22 September 2013

#2LR Too Late Review: Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life

I've noticed lately that this blog is getting into much more eclectic fields lately.  A Monster in Paris isn't exactly mainstream faire... Lupin III, the Oregon Trail Wii game... it's almost as if I'm just trying to find targets that haven't really had a review yet.  It's not exactly that, but it does make the job somewhat easier.

In the introductions on these Too Late Reviews, I at least try to show the angle which I will be attacking the movie from.  This way, you know that I'm putting a spin on the source material that you may not have thought of, or one that may have been at least lightly explored but not really fleshed out.  It's odd, in that the Too Late Review that I try to write for you, the readers, is one that is new content, or at least content that I haven't seen too much of before.  I hope that using my fifteen or so years of experience with deeply analyzing text stories, trying to get into the head of writers to craft jokes based on what they write, that it translates into being able to show another side of a movie that you may not have seen before.  So, to sum up... this movie really has no reviews, so that allows me to write about it in the broadest terms possible rather than to go at it from an obtuse angle... a pleasant change from some of my reviews.

Of course, the audience for Mystery Science Theater 3000 is old and getting older.  There's still the newer Rifftrax and Cinematic Titanic where you could pick up an Imagine Dragons reference or a Demi Lovato namedrop, but the old series is what we started dealing with here on A MSTing For All Seasons and I'm not sure if any of the youngin's really will come for that.  So, I must admit that it was odd for me to have learned that the story behind the movie Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life is a recent story aimed at young adults.  I suppose that I myself am late to the party.

For this movie, Wikipedia's couple-of-paragraphs allow me to lean on them slightly, so please excuse me if there's much missing from the plot synopsis.  As always, Spoiler Space ahead.

Jeremy Fink's thirteenth birthday is coming up soon.  He and his friend Lizzy are in the lobby of their New York apartment building when Jeremy receives a package from Lizzy's father, the mailman.  In the package is a box, marked for Jeremy to open on his thirteenth birthday.  In the lid is carved "The Meaning of Life", ostensibly from Jeremy's father -- who passed away five years previous due to a car/pedestrian accident.  The box is a heavy wooden box that is locked with a total of four locks, but with no keys.  So now, Jeremy and Lizzy have to find a way inside.

Lizzy is a planner and schemer, and she figures out a seven- or eight-step plan to try to open the box.  None seem to work, even going to the locksmith, so both Lizzy and Jeremy try to go to the law office that had included a letter with the box to look for the keys.  After tossing the place, they get caught by security and sent to the police department.  The detective offers both children a way out, through community service by helping Mr. Oswald.

Mr. Oswald is quite the eccentric, an antiques dealer who will be retiring soon.  He has the kids picked up in a limousine and explains to them what he wants them to do... namely, delivering items that were pawned by their previous owners so that the owners could do something greater with their lives.  Accompanying each of the pawned items (example: telescope pawned by astronomer) is a letter describing why each was pawned.  Jeremy and Lizzy learn quite a bit from each of the persons they make deliveries to, my favorite being the old astronomer.  When Jeremy learns about why the astronomer pawned his telescope, he tells the astronomer that it just raises twenty new questions.  The astronomer comments to Jeremy that being able to keep asking questions even into old age is a rare gift, and one that he should always continue.

There are times that both children feel let down... at one point, Jeremy trashes his pet project, a time machine that he wishes he could use in order to bring back his father.  He laments the fact that circumstances weren't even slightly different in one scene of the movie, which brought back memories to a far more tedious scene played out in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (covered in previous review on this blog).  His friend Lizzy tosses the pieces after Jeremy's fit of anger.

At the end of the movie, Mr. Oswald is grateful for the help that both children provide and offers them anything that they could want in his library/study area.  Lizzy takes a porcelain doll, and Oswald produces a suitcase full of keys to Jeremy.  Jeremy takes it gleefully, and then tries to unlock each of the four locks on the box with the myriad keys.  They find three keys that fit, but not the fourth... meanwhile, it's 2AM on Jeremy's birthday, so he finally gives up and goes to sleep.

The next day, during the birthday party, Jeremy receives the old telescope as a gift and then opens another box... it's the key to his old time machine, which just so happened to be the fourth key to the box.  He opens the box and receives a heartfelt letter from his father.

The backstory from the father is that Jeremy's father went to Coney Island one day when he was thirteen, and went to the psychic to have his fortune told.  The psychic, mean person that she is, told him that he'd die by the age of forty.  Jeremy's father was the type to take that seriously, and in the letter describes how at first he was fixated on the idea of death being a large part of life... until he realized that life is made up of moments, and it matters more the use we make of those moments.  Jeremy's father did mention in the letter that not all of the moments of Jeremy's life will be the important ones, but wished that his son would know and understand when one of those moments would happen for him.  In the box... are rocks.  Meticulously noted are the moments that occurred when Jeremy's father collected each of the rocks, though none of the rocks are actually labelled so that Jeremy knows.

Jeremy then dashes back to Mr. Oswald's house, and learns that Mr. Oswald really is going to Florida.  However, he finds out from the limousine chauffeur that his father was the one that pretty much set everything up.  He met Mr. Oswald in the flea markets, and set about collecting all of the old items that were of importance to others... and asked all those others to make Jeremy's thirteenth birthday such a special occasion for Jeremy.  Everyone, from both Jeremy's mom and Lizzy's dad, through the locksmith, through the detective and the security guard at the law office, and all of the people they interacted with... were all on the birthday surprise.  And now, Jeremy has one more special reason to not only remember his father, but to make his life into one that he wishes to make it into.

Spoiler space over.

This movie had a very simple and beautiful way to tell the audience reading this book that even though each of the moments is personal, that they can still be shared with the person you love.  On top of that, Jeremy's father, from beyond the grave, encouraged Jeremy to make a collection of his own moments that were special.  Love allowed this message to come across to Jeremy, and... well, hey, er....

For a review, this was really a sweet movie.  The same movie watcher can watch the same movie twice and come to two rather radical decisions... in some way, I try to allow for this in my reviews when I assign a number grade to a movie.  I attempt to think about how a movie may work if I'm as ultra-receptive as possible, and then think about the movie in an almost nihilistic MSTing point of view.  I suspect that a few things going on in my life (including the fact that I have children ages 11-10-7-3) allow me to be more receptive to this movie than I may ordinarily be, but in all seriousness the emotion felt eager.  The child actors did a good job of just being children... and if you're receptive to the message, it's a strong and heartfelt one.  Just don't let the tone put you off in the first few minutes... and if you find that it is, just swap out the movie until a time that you're feeling a bit more mellow.  It'll always be there.

I can certainly understand how this could be taken as treacly... I mean, there were some really far-fetched things going on (such as the details shared in the last paragraph of the plot outline, Mr. Oswald's true gift at the end... it would have been so interesting for the gift to have been another, less-famous of the type along with a note telling him to keep searching and to never give up).

But, hey.  This movie sums up in ninety minutes really two of the reasons that I'm doing this blog.  I want to be able to share some of myself with you, which is one of the messages that the father's gift allows to Jeremy.  And remembering your moments (like your favorite movies) and writing them down will allow you to revisit those moments, to give you the feelings and emotions that you once had.  Writing is so liberating in that regard... and through writing, I hope that my emotion shines through even as the movie's does.  I don't wish to lead a life of quiet desperation (in a famous Thoreau quote)... this movie encourages you to make happy memories, and I would be remiss if I didn't do the same.

Final review: 3.2.   I would certainly watch this movie again, especially with my family.

Happy Autumn everybody, and thank you for your patience with us here in the last two months.  I'm still trying to establish a better and easier schedule for me to publish, and I truly hope that all our readers are still enjoying what reviews and articles we're able to post.

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