Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned from Eighties Movies (and Why We Don’t Learn Them from Movies Anymore) by Hadley Freeman
For Hadley Freeman, movies of the 1980s have simply got it all. Comedy in Three Men and a Baby, Hannah and Her Sisters, Ghostbusters, and Back to the Future; all a teenager needs to know in Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Say Anything, The Breakfast Club, and Mystic Pizza; the ultimate in action from Top Gun, Die Hard, Beverly Hills Cop, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom; love and sex in 9 1/2 Weeks, Splash, About Last Night, The Big Chill, and Bull Durham; and family fun in The Little Mermaid, ET, Big, Parenthood, and Lean On Me.
In Life Moves Pretty Fast, Hadley puts her obsessive movie geekery to good use, detailing the decade’s key players, genres, and tropes. She looks back on a cinematic world in which bankers are invariably evil, where children are always wiser than adults, where science is embraced with an intense enthusiasm, and the future viewed with giddy excitement. And, she considers how the changes between movies then and movies today say so much about society’s changing expectations of women, young people, and art—and explains why Pretty in Pink should be put on school syllabuses immediately.
From how John Hughes discovered Molly Ringwald, to how the friendship between Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi influenced the evolution of comedy, and how Eddie Murphy made America believe that race can be transcended, this is a “highly personal, witty love letter to eighties movies, but also an intellectually vigorous, well-researched take on the changing times of the film industry” (The Guardian). (via Goodreads)
Why was I interested in this book?
This was an addition to my TBR during Nonfiction November 2017. Books Are My Favorite and Best recommended it paired with Bret Easton Ellis’s Rules of Attraction. I really enjoy reading about movies and this book sounded like it might be fun.
A couple years ago I realized that I didn’t find many recent comedy movies very funny. Or to be more specific, I didn’t really care for American comedies post-2000. I even caught myself thinking, “I don’t really like comedies as a genre,” which is a lie. One of my favorite movies, Ghostbuster, is a comedy. Many of my frequently re-watched movies are comedies. What I didn’t like about 2000s comedies was the raunchy, sort of dumb humor that many of them relied on. But was I seeing this clearly? Had the comedies really changed? Life Moves Pretty Fast presents a theory as to why there are more comedies like The Hangover these days and fewer comedies like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. “Lower” humor is easier to translate and there is a lot of money to be made by American films in foreign markets.
Overseas markets and studio consolidation are two topics that Freeman returns to over and over in the book. Studios are less likely to take risks on films that have only a niche market. It could be argued that something as quirky as Back to the Future wouldn’t get made today by Disney or Universal (are there any other movie studios left?). Rom-coms and weepies (genres that often feature more female-centric casts) have also fallen by the wayside in an era when every movie needs to be a blockbuster with foreign appeal. Freeman makes very convincing arguments.
What Didn’t Work
Freeman is the first to admit that this is a book of personal favorites. She doesn’t cover the Star Wars franchise for example, because she’s never cared for the movies. By necessity, really, a lot of cherry picking occurred. Not all 80s movies are great, and many great movies have been made since 1990. (One of my other favorite comedies is A Knight’s Tale, released in 2001.) Also, in an ironic nod to the title, though originally published in 2015, Life Moves Pretty Fast is maybe already a little out-dated. While the big movie studios might not make “80s” movies anymore, streaming services like Netflix might be moving into that space. Netflix as a content producer is a relatively recent thing. In the area of teen comedies, I think “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” (2018) could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of John Hughes’ movies.
But What Also Worked
Life Moves Pretty Fast also includes interviews with actors and directors, and lots of crunch film history bits. Did you know that Taylor Sheridan was asked to rewrite the main character of Sicario (a really great not-80s film) as male, but he refused? Did you know that many of Eddie Murphy’s early roles were originally planned for white actors? Honestly, it was the stories about films in Life Moves Pretty Fast that I enjoyed most.
Publishing info: Simon & Schuster, 2016
My Copy: trade paperback, Tempe Public Library