Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter during filming for The King's Speech – a universal favourite

A Look At Life: Movie Moments

4th November 2011

Friday Night Is Family Film Fallout Night

Clare Finney

It’s Friday night, the woes of work are behind you and a weekend of glorious possibility lies in front. All you need to decide upon is a film and the relative merits of egg fried rice or noodles, and that Friday feeling will be complete… but if there is one thing that threatens to ambush your entire evening, turn you into the Hulk, and your family into something straight out of Fight Club, it is the film question.

Will it be the romantic comedy that your daughter pins her callow dreams on? Or the blood-soaked thriller that your son insists on quoting from? Neither seems appealing, not least because each promises to elicit loud retching noises from the opposing child. Parental intervention – along the lines of ‘Ghandi is a brilliant film’ – is called for. Yet, as the night draws in and the chow mein turns to waxy lumps upon your plate, you could be forgiven for despairing of a middle ground. For while the choice of genres and sequels is huge, and growing, the chances of you and your flesh and blood agreeing on anything other than Toy Story are as slim as they’ve ever been.

In fact, they are slimmer. Looking back over the photographs of life before, one is struck immediately by the wide range of people who used to gather happily together around a single, flickering screen. My mother can still recall delighting in the antics of Westerns with her father and sister – a far cry from the tribal conflict that emerges each time she proposes we watch The Wind That Shakes the Barley.

“But it’s a really lovely film!” she protests, as the rest of us roll our eyes simultaneously and wail loudly about uninspiring titles. It’s still sitting on the shelf; from time to time I wonder if this ritual is just my mother’s way of forcing the issue. Yet while our resistance to “that wind film”, unites us momentarily, the search for viable alternatives does not.

At the risk of unfairly pigeonholing a few rootin’, tootin’ tomboys, the battle for the box tends to fall along the lines of boys versus girls, action versus romance and impossibly obscure sci-fi thrillers versus “those poncy art house films where nothing happens.”

There are exceptions to this, of course: Harry Potter pleases everyone; Shrek and Toy Story are films no family collection of DVDs should be without. But, by and large, these failsafes are meant to cater for the children – the theory being, it seems, that if you’re old enough to watch something rated above 12A, you should really be old enough to compromise.

It’s a bitter pill, and one that rarely goes down easily, yet it can also yield some surprisingly good results. The Hangover, Ocean’s Eleven and Seven Pounds are just a few of the films I’ve learned to love through following my male contemporaries, and, while they’ll never admit it, it’s safe to say that they’ve learned from me, too. We’ve seen life from a variety of angles, understood a lot about each other’s tastes, and had conversations that we would never have had otherwise. The alternative is the sad but tempting route of avoiding conflict by plugging ourselves into own laptops.

We’ve had our moments of course. I still don’t understand Inception, any more than my father and brother yet understand why Tess is worth watching though to the 184th minute. No matter how hard we try, my mother and I will never be able to resist giggling derisively at the pristine state of James Bond’s tie during explosions. This is sometimes a question of context or of whether or not you’ve read the book, but the real test of whether a film is, figuratively speaking, universal, is one of quality.

If we want to emulate the happy family experience of the 1960s, then their adherence to well made, quality films is a good place to start. “Is it any good?” should be the first question you ask of any title, and if you doubt the judgement of your informer then look it up…

If you find some Oscars and perhaps a few some well-respected critics in its favour, then take heart: this could well be, like The Kings Speech, one of those quirky films that somehow end up pleasing everyone.

If however (as is far more likely) the reviews are as bad as the front cover, then I strongly suggest you shield your eyes with a good old-fashioned book, and save your fighting spirit for next Friday.

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