Skeptic Vs. Gen X Nostalgia – The Goonies (1985)

I’m a millennial, a “90s kid” if you will.  I was born very late in the 80s but came of age in the 90s and experienced all the “90s kid” stuff like Nickelodeon cartoons and N64 games that the Buzzfeeds of the world have made into hallmarks of that generation.  Right now the world exists to serve 90s kids and their nostalgic whims, but that hasn’t always been the case.  When I was first coming of age as a pop culture enthusiast in the mid to late 2000s the online discourse and the podcasts were being run by the Gen X 80s kids and that meant that I had to put up with a bunch of delusional 20 somethings who had a habit of saying with a straight face that all sorts of lame sounding kids movies from their Reagan-era childhoods were these legitimately great films, which I was always skeptical about.  To be clear, there are plenty of things from my own childhood that I have nostalgia for but which I don’t sit around claiming that I still think the likes of Jumanji, The Sandlot, and Three Ninjas are cinematic classics just because I liked them when I was 7.  However, there were a lot of movies that these Gen Xers wouldn’t shut up about which I never really saw and which I wasn’t really in much of a position to push back against.  My new skeptical series will seek to change that.

My plan is to do one of these analyses every calendar month in 2018 and treat each one of these like it’s a round in a boxing match.  If the movie doesn’t hold up and indeed was not worthy of all this retrospective praise I’ll score the round for myself but if the movie ends up surprising me and really does seem like something worth remembering I’ll score the round to the gen Xers and if I feel really strongly one way or another I’ll give out an 8/10 round if need be.  Then at the end of the year I’ll take a look at the final score to prove “scientifically” if the soul of the 80s and early 90s is worth saving.  Now, to do this fairly I’m sticking exclusively to movies that people of this era actually hold up as good movies still rather than movies like Red Dawn or The Wizard which these people actually keep in perspective or like ironically.  Additionally, I’m only looking at movies I haven’t watched before so there are plenty of movies like The Never Ending Story and The Karate Kid which would sort of fit in with the spirit of this series but which won’t be present simply because they aren’t new movies for me.  Also I want to be clear that, light hearted boxing metaphor notwithstanding, I am hoping to be pleasantly surprised by what I see with these movies and I’m not trying to just hate them for comedic effect.

The Goonies (1985)

When I first came up with this series I knew the movie I wanted to start with was The Goonies as it’s a movie that would seem to exemplify exactly the kind of misplaced 80s nostalgia I’m trying to take aim at.  It’s a movie that some people absolutely swear by.  A poll of actors once placed it in the top 100 movies of all time and it was recently actually selected for preservation by the National Film Registry.  It’s also a movie that gets quoted a lot and I seem to see all kinds of merchandise with catch phrases like “hey you guys” and “goonies never say die” written all over them.  And yet it’s also a movie that tends to leave adults watching it for the first time fairly cold.  It’s a movie that generally gets lumped in with the cannon of actual good Spielbergian movies of the 80s like Back to the Future and Poltergeist and yet of all the well like Spielberg productions of the time I was pretty oblivious to it when I was growing up.  I could never avoid movies like E.T. or Raiders of the Lost Ark even if I wanted to, but The Goonies fandom always seemed a little less mainstream, at least until years later when the nostalgia set in.  For a while I assumed it was more of a cult film no one picked up on until later, but that doesn’t seem to have been the case, it was a box office hit in 1985 but for whatever reason there was never a sequel and it never got turned into a merchandising bonanza until later.

Obviously this is another one of those 80s movies about groups of children who ride around towns on bikes, which is a dynamic we’ve seen called back to a lot in a number or recent projects like Super 8, It, and “Stranger Things.”  Unlike those copies, this original seems less interested in tapping into nostalgic memories about what childhood summers were like and more interested in giving its young audience the group of wacky friends they wish they had but which most adults would find to be a bit of a chore to be around.  This group calls themselves “the goonies” and they apparently have a bunch of rules and traditions that seem a bit unlikely for a group like this to have unless most of their dealings before this were a lot more interesting than I suspect they were.  This group is also a bit too large for its own good.  There are no fewer than seven kids going on this adventure and they don’t really have a lot of time to develop beyond irritating stereotypes.  The villains are also awful.  The Fratellis have sort of a White Heat thing going on where the ringleader is their mother (who sort of looks like Sam Kinison) and two of the most incompetent gangsters this side of Home Alone.

I think the idea behind this movie is that it’s sort of meant to be a visualization of the kind of pretend “adventures” that kids imagine themselves going on when they’re playing.  The movie operates on a kind of “kid logic” where this group of children is a lot more courageous and resourceful than real kids would be and the challenges they face just so happen to align with their exact skillsets.  Certain elements are plainly ridiculous like the odd and impractical inventions that Short Round carries around and uses in the highly specific situations they seem to be designed for.  Then they meet a cuddly dude in a prosthetic suit that saves them and becomes their friend, which is pretty damn weird.  Viewing this as a sort of meta take on childhood imagination is certainly a generous way of viewing this film’s stranger aspects, one that I don’t exactly buy even though I’m positing it.  I might be more willing to run with this if the film had found a way to tip its hand a little more, but either way the fact remains that this is kind of an irritating thing to watch if you’re older than twelve.  I think what makes the movie feel so weird is that it actually as decent production values.  These are certainly expensive looking sets and Richard Donnor certainly makes the movie look good, but all these high production values kind of set you up to expect something a little more from the movie itself.

To the Scorecard:

I don’t think this movie really works, but it’s not painful.  If this wasn’t one of the more popular and talked about of these 80s movies it might have been a semi-pleasant surprise just because it looks good and clearly inspired a lot of other things (Barb from “Stranger Things” is clearly inspired by Stef), but the movie certainly doesn’t live up to its popularity.  More than anything it’s just a very strange movie for something that’s trying to be as mainstream as it is.  So, in the first round Gen X nostalgia puts up a slight better fight than expected but not enough to win the round.

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