I went bowling with the family the other day. When this happens, every word I say tends to come from one of two movies. Turns out that the late-mid 90s was to bowling movies as the same period was to asteroid-hurtling-to-earth movies or utterly baffling remakes and sequels that were totally needed in order to bring classic Hollywood franchises to satisfying resolutions. Thereâ€™s an art to quoting movies. Well, less an art than a skill. Well, less a skill than a difficulty. One must examine the societal context of the moment, identify the perfect corollary in film history and humbly deliver a credible version of the perfect line for the situation. The audienceâ€™s taste is important, as is the fact that at least one person (other than you) has seen the movie youâ€™re referencing. And this is where I most often fail. Turns out you canâ€™t quote Slapshot to very many 13-yr-olds. The priests at Rockhurst werenâ€™t overly fond of my attempts to bring The Exorcist into classroom discussions. Shakespeareâ€™s right out most anywhere in the state of Mississippi. On Saturday at the bowling alley, surrounded by family and strangers, not a one of them had ever seen Kingpin or The Big Lebowski. Did I give up? Of course not. Iâ€™m indefatigable. Some of the things Ernie McCracken says in Kingpin should rise above the source material and be funny on their own merits. Much like a person is likely to quote Swingers in a hipster bar or Fletch at a country club, a bowling alley must have Lebowski references regardless of the other bowlersâ€™ preferences. Itâ€™s a moral imperative.
Any situation can be the right one for a smart-ass movie quote. The challenge is narrowing the field to the perfect line from the right movie. On a first date you might best avoid any references to Seven or Thereâ€™s Something About Mary (NSFW, of course), but go right ahead and hit Star Wars or Trek if theyâ€™re your thing. Best to get that out there as quickly as possible, since itâ€™s going to come out sooner or later. When we met, we werenâ€™t ten minutes in when my girlfriend quoted Pedro Cerrano. I had no chance. Quoting Sideways to your waiter at a wine-bar is a non-starter, however. At a job interview, movie quotes can be tricky. If the interviewer drops a baseball comment, then itâ€™s possible to give a quick Major League (NSFW except in the stated situation) reference and see if it sticks. There are risks here, clearly, but the reward might be worth it. If you feel the sudden urge to drop an overused, highly untopical or inappropriate quote in a sensitive situation: donâ€™t. Even if itâ€™s a great line: donâ€™t (NSFW). Itâ€™s a fine line between stupid and clever; between Quentin Tarantino and Michael Scott, irrespectively.
There are a few obvious situations where you are fully required quote a specific movie or be labeled inhuman. I call this â€œputting a bullet in the bodyâ€. You will not be fully trusted until you participate. For instance: if you play golf but have not seen Caddyshack or Happy Gilmore, then you arenâ€™t holding up your end. When people gather to play cards, someone will quote Rounders (even though the same line was given more elegantly in Quiz Show four years earlier and is at least as old as 1979). Point is, if you play poker, see Rounders, see The Cincinnati Kid. If you play pool with fat men you must see both The Hustler and its inferior sequel. These facts are known and they are not in dispute. Not just games, though. If you work in a kitchen/restaurant, youâ€™ve seen Waiting and Big Night (NSFW, either one) or you wonâ€™t be able to keep up. Actors have all seen Waiting for Guffman and Rock Stars all know the entire script to This is Spinal Tap (and so should you).
This phenomenon can be generational. For many people 35-45, The Goonies is a pretty safe bet, but after that you get into Sandlot territory. Earlier and youâ€™re talking about the original Bad News Bears or maybe Harold and Maude. Youâ€™ve probably got inside quotes, too. Iâ€™ve got a group of friends from childhood that quotes from Private Eyes with regularity. My girlfriend and I spend a lot of time with Overboard. College was all about Fletch and Three Amigos (for my money, my generation is into quoting early Chevy Chase). SNL goes through regular cycles of quotability and total oblivion. My father and I do scenes from Friendly Persuasion or True Grit, while my brothers and I have a wide-ranging and annoyingly specific series of challenges (very NSFW). I used to play â€œname that quoteâ€ with one college friend and all movies were fair game. Whole subcultures of people revolve around Monty Python quotes or any number of other genres. SportsCenter would never have become a cultural phenomenon in the 90s without sports flicks or the movies of Will Farrell.
For confessionâ€™s sake and to open the door to your suggestions, the following are some of my involuntary go-to movie-quotes. I use these without even thinking. Some are ingrained after years of hanging out with specific people and the jackassery that ensues despite our best intentions. Others have recently become favorites and I havenâ€™t yet shaken them. Itâ€™s by no means a complete list, just a glimpse into some of the lines that I think are highly applicable to my daily life. I tend towards obscure-ish quotes from mainstream movies. Itâ€™s part of my anatomy at this point and I donâ€™t see it changing any time soon, for which I halfheartedly apologize to those forced to spend time with me.
â€œHey! Stinky!â€â€”Hellboy. This was recently proclaimed to be the 11-yr-oldâ€™s favorite movie. Wholehearted stamp of approval, there.
â€œWhyâ€™nâ€™t you put her in charge?â€/â€How do I get out of this Chicken$*& outfit?â€/â€Look into my eye.â€â€”Aliens
â€œLetâ€™s talk about the bonus situation.â€â€”Alien
â€œItâ€™s so tasty, too!â€â€”I Love Lucy. This is by far my favorite television quote of all time.
â€œWorkâ€™s whatâ€™s kept us happy.â€/â€Not that motherscratcher!â€/â€If a frog had wings he wouldnâ€™t bump his a$* a-hoppinâ€™!â€â€”Raising Arizona. The Coen Brothers are particular favorites of mine with regards to their dialogue. Geniuses.
â€œDo you have anything besides Mexican food?â€/â€Can I have your watch when you are dead?â€â€”Three Amigos. This one I canâ€™t get away from. Several groups from junior high through graduate school had this movie in their pockets for just about any occasion. Same with Fletch and Caddyshack.
â€œI am a God at sea!â€â€”Overboard. Same thing, all in the delivery. Also, Iâ€™m spending a lot of time on water, these days, so thereâ€™s something of an Overboard guilty-pleasure Renaissance going on with me.
â€œSorry folks, parkâ€™s closed. Moose outside shoulda toldja.â€â€”Vacation
â€œYou serious, Clark?â€â€”Christmas Vacation. This is the best vacation movie. Iâ€™ll fight you.
â€œLez be honest.â€â€”This one, from Pitch Perfect, has recently become a mainstay of the 11-and-14-yr-olds in my house. I approve.
A ton of interesting research has been done into what and how and why we memorize. One can draw a pretty straight line from someone that quotes movies or books or poetry to someone who quotes baseball or football stats. The behaviors are similar and spring from identical motivations. Theyâ€™re a way to communicate what is important to us using the words or work of others. Theyâ€™re also mildly obsessive/ moderately annoying behaviors to those who arenâ€™t interested.
Iâ€™m gonna call it good, right there. Iâ€™d be happy to just keep going with this, but as is so often the case, I feel Iâ€™ve likely already over-stayed my welcome. Thatâ€™s another of the pitfalls with the movie-quote: too much is way too much. Pick your spots, wait for your pitch to hit and for the love of god if you remember nothing else, retain this: when quoting, donâ€™t cite your source. People either know the reference or they donâ€™t. Donâ€™t call attention to your success or failure by dwelling on it, just move cleanly on with the confidence that youâ€™ve more knowledge about your audience than you had a few moments ago. Hope this little tutorial/confession has helped. Get out there and make some conversational mistakes, you. And itâ€™s Spring Training so bone up on your Major League II references. Get to it.
Todayâ€™s bonus is a double recommendation. In the main article, I have posted this link to the classic film Friendly Persuasion, directed by HoFer William Wyler and starring the great Dorothy McGuire, Gary Cooper and Anthony Perkins. Free on Youtube so youâ€™ve no excuse. And new on Netflix this week is the terrific and somewhat overlooked Safety Not Guaranteed. Released quietly last year, itâ€™s a great quick fun watch. Unique movie with simple terrific performances. Get to it.