Millennial Movie Mish-Mash (a blog event)

When I found out about the “sneak” preview of Whip It, Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, I decided to buy a ticket and check it out tonight. This movie about Texas gals “finding their tribe” through roller derby looks like it could be quite “Millennial” – reflecting and/or speaking to the members of Generation Y.

When I bought said ticket at the good ol’ NorthPark 15 in Dallas, I figured I might try to catch up on some other Millennial (or potentially Millennial) fare today – and turn the whole thing into a fun Blog Event! So before the showing of Whip It tonight, I’ll be viewing the well-regarded (500) Days of Summer, as well as the just-released-yesterday Surrogates.

(Yes, Surrogates. More on why that Bruce Willis pic might be rather Millennial later on today.)

So today, from just before noon to after 9pm Central Time, I’ll be watchin’ movies and reporting my thoughts along the way. Don’t worry – NO SPOILERS. Just movie reviews and a chance to point out the Millennial elements in each of these films. I’ll also discuss whether the movies are worth seeing (in my humble opinion), plus some thoughts along the way about why all this matters.

[At this point, the day has now been completed, and you can find all updates below!]

Why Surrogates? [updated 2:15pm]

Surrogates was first up this morning! (I tried to write this before the movie but had computer issues.) It might seem that this Bruce Willis futuristic action pic is an odd choice for a Millennial Movie Mish-Mash, and it could have turned out not to fit. But after seeing the trailer and read a little about it online, here are some things I was watching for:

  • Stance toward technology: The Millennials are the first fully “digital” generation, so I’m interested in its stance on technology – does it see it as evil, good, or benign?
  • Technology & the “real world”: This movie hinges on humans using technology to separate themselves from the real world – but still interact with others. Sounds like the criticism of Facebook, MySpace, et al., and I was intrigued to see how explicit the movie makes that comparison.
  • Comparisons with the Matrix: The Matrix, released in 1999, clearly set a pretty Gen-X friendly bar for human vs. technology films – along with Terminator 2 and others that portrayed inhuman tech as a great danger to humanity as a whole. Would this movie be quite as cynical?

My reflections on the movie (which I just finished) coming shortly.

Surrogates: “unplug from your chairs” [updated 2:56pm]

I actually liked this movie a lot more than I expected to. I was intrigued by their “take” on a future in which most human interactions take place via robotic surrogates – especially as the line between robots and human got very thin. Good acting and great makeup.

But was it Millennial? Surrogates seems to speak more to the Millennial, digitally-inclined generation than actually reflecting it – but it does so in a voice that is far more measured (and thus probably far more palatable) than a movie like The Matrix. This film does take a clear stand against “technological surrogacy” (as critics of Facebook, Second Life, online gaming, etc. would accuse these platforms of providing). But in this case the participants recognize they’re being “fooled” (quite unlike The Matrix), the choice isn’t nearly as clear-cut (no red pill / blue pill moment), and neither those on the side of technology nor those against it come out as clear-cut good guys.

For those of us who work with members of Generation Y (including all college and youth ministers), this could actually be a cool discussion-starter for thinking through the issues of “living life online,” even for those (like me) who are pretty pro-technology. There’s some phenomenal quotes along the way from both sides, which provide some cool chances to springboard to discernment. From the beginning, we’re encouraged to “Unplug from your chairs” because we’re “not meant to experience the world through a machine.” So is living our lives through machines really “Life – only better,” a chance to “live your life without any risk or danger”? Or as one anti-tech individual rails, is much of the human experience – including the suffering – “what everybody’s been missing”?

  • Entertainment value: 650 points
  • Discussion value for Millennials: 14 stars
  • Reflective of Millennials: not very

these are PG-13, so use discretion [updated 5:40pm]

A note I should have included earlier: Movie acceptability should always be a concern, both for those watching and those they might be taking to watch movies like these – which today happen to all be PG-13. So without going into full details (you can find those elsewhere), some quick notes.

I was pleasantly surprised by how tame Surrogates was – most of its PG-13-ness is for action, especially after the first 10 minutes. (500) Days gets a little raunchy at points, but it certainly holds back a lot more than it coulda. I’ll let you know about Whip It once I check it out myself tonight.

Meanwhile, my (500) Days Gen Y review will be coming shortly.

(500) Days of Summer: positivity that doesn’t overcome realism – and vice versa [updated 6:07pm]

A movie is clearly Millennial when it begins with the narration, “This is a story of boy meets girl, but you should know up front, it’s not a love story,” and still remains distinctly positive. That’s the clearest reflection of Millennials brought forth in (500) Days: a realism that isn’t overtaken by positivity, but a positivity that isn’t overtaken by realism. Generation Y is okay viewing the World-the-Way-It-Is (in semi-serious movies like Juno and flat-out comedies like The Office)… just don’t suggest they shouldn’t expect (or at least hope for) the World-the-Way-It-Should-Be. “You can’t deny you want the happy ending” sings one song on the soundtrack, and Millennials certainly wouldn’t.

Other Millennial reflections include:

  • Nostalgia – both personal nostalgia, which the whole movie is based on, and the pseudo-nostalgia of appreciating bygone eras and their soundtracks (’cause either way, there are roots there).
  • Realism or even pessimism specifically applied to marriage – because so many of them have divorced parents, remember?
  • Participation in “unlabeled” or “no strings attached” romance… while also asking if there’s really any such thing.
  • Ambiguous career paths
  • Delaying “growing up” in all its forms (“Might as well have fun while we can and save the serious stuff for later.”)
  • Anger over individual selfishness (see also “Community” on NBC); in other words, there is a morality here – but nobody’s a hero, either
  • Eclectic depiction of scenes, narration, soundtrack, and so on (think: iPod shuffle, applied to every aspect)

I’m sure I’ll think of more as I reflect, but I need to make sure I’m in line for Whip It early enough. Meanwhile, I can say that I genuinely enjoyed this movie, and several elements are simply cool. The one you’ve probably heard most about is the non-linear storyline, but there are several other unique aspects (without annoying us by being unique for unique’s sake). My favorite of these is a split-screen double-scene where we watch the protagonist’s “Expected” evening vs. “Reality” – there’s that realism business again.

  • Entertainment value: 622 points
  • Discussion value for Millennials: 19 stars
  • Reflective of Millennials: very

Whip It: find your tribe [updated 10:33pm]

[Following this review, I wrote an expanded review of Whip It that you can find here.]

I’m a fan of this movie, especially as I relax my desire for the film to aim for “poignant” (that was more (500) Days‘s style today) or action-packed (which I got plenty of in Surrogates). It’s not heavy fare – not as dramatic, for instance, as Juno, to which it will be compared not only because they both star Ellen Page but also because of the Gen Y aim. And as a guy (in, admittedly, a theater mostly filled with ladies), I wanted more roller derby action. But Whip It certainly proves fun throughout – and Millennial through-and-through.

There’s a lot here along those lines, whether purposeful or accidental; Director Drew Barrymore is, after all, not too far removed from being Millennial herself. But the three most noticeable Gen Y themes include ruthless pursuit of individuality, the (paradoxical) pursuit of team, and a devotion to family.

When Bliss (Ellen Page) locates new heroes in the gals of Roller Derby, she’s challenged to “put on some skates and be your own hero.” So she does – aggressively enough to make “Ruthless” part of her official Roller Derby moniker (after notably being told that changing her name is an imperative). It’s all part of a pageant-bound teenager locating what she’s about and who she is – a journey that includes at various times roller skates, a boy, the city of Austin, revenge, and girl power, of course. She’s Babe Ruthless, in other words.

But we clearly are shown that this whole identity business is best fleshed out in the context of a team. “Find your tribe” is the command presented in the trailer, and I’d argue that this better captures the film than the “Be your own hero” that’s on the movie poster – and the free T-shirt I got as I left the sneak preview tonight.

But finding oneself – and even one’s team – doesn’t necessitate leaving behind natural family, no matter how quirky they might be. The movie’s most explicit lesson focuses there: “Just because you’ve found a new family doesn’t mean you throw the old one away.” Both forming a “family” with rather oddly-fitting new teammates and a desire to stay connected with actual family are Millennial themes, without a doubt.

That’s a pretty cursory overview, and I may expand it for tomorrow’s blog. Look for that in the morning. But I will mention here that the movie is chock-full of other Millennial elements, including many mentioned in the reviews above. Realism about what is, optimism about what’s coming, anti-selfishness, kids being more “aware” than their parents, and pseudo-nostalgia (complete with a Stryper T-shirt playing a key role!).

Yep, it’s PG-13, but it too is much cleaner than it could have been to maintain that rating. And like other Millennial fare, there’s a real morality here – and real regret and real consequences when it’s not adhered to.

  • Entertainment value: 701 points
  • Discussion value for Millennials: 25 stars
  • Reflective of Millennials: very

See trailers of the three movies below (can you identify any Gen Y elements?). Just remember, they’re all PG-13:

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