If Slate readers have learned one thing from their disastrous movie dates, it’s that you need to do your homework before heading to the multiplex. Last week, I asked you for your nominations for the worst date movie of all time. (My pick was Closer, because it was unexpectedly cynical about love.) Almost 500 of you sent in tales of cinematically induced romantic woe via e-mail, and others shared their unfortunate choices in the comments below the original article or on our Facebook page. The funniest movie-date disasters were almost always due to misinformation, or a complete lack thereof.
Such mishaps were especially frequent in the pre-Internet days. Craig, a self-described conservative dude, went to see The Crying Game on a first date with a fellow churchgoer “before anyone knew the gotcha.” There was no second date.
Extremely graphic or highly dysfunctional sex was another theme of your stories. In the chaste early days of a relationship, nothing kills the mood like some weird on-screen hanky-panky. In Looking for Mr. Goodbar, for example, Diane Keaton’s character cruises bars looking for abusive guys who will smack her around in the sack. Reader Neal tells of a terrible high-school date that started with Mr. Goodbar and concluded with a fender-bender. “The night ended with me sliding my mom’s Dodge Dart in to a snow bank, and wrecking the transmission trying to get out. And I STILL tried to make out with Debbie.” The backseat of the Dodge Dart remained cold that evening.
Readers really hated (500) Days of Summer as a date movie, for much the same reason I chose Closer. Summer was marketed as a warm romance, but its real message about love is depressing. “Zooey Deschanel’s sweet, vapid stare and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s earnest mumble are cute enough,” writes James, “but the ultimate message of the movie is, ‘We can have fun at IKEA, but you ain’t the one for me.’ Which is exactly what my lady and I thought as we looked at each other.” Bummer, James.
TheCrying Game, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, and (500) Days of Summer are all highly unrecommended, but they did not make the top-five worst date movies ever according to Slate readers. Here are the movies that came up most often in your e-mails and comments:
The Shape of Things: Just one of several movies written or directed by Neil LaBute to crop up in your messages: I also got many e-mails suggesting that bringing a date to In the Company of Men or Your Friends and Neighbors was a one-way ticket to getting dumped. The Shape of Things is about Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), a manipulative artist and her boyfriend, Adam (Paul Rudd), a weak-willed schlub who is essentially Evelyn’s puppet. After watching The Shape of Things with a potential significant other,reader Nick asks,“How could you possibly believe dating has any honorable intentions?”
Blue Velvet: As is the case with LaBute, the entire oeuvre of director David Lynch is probably best avoided until you’re going steady. Mulholland Drive and Eraserheadalso got votes, as Lynch’s terminal weirdness is not everyone’s cup of tea. Reader Terence took his now-wife to see the mysterious thriller Mulholland Drive on their third date because he thought it would be a great conversation piece. “By the time the psychedelic shrunken elderly people crawled out of that paper bag she was sobbing her eyes out.” While a couple can survive Mulholland, apparently, Blue Velvet can be too much for young love to bear. Velvet is about the seedy underbelly of a seemingly normal town; since Lynch’s notoriously labyrinthine plots are so hard to summarize I’ll just mention that there’s a severed ear involved. Reader John tells this harrowing tale:
Sophomore year I had a crush on a born again Christian who was extremely sheltered. We didn’t want to go to a drunken frat party for a date (which was the primary activity at our tiny school), so I suggested she come over to watch a DVD. I didn’t own any, so I went to the college library to borrow one, and I saw Blue Velvet. What a alluring title, it must be romantic! I like blue, women like fabrics. Can’t miss, right?
Wrong, John. So very wrong.
Dead Ringers: Another awful date auteur is David Cronenberg, who is responsible for Crash (the 1996 movie about people who get off by watching grisly car wrecks) and Naked Lunch (about an exterminator who murders his wife, based on William S. Burroughs’ work). Dead Ringers is about twin gynecologists, both played by Jeremy Irons. Commenter Geo sums it up nicely:
To my embarrassment and horror what unfolded on the screen was an unsettling cinematic vision that included twin gynecologists sharing unsuspecting women, a love interest that turns out to be a trifurcate (don’t ask), clinical depression, prescription drug abuse, delusions about “mutant women” with abnormal genitalia and a set of bizarre gynecological instruments.
You mean you don’t want to go home with someone after viewing abnormal genitalia on the big screen? What’s wrong with you!
Happiness: This movie has it all: suicide, phone sex, pedophilia. All the earmarks of a great movie to see early on in a relationship—if you’re a serial killer. Writer/director Todd Solondz’s fourth movie is about three sisters in New Jersey and the sprawling, often graphic dysfunction of their lives. I’ll let reader Ross take it away:
[I started dating a woman] in January and we decided to make a Valentine’s night at her apartment for our 4th or 5th date. So she bought me Todd Solondz’s Happiness as a Vday gift. … The opening sequence of Jon Lovitz verbally disemboweling Jane Adams set the uncomfortable tone, but the weepy and pathetic Canryn [sic] Manheim confessing murder to an equally weepy and pathetic mouth-breathing phone-sex stalker Philip Seymour Hoffman really upped the ante. It was, naturally, Dylan Baker’s creepily sympathetic child rapist that caused each of us to retreat to the opposite corners of the sofa and curl into fetal position…When it ended, I asked her how in the hell she decided on this movie. She looked at me and said, ‘It’s called ‘Happiness’, so I thought it would be a good date movie.’ We spoke on the phone a few times after and made half-hearted attempts to see each other again, but ended up not going on another date.
A Clockwork Orange: The ultra-violent 1972 Stanley Kubrick film about a juvenile delinquent rapist who hangs out at milk bars won the most reader votes for worst date movie ever. Which leads me to confess something I left out of my original article. I went to see a midnight screening of A Clockwork Orange on my first date freshman year of college. My beau, an art school student, suggested it, and in my eagerness to throw off the khaki suburban shackles of my high-school days, I was gung-ho about seeing it. I don’t remember the viewing experience well, but it must not have been entirely traumatizing: I stuck with him for several months afterward. And I’m not alone. Reader Adam writes, “My rather conservative parents who have now been married for over 35 years saw A Clockwork Orange on their first date. My mother tells this story to this day with laughs all around the table—my father had heard from a friend that it was a ‘great’ movie they should see.” Let’s raise a glass of moo juice to the good nature of Adam’s parents and remember: True love can conquer even the most terrible date movies of all.