I love celebrating my birthday (which is today by the way should you wonder why I am volunteering this random piece of information).
Or anyone’s birthday for that matter … yes, you, person I have never met reading my blog post, let’s celebrate your birthday!
And why not?
You get cake and presents and if you’re extrovert like me, lots and lots of welcome attention; but most importantly because it’s the one day of the year when you can pretty much do what you like, how you like, and everyone sweetly shrugs and goes “Well, it is his birthday.”
That means I can eat all the lollies I like at the movies, chow down on a burger for lunch with my boyfriend, spend the afternoon watching my favourite movie or sitcom episodes before heading out to an intimate dinner, again with my wonderful guy, and not feel the least bit of guilt in the world that I am not being wildly productive (I am from Baptist stock and in full possession of a guilt-inducing runaway work ethic) or contributing to the greater good of humanity.
It’s a day just to kick back, and have some fun, or if you’re in a movie, the day when all sorts of Great Life Moments happen because, well, it’s far more dramatic that way.
So in honour of cinema’s love of the Epic Birthday, I’ve selected three of my favourite movies that feature birthdays that Mean Something or make it clear that the celebration of the day you are born, isn’t just about cake and balloons …
Woody (Tom Hanks), Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Rex (Wallace Shawn) and all the other toys that belong to six year old Andy Davis (John Morris) have got it good.
They’re loved and played with when Andy is around, which is the most important thing for any toy, and when he is not, they magically spring to life and have their run of Andy’s bedroom till he returns.
Only one thing overshadows this idyllic existence – Andy’s annual birthday party when new toys arrive who may or may not be a threat to the existing toys place in their owner’s affections, with the one most affected by this being Woody who finds his worst fears realised when newcomer Buzz Lightyear, who actually thinks he is a space ranger and not a toy, is suddenly the star of the show, seems to supplant as Andy’s favoured toy.
Woody’s rather jealous reaction to this clueless but amusing interloper, results in Buzz being knocked out a window into the yard below, setting in train a madcap but ultimately emotionally-affecting adventure that takes the odd couple of toydom through the depths of the Pizza Planet restaurant, accidental nightmarish ownership by Andy’s brutish neighbour Sid, and following an escape that is only possible if the two adversaries work together, a return to the safety and love of Andy’s bedroom.
It’s an hilariously, heartwarming movie that all starts with a birthday party where Important Things Happen, and frankly one of the highlights of the movie, of any animated movie, is the re-con of the party by Andy’s plastic toy soldiers while the rest of the toys look nervously on.
THE MORAL: Birthday parties are fun but watch out – there could be more at stake than just your waistline.
I will admit at the outset that Signs has flaws – why would aliens who can be poisoned by water invade a planet absolutely brimming with it? – and is not the equal of director M. Night Shyamalan’s debut The Sixth Sense.
Even so, I really like the movie thanks largely to the way it effectively personalises the naturally globally epic nature of an alien invasion by letting us witness it through the eyes of the Hess family of rural Pennsylvania – dad Graham (Mel Gibson), sons Morgan (Rory Culkin) and Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) and daughter Bo (Abigail Bresslin) – who are still traumatised by the untimely death of their wife and mother at the hands of a deeply remorseful neighbour Ray Reddy (M. Night Shyamalan).
In many ways the aliens aren’t even the main event in town – that honour belongs to the multitude of issues the family is dealing with such as Bo’s obsession with leaving glasses of what she calls funny tasting water around the house and Morgan’s fear that something bad is in the offing, all of which, while they are signs pointing to and healed by the extraterrestrial’s arrival, are more to do with the loss of their mother than anything else.
For all that, Signs is still seriously creepy, never more so than when the media, whipped most firmly into a state of tabloid hysteria – admittedly this time with very good reason – features a seven year old Brazilian boy’s birthday party at which ET’s far less loveable cousin shows up and frightens the bejesus out of everyone.
The alien’s appearance is freakishly terrifying and as Emily Kellas at Reel-2-Reality correctly pointed out probably meant “that little boy will never be able to stomach another birthday party ever again because of the haunting memory of that fatefully frightening day.”
Not to mention the cinemagoers like myself who had to be peeled off the ceiling after the scene.
THE MORAL: Always set an extra place at your birthday party – you never know who’s going to turn up.
Go on admit – every family has that one misunderstood member who doesn’t quite fit in but if you took the time to get to know them might not be so bad after all.
Granted Uncle Buck, which featured the late much-lamented John Candy in one of his finest roles, is the kind of person that is very easy to misunderstand.
On the surface, he is crass, boozy, unemployed and addicted to racetrack betting, hardly the sort of person you’d want to willingly invite into your home.
But Bob (Garrett M. Brown) and Cindy (Elaine Bromka), desperate to get as quickly as possible to side of Cindy’s dad who’s just suffered a heart attack don’t have much choice and so Bob’s brother, good ol’ Uncle Buck, who seems to have few redeeming qualities, is left in charge of the couple’s three kids, resentful Tia (Jean Louisa Kelly), Miles (Macaulay Culkin) and Maizy (Gaby Hoffman).
Of course, Uncle Buck is nowhere near as bad as his cursory impressions might suggest and in his own unique way he transforms the lives of all three kids, in the middle of which he stages the most hilarious birthday party, complete with drunk clown, that you’re ever likely to see anywhere.
I had some brilliant kids’ parties in my time but nothing like the one Uncle Buck manages to pull off.
He is a certifiable legend and the best relative ever.
THE MORAL: No birthday is complete without bored guests, giant pancakes and a drunk obnoxious clown.