Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Awesome Flops

Book Reviewed:  My Year of Flops: One Man's Journey Deep into the Heart of Cinematic Failure, by Nathan Rabin

I spent the first half of April doing some "serious" reading, so I figured I needed to start the back end of the month with something a little more fun.  I returned to the well that so often brings me such joy: the AV Club.  Specifically, I went to my favorite AV Club writer, Nathan Rabin (though Noel Murray is a close second).  Rabin is hysterically funny, particularly in his regular "My Year of Flops" column, which started as a bi-weekly experiment four years ago and continues to this day.  Last fall, Scribner released the book version of My Year of Flops, but I haven't gotten my hands on it until now.  As usual, I am at least six months late to anything that's awesome.

Flops features some of the highlights from Rabin's column, which is about movies that notoriously failed at the box office.  Rabin loves movies, and he rates these flops based on a judgment system that consists of "fiasco, failure, or secret success."  I have never heard of some of these movies, and I've only seen a couple with my own eyes.  But that doesn't matter.  These essays are so funny and informative that you don't need to know anything about the subject to appreciate the book.  Rabin has a real soft spot for these bombs, and he writes about them in a way that mixes awe with disdain, horror with joy.  This book is a lot of fun.

Obviously, I loved My Year of Flops and laughed all the way through it.  But then something happened at the end that I didn't expect.  I got a little teared up.  Rabin starts the book with his very first MYOF column about the movie Elizabethtown (which, I should add, is one of the few movies that I can honestly say I hate).  He finds the sentimentality and cuteness of it to be toxic, and he rates the movie as a "fiasco."  Then, at the end of the book, he writes about the movie again.  Three years later and a hundred-and-some flops later, he decides to re-assess Elizabethtown.  This time, he rates it a "secret success."  Anyone who has read Rabin's great memoir, The Big Rewind, knows this guy has had some majorly crummy years.  But by the time he sees Elizabethtown this second time, he has to admit he's a happy person, with a job he loves, a girlfriend who makes him ridiculously happy, and an interesting life he enjoys.  Suddenly, seen through these more content eyes, he finds the movie charming.

I still think Elizabethtown is a shitty film, but it's hard not to be moved by Rabin's conclusion.  Who hasn't readjusted their tastes after finding some sort of happiness or calm?  It's happened to me a lot over the last two years, and you can see it happen if you go back in time on this blog.  I spent many years being a sober book snob, and now that I have let go of a lot of my personal hang-ups, I now enjoy reading lots of stuff I never would have even looked at before.  My Year of Flops isn't just a book for pop culture nerds or film buffs or Nathan Rabin fans.  It's a book for anyone who loves what they love and is willing to change their minds.

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