When I go to the theater, the movies I see tend to break into two MPAA ratings based categories: hard R fare that tends to earn that rating through interpreting the term “adult” to usually mean gore filled with a ton of nudity (not always the case, just work with me), and PG where there is nothing content worthy to bump up its rating, using the term “adult” to mean requiring a few years of life experience and comprehension to understand or appreciate. An example of the later would be the 2010 film, The Illusionist, whose tale of an aged magician’s confrontation with his lack of relevance in the modern world is a film that children could watch no problem; the reason I think it is meant for an older audience comes from the previously mentioned state of mind a viewer would have to be in to interpret the intended message. 1993’s Matinee fits that second category perfectly.
Matinee was directed by Joe Dante, who I instantly think of as the director of both Gremlins films (which I have yet to watch either, should get around to adding it to the stack) and the creature-feature Piranha. Joe Dante’s filmography in general is comparable to how back when I was starting to listen to The Cure in high school, having that “oh yeah, so that is who made this” during the course of early discovery.*
In Key West, Florida during 1962, blonde high school freshman Gene Loomis is a military brat living on base with his mother and younger brother. With being a military brat comes constant change of location. While Gene’s father is stationed overseas in an era of Cuban missile crisis and Soviet scares, Gene is friendless at school with his love of monster movies as his only real escape. Gene does attempt to socialize, trying as he might by interjecting with knowledge on his biggest interest, to the chagrin of many boys his age. Gene does befriend a boy named Stan, whose infatuation with local girl Sherry leads to some rather Fonzietastic encounters with delinquent/poet Harvey Starkweather. But all this 60’s era’s nerdy attempts at fitting in are about to change for Gene when his hero, the larger-then-life film promoter Lawrence Woolsy, stops by Key West to promote his latest masterpiece, MANT (which is about a man whose DNA combines with an ant’s through radiation, if it was that hard to guess).
Gene quickly befriends Woolsy, impressing him with his vast monster and creature feature knowledge stemming from stacks of Monster magazine and constant escapes into movies (see, the 60’s were a time where spouting useless knowledge and trivia was commented instead of just avoided). This far into Matinee, the film can be broken up into two parts. The first mentioned so far introducing characters, plot points, and environmental aspects. The second half includes all of those plot points mixing together with MANT’s (oddly) midday premier. No joke, around half of Matinee takes place during a showing of MANT, with all the audience participation features like Rumble-Roma systems and electrically fixed chairs that were all the rage back in the time of The Tingler (whose director, William Castle, provided the inspiration for Lawrence Woolsy). You know, back when liability forms were not as prevalent as they are today.
At its core, Matinee is a period piece film, but an odd one at that. Usually, and take this with a grain of salt my personal experience with the genre is limited, period piece films tend to be either biopics or inherently serious. Schindler’s List jumps out at me as a keystone example of period piece equaling serious business territory, where Matinee will set the time period with frenzied civilians hoarding storefronts for bomb shelter supplies while still keeping a funny and down-to-earth feel. Matinee is more akin to The Iron Giant, where the time period is but a setting, not an obligation to make a film that is to full of itself.
Pros: Comedic and interesting with a time period that acts as a distinct setting and does not couch the film’s purpose in its setting. Gene is oddly relatable where he can be a little plain at times yet still be an interesting protagonist; Lawrence Woolsy is a larger than life figure whose level of enthusiasm with his craft really kicks into my head that Matinee is a love letter to 50’s and 60’s cinema. Certain pieces of the Jerry Goldsmith soundtrack really keep the tone going by being upbeat and catchy.
Cons: The second half taking place during the MANT premiere is not as interesting as the world building in the first half. Not to harp on characters because I could not relate to them, but while Gene felt relatable because of my person experience as a high school student, every other interaction and involvement with the other students at the high school (not including some dialog with Stan) grated on my nerve as a waste of time. I had a hard time figuring out who Matinee was intended for, especially with its adult humor/cultural references in a film that feels like a Disney Channel original production.
I have the Universal Pictures release of Matinee, but since it is featureless and bare-bones, I suggest you Amazon Instant instead. Matinee is one of those film you just feel good after watching. No excited feelings of amazement and astonishment at how well it was crafted like it is the second coming of film Jesus, but that other type of good that leaves you feeling refreshed and full like you just came back from just the right amount of dinner. Check this little known gem out now.
*You know Internet how this site’s creator bios seem to center on general creators or directors and almost no one else? Well, that stems from picking titles where other people like screenwriters and costume makers and special effects wizards tend to have at best a trivial level of involvement in other projects. This lack of things to put here is also helped by finding no interest in mentioning actors and actresses in our reviews based on personal review philosophy that most people are not going to be able to recognize certain people who have either not done work outside of a certain cult film or foreign film whose body of work is not available in a non-torrented English venue. Now you see why I tend to resist from rambling.