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When Is It Okay To Walk Out Of A Movie ?

Sundance is over. Ditto, Rotterdam. With Berlin right around the corner, it seems a good time to ask the question:

When is it okay to walk out of a movie?

I saw over 25 features at Sundance this year. Many of those films will receive serious releases in 2011 and wind up on “Best of” lists at the year’s end.  Some of my favorites are still seeking distribution.

I interviewed directors of a number of films. Of the features I haven’t already written about, personal favorites include Pariah, Terri, Catechism Cataclysm, The Mill and the Cross, Hell and Back Again, Take Shelter, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Like Crazy, and Septien.

Of course, there are an equal number of films that I missed and will look forward to seeing in the future.

However, there were a few films that didn’t quite do it for me.

And there was one film that I actively hated.

Now, I went into the film wanting to enjoy it. I thought I would. But a few minutes into the movie, I felt something was off. After 15 minutes, I knew it would not be my favorite film at Sundance. At the 30-minute mark, I began to question the intentions of the director. One hour into the film, I wondered about the director’s emotional state. At 75 minutes, I questioned the director’s sanity.

The film was more than two hours long.

How or why do I have these specific time-related signposts in my mind?

I compare it to finding yourself in a conversation with a person who’s unstable and might have borderline personality disorder. At first — before you’re aware that something isn’t right with the other person — you feel that the person who might have the problem is you. Perhaps there’s been a misunderstanding and you’re at fault. However, once you realize you’re in dialogue with a lunatic, there’s a great relief: Okay, I’m not the crazy one.

This indulgent disaster of a film ran a similar course — once I knew it was off-the-rails awful/crazy, I relaxed. I took notice of the other filmgoers. All the indicators were there: awkward laughter, walkouts, nervous mumbling. We all knew we were watching a memorable catastrophe, and at one hour and 15 minutes into the film, one of the essential questions in life presented itself:

Do I stay or do I go?

We stayed.

And that was that. The last 50 minutes of the film were an endurance test, an eating contest of rancid oysters, ballroom dancing on hot coals, receiving bare-knuckled punches to the face and gut.

But for those that stayed in their seats, there was a sense of pride. It wasn’t clear whether it was courageous or stupid to stay, but we did it. Every other movie at Sundance would have to be better than what we just suffered through. In that fact, there was a glass-half-full satisfaction.

We stumbled from the theater. Shook our heads, like newly released hostages unsure of their freedom. We verified with each other that yes, that actually just happened. Those actors agreed to be in that film. Financiers put up the money. And we gave two hours of our day to the experience.

But of course, the joke was on us.


The film was acquired for distribution. And soon it will be coming to a theater…near you.

If I had it to do over again, would I still sit through that entire film?

Probably. But then, I take dumb pride in lame accomplishments.

I’m curious, though: if you happen to find yourself in a theater playing an awful movie, what exactly will it take to make you walk out?

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