Dear John Letters and Men I Have Enjoyed

8/20/18 10:50 AM

Since Friday afternoon, I’ve done nothing but lay on the couch and play video games or watch TV. While I enjoy doing both, normally it’s just for a two or three hours max at a time. Not an entire weekend.  Early last week, I started coming down with a cold. By Friday afternoon, I was miserable, with just enough energy to change the TV input from PS4 to Roku.  I tried to write, but my brain was too focused on trying to get air for me to produce anything decent.  Hence, the cold-medicine induced, slug-like existence for two and half days.

You might think that having an entire weekend to catch up on shows I’ve been wanting to watch isn’t such a bad thing. The problem was, I was finding it hard to concentrate on anything that remotely required thought. Which left me with movies that I’ve seen before and romance movies.

Don’t get me wrong, even though I’m not a big fan of romance movies now, I used to love them. A few still rank in my top movies of all time. The Way We Were, Officer and Gentlemen, Urban Cowboy, Say Anything and Moonstruck, just to name a few. You’ll notice that all of those were released at least thirty years ago. The only recent (as in the last fifteen years) romance movies I remember enjoying are Brokeback Mountain and Walk the Line. Dennis made me watch The Notebook by Nicolas Sparks when it came out. (Spoiler alert here) I think I’m the only person who saw that movie that was hoping for them to die already so the damn movie could be over.

Well, I was so sick this weekend, that I watched another Nicolas Sparks movie, Nights in Rodanthe. Voluntarily. To be fair, I only watched 3/4’s of it because I fell asleep. And I only chose it because it had Richard Gere and Viola Davis in it. (I found out it was a Nicolas Sparks story when I saw his name in the opening credits.)

I watched another romance movie on Netflix called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It’s a period piece, set in the English island of Guernsey, right after WWII. It had gorgeous scenery, excellent 1940’s fashion and it features Lady Rose, Lady Sybil and Mrs. Crowley from Downton Abbey. The plot is predictable, which is okay when you’re in a slug-like state. I actually enjoyed it.

Most of what I watched this weekend, however, were movies that I’ve already seen. I watched Walk the Line again, with Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix and enjoyed it. I watched Pulp Fiction with John Travolta, Uma Thurman and Bruce Willis (probably one of my all time favorite movies ever) and I still loved it. I watched Gross Point Blank with John Cusack (one of my favorite stars of all time) and Minnie Driver … and I thought it was stupid. I found John Cusack’s character, Martin, to be annoying and unsympathetic, not at all the lovable goof that he’s always been.

How can this be? I’ve seen that movie lots of times before and I always enjoyed it. I love dark humor. I love John Cusack.  I’ve always loved John Cusack ever since I saw him in Sure Thing back in my freshman year of college in 1985.  There’s a part in that movie where John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga are talking about potential names for their future children, and John says (paraphrasing here), “Nick is a kind of guy you can drink beers with and he doesn’t care if you puke in his truck…”. There was a guy in our group named Nick, and to our unsophisticated 18-year old brains, this was hilarious and we spent the next few weeks repeating the line to each other.

I’ve never been the type to get crushes on celebrities, even when I was young. John Cusack was the closest that I came to that, partly, because he comes from the Chicago area which is a few hours south from where I live. He was one of us. He came from the Midwest. My friend had friend who lived near Cusack’s childhood home, and when she visited her, my friend took a picture of his house for me. I have no idea if that’s actually his home, but I was thrilled to get it, just the same.

Cusack’s character, Gib, in Sure Thing is a quirky, awkward, big-hearted guy who fumbles his way through life and still ends up getting the girl in the end. Cusack reprises this character in many different roles (thank you IMDB): John Trager in Seredipity, Rob Gordon in High Fidelity, Martin Blank in Grosse Point Blank, and, my personal favorite, Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything. Who could resist broken-hearted John Cusack holding up a gigantic boom box outside of Ione Skye’s window at the crack of dawn, playing “their” song? Sigh. Not me, back in 1989 when the movie was released. Now, in 2018 with my new-found disdain for Grosse Point Blank, I’m not so sure.

I’m a little afraid to watch Say Anything again. What if I don’t like it either? Instead of Lloyd being adorably awkward, what if I think he’s a whiny freeloader with no future? That would be very sad. I’d feel like I lost an old friend.

I had a similar experience when I watched Urban Cowboy a few years ago. I loved John Travolta when I was young, almost as much as I loved John Cusack. Grease was the first movie of Travolta’s that I was allowed to see other than watching him on Welcome Back, Kotter. Grease was a favorite of mine for years, and I even had a comic book of the story made from screen shots of the movie.  

Then came Urban Cowboy in 1980. John Travolta was “good-guy”cowboy Bud, who was competing with “bad boy” Wes, (Scott Glenn) for the love of cowgirl, Sissy (Debra Winger).  There was lots of two-stepping, tight blue jeans and John Travolta dimples. I was fourteen when I saw it and I was smitten. I saw the movie with a group of girlfriends and I remember one of them said she liked bad-boy Wes better than John Travolta. How could this be?

I never considered that as a possibility until I watched Urban Cowboy again several years ago. I still enjoyed the movie, however, “good guy” Bud hits Sissy. So does “bad boy”, Wes. But “good guy” Bud hits Sissy less than “bad boy” Wes hits her, so I guess that made Bud the better choice in 1980.  John Travolta was still cute with his dimples, but Wes, oh my gosh. Wes was Hot (yes, that capitalization is intentional). I finally understood his appeal, if you ignore his propensity for beating women, that is. (As a side note, I was happy to see Scott Glenn reappar this weekend in Nights in Rodanthe as Robert Torrelson, the grieving widow. I’m also enjoying him in the Stephen King series, Castle Rock, on Hulu).

So, was it my drug-addled brain that caused me to dislike Martin in Grosse Point Blank or have my tastes changed to the point that old favorites aren’t favorites anymore? If I watch The Way we Were will Hubble come off as entitled and pretentious and Katie as opinionated and domineering? In Officer and a Gentleman, will Paula seem opportunistic and Zack self-absorbed? In Moonstruck, maybe Loretta and Ronny will seem selfish and kinda slutty instead of two souls destined to be together?

I’m a little afraid to find out. I don’t want to say good bye to the old favorites. What’s next? Will I start to dislike books I used to love? Will Gone With the Wind be tedious and Little Women be sappy? Perish the thought!

Both of the beloved Johns, Cusack and Travolta, went on to play other more well-developed characters in some really excellent movies. Cusack did a great job playing Richard Nixon in The Butler and Travolta’s hit-man, Vicent Vega in Pulp Fiction is my favorite character, ever, that Travolta has played.

I’m not quite ready to send Dear John letters to the famous Johns I’ve enjoyed. Nor am I ready to give up the less-noteworthy characters and stories from my youth that they portrayed. I just have to remember to view them with a younger set of eyes when I watch them.

12:10 (I gave myself extra time to write this one due to the the following: IMDB research for character names, coughing fits, and the doing and redoing of laundry –I washed my never-before-washed hot pink sweater with my white jeans. Although, I’m better, I think some slug-brain remnants still remain.

Bleach is a wonderful thing.

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