Top 5 Terrible Lines in Great Films
#5 – The Social Network
The Line: “You’re not an asshole, Mark. You’re just trying so hard to be.”
Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay for The Facebook Movie is one of the best of the last twenty years, maybe the last forever. The incredibly subtle balance of plot and subtext, with almost non-existent exposition and perfect pacing – not to mention Sorkin’s trademark razor sharp dialogue – are just astonishing. ‘Show, don’t tell’ is one of the first (and most frequently ignored) rules of writing, and throughout the film we see the birth of Facebook without patronising explanations of emotions and responses, because Sorkin knows that we’re grownups, and we can work this stuff out for ourselves. OH WAIT.
Yep, just as The Social Network is coming to a close, mere minutes after the astonishing climactic showdown (“MAAAARK!”), we get Rashida Jones’ trainee lawyer, the film’s least essential role, dropping a ridiculously quippy summary of our protagonist’s motivation. WE KNOW TRAINEE LAWYER. WE WATCHED THE FILM. WE MAY ACTUALLY KNOW BETTER THAN YOU DO.
Every time you watch it gets a little more painful – she so, so nearly makes it out of the room. But it still happens. She seems more and more embarrassed every time. It’s like something you hear someone say on the way out of the cinema when they think they’re being SO astute. To top it all off, that’s some sloppy-ass grammar in the second sentence. Yeesh.
#4 – Goldfinger
The Line: “There are some things that just aren’t done, such as drinking Dom Perignon ’53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s just as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs!”
If you can get past the ridiculously monikered lesbian – hey, at least she’s not called Goodhead, or Showermewithpenises – Goldfinger boasts the sharpest script of any Bond film. The trademark one-liners are hardly Mamet territory, but the dialogue is often fit to bust Mad Men-esque fizz (“You know, he kills little girls like you.” “Little boys, too.”). Goldfinger sinks or swims by the script, as it graduates Bond from quick-witted hard bastard to smooth talking negotiator, talking his way out of situations involving willies and lasers, instead of just killing anybody who orders red wine with fish. What’s most interesting is the economy of the dialogue; it’s almost utterly bereft of the kind of flouncy nonsense that bogs down so many films of the sixties. There’s a lot to get through in 110 minutes, and Bond’s not one to hang about.
All of which makes this bizarre line all the more jarring. For starters, it’s all over the place. You can make this point in less than twenty words, easy, but still it lumbers along like a bloated, arthritic slug, coughing up errant ‘justs’ as it goes. Then there’s the ‘earmuffs’. They’re not really designed to keep noise out, on account of the increased chance of Lorry Death that would bring about. They just keep your ears warm. So, is Bond saying that we should only listen to the Fab Four with warm ears? I don’t think any studies have linked cold ears to poor acoustics, though if anyone knows better I’ll happily stand corrected.
But the thing that makes this line stick out as a true howler is the sentiment. It’s 1964. Everyone and their nan loves The Beatles. They’ve come to represent a shifting mindset and cultural identity for the youth of Britain; there’s a goshdarn revolution going on, and the kids are allowed to use even worse swears when THEY talk about it. So what does Bond do? He doubles up a boast about how much he knows about extremely expensive champagne that no-one can afford with a potshot at a band who everyone likes. He has, essentially, flipped the bird at every human being without a seven figure income. What a bastard.
#3 – The Matrix
The Line: ” just had a little déjà vu.”
Though forever sullied in our memories by the disappointing sequel and the diabolical second sequel, Wachowski brother and sister’s finest moment (if you just thought “Bound!”, see me for a short lesson on why you’re an idiot) actually holds up remarkably well, and should feature in any action or sci-fi top ten worth its salt.
It does, however, feature two mind blowingly stupid moments. I’ll let “Built for one thing, and one thing only: search and destroy.” go, but Neo’s brush with déjà vu is dreadful in so many ways. Firstly, you don’t have ‘a little’ déjà vu. It’s not nausea. There’s no qualifying dose; “Ooh, that’s a lot of déjà vu you’re having there…”, “That was barely any déjà vu!” You have an instance of déjà vu, or you don’t.
But even more jarring is the fact that that clearly fucking isn’t déjà vu. It’s just the exact same cat doing the exact same thing in the exact same doorway. That’s obviously either a hallucination, or, just maybe, the made-up computer world that he’s fully aware he’s in going on the fritz, D’YA THINK? In fact, unless that giant real world people farm has a FUCKING ZOO, wouldn’t it be better just be suspicious of cats in general?
Rewritten, this bit may go something like this: “Hey Trinity, I just saw the exact same cat do the exact same thing twice. Is something wrong with the Matrix?” “Yes Neo, thanks for informing me so succinctly. Please don’t do Bill and Ted 3.”
#2 – It’s a Wonderful Life
The Line: “Look, Daddy. Teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings!”
You don’t need me to tell you how good It’s a Wonderful Life is. So, here’s recently deceased American TV sensation, Bea Arthur:
Imagine, for a moment, that It’s a Wonderful Life is one of those runners, like Linford Christie, or that one who did a poo in front of everyone, or Seal. The race is going really well, and it’s running faster than everyone else. Then it gets right to the finish line, and everyone’s REALLY excited because It’s a Wonderful Life is going to win! It’s going to win the race! And then, just as its toe hits the finish line, it stops, pulls out a gun and blows its own head off.
It could have been so much better. Throughout the flick, we are bombarded by Clarence-not-having-wings-he-needs-to-get-wings-bells-mean-wings type information. Like Pavlov’s dogs, we are prepared to make the Clarence connection should we hear bells during the climax. And we do, and we think ‘Aw, lad.’ But then, setting a precedent for children being just awful all the time, lil’ Zuzu (really?) utters a series of horrifying shrieks masquerading as words, and everything is spoiled for everyone. Jimmy Stewart really should have just replied with “UUUUUUNGHHHHHHH, D’YOU REALLY THINK SO? Dick.”
#1 – Children of Men
The Line: “Illegal immigrants. Taking them to Bexhill.”
We have a game we like to play in my house. It’s called People Explaining Things to Clive Owen that he Already Knows. Basically, every time you’re watching a film and there’s a particularly horrendous bit of exposition, imagine Clive Owen is there, and that he turns around and shouts ‘I KNOW!’ right in their stupid face. Alfonso Cuarón’s stunning sci-fi isn’t the worst example of this (for that, check out – or don’t – Tom Twyker’s The International: “Don’t have a breakdown, like you did two years ago”, or words to that effect), but it’s an absolute shocker nonetheless.
Throughout the opening half hour, we’re presented with a near-future Britain in chaos. Through billboards, TV reports and graffiti we are drip fed information and expected to piece it together for ourselves. It’s all contextual and it all makes sense. Well, until Clive hops in a car with Harry Brown and passes a truckload of sad European-looking people, and Alfred drops a huge exposition fart. Seeing as this is such a blatantly open government policy, and that Get Carter and Clive are good mates and POLITICAL ACTIVISTS , I think it’s safe to say that he knows. EVERYONE KNOWS.
There are better, infinitely better ways of conveying this information. Have Clive walk past a poster on a wall, like you did for EVERYTHING ELSE! Never mind “Quietus: You decide when” (admittedly a stroke of genius), how about “Hey, are you foreign? Do you like ice cream and pebbles? Can you please get in this van?”