It’s nobody’s fault, really. And it doesn’t happen all the time. But when it does, I feel awkward.
Pretty much every bookfriend I have — the people who give and take book recommendations to and from me, and who are known to follow up later with lunch talk — loves Cutting for Stone. I gave up on page 301. It’s supposed to be about some twins who are at some point separated and have different, no doubt ironic, fates. They aren’t even born until p. 149, so I couldn’t tell you. I did skip to the end and it turns out one of them saves the other’s life. I do not feel as if I missed anything. Anything.
Same with The King’s Speech. Everyone I know raved about it. I kept saying, it looks pretty predictable, and kind of contrived. Everyone said no, it was a wonderful movie. I finally saw it, and spoiler alert: he learns to talk without stuttering.
Not every movie or book I like has to be completely unpredictable. I mean, I was pretty sure Schindler was going to rescue some Jews. But how? That’s the interesting part. How would he fool the Nazis? How would he maintain his credibility with them even as he kept his Jewish workers alive? It’s delicious to see the biggest haters of them all made out to be buffoons.
In The King’s Speech, however, nothing happened that I couldn’t have predicted. The prince balks at being told what to do. His wife convinces him to try. The teacher is irreverent, and the prince has to learn, slowly, to respect him. Eventually, he makes the big speech. World War II still happens. Zzzzzz.
Maybe I’m spoiled by Tarantino. He upended everything about movies, but the best thing he did was to speed them up. The pace of his movies isn’t frenetic. Rather, as soon as you know something is about to happen, he skips over it. Because if we already know, why should we have to sit there and watch? He spends his precious time and ours on what we can’t already know.
We do not expect de Niro to shoot Bridget Fonda in the parking lot no matter how annoying she is; we cannot predict that Samuel Jackson’s wallet actually does feature the words “Bad Mother Fucker.” No way is Christian Slater’s amenable Clarence going to be able to stand up to Gary Oldman’s psychopathic Drexl — until he does. And Johnny Cash’s “Tennessee Stud” — a song wherein two horses get married — playing as Jackson drives around the corner to kill Chris Tucker? Genius.
On that note, go watch Animal Kingdom. Or read Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts. You’ll be surprised.