I’ll just start with the admission that I recently sat and watched the movie Dude, Where’s My Car from start to finish. Hear me out. I had written all morning and mental exhaustion was leading to questionable choices like ice cream at 11 AM. Not that I’m opposed to ice cream at 11 AM on principle (and, mind you, it’s not that I turned the idea down cold) but when you start at 11 AM and your freezer contains more than a gallon of ice cream, you gotta have a plan for ceasing to eat ice cream. Passive entertainment becomes necessary. Fortunately, we have a television now! It’s new, and it’s the first time in several years that we’ve had one, and I all of a sudden had the revelation that, oh, choosing to sit on the couch and watch TV in the middle of the day is sometimes just what people do. Knowing that I had no productivity left in me and knowing that I also had only two hours before picking up my daughter at day care and taking her to a doctor’s appointment for shots and a blood draw, I decided to lean into my slothfulness and really experience everything it had to offer me.
The movie started. I regretted my decision. And yet, I could not look away. I had watched the whole credit sequence; I was pot-committed.
The first problem arose when I had to actually decide what to watch. I loafe and invite my soul, but to what, exactly? Uncle Walt had his spear of summer grass, I my streaming channels of premium content. I was confronted with three choices: Netflix, Prime, and HBO. I clicked on Netflix first (clicking, like with a remote control, and did I mention I was loafing on the couch while I did this?) and immediately hit the back button. Too many choices, Netflix! Too many! You decide to heave billions of dollars at creating original content of literally every type, you pay the price. Except, you know, when it comes to revenue.
No, it had to be HBO. HBO never has as many movies streaming at a given time as Netflix does, and I felt somehow more willing to trust that HBO had curated a manageable yet quality selection for me. I had already subconsciously decided that this must be a movie rather than a TV series, for I knew that today, I wanted to be so lazy that I could not possibly be tempted to repeat the process the following day. Watch one movie, beginning to end, experience inertia at its utmost, and then leave it all behind with no regrets and no lingering desires and back to business. No episodic arcs to follow, no lingering desire for neat and tidy resolution. HBO had many featured movies in the first menu I clicked on, and the quality was high. Too high. The Shape of Water? I did not even want to smell Oscar contention on this day. Pitch Perfect 3? Getting warmer, but I had a feeling that the Pitch Perfect franchise would be at least somewhat smart and self-aware, which might get too cerebral. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri? I’d be damned if I was going to learn anything on this occasion. Featured movies was the wrong place for me. Comedies – now we’re talking. I was clearly leaning away from “clever and rich” in the direction of “dated and stupid.” I briefly considered Bring It On, but thought better of it; having eaten ice cream (but, I remind you, not all the ice cream) at 11 AM, I wasn’t especially in the mood to look at Kirsten Dunst in a crop top for 90 minutes. Yes to nostalgia, no to female empowerment in the form of abdominal muscles. Then, it appeared. Dude Where’s My Car, the ultimate idiotically quotable movie of my high school years. I had only seen it once, at a slumber party, and I remembered laughing until my stomach hurt. This is making it sound like I thought about this decision, but let me be clear: I did not. I clicked before I could change my mind. The movie started. I regretted my decision. And yet, I could not look away. I had watched the whole credit sequence; I was pot-committed.
Here’s what I can say. Dude, Where’s My Car is a vapid, silly movie, and all the observations I am about to make were surely made in the year 2000, when critics sat in their chairs shaking their heads as they searched for the words with which to review this movie. Given that Jesse and Chester, played by Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott (Stifler!!), are supposed to be “nerds” and don’t seem to do anything but drink, smoke, eat pudding and eat pizza that they should be delivering, they sure are are impressively buff and late-90s-attractive. And, they have somehow not been fired from their pizza-delivery jobs. Although the film does make a half-hearted attempt at making their house (their single-family house, in Los Angeles) look like kind of a dump, they are still keeping a roof over their heads with this lifestyle. I guess this is supposed to be a silly movie and I am not supposed to pay attention to such details. Every woman in this film (except for Mary-Lynn Rajskub’s character and the unnamed black woman who works at the impound lot, both of whom are written and costumed to be glaringly ugly and a little crazy) shows all the skin it is possible to show while maintaining the film’s PG-13 rating. Dangling sexual favors in front of Jesse and Chester is the movie’s chief driver of plot, such as it is – it seems there is no such thing as too many trips to the well of T&A. Yet, none of these women really get to be funny unless they are the butt of the joke, like the transgender stripper claiming they owe her money. Jennifer Garner and Marla Sokoloff are the two dudes’ deeply earnest, pouty and unfunny twin girlfriends, who don’t really even get to have their own lines or outfits. I had forgotten how the movie ends with the twins donning special space necklaces that…surprise…make their boobs grow several sizes! At which development (ha) they are as delighted as their boyfriends. How did I not remember that?
I think that part of me was wondering if this film might be one of those hidden gems, a dumb movie that was trying hard to be dumb and having fun doing it, entertaining and critiquing and observing and sending up. I recently watched the 1986 Kurt Russell action film Big Trouble in Little China, which is a deeply silly movie, and I felt that it had not only aged well, but it had actually used its silliness to do a lot of really smart things (and employ a lot of really good actors). Maybe, I thought, this movie that I giggled so much at in high school was more insightful than I could have given it credit for at the time. At least I answered that question. I didn’t remember how horribly degraded women are by this movie because when I was in high school, that was totally whatever to me. I didn’t know that I could expect better from movies, even silly movies. It is encouraging to me, actually, how jarring it was to watch this movie, because movies like this should age poorly, and we should all feel kind of sheepish that we once watched them uncritically.
Dude Where’s My Car, as inadvertent of a choice as it was, may have been the ideal movie for a ninety-minute break from being an adult: you wanted your dignity temporarily taken away, you got it. No valuable lessons learned, no new observations to be made, just an opportunity to note how much self-respect you have gained in the last eighteen years.