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Thursday, February 23, 2017

February 23, 2017: AmericanStudying Non-Favorites: The Goonies

[It’s back—the very popular annual post-Valentine’s non-favorites series, in which I AmericanStudy some of those things that just don’t quite do it for me. Leading up to what is always my most full and fun crowd-sourced weekend post, so share your own non-favorites in comments, please!]
On what’s annoying about the 80s action-adventure film, and what’s more frustrating still.
Like any other child of the 1980s, I loved the Richard Donner-directed/Steven Spielberg-produced (and perhaps co-directed, if you believe Sean Astin’s memories) blockbuster summer film The Goonies (1985). For this little 8 year old AmericanStudier, what was not to love? There was a map to pirate treasure and a lost pirate ship and booby traps and puzzles to solve, resourceful young heroes (especially Jonathan Ke Huy Quan’s inventive wizard Data), silly humor aplenty, villains who were scary enough but also sufficiently incompetent to lose to our heroes (and played by three of the great character actors of their generation, Anne Ramsey, Joe Pantoliano, and Robert Davi), just enough teenage romance, a truly unique monster-toward-hero in the character of Sloth (John Matuszak), and much more besides. It was Indiana Jones crossed with E.T., with a healthy dose of Saturday morning cartoons mixed in, and I can assure you that 8 year old me would have never for a second contemplated putting it on a non-favorites list (he also wouldn’t have been able to comprehend the concept of an internet blog, of course).
Then I grew up. And maybe this reflects as much on my incipient grumpy-old-man status as it does on the film itself, but when I’ve stumbled on showings of The Goonies on TV in recent years, I’ve found it almost unbearably loud and obnoxious. I mean that partly literally: all of the sound in the film (even just the conversations, or should I say screaming matches, between the kids) seems to have been turned up to 11, and after just a few seconds of watching I tend to feel as if I’ve been beaten about the head by an insistent troop of naughty gremlins (the mischievious mechanical kind, not the ones from that other 80s film). But it’s not just the sound effects—compared for example to Elliot and his siblings and friends in E.T., the youthful protagonists of The Goonies are to this viewer consistently and thoroughly annoying, an off-putting, grating quality that makes it very hard to watch their adventures without starting to root for one of the booby traps to achieve its fatal purpose. I know how a group of young boys can act when thrown together (my sons and their friends are currently in a phase when almost every conversation turns into a game of “roasting” each other with insults), and I suppose The Goonies is mining that vein—but who wants to watch a film about, much less root for the triumph of, a group of kids at their most annoying? Just makes me want to quote Jack Nicholson’s Melvin Udall from As Good As It Gets (1997): “Shut up, kids!”
I know that the Goonies are on a quest for a more noble purpose than just finding pirate loot (or finding occasions to scream more at each other): their family homes (they are neighbors in the same Astoria, Oregon community) are facing foreclosure from a greedy developer looking to build a country club, and they hope that the lost treasure will help stave off the crisis. But even that, to be honest, is more silly and frustrating than ennobling. All these families are under water on their mortgages at the same time and to the same bank (I know that 80s prosperity didn’t reach all American families by any means, but this still feels like a very clumsy premise)? What about other houses and families in the neighborhood that would presumably likewise have to be foreclosed upon for the development to go forward? And what do we make of Rosalita (Lupe Ontiveros), the Latina housekeeper who ultimately finds the treasure that saves the day? How can the Walsh family afford to employ her, if they can’t pay their mortgage? Why is she pretty much literally only in the movie as a source of racist comic relief before providing this sudden, final plot twist? Does she get to benefit from any of that treasure, since clearly her situation is even more dire than that of the Walsh family (not least because she has to work around these kids all the time—the health insurance for migraines alone will be astronomical)? So, so many questions—and while a full viewing of the film might provide some answers, I’m not at all willing to find out.
Last non-favorite tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Takes on this non-favorite or others you’d share?

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