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Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We…

Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned from Eighties Movies (and…

by Hadley Freeman

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Important: don't read this if you'd rather not be overwhelmed by the desire to binge-watch all your favorite old 80s movies, plus a few more you somehow missed! I only wish this came with a curated Youtube playlist of video clips and soundtracks...

Anyway, it sounds like a fun, frothy topic, right? Eighties movies and why we love them! And it IS a fun topic. I was reminded of how many eighties movies are still irresistible classics, but Freeman also talks about the ones that haven't stood the test of time.

This book isn't frothy, though -- it's got real substance. In fact, I wonder if it was adapted from a particularly fun thesis, because there's smart, cogent analysis of several films, plus interviews with directors (many of whom say they wouldn't be able to get their most famous movies made today), and interesting, thoughtful commentary on how and why movies today are so different from their 80s counterparts. Some of that is pointed criticism of today's focus on blockbuster superhero movies with huge budgets, and it had been awhile since I stopped to consider what that means for filmmakers who want to do something *other* than that.

All in all, if you love Princess Bride or Ferris Bueller's Day Off or When Harry Met Sally (or, or, or ... there are so many!) I think you'll have a really good time reading this book, AND feel smarter/more well-informed about the movie industry.

I received a copy of this ebook from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. Thanks! ( )
  BraveNewBks | Aug 8, 2017 |
Okay. Well. I rarely finish a non-fiction book these days, even the ones I think are amazing, so the fact that I made it to the last page is saying something.* I think the reason I was able to finish this one is that it accomplished something hardly any book ever does anymore: it made me really think about why I agreed or disagreed (and I did disagree, sometimes quite strongly) with what it was saying. I kept having to put the book down to consider questions like:

- When was the last time I actually identified with any woman in an American movie?
- Is the original Ghostbusters as sexist as I think it was? (Yes, I've seen it recently; and yes, despite the author's considered defense of Venkman's creepy behavior, I still think it's gross and sexist.)
- Was I too old for John Hughes movies when they came out, and if so, what does it say about me that I loved them anyway?

That last one came up every time the author mentioned that she was 9 when she saw Sixteen Candles (I was 18, and only saw it because I had worked with Deborah Pollack--who played Lumberjack, the Girl Who Didn't Even Get an Actual Name in that movie--at a full-time adult JOB that summer, and found out through the grapevine that she had been in "some teen flick" that just happened to still be at the drive-in as a double feature with Weird Science the week before I went back to college) or that she was 10 when she saw The Breakfast Club (which I saw on HBO at a fraternity house).

Now, this is a book of essays, so the fact that much of it is about her particular experience watching these movies as a middle-class child in New York doesn't bother me; she doesn't insist that everyone else see it from that specific point of view (except for her odd insistence that nobody actually wore baggy clothes and blouses buttoned up to the neck. We most certainly did--my favorite outfit in 10th grade was Calvin Klein jeans with an oxford shirt, buttoned up with a men's tie or a grosgrain ribbon tied in a bow, with a corduroy jacket, tennis shoes, and a plaid newsboy hat, and partly that was because BOYS LOVED THAT OUTFIT. At least, the boys I liked did, although in retrospect, perhaps that should have clued me in to certain things). But in fact, the biggest reason I found for disagreement throughout the book had to do with her point of view. She remembers the 80s from a child's point of view; I remember them as a teenager and an emerging adult. Her fantasy of adult life as being just like Baby Boom (a movie I had never seen until I read this book and then found the movie on Amazon Prime) wasn't too different from mine, although my role model was Joan Wilder from Romancing the Stone, sitting in her beautiful (but not pretentious) New York apartment, crying as she tapped out the last scene of her novel on her trusty typewriter.

The big difference is that while my friends and I graduated from college in the late 80s and were tossed out to make our way in the middle of a recession, she was going off to junior high, where she got to weather it out--and come out in a much more opportune time for our generation (we are in the same generation, but early GenXers like me had a vastly different situation in early adulthood than late GenXers). I did think it was interesting to see some of those differences in how we saw the world, and the era, and the pop culture of the time, and I really appreciated her research. I learned a lot of fun trivia as well as some depressing statistics about Hollywood and the movie industry.

And that brings me back to my first question. When was the last time I saw a woman I could identify with in an American film? I can't remember. As much as I enjoy Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig, I certainly didn't identify with their characters in either Ghostbusters or Bridesmaids (seriously, how could anybody identify with Melissa McCarthy's character in Bridesmaids?), or MM's in Spy, either--although, again, I really liked her performance.

Then there's my third question: What the hell has happened to feminism? I've seen Baby Boomers accuse my generation of "dropping the ball" or getting complacent because we didn't see how hard they had to fight for everything. But that's not accurate. We saw our mothers, who were brought up to be homemakers, having to go into a workforce that didn't want them and did very little to help them succeed (and did much to make sure they didn't). Pre-Title IX, we saw our softball and basketball teams have to fund-raise to buy uniforms, and carpool to games--while the boys' teams got money from the school for uniforms... and transportation... and freakin' PIZZA. We were very aware of these things, and we made a lot of noise about them, and we worked in our high schools and colleges to get them changed. We stood up at meetings and suggested (very nicely, in our most agreeable voices) that instead of the women in the office having to WASH EVERYONE'S DISHES IN THE BATHROOM, while even lower-ranking men didn't have to, that people could perhaps wash their *own* dishes, and it became policy. ** As the author points out (many reviewers think she points it out too often, but I think she points it out just often enough), women standing up for equal treatment was a staple in 80s movies, from 9 to 5 all the way up to Working Girl, and it has all but disappeared in modern movies. She does point out in the epilogue that a lot of this has shifted to TV, and I agree. TV is the place to find strong women who aren't caricatures these days.

As many others have noted, the proofreading on this book was not top-notch, and I say that as a professional proofreader. This particular edition (a paperback) was cheaply made, which doesn't bother me; but the cheap design does. The asterisks were so tiny I missed most of the footnotes and had to keep going back after reading each note to figure out what it referred to. The lists look like somebody used a stock template to produce them--they're just ugly. But I thought the lists were pretty pointless anyway, and quit reading them after a while.

Overall, I found this to be a fun and nostalgic read, but also a thought-provoking one. It made me remember who I was in the 80s, and who I wanted to be, and question why that's not who I became. I think that makes it a pretty damn good book.

* Okay, I skipped the lists at the end, because I found all of the lists superfluous. But the footnotes were infectious, obviously.
** True story. Me, 1994. ( )
  VintageReader | Jul 9, 2017 |
Best for: People who enjoy pop culture analysis that is serious but not too serious.

In a nutshell: Film critic explores some of the top movies of the 1980s, focusing on what made them good and why we don’t see them anymore.

Line that sticks with me: “Nineties teen makeover scenes are all about stamping out a teenage girl’s awkwardness and unique personality, whereas the girls in the eighties teen movies celebrate those two qualities.” (p76)

Why I chose it: Book club!

Review: First, thank you everyone who voted for this as our CBR book club pick. It’s pretty much made for me: nonfiction, essays, humor, pop culture, written by a woman. Huzzah!

I haven’t read any of the other reviews of this so I might be repeating other folks, but I wanted to go into without any preconceptions. And overall, I enjoyed so much of it. I appreciate the author’s honesty about her feelings about the films, and the fact that she didn’t remove herself from the analysis. It’s apparent — and she acknowledges — that much of what she has to say is based o personal taste, yet she’s able to back up her assertions.

So instead of focusing on the good (and there is so much — especially her analysis of teenagers and teenage girls specifically, and the overall way these films tackle sexism), I wanted to share a couple of things that bothered me, and they are intertwined: the discussion of race (or lack thereof) throughout, and the Eddie Murphy chapter, where Ms. Freeman seems to put much of the discussion of race.

Ms. Freeman spends so much time providing good critical discussion about the depiction of women in film (ten of the eleven chapters, while not each focused on gender issues, at least touches on it), but she glosses over racism in nearly every other one. She does mention the issue in the chapter on Ghostbusters, and sort of makes an attempt and looking at it when talking about John Hughes, but mostly she seems to just be making excuses for filmmakers.

But any movie set in NYC that she discusses, for example, should at least be questioned if there aren’t any non-white characters (When Harry Met Sally … I’m looking at you. And I love you, but that’s a pretty white NYC). And sure, John Hughes may not be able to speak personally on the experience of a person of color, but perhaps he could seek to include at least a couple of non-white, non-stereotypes characters?

And then there’s the Eddie Murphy movies chapter. Ooof. Just not great. And I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about it, but it feels ironic to have nearly the entire discussion about race shoehorned into a single chapter. A chapter with the subheading “Race Can Be Transcended.” Oh Ms. Freeman, no. Just…no. You would have benefited from a sensitivity reader here (of course I’m assuming she didn’t have one, but I could be wrong). Or perhaps just a read over of this article.

Because of that, this otherwise four-star book gets three stars from me.
( )
  ASKelmore | Jul 8, 2017 |
While the 90s are more my era, I do enjoy 80s films and I really like Hadley's columns for the Guardian, so I was expecting to thoroughly enjoy this. However, I discovered that I haven't seen nearly as many 80s films as I think I have, so I was forced to skip chunks of this book.

I did really like the chapters on Dirty Dancing, John Hughes, When Harry Met Sally and Steel Magnolias, though (and am disappointed that there was nothing on The Three Amigos). Hadley makes some excellent points about the state of the film industry then and now, and there are lots of little facts and anecdotes that made these chapters especially interesting to me. ( )
  mooingzelda | May 3, 2017 |
A special thank you to NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I miss the 80s, like I really miss the 80s (well, except for the unfortunate fashion choices that have actually become endearing). How can you not miss the music, the hair, and of course, the movies? Was there anything better than packing up your Kaboodle full of Kissing Potion, scrunchies, and jelly bracelets to go to a sleepover at your bestie's house where you would binge on John Hughes movies?

Freeman's book really hits the mark for movie buffs and 80s aficionados alike. I couldn't help but quote movie lines in my head, and add to her lists. She clearly has done her research and time as a journalist, her writing is quite good. But...what I wasn't prepared for was the topic of feminism as it was not advertised anywhere in the marketing/synopsis of the book. I don't necessarily feel that this is a bad thing. She can be incredibly witty, insightful, and thought provoking. There were some solid points about the lack of movies for women/lack of women directors, but I felt she went a little overboard and in this case, less would've been more because her writing is so articulate. I also disagree with her thoughts on Weird Science, I love this movie!

I feel like I could write this type of book. I mean who doesn't want to talk about being kissed by Jake Ryan, or Blaine? I mean, seriously! And how good does an 80s movie make you feel? This book made me dig out my VHS tapes and get reacquainted with some old friends. Thank you Hadley for this gem, I would definitely recommend this read. ( )
  GirlWellRead | Feb 25, 2017 |
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"From Vogue contributor and Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman, a personalized guide to eighties movies that describes why they changed movie-making forever--featuring exclusive interviews with the producers, directors, writers and stars of the best cult classics"--… (more)

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