Something Like the Movies

Something Like the Movies


My father likes movies. He likes them so much that he even tried to write one once. He told me when I was seventeen and starting to make friends at college and I was high and he didn’t know. 

He called and I answered. I don’t do that very often.

He skipped through the catch-up-small-talk-chit-chat-still-getting-As-how’s-the-weather conversation and landed on the topic of a screenplay he once wrote and never finished. It was something about trains and time travel and New York. I think that he had asked if I had ever thought about writing my own. He doesn’t take much interest in my writing and I think I prefer it that way. My writing takes enough interest in him.

He dragged on longer than I liked and I started to wonder if he was high too. I nodded though he couldn’t see me. I mumbled though I didn’t think he was listening. I wondered why he chose this moment to share this about himself and I wondered if all this time he had just been waiting for someone to ask. 

My father wanted to be an actor until the task became too difficult and the actors became too unbearable. He took the natural next step–he became an agent. He left New Jersey for couches on Eighth Avenue and left Manhattan for a garage in North Hollywood. He decided on voiceover. I find it a little ironic for a man who seldom speaks. He worked at his high school radio station as a sports announcer and took pride in saying the things that would make people listen. He chipped away at the lingering tones of his home state and was left with skilled annunciation and road rage and a habit of telling his children to “speak up.” 

My father likes old movies. He prefers the ones that lack color and modernity. He didn’t show us typical children’s movies with animated fairy tales. Instead, we had Sunset Boulevard and Mildred Pierce and if he was feeling funny, all the Jerry Lewis films that no one ever needs to watch. He always suggested Westerns and we always said no. He still does. We still do. 

His favorite was Them. He called it the “ant movie,” so we did the same. The film is absurd and stupid and to the eyes of a child, beyond terrifying. It’s a 1950s science fiction story about the desert and a series of mysterious deaths and an FBI investigation that traces the events back to giant ants mutated by atomic radiation. When I think about it now, I realize the audience is probably meant to be afraid of the lingering consequences of a world war, but I was a child. I found myself scared of the desert and open spaces and the pests that crawl up picnic baskets. 

My father likes the desert. He likes the warmth and the beige and the vastness. He likes to drive faster than the law allows when no one is there to watch. He likes the way the dust plumes and twirls. He likes it so much that he made it his home. I warned him of mountain lions and wildfires and he laughed. 

He wanted to live in a Western. 


My mother likes fairytales. Not the kind that end perfectly or happily or demand an eternal ever-after. She likes love stories. She prefers that they come from the British Isles and asks that they tell honest stories about honest people with honest love, at least as honest as the movies can make something out to be. 

When she was twelve, she picked up a copy of Wuthering Heights from her school library and found herself sitting on patches of dry California grass, leaning on broken chain link fences, and falling into the romance of Catherine and Heathcliff. She studied English literature in college and found herself falling into more stories of romance and heartbreak and then she lived those stories out herself. She wrote her own honest stories about her own honest love. 

They weren’t fairytales. They weren’t movies. They were life. 

I think I was ten years old when we first watched Pride and Prejudice together. It was around the time that my grandmother began to live with us. She’s small and frail and British, and can be seen watching the Catholic channel or Hallmark movies. She loves The Sound of Music and Jane Austen and happy endings.

My early adolescence was defined by a crash course in British romance literature. Though, my intelligence was still developing, as was my understanding of the diction used by Austen and the Bronte sisters alike, so the crash course was taught through film. Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Jane Eyre–each night a different film and a different English countryside to escape in. 

I remember Jane Eyre being the world I liked the least. My mother chose the version from 1943 and I thought it was more like a horror film than a romance. I was particularly scared by the character Grace Poole, our shared name making her more frightening for some reason. 

My favorite was Pride and Prejudice (2005). I liked that they were sisters and they fought like sisters and above all they loved like sisters. I liked their dresses and the way they moved when they danced. I liked that I was as honest as Elizabeth and I hoped that someday I could be as charming as Jane. I liked that it rained and rained hard and that the rain felt like it meant something. I liked Mr. Bennet. I liked that he was a father who hugged his daughters and cried in their honor and I wondered why my own couldn’t seem to do the same. 

I got older and the crash course ended and my grandmother no longer lived with us. We started an unspoken tradition, saving Pride and Prejudice for when we were reunited, together again as mothers and daughters and sisters.  

I got older again and this time I moved, a few thousand miles away to a college in the northeast. I remember it was October and I was experiencing a real Autumn for the first time and I felt more alone than I ever had before. 

It was raining and I decided to watch Pride and Prejudice. I propped up my laptop on a pillow and sat cross-legged on my dorm mattress and I watched all two hours and seven minutes and I cried. 

I cried for mothers and daughters and sisters. 

I cried for love and for longing. 

I cried for honest stories and honest people and honest love. 


I watch bad movies and think about great ones. 

I watch the movies that people tell me to and I agree with their opinions even when I don’t. 

I study the movies that I’ve heard that I’m supposed to in hopes that I seem smart and cool and worthy enough of a dinner where we don’t split the check. 

I watch the movies liked by the people that I like and I hope that it will make them like me in return. 

I started watching movies as a child because my father made me and it gave us something to do. I’m twenty now and I still watch the same movies because I hope it will inspire a few words that we can share.

He showed me Breakfast at Tiffany’s when I was eight and it gave me a life to look forward to. I watched Holly Golightly live a life of Givenchy gowns and necks weighted with pearls and heads adorned with tiaras and parties thrown in Manhattan and I wanted the same. I was too young to understand the context or implications and once I was old enough to, I think I preferred life without them. 

He would play “Moon River” in the car and sing along, mimicking the crooning of Sinatra records, the only music he ever listened to, and I thought it was nice until it became something annoying. 

I watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s again and this time I was eleven years older and it was Valentine’s Day and I was sitting in a beautiful theater and living in the very city where the film takes place. My life wasn’t filled with pearls or parties or Tiffany’s and that was okay. It was a life filled with context and implications and I enjoyed it despite the fact. 

I told him about the screening afterward and I could hear him smiling. 

This time I called. I don’t do that very often.

I watched a movie that he liked and that made him happy and it gave us something to talk about, something other than the catch-up-small-talk-chit-chat-still-getting-As-how’s-the-weather conversation. 

Something real, something honest. 

Something that we are not.

 I suppose that’s what the movies are for. 

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