“It wasn’t looking so good. I had loved From Beyond; she had spent most of that absurdist gore flick’s running time in the movie-house lobby. She had adored A Room With a View; I thought it only less precious than the usual Merchant Ivory crumpet party. And so I rented the litmus test: Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985, Warner, PG). If this didn’t crack her lawyerly reserve, there was no choice but to head back to the dating trenches. Her eyebrows shot up in disdain when she saw the cassette box — and three minutes later she was slack-jawed in delight as our hero zipped around his post-Rube Goldberg kitchen. By the time Herman says to a downcast diner waitress, “Everyone I know has a big ‘But.’ C’mon, Simone, let’s talk about your big ‘But,”’ she was sniggering like a demented schoolgirl. And by the Hollywood-premiere finale, it was clear that Tim Burton’s debut film had united us on a level of inane childlike joy. Then the movie ended — and we grew back up together. Eleven years later, we’re as exhausted as only the parents of two small daughters can be. But happy, Lori? I know you are, and so am I.” — Ty Burr
“I was recently married and working on a book about women in film. This was around 1972 B.C. (Before Cassettes), and my husband, Andrew Sarris, a movie critic with an elephantine memory, would recount plots of films I hadn’t seen and had no hope of catching. As “research” for the chapter on the “woman’s film,” he began a play-by-play description of When Tomorrow Comes (1939), the story of an Impossible Love between Irene Dunne as a lowly waitress and Charles Boyer as a very-married concert pianist. While narrating the climactic scene of parting — Boyer compliments Dunne on her dress, and she confesses she spent her life savings on it — my husband choked, stopped, was unable to continue. He tried again, and failed. Gradually he spluttered out the last line, and as I sat there with matching tears in my eyes, I came face-to-face with this somewhat shameful bond between us. The woman’s film, otherwise and aptly known as the “weepie,” that genre that skeptics and agnostics regarded as the acme of silliness, we found utterly, absorbingly believable. Our secret vice: abject sentimentality, foolish romanticism, total credulity where certain stars and stories were concerned. — Molly Haskell
“I didn’t want to see Poltergeist III (1988, MGM/ UA). I just wanted to see Megan, a college classmate I’d been hoping to date for months. We discussed going to a movie. “I’ve seen everything — except for Poltergeist III,” I said, expecting her to react with horror. Her response shocked me: “All right.” The movie was a dreadful mess, made even creepier by the fact that its child star, Heather O’Rourke, had died before its release. I whispered a disparaging remark to Megan.
“Well, you’re the one who wanted to see it,” she said.
“I did not!” I protested. “I thought you wanted to see it.” We soon realized neither of us wanted to see it, but both of us were looking for any excuse to get together. Flash-forward a decade: We’ve been married for seven years, and whenever we’re doing something we suspect neither of us really wants to do, we stop and ask each other, “Are we pulling a Poltergeist III?” — Bruce Fretts