When the Audience Makes the Movie

The other day I saw Bad Moms, and it was one of the best movie going experience I’ve ever had. Not just because the movie is good, though it is a delight and Katheryn Hahn is spectacular, but because the audience was just better than most.

In an early scene, Mila Kunis’s character finds her husband… um… do kids read this blog? Just, maybe not this next paragraph okay?

Anyway Mila Kunis’s character finds her husband masturbating to another woman on the internet. This is essentially cheating, so she kicks him out of the house. And that’s when a woman in the audience yelled “Motherfuckaaa!” at his character on screen, eliciting an uproarious laugh from the entire audience.

I’ve had experiences like this before, where an audience member makes a joke at the movie and the whole theater laughs. I can remember during the Avengers in 2012, as Iron Man fell through the sky toward his death, a woman in the audience yelled “Oh lawd he gon’ die!” and it killed. However, she tried to milk it and make more jokes. Pro tip: take the one and leave it. The woman from Bad Moms did just that, but the job was already done.

What was a typically respectful movie crowd immediately became much more casual, the perfect approach to this particular movie, and suddenly each joke in the movie came with a separate response from each friend group. It was perfect.

I find that most of the time a good audience can turn a good movie into a great one. It’s the reason I make sure to see every Marvel movie on opening night. It makes a real difference. The first time I saw Iron Man 2, arguably the weakest Marvel movie, it was a joy that only heightened when the camera settled on Thor’s hammer at the end of the credits. The audience knew what this meant and lost their minds in excitement. A week later I saw the movie with a different audience, and that same moment was met with questioning mumbles. That moment of elation was lost with this different audience.

When I saw Captain America: Civil War on opening night, the word “Queens” got more applause than I thought it ever could because everybody knew Spider-Man was coming. I doubt that would be the case any other time.

If you’ve ever been to one of those casual movie theaters where they encourage yelling at the screen, a screening there can be a delight. But I also understand the need for a respectful quiet audience at times. Hell watching movies at home with friends has taught me that I hang out with both kinds, and they do not get along as a cohesive audience.

Here’s my takeaway. For a comedy, absolutely go with the commentary audience. The stories to these are never so deep that you will miss something by having a tangent with a friend based on the movie’s joke. For a franchise, go with other fans, then see it again with the commentary crowd. The first time you want to bask in everything you hoped the movie would do and follow the story. After that you can explain to your friends what’s happening while they level a few good jabs at the plot holes likely to exist in the film.

Around Oscar season, go with the quiet and respectful audience. See it once, and sit with it. Think about it. Even if you don’t like the movie it can be fun to dissect why you don’t like it, because then you learn a bit more about how a movie connects to you. What parts stood out and what didn’t. These movies make you a better audience member, able to pick up on the intricacies of visual storytelling.

And then the next time you see a summer blockbuster you can see how all of those same elements are around there too! While laughing and basking and having a casual fun time with your friends! Or if you have to go to the movies alone, and I’ve been there I know what it’s like, find the theater that attracts people like you.

With good seats.

Ample leg room.

Fair prices.

Probably isn’t called AMC.

-JP

PS, when the audience audibly responds to a character getting hurt, that’s the best.

 

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