite “story I like to tell after two or three cocktails” that people at least seem (or pretend) to enjoy. So, now, I will try to recreate this… So, maybe just pretend we are all at a bar together and we’ve had two or three cocktails.
This was back in 2000 (which, strangely, when typed out, still seems like “the future”) and, as most people did at the time, I paid a monthly fee to have access to a landline telephone. (Which, then, was just called “phone.”) I remember it being a particularly boring Saturday afternoon when my “phone” rang. There was an excitement in the air because, maybe, this meant that some sort of offer for entertainment was soon to follow.
Remember caller ID? The little white box that attached to a phone and told you who was calling? What a weird thing. This was never something like a VCR – a now outdated machine that was a huge part of our lives for a significant amount of time – because that caller ID box only had a lifespan of just a few short years before it was completely replaced by either built in caller ID, or cell phones.
Anyway, on this day, I looked at my caller ID box and it simply said “The Dude.” Now, this is kind of frightening at first, because who in the f*ck is “The Dude” and why is “The Dude” calling me? Honestly, it all felt very ominous. Remember, this isn’t like today where you might list a close friend in your iPhone as “Stinky Pants,” or whatever, so that every time Scott calls, it says “Stinky Pants” with a picture Scott giving a big thumbs up. At the time, there was no way to manipulate this. The phone company controlled what name came up on that ID. And, on this day, the caller ID in my apartment said, “The Dude.” Was “The Dude” a murderer? I had no idea.
Yeah, of course I answered. The conversation went something like this:
“Who is this?”
“It’s The Dude.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“It means I’m The Dude.”
[Twenty seconds of silence]
“Hey, it’s Jorge.”
“Oh, hey. Why does it say ‘The Dude’ on my caller ID?”
“Long story. I have Cardinals tickets tonight. Want to go?”
So, Jorge was my former college roommate and he had somehow gotten “The Dude” to show up on his caller ID. At the Cardinals game that evening (I lived in St. Louis at the time), Jorge explained how he pulled this off, which is still one of the funniest stories I’ve ever been told.
So, to paraphrase 16-year-old memories: Jorge was a superfan of The Big Lebowski and his dream at the time was to have “The Dude” show up on other people’s caller ID when he called them. Here’s how he pulled this off:
Jorge called his phone carrier and told the representative he needed the name to be changed on his caller ID. The phone company said that the name had to be the same name that’s on the bill. So, Jorge created an elaborate story about a bitter divorce that he had just gone through, so bitter that his ex-wife would no longer accept his calls. In this made up story, Jorge and his ex-wife shared custody of their adopted son. Jorge’s son was having problems contacting his mother because she refused to pick up the phone when she saw Jorge’s name on the caller ID. To remedy this, Jorge asked if the phone company could change the name on the ID to his son’s name.
Apparently, this went up the chain at the phone company, through about three levels of middle management, before it finally got the approval. The representative, who has been on the phone with Jorge at this point for about an hour, asks, “Okay, now, what’s your son’s name so that we can add it to the caller ID?”
Jorge responds, phonetically, “Tay Dooday.”
The phone company representative responds, “Great, how do you spell that?”
Jorge responds, “T-H-E D-U-D-E.”
From the way Jorge explained it, the representative pretty much figured out the whole scam at this point, but was too tired and fed up to argue anymore and just put it through. And then Jorge called me.
Jorge died the year after, from complications of a disease none of his friends even knew he had. I still miss him very much. I still get upset when I think about his death. It’s weird how it never really goes away. But every now and then, I remember stories like this, spurned by certain movies, and it makes me happy. The whole time I was writing this, it kind of felt like he was here again. What a weird thing. And without getting too grandiose, this is the kind of thing that reminds me how important popular culture can be in our lives. Sometimes, with him, it’s Star Wars, but this time it’s the Coen brothers. And that’s more important than any review or Cinemascore grade anyway. I’m glad this happens. I’m glad “The Dude” called me that day.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.