Pop Culture
Mar 06, 2024, 06:29AM

Rug Surfing Ephemera

People clinging onto advertising, memes, bad movies that suggest better ones just to survive.

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Nicole Kidman added another red-letter performance to her considerable body of work nearly three years ago—not a movie, nor a play, or a television show, but a pre-show movie theater bumper. If you’ve ever gone to the movies and gotten there before the trailers, you’ve seen some variant: the dog taking the light rail to the Charles, the line of misbehaving attendees at the Senator (done in a single, clean L-shaped tracking shot, one I’m still impressed by a decade after its debut). Arthouses and regional theaters have their own bumpers, usually just telling people to shut the fuck up or put their phones away. These bumpers have been around for a while—Remember, NO SMOKING in This Theater

Kidman’s AMC pre-show bumper soared in 2021 for a number of reasons: the world was still in the grip of the pandemic, movie theaters were teetering on the brink of extinction, pop culture had largely ceased functioning, abandoning us as much as we left it for, of all things, politics. The long shadow of Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo isn’t the protection of women and children—that’s not coming any time soon, just ask P. Diddy—but the creative paralysis of an industry too afraid to take risks and, even worse, to say no when the charlatans came marching in.

With the endless pummeling of the Gaza Strip, and our country’s enthusiastic support, every figure associated with the DNC, DEI initiatives, and the last 10 years of toxic political correctness has become just as denuded and useless as the greasy rapists tossed out of Hollywood and into prison cells. There will be no apologies, nor forgiveness, for a decade of money sought and taken, seduced and abandoned, the most powerful force in the universe—love—used as the battering ram to keep people static and afraid. Not romantic love, nor familial, but self-love, and self-care. Those who’ve become too sensitive to live have been told that this isn’t only okay, but valid, admirable, commendable. But everyone knows this is a lie. To greater and lesser degrees, you’ll always be miserable if you’re lying to yourself.

No more games. People are done. I don’t live near an AMC, so I’ve only seen the “beloved” ad once. It’s no “Where’s the beef?” but I get what happened. The New York Post reported that the debut of a new ad last Friday was met with outrage, many upset that the original bumper’s “iconic” line (“Somehow, heartbreak feels good in a place like this”) had been removed, and on the whole the ad was shorter. AMC has produced an additional two ads that’ll run soon, perhaps modified, perhaps not. If you go to AMC theaters, maybe you’ve seen someone standing up and saluting Kidman as she herself sits down to watch a movie in that bumper.

One of the tweets in that Post article stuck out: “Just finished watching dune 2 and my biggest take away is that THEY SHORTENED THE NICOLE KIDMAN AD?? need 5-10 business days to grieve this i fear.” A joke, a tweet, but with some truth: desperate for anything new, unpredictable, rough around the edges, or just fucking weird, people are looking outside of the frame. Dune 2 may be a stellar sequel, but what can a movie like that really do? I hated Barbie, but at least that movie was a genuine phenomenon; ditto for Oppenheimer, an excellent film I plan on watching again before the Oscars this Sunday. On that weekend in July, no one was paying attention to Nicole Kidman or Maria Menounos and their pre-show banter.

The success of Glen Powell/Sydney Sweeney rom-com Anyone But You is another sign that people just want something new and good. In his Letterboxd review, Will Sloan wrote that most people who saw Anyone But You probably knew it didn’t measure up to any rom-com classic and that these leads just didn’t cut it, but “the point is, it’s nice to entertain the idea that there might be new stars someday. It’s nice to imagine that a future is still possible.” Just as The Matrix: Resurrections wasn’t so much a new Matrix movie as much as a movie that asked the question, “What if there were a new Matrix movie? What would that mean? What would that look like?” I applaud the Wachowski Sisters for turning in such a strange and experimental film, but we all know it won’t be remembered like the first one (or even the 2003 sequels).

Nicole Kidman’s AMC ads? They’ll enter our pop culture pantheon. They are our pop culture now.

—Follow Nicky Otis Smith on Twitter and Instagram: @nickyotissmith


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