Saturday, May 16, 2009
Bedtime Stories -- heroes and happy endings
Director: Adam Shankman, 2008.
We have probably all had our parents tell us bedtime stories. And we have no doubt all told our kids such tales. But what if these stories we told came to life? That is the premise of this Adam Sandler vehicle. And, surprisingly for a Sandler movie, it is quite good fun.
Sandler plays Skeeter Bronson, a janitor and general handyman in a California hotel owned by Barry Nottingham (Richard Griffiths, Uncle Vernon from the Harry Potter films). As a kid, Skeeter's dad owned a family motel but had to sell the property to Nottingham since his business was heading to bankruptcy. One of the "conditions" was that when Skeeter grew up, he would become the manager of the new hotel that would be built. That did not happen. But Skeeter's dreams did not die.
When Skeeter's sister Wendy (Courteney Cox), a principal at a local elementary school gets laid off because the school is being demolished, she asks him to watch her two kids while she goes to Arizona for job interviews. He does not have to pull the whole babysitting job. He simply gets the night shift, while her responsible friend Jill (Keri Russell) takes the kids to and from school during the day.
Skeeter's character is summed up in his response to the babysitting request: "Okay, I'll do it. But you gotta say 'Skeeter's the coolest, I'm the nerd.' " Childish, certainly! But it is all he wants, before accepting the job.
This is a typical Adam Sandler role. Skeeter is simply a child in an adult's body. He is goofy, awkward, socially inept, and enjoys potty humor and practical jokes. He is unsubtle, telling people what he thinks. He is not politically correct in any way, shape or form.
When Skeeter tells his niece and nephew a story the first night, he makes it up since the books that Wendy has are too eco-friendly. When the kids join in and help make the ending memorable, Skeeter thinks nothing of it. That is, until the strange events described actually take place in real life for him the next day. Realizing there is some connection between the story and reality, Skeeter thinks he has stumbled on his own personal golden goose. He foresees great possibilities.
With more bedtime stories coming, Skeeter tells tales of a Western cowboy hero, a Roman Evel Knievel, a gallant knight, and a Star Wars figure. The plot includes an evil hotel manager, Kendall (Guy Pierce) who is after Nottingham's daughter as well as his executive position, a fair maiden "in distress" and a duel to determine the true champion. It all makes for lightweight entertainment, especially for kids. The ending becomes contrived, bringing together the hotel and school plotlines, before Skeeter brings it to a resolution.
Bedtime Stories does contain a few nuggets worth reflecting on. After telling the first bedtime story, Skeeter ends it on a sad note. When the kids complain, he bursts their bubble by telling them that there are no happy endings in real life. He is living witness to this. This is a "truth" that will come back to bite him in the movie. But is it true? There are some happy endings, but most people can point to their own personal dreams that lie shattered and forgotten. Despite Hollywood's desire to close most movies with an upbeat, happy ending, Skeeter is right; life is not always like that.
But if we look from a Christian perspective, focusing on the big picture, we see that this life is just the beginning of our journey. We can look at Jesus. He died a painful death on the cross, yet he rose from the grave victorious over death (1 Cor. 15:54). There was a happy ending when seen from sunny Sunday, not from black ("good") Friday. Jesus is the archetype of renewed humanity. Jesus-followers will live with him and reign with him in the life eternal. That is a truly happy ending!
Another point of interest is the difference between the kids and the adults. When there is nothing on the line but the story, the bedtime story is fun. In this case there is no agenda. But as soon as Skeeter sees the potential to use the stories for his own benefit, he begins to manipulate them, molding them with his personal agenda. When that happens, the fun disappears. And the kids notice. The stories have no purpose except to get to Skeeter's goal. There is no plot, no arc. The children recognize innately that a story needs an arc, some obstacles preventing the hero from accomplishing a goal, and that along his journey he will change for the better. Without these, the story is banal, boring. With them, the story is beautiful, engaging. These kids are story critics without knowing it.
When the movie appears to grind to a close, Skeeter's stories having dissipated, his nephew says to him, "I thought you were supposed to be the good guy." Heroes are supposed to be the good guys. And as Skeeter sits on his bed alone, pondering what went wrong, the voice of his father magically calls out to him telling him that a hero would do something "courageous and unexpected." As Jesus heard the voice of his Father tell him and the crowd at his baptism, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased" (Matt. 3: 17), Skeeter hears his father call him to action.
Bedtime Stories gives us a laudable working definition of a hero: a good guy, who acts courageously and unexpectedly. Heroes earn their title through their acts of bravery and courage. Heroes don't have to be famous, larger than life. They can be like Skeeter, the lowly janitor who rises to the occasion. Selflessness is characteristic of the hero. Putting others first, heroes do what others refuse to do. We can all be Skeeters, heroes, if we are willing to wear these characteristics and do the courageous and unexpected, with no personal agenda and without manipulation. So, with Wendy, say, "Skeeter's the coolest. I'm ready to be a hero!"
Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs
at 7:00 AM