Friday, 4 January 2013

The ‘Nostalgic Trauma Flashback’ of Cinema [Dude, Where’s My Car? (2000)]


Dir. Danny Leinen
Film #4 of The ‘Worst’ of Cinema


I was going to view this only out of fascination, remembering seeing pieces of the film, but watching it has gone beyond that to opening a vast segment of my mind that is rarely allowed to be opened, bringing a whole era of my adolescence out like a post-trauma flashback. About a pair of stoners (Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott) who have to deal with a night’s aftermath that they cannot even remember, this film of all things is the key to mapping out my early teenage years in terms of culture and film, even more so in that the film isn’t good and is the mediocre bridge between the late 1990s and the early 2000s where I went through puberty and early teenage hood. Born in 1989, my adolescence was from 1999 onwards to the middle of the 2000s, probably 2006 or 2007 when I was at college and I started getting more into various types of music and cinema gradually. I still remember the peculiar taste of the 1990s I grew up with, reconciling with it through my film watching, but the early 2000s is this vague beast that has been wrapped in cotton wool in my mind despite having many memories of it. Dude, Where’s My Car? has abruptly revealed the truth of the era, a bucket of cold water over my head and woke me up.  


After the post-modernism of the 1990s, the early 2000s for me is probably a lot more dated than any other period, especially since it has yet to gain the protective shield of nostalgia that the 1980s has. It was a period of the American Pie films and bands like The Offspring were popular. It is also a period which, despite having many aspects of it that still stand up today in quality, was a crumbling mess of pop culture, of the lingering taste of the nineties trying to interconnect with the new technology, the sanitisation of a lot of it, and the effect of being post-post-modern in mood, something we’re still trying to deal with in cinema in 2013 for myself regardless of the critical consensus of most people of the current film climate. It was a period that never considered pop punk to be a paradoxical concept, where everything was both cheerful and bright, or like the lyrics to Disturbed’s first album, but a lot of it feels lame and hollow in hindsight. It was acceptable to have white man rap against heavy metal guitars, and while I still listen to some songs by Linkin Park etc., for the most part it is cringe worthy, and a period of mass commercialisation of American skater, college campus and ‘alternative’ culture that was blatantly sold of marketable product despite the creators’ intentions. Now most of the albums from this period litter the second hand music stands, as I am baffled I had songs by bands like Zebrahead on my computer, heaven is no longer a halfpipe, and Sega no longer has a Dreamcast and is now in the pocket of their age old rival Nintendo. And like the early 1990s straight-to-video horror films I evoked in The Invisible Maniac (1990) review, comedy films like this one from the early 2000s are strange beasts with no place in cinematic history.


Why, when Dude, Where’s My Car? has sex jokes, pot references and such types of gags, does it have the look, tone and music cues of a family friendly wacky comedy? You know, the ones where a person acquires an animal, usually a dog, which they have to eventually fall in love with by the end and at some point demolishes their home, and drools everywhere, in the narrative? It comes more apparent that of a lot of early 2000s cinema, geared to rebellious teenagers, is actually awkward and awkwardly put together. It immediately invokes the infamous Freddy Got Fingered (2001), which I finally viewed last year, a film that was said to be offensive and abhorrent by film critics but turned out to be really ordinary, plastic looking cinema that Hollywood was making at the time, with the vast gallons of elephant semen being the only thing that separated it from the teen comedies. Dude, Where’s My Car?, a series of comedy vignettes about the most vague night of debauchery possible, has a few laughs, but it is mostly the worst aspects of the period put together, American comedy that should not be criticised for its type of humour by critics but for how stilted and lackadaisically put-together it all was, with their empty visual looks and ‘alternative’ pop punk soundtracks. That this film looks and sounds like Beethoven (1992), but is actually about pot smokers having to contend with disappointed girlfriends, amnesia and mystical alien technology instead of a lovable and rambunctious dog, is even more incomprehensible in its plainness. Greg Araki’s Kaboom (2010) this is not – Araki almost digging the graves for films from this period and kicking them into the holes from behind with Kaboom’s braver but more charming nature - a film that just reminds me of some of the utterly generic music and items of the period. That could be viewed as incredibly cruel on my half, but as someone who still loves quite a few things from the era, even if people now would turn their nose up to them, I can also cringe at the awful quality of some of this culture and see how airheaded it was.

If only these two had a film of their own completely separate from this one (From

The compromised Americana of Dude, Where’s My Car? – of pot smoking, white men ‘ghettoing’ in a music video fantasy sequence, fast food drive-ins etc. – is sorely lacking and flat onscreen, even more so as an Englishman with a continental difference between me and it. It is all distracting series of iconography on a screen, and probably is now for a lot of Americans my age or younger an embarrassment too. This could be viewed as trying to use the scorched earth policy on my adolescence out of shame, but its more the realisation that, for everything I still keep to heart, things like this film, which produced only a snicker or a laugh occasionally and is not creatively interesting in humour or look, sadly make up a large part of the era and has reminded me of it all like bathroom tap limescale in my mind which has forgotten about for years. It feels cheap, and it’s sad to see the outtakes in the end credits where everyone including the two main actors are enjoying themselves, as they all deserved better than this. What I was left with, thinking about the film, is just how many people will be willing to (re)watch Dude, Where’s My Car? and whether they’ll have the same nostalgic feelings of horror at what they see as I did.


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