NETFLIX HAS RUINED me for the movies—at least old-school, get-out-of-your-pajamas-and-go-to-a- theater-filled-with-other-humans kinds of movies. Instead I multitask: I fold laundry, check e-mail, talk on the phone, watch Transamerica. Like a lot of women, the last time I left the house for a movie was Brokeback Mountain, since it offered the hope of seeing a genuinely openhearted love story, rather than one in which our young lovers are trying to slaughter each other à la Mr. & Mrs. Smith.
Is Hollywood the problem, or is it me? This fall, I decided to investigate. My mission: to go to the nearest stadium-seating googolplex and sample every film being shown until I found one I could not leave. Preparation was all. Besides packing a parka and mukluks for the cryogenic-level AC, I needed an outfit that would render me invisible to teenage employees as I slithered from auditorium to auditorium. To make certain that employee glances would ricochet immediately off my person, I selected leggings that emphasized jiggly thighs and a sweatshirt appliquéd with a moose with Christmas bells appended to its antlers. In short, I became übermom, absolutely the last person on earth any teenager wants to see. I strapped on El Hubbo’s Indiglo watch, grabbed something to scribble on, and set off.
12:45 p.m. Concession area: Burnt-butter-flavored-oil smoke hangs over movie temple like incense. Purchase first pack of Junior Mints in decades. Wonder if they were always coated in brown wax.
12:50 p.m. Start in alphabetical order with Accepted, about a high school boy who opens a fake college after he can’t get into a real one. Could accept Accepted if I were folding clothes. And checking e-mail. And slamming tequila shots and Percodan.
1:09 p.m. First slither. Immediately encounter grown-up female manager with walkie-talkie. She is immune to Mom Invisibility Shield. In fact, she stares at me wondering where I acquired handsome holiday motif sweatshirt. Duck into restroom.
1:15 p.m. Abandon alphabet mode, lateral out of restroom and straight into Idlewild, a musical set in a thirties African American speakeasy. Enter during fabulous dance number. Recall that my two favorite types of movies to see on the big screen are dance and surf. Notice effect of The Matrix as dancers pivot in midair in motion slow enough for extended panty viewing. Am no stickler for historical accuracy but do wonder if they had breast implants and hip-hop in the thirties. Love movie until moment it turns into MTV music video.
1:50 p.m. On to Crank. As I enter, our hero is head-butting the evil Asian gang lord who is pushing him out of a helicopter. Hero grabs villain; they both fall through space at a leisurely pace that allows hero time to choke villain to death and leave a poignant message on girlfriend’s phone before splatting to his death.
1:55 p.m. Stumble into Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest just in time to see Johnny Depp work the Keith Richards eyeliner and shoot a musket. The miniball slo-mos its way to exploding barrels of gunpowder tossed about by colossal octopus featured in worst rear-screen projection since Cary Grant hung off of Lincoln’s nose. Then it’s over. Entire movie appears to be a trailer for the next installment.
2:15 p.m. Snakes on a Plane. Audience almost entirely male, all in on campy, Internet-hyped joke. Previews include Let’s Go to Prison, a comedy apparently about the wacky fun of anal rape. Opening credits roll. I recognize names of several Hollywood producers and development types I’ve “worked with”—i.e., been exploited by. In first minute an evil Asian gang lord beats a prosecutor to death with a baseball bat. Five minutes in, we have plane. Ten, we have snakes. First victim: luscious young woman having sex in bathroom. Target: nipple. I have an idea for a truly terrifying sequel: Snakes on a Conference Call.
2:30 p.m. Drift through empty east wing. Simply reading the titles Beerfest and How to Eat Fried Worms brings to mind baskets of laundry I could be folding at that very moment. I nix two animated features. Cartoon movies and bad pizza are the wages of parenthood, and I am fully paid up. Incredibly long lines in concession area. Acquire large Diet Coke served in complimentary trash can. Require dolly to haul keg o’ Coke away.
2:45 p.m. Will Ferrell comedy Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby is packed. Must sit next to a stranger who is clearly unhappy about intrusion; entire right side of body feels irradiated by presence of stranger. I yearn for Netflix privacy until moment when Ferrell character introduces his children, Walker and Texas Ranger. Joke exponentially funnier in crowd howling with laughter. Annoying stranger becomes partner in mirth. Surrender to not-bowling-alone moment, chuckle through entire movie. Love googolplex.
4:55 p.m. Step Up turns out to be a dance movie! Auditorium is sprinkled with ultracute, drill team-type girls. Am eager to discover how couple from different sides of the tracks will find each other and the courage to go for their dreams. He vandalizes the arts school where she’s a student and is sentenced to perform community service there as a janitor. Fair enough. Must now decide if I want to stay around long enough to see the attractive young people kiss more than I don’t want to find out how entirely superfluous, comical younger brother is going to get killed. Little bro buys it in a drive-by shooting.
7:00 p.m. Juiced up on Diet Coke, borderline hypothermic, and developing a hacking cough from the burnt-butter-flavored oil, I am done. I have refound my movie groove.
Back home I debrief with Teen Boy. He’s already seen Snakes, Pirates, and Ricky Bobby. None of the others are of any interest to him except for Crank. He fills me in on what I missed: A hit man gets poisoned and has one hour to live. The only way he can delay the poison is by keeping his adrenaline flowing. It’s the perfect metaphor for life in Hollywood. I wonder just how jacked up on Red Bull and macchiatos the producers and development types were when they came up with that work of art.
Teen Boy disagrees. “Come on, you have got to admit that that is an awesome premise for a movie. You know nothing is going to happen except that guys are going to get the crap kicked out of them. I am totally going to see that.”
I hand him the keys to both the car and the future of American cinema.