Good Movies, Bad Dates, and Lessons Learned

By Ricky Herbst, Cinema Program Director for the Browning Cinema

[About a 6 MIN read]

Good Movies, Bad Dates, and Lessons Learned

By Ricky Herbst, Cinema Program Director for the Browning Cinema

[About a 6 MIN read]

Disastrous dates are great in the past tense. Even then, they often weren’t fun, but they are fun story fodder. Plus, the flops prop up the monuments to romance, the rebar in the concrete monoliths of things like brunch culture and Love Connection. Within that, there’s an obvious and crucial distinction. (1) There are dates with folks you like where things go poorly, and everyone perseveres, and you get married for 90 years, and you laugh about that one time with the soup and hahaha. (2) There are dates with cringers where nothing will save that ship from going down in that soup. For purposes here, I wanted tales of the latter. I asked some friends about the wrong movies with the wrong person at the wrong time. Free from the haze of the bad date, we’ll see if their botched movie can be rehabilitated into someone else’s successful date night.

Making Concessions

John Q.

I went to see John Q. with a guy from a different high school. I was hurrying from track practice and needed something to eat, so I got a tuna sub from Subway because it was a Friday in Lent. I then got nervous about my breath, so I got some Big Red from a gas station. Not a great combo, and concession stand pop didn’t help. I mainly remember the film being way too long and both my legs and my stomach on the verge of cramping. Weird thing was my date kept saying there was a lot to think about in the movie, but when I’d ask him what he liked, he’d just say there was so much but wouldn’t say anything.

This sounds like a bad date somewhat cushioned (or focus able to be shifted on) the externalities-based bad date elements. Two standing rules apply here. There’s the Man from La Mancha with No Intermission rule that you do your best to eat after, and not before, any show. And there’s the Toys rule to stretch well if you’re going to watch a movie after, say, playing in the Winter Sioux City Junior Tennis Open.

Even if high school curfews and other limitations from being in someone’s ward dictate choices, stacking some flavors like tuna and cinnamon isn’t going to help matters. Even removing that taste palette from this date, though, you’re left with something potentially too rich.

The ding for John Q. as a date movie is that the film’s plot tracks the Heinz Dilemma, a classic prompt used by psychologists to elucidate children’s moral reasoning skills. So, the date was right! There’s a lot to talk about. That post-film chatter could give an in-depth snapshot of your date’s Kohlberg stage; however, that feels too heavy and interrogatory, even for a getting-to-know-you date. Best to let guys from other high schools let their social contractualist selves unfold slightly more organically by watching how they tip weak service at a restaurant just as your parents’ parents’ parents did.


Naked Gun 2 1/2

Triple dated to see Naked Gun 2 ½, so there were six people total. Whole theater is loving it — not my date. She was stone-faced. In my memory, she hushed someone laughing. That could be made up, lol. She was not into it, though.

This is a tough case! There’s the school of thought that something even keel and gentle is a good way to get to know someone. (Espoused, supra, in regard to not making folks watch a two-hour psychological questionnaire.) And then there’s the hop-off-the-next-bus-and-into-the-frying-pan approach. I’m down with that, too, and comedies/slashers/endorphin-inducers are seasoned skillets.

Here, let’s place screwball comedies, which will likely feature a quinary romantic storyline, in the rom-com world. They’re just heavy on the com, light on the rom, and from this era, in particular, probably more than a little heavy on the misogyny. And if screwball comedies are the roller coasters of the rom-com world, then spoofs like Naked Gun are … Rock-O-Planes? The tallest roller coasters? The ironically enjoyed derelict sideshow?

We may not locate it on the amusement park map, but let’s come down in favor of more wacky hijinks in date movies while waiting on spoofs (which are amazing, don’t get me wrong) until you know your date has that need for speed. This is a great second question to ask on a first date, by the way: How’s your day going, and how do you feel about Disaster Movie next time we kick it?

It’s Complicated


Not a first date as we had drinks a couple of times, but this was the first movie we saw together. He suggested Inception. Sure! During it, he took a call for work which was reasonable given what he did. He leaves for 20 minutes. Like the crucial minutes. The whole here is what dreams within dreams talk happened while he was gone. The entire time I am nervous as all this plot stuff happens, and he’s not coming back. Finally, he does and politely asks what he missed. Not his fault, but I am nervous because I can’t explain it, and the rest of the movie I watched it, being confused, knowing how confused he had to be.

It’s hard to see the charm of a Christopher Nolan film as a first date movie. I’ll broad brush that at the start. Before that, let’s get to having to explain the plot to step-outers. Here is a funny graphic to help imagine explaining 20 minutes’ worth of exegesis midstream on first viewing for various movies. 

Sorry, Maurice from work needed some docs — can you tell me why that rabbit is bothering the nice Gyllenhaal children? It’s a reasonable question that can’t be answered coherently or competently when many plot points are spinning or taking odd paths. When you have both, you have to leave them behind. It’s brutal but fair. And see all of the Nolan films dotted on that graphic? A lot is happening that has the potential to make people feel stupid so that other people can feel smart, even if they don’t leave for refills. And afterward, there’s an urge to hop on your phone to see what people can explain to you, so you don’t feel stupid anymore. That’s a tough spot to be in, especially after nearly three hours of watching dreams on dreams on dreams and looking to return to date mode. Less can definitely be more, both in terms of run time and plot points.

With that exercise over, I don’t think I rehabilitated any movies, haha, but thanks to friends who shared bad first movie dates — which were mercifully mild, really, and gave me an excuse to watch the Naked Gun trilogy with Cupid lenses on, which was great. 

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