Starring John Goodman
Directed by Joe Dante
Gene and his little brother live with their mother on the military base in Key West, Florida while their father is deployed in the Navy in 1962 as the terror of the Cuban Missile Crisis begins to unfold. At the same time film producer Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman) comes to town to promote his new monster movie “MANT!” Tension as the movies highly anticipated premiere approaches and development in Cuba grows grimmer as Gene learns about fear, both real and make-believe.
The film as a whole is a love letter to popular culture of mid century America. We’re reminded early on about how different ideas and attitudes of that era were, such as the importance of red meat in every meal and the imminent threat of nuclear Armageddon. This look back at the era is interrupted by the introduction of the waifish Sandra. She is wise beyond her years as she recognizes the futility of the school’s nuclear drills is also a crusader for social justice of the period. It feels like a bit of a jerk out of this reality of the decade to be given a politically correct textbook definition of the time rather than let the audience see things play out and experience the era for ourselves.
Gene’s story is hindered by the arrival of Woolsey, a film producer in the vein of William Castle, making movies into funhouse shows with gimmicks such as “Atomo-Vision” and “Rumble-Rama”. While we see his dishonest dealings used to promote his new movie, his encounter with Gene reveals just how passionate he is about storytelling and understanding the nature of fear serving as a psedo-mentor to the trouble teen. John Goodman steals the show with this performance.
Everything comes together in the third act at the première of “MANT!”, were all the movie’s wide array of characters all happen to meet and their personal demons begin to intersect not only with one another but with the plot of the “MANT!” itself. I can’t really say much more without giving the ending away expect that Robert Picardo hams it up his role as the neurotic theater manager. It is easily the film’s funniest part, but it feels a bit distracting from the big picture at times. The climax may seem a little goofy to some viewers, but it seemed so in tune with the kitsch charm that I was grinning from ear to ear.
I’d like to briefly compare “Matinee”’s structure with another film, “The Sandlot”. Both features were set in 1962, and were released in theaters within mere months of one another. In “The Sandlot” we follow a boy named Smalls, who like Gene in “Matinee” is new to town, friendless and without a father. While we spend “The Sandlot” following Smalls, the movie isn’t about Smalls so much as it is Benny’s Story told from Smalls’ point of view. “The Sandlot” was about both nostalgia and people, which is why I think it has become such a beloved classic. “Maintee” conversely is about culture and ideas. Gene is there to learn from Woolsey, whom Director Joe Dante uses a mouthpiece for to explain his own passion for movies and moviemaking. It is well written, but in execution feels unbalanced in certain places.
The film has all the elements of a classic coming of age movie. It is flawed, but funny and made with lots of affection and attention to detail.
4 out of 5. Matinee is a Full Price.