by Stacia Friedman
Do you remember the first time you went into a movie theater and halfway through the film thought, “What the hell am I doing here?” I do. I was 14 and had gone with my cousin to see “Psycho.” (No wonder I prefer baths to showers!)
Since then, I’ve had reason to walk out of many films, but never as fast (after 20 minutes) as I did at Bryn Mawr Film Institute’s screening of “Lobster.” I had not seen the trailer or read the reviews, but my friend was up for a romantic comedy, and the poster outside the theatre promised a “funny” film with “wicked satire” about “the nature of love.” Besides, it’s summer, and lobster is a good thing, right?
In the opening scene, a woman gets out of a car and inexplicably shoots a donkey in a field. That should’ve been a clue. Instead, my friend and I sat frozen in our seats waiting for things to lighten up which, in retrospect, was like waiting for the funny parts in “Shoah” (a film about the Holocaust).
In the first 20 minutes of “Lobster,” a man’s hand is sadistically shoved into a burning hot toaster, another man slams his head against the side of a pool on purpose, and the main characters are forced to hunt down other people in the woods with tranquilizer guns. All in the name of satire. As far as the film’s promise of comedy, believe me, no one in the audience was laughing.
I wasn’t bored. I was angry. It felt like classic bait-and-switch to me. I never would’ve purchased my $9.50 ticket if the film’s poster had been truthful: “Gratuitous violence, sadism and animal cruelty — that will make you squirm!”
When I asked the 20-something house manager for a refund, he said, “Ma’am, we don’t give refunds if patrons do not like the film.”
Like? What about the theater’s obligation to let patrons know if a movie is a comedy or transplant surgery without anesthesia? I admit, I never saw “The Revenant,” “The Deer Hunter” or “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” While I respect the right of other filmgoers to indulge in these orgies of blood and guts, I don’t need movies to make me aware of man’s capacity for evil. I’ve got the nightly news for that.
Although he wouldn’t give us a refund or a pass for a future film, the house manager was willing to let us enter another of the multiplex’s films already in progress. No dice. No matter what was on the screen, I still saw the hand jammed into the sizzling hot toaster.
A few days later, I attempted to express my concerns to the theater’s director. I had no problem with the content of the film. (That’s why there’s chocolate!). But I hoped that the director would do something to convey the film’s graphic violence to patrons before they buy tickets. What I got in response was a formulaic lecture about “everything being available on our website.”
Maybe they had a point? So I watched the trailer on their site. It was devoid of the violence that sent me running out of the theatre. In fact, it claimed that the film was “extremely romantic.” I don’t know about you, but hunting humans in the woods doesn’t get me in the mood.
So, I turned to the reviews. Each and every one, used the word “hilarious.” Then why didn’t anyone in the audience laugh? I know what black comedy is. I am a huge fan of satire. I grew up on a diet of “Dr. Strangelove,” “Putney Swope” and “Blazing Saddles.” They really were hysterical. But “Lobster?” It’s about as funny as a five car pile up on I-95.
Dazed and confused, I conferred with a friend who had seen the movie to its final conclusion. “Oh, my god,” she cried, “It was the worst ever.” A dog lover, she was especially repulsed by a scene in which a woman kicks a dog to death…to make a point. Point taken! “Lobster” is to be dipped in hot drawn butter and washed down with an icy brew, but not to be seen.
Mt. Airy freelance writer Stacia Friedman studied film at UCLA, taught graduate screenwriting at Rosemont and is the former recipient of the Set-in-Philadelphia Screenwriting Award.
Ed. Note: I saw the trailer to “Lobster” three times before going to see it with my wife and two other women. As Stacia wrote, it was bait-and-switch. It seemed like a droll comedy in the trailer, and it turned out to be a nauseating, repulsive gore fest with no humor, humanity or entertainment value. I should point out that 91 percent of the critics have reviewed it favorably, according to rottentomatoes.com, but all four of us gave it zero stars, adding that it may have been the worst movie any of us has ever seen. About eight people left the theater before the movie was over; one woman we spoke to on the way out said she would ask for her money back, and another woman who looked to be about 80 said, “I have seen thousands of movies in my lifetime, and this one was the worst.” Go figure. There is no accounting for taste. If you plan to see it, don’t say we didn’t warn you!