Matt Cooley, the wizard who designs my movie pages at Rolling Stone, came in yesterday with a pained look on his face.
"My girlfriend wants to see The Counterfeiters," he said.
Matt was in agony. I see his torment often on the faces of those boyfriends and husbands who are suddenly put on the spot by their significant she. Women mysteriously seem to know about foreign films and American indies that guys have never heard of. I told Matt that The Counterfeiters, a fact-based German-Austrian film about forgery in a Nazi concentration camp, was a solid choice and showed his girlfriend had quality taste. She might even class up his act. Matt is not a complete philistine. Despite his disturbing jones for the screen acting of comic Dane Cook — including the unwatchable Waiting — Matt saw and liked The Bank Job and seemed ready to commit to something more than endless hours glued to DVDs of Family Guy.
Matt is not alone out there. Guys unbitten by indie cinemania clearly need to know what to say when the girlfriend suggests an art-house movie. A flat "No" will get you nowhere and definitely won't get you any. So here are some rules to live by when she suggests a break from mainstream escapism. Feel free to add your own, especially if you learned the hard way.
Stall You don't do this by letting your jaw go slack and looking bored. You show a fierce interest and begin tossing out questions.
Ask What the Movie Is About If it's, say, Snow Angels, about the drowning of a little girl and how it makes everyone miserable, she may talk herself out of wanting to go. If it's In Bruges, about two hitmen hiding out in Belgium, you both may be intrigued.
Find Out Who's In It Look, it could be global hottie Asia Argento who's in everything indie these days and whose sizzling presence, especially in Boarding Gate, will make up for any shortcomings in the movie.
Inquire About Subtitles When she calls you a slob, look hurt and tell her you wanted to be sure the film wasn't dubbed into English, which you hate. This will earn you points.
Be Ready With An Alternative When she says The Dutchess of Langeais or Sleepwalking or something that sounds equally butt-and-mind numbing, don't panic and blurt out, "Isn't there anything else?" In that way lies madness. Always be ready with an art film you think you'll like. Often you can tell by the title (My Brother Is An Only Child). Or you might — radical step here — read reviews. The Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days didn't win unanimous raves because it sucked. A little research and you may be the one doing the suggesting.
Don't Worry About Chick Flicks Yes, the indies have them too. You can tell from the titles — Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Married Life, Then She Found Me — that these flicks are not for you. And so can she. Girls do want to see these films, but with other girls. It works the same with guys. Would you drag her to Zombie Strippers?
Trust Her Judgment I know, what was I thinking?