Seen: On dvd on our projector set-up, rented from Hollywood Express in Cambridge. Encouraged to see it by Jake's great review.
When shameless self-promoter and filmmaker Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman) rolls into Key West, FL with a new monster movie, he finds his screening uniquely timed with the Cuban Missile Crisis just a few miles off the coast. Woolsey's complex system of shock tactics involving vibrating chairs, enhanced speakers, and a costumed monster running into the audience is installed in the theater to augment the film's terror, both taking advantage of and competing with the town's heightened fear of nuclear destruction. Meanwhile, hapless teens Gene (Simon Fenton)- a b-movie nut whose Navy father is stationed nearby- and Stan (Omri Katz) navigate the complicated waters of unpredictable hormones, young romance, and pending apocalype. It all comes to a head at the premiere of MANT ("Half Man, Half Ant, All Terror")!
I can't quite describe just how good Matinee is. It does this amazing thing of combining emotionally resonant childhood experience and enjoyable, referential humor, setting it all within a recognizable historical framework that feels all too real when contrasted with Woolsey's over the top gags. There is a lot going on- a lot of characters, a lot of subplots, and a lot of detail- but everything fits together perfectly and nothing seems superfluous or tacked on. I loved all the 50s monster movie/William Castle stuff, especially the MANT scenes with the fantastic Cathy Moriarty as a reluctant scream queen. Of course Goodman is the main attraction, in all his loud, showy grandstanding and wonderful quick moments of down-to-earth truth. And he is surrounded by an able cast of youngin's, including one of my grammar school crushes Omri Katz!
I was impressed by both of the love interest characters, who seem to represent two opposing versions of young womanhood of the time period. Sherry (Kellie Martin) is on the surface a Good Christian sweetheart, all lovely blonde locks and frilly dresses. But she used to date an older bad boy, and it's clear she's had sexual experience and keeps an open mind about it, much to the surprise and nervousness of Stan. Sandra (Lisa Jakub) is the product of two super liberal parents, who tell her the truth about civil rights issues and nuclear weapons and encourage her to speak up. Her outspokenness keeps her at a distance from other kids her age, but it's clear she wants to make up for her lack of social experience when fellow outcast Gene takes an interest in her. Overall I really liked the portrayal of young teenage issues, with the emotional rollercoaster and self-obsession of that age perfectly aligning with the city's escalating fear and general uncertainty.
What else can I say? Matinee is a fascinating, extremely well-assembled piece of filmmaking. The incorporation of a famous Cold War event makes it a perfect venue for commentary and satire, considering how closely connected those notorious monster movies of the 50s and 60s are with fear of radiation and scientific experimentation. And yet, it's also really lighthearted and accessible. The script is funny and varied, and I loved the attention to detail in the characters. This movie has stuck with me all week, in a great way.
Pair This Movie With: I wanted to watch more Joe Dante after this, like revisiting Gremlins and Small Soldiers, or seeing something new to me like Innerspace or Piranha.