The Problem With Guilty Pleasure Movies

When you think of the movies that you like the most, which films immediately come to mind? Is it the Oscar-nominated dramas that make you think and feel complex emotions for a two-hour period? How about the action films that you’re embarrassed to say that you’ve seen the entire franchise and enjoy each new entry (hello, Fast and Furious!)? Maybe the romantic comedies that you watched growing up with friends and family that created formative and nostalgic memories for you that you relive each time you watch them? Or maybe it’s just the movies that scare the shit out of you? For me it’s a nice mix of all of the above.

The concept of the guilty pleasure is something that I think kind of demeans the enjoyment that we get from them. What exactly is making us feel guilty about re-watching Dirty Dancing (Ardolino, 1987) or Clueless (Heckerling, 1995) for the umpteenth time? Why the hell should it bother us that we’ve seen all eight Fast and Furious movies, and also Hobbs and Shaw (Leitch, 2019)? This is something that has always bothered me. Getting a degree in film production and film studies can really make you feel a bit self-conscious about the films that you secretly enjoy. I love international film and challenging thought-provoking cinema as much as the next person, but there are times when I just want to sit there and watch Elizabeth Shue sing the “Babysitting Blues” in the bar in Adventures in Babysitting (Columbus, 1987).

So, here is a list of films that fill that space for me. Much like people have pizza and macaroni and cheese as their comfort foods, these are my comfort films. I’m done thinking of them as guilty pleasures, because there is no guilt associated with them for me. If someone judges you for liking films that make you feel good, maybe you shouldn’t be friends with them?

Adventures in Babysitting (Columbus, 1987)

For me, this film goes back to around 1997 when I had watched it on one of the free Disney Channel weekends, and I liked it so much that my parents bought me the VHS at K-Mart. My friend Abby, who lived down the street from me at the time, and I watched this so many times in my basement. It’s chock full of nostalgia for me. You’ve got big-haired Chris Parker (Elizabeth Shue) with her oversized coat and epic 80s dance moves taking the kids she’s babysitting (Brad, Sarah, and Brad’s friend Daryl) into downtown Chicago to pick her friend Brenda (Penelope Ann Miller) up from the bus station after she ran away from home. They get caught up in the criminal chop shop scene, when Daryl steals a Playboy magazine that the head of the operation has, for some reason, written down the plans for the criminal organization on the centerfold spread. It’s so weird to think of that even being shown on the Disney Channel now. This is a film that actually holds up very well, even when you take off the nostalgia glasses, as the many people that I have shown it to who had never seen it before can attest. When we were kids, Abby and I used to laugh so hard when the classic “Don’t fuck with the babysitter” line came as Chris pulls the knife out of Brad’s foot and aims it at the gang member threatening the group. This was a moment in the film that my parents had no idea about until many years later!

Good Burger (Robbins, 1997)

Nickelodeon was a huge part of my pop culture upbringing as a kid. My parents and I watched all of the classic Nicktoons of the 90s together, with Doug, Rugrats, and Hey Arnold! usually being counted as the favorites of the bunch. Saturday night usually meant we were watching the Snick lineup back then. As most 90s kids know, All That was the main focal point on Saturday night. This kid’s version of SNL featured so many classic sketches that are still funny today. Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell were two of my favorite performers on the show. Kel was famous for the Good Burger sketches where he played the inept fast food worker Ed. The sketch was one of the defining comedy bits of the show, so naturally it paved the way for the inevitable Good Burger movie. Several of the All That kids popped up in various roles in the film, but the stars were Kel reprising his role as Ed and Kenan playing the money-scheming Dexter. Is Good Burger a good movie? Absolutely not. It’s beyond cheesy and really probably only accessible to people who grew up watching All That. I’d imagine the younger folks probably just wouldn’t go for it now. But as someone who owned the orange VHS of the movie as a kid, it still is one of my favorites from my childhood.

Clueless (Heckerling, 1995)

Damn! What is there to really say about this one? I mean, Clueless is pretty perfect. This is a film that stands the test of time and instead of turning out to be a dated and problematic film (looking at you Sixteen Candles), stands as a time capsule to this very particular cultural moment. Amy Heckerling’s dialogue is still just as funny and clever now as it was when the film was released, and Alicia Silverstone’s performance as Cher is still one of my all-time favorites. While it would be so easy to portray Cher as a dumb, rich, high school girl, (think of some of the performances in Mean Girls), Silverstone gives Cher depth that makes her truly relatable despite the fact that she has crazy amounts of privilege, money, and should be all-together unlikeable. Instead, Silverstone’s Cher is the heart and soul of this film, and you could argue one of the most likable protagonists of the 90s. My cousin Michelle and I used to watch her VHS of this film so often when we would have sleepovers at each other’s houses when we were growing up. This is also one where I still know all of the songs from the film’s soundtrack. It was just that iconic.

Wet Hot American Summer (Wain, 2001)

This is one of my absolute favorite films. I will never not find the awkward adventures of the campers at Camp Firewood funny. Wet Hot American Summer features so many early performances from comedic (and dramatic) actors who have since become incredibly famous, i.e. Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, and Paul Rudd (that’s two of his films on this list, now!). It may seem like a very niche product just parodying the camp films from the 70s and 80s, but it is so much more. While the parody is incredibly effective and hilarious, the characters in the film work so well that they become genuinely original instead of just spoofs of tropes (that sort of limited comedy is more in line with the Scary Movie series and the many cash grabs that they brought about). If you’re wanting just a good laugh, this is definitely one to check out.

Out to Sea (Coolidge, 1997)

This is a film that I wouldn’t have watched if my friend Sean hadn’t brought it on vacation when our families went to Myrtle Beach together the one summer when we were in elementary school. We watched this at least three times that week. Now you might be thinking, that’s weird that kids would think Walter Matheau and Jack Lemmon’s shenanigans on a boat are hilarious, but here we are. Elementary school me loved this, and 31 year-old me still does. Is it great? No. But it does everything you need a Matheau/Lemmon comedy from the 90s to do.It has amazing character actor performances from Elaine Stritch, Rue McClanahan, and Brent Spiner and also a really alluring performance by the gloriously big-haired Dyan Cannon who is ageless. This is a movie that my parents and I still watch when we go to the beach each year, and it is just as fun each year.

You’ve Got Mail (Ephron, 1998)

If there is a film that I legitimately classify as a guilty pleasure, it’s this one. You’ve Got Mail is a film that, by all rights, I should not like. Yes, it fits well within the realm of the romantic comedy of the 1990s, and it has many fun moments. It also features the romantic leading man destroying the literal career and livelihood of the female lead. Meg Ryan’s Kathleen Kelly owns The Shop Around The Corner, named after the Ernst Lubitsch film that Nora Ephron based You’ve Got Mail on. Tom Hanks’ Joe Fox is heir to the Borders-esque Fox Books, which proceeds to ruin the business of Cathleen’s bookstore. Ryan and Hanks definitely have great chemistry, but I think it’s Nora Ephron’s excellent dialogue and the soundtrack of the film that really seal the deal for me here. Also, I’m just a sucker for Meg Ryan.

Since I’m done considering any film a guilty pleasure, these are films that I simply enjoy. They’re films that I can just pop in and feel better when they’re over. Much like the slasher films from my previous post, they create a great distraction during a stressful time like we’re all living now. What are some films that you love that you might not be willing to admit to everyone?

Until next time!

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