"Not liking movies is like not liking puppies," says a character in a movie I had no expectations for but am now completely obsessed with, Pitch Perfect.
It's true. Everyone likes movies. However, if you're not even a movie buff in the slightest—you couldn't care less about X-Men: Days of Future Past or Joe Swanberg's Happy Christmas—this can still apply to you. This isn't only about getting irrationally amped to see your hero/idol/fantasy bae kill it on screen. Really, it's about getting stoked about something only to witness it crush your dreams—er, disappoint you.
To streamline this, let's put it in the context of the last movie that broke my heart: Maleficent.
I'd been talking about Maleficent since it was announced three years ago and ogling every photo that leaked from the set. The first time I saw Angelina Jolie in those horns, I'm pretty sure I texted my friend the picture with the caption: "OMG. I'm dying." The movie had everything going for it: badass Angelina Jolie giving male antiheroes a run for their money; Elle Fanning at her most mystical Elle Fanning; and the magical minds at Disney. They animated Beauty and the Beast! They pulled off Enchanted! They made my favorite sports movie ever, Remember the Titans! Disney has a proven record of tugging your heart and wowing you at the same time. Plus, with Lana Del Rey crooning its haunting theme song in the trailer, the film’s mystique was packaged perfectly. I honestly did not expect anything less than greatness. That is to say, for this movie, I retreated into my pre-teen self, the one who thought Spice World was GOAT just because the Spice Girls were in it. (To be fair, that movie deserves to be a cult classic.)
So I saw Maleficent. And, well, it wasn't very good. Extremely formulaic, the movie moved from scene to scene like it was racing toward checkpoints. But most importantly, it wasn’t very fun. It didn’t make my heart pound; each beat felt predictable and familiar. It attempts to reinvent the fairy tale genre but trips on conventional fairy tale character tropes, like a faithful servant, a purely evil king, and bumbling jesters (here, the trio of fairies) meant solely for comedic relief. The CGI was safe, like Snow White and the Huntsman with the lights turned on or a watered down Alice in Wonderland. And Maleficent herself was curiously withdrawn—literally sauntering from scene to scene before drawling out what’s meant to be threatening words like a retail store boss who hates his job.
But I didn’t settle on these opinions right away. I basically journeyed through the five stages of grief to get to that point.
Denial. Right after the screening, I was convinced I had watched it entirely wrong. Either I missed something or I’m just getting too old for Disney movies. This was meant for small children, like Angelina Jolie’s children, whom she says made it for.
The next morning, when friends asked how it was, I gave them a half-hearted, “It was OK.” The pathetic phrase that’s enough to get someone off your back and keeps you from committing to any real opinion. I’m just glad that I hadn’t gone as far as assembling all my friends for a Friday movie night weeks ago. That saved me from the awkward convo out of the theater that begins with someone saying, “Well, I thought—” and me cutting them off with, “Is anyone else, like, really hungry?”
Anger. Then, I riled myself up, the way I did after a screening of another movie I thought I’d love, Noah. “It was Paramount’s fault! Their meddling input butchered the final product,” I told myself. In the same vein, Maleficent was directed by a complete n00b—this was Robert Stromberg’s directorial debut—whose main achievements before were as a special effects artist. OK, so what if Pan’s Labyrinth was a visual masterpiece, Stromberg? What about storytelling? What about character?
Bargaining. But really, I had to have missed something, right? I told myself I really should see it again, maybe not in a crowd of cynical adults forced to be critical of it. It was their fault. The silence in the screening room didn’t give me the power-up you get from public screenings. I missed the experience. Plus, Angelina Jolie doesn't make mistakes. But what about Life or Something Like—no, shut up, Angelina Jolie doesn't make mistakes. Maybe if I go with a trusted companion this weekend he or she will see something I didn't and give me newfound appreciation for it.
Depression. But you can only tell yourself so much until you realize you've lost. That void in you that so desperately wanted to be filled by this thing—whatever your Maleficent may be—is still there. What got me so excited to see this movie was that I thought it would make me feel like a kid again. I watch so many movies that spark so much conversation on the Internet—the New York Times knows what I’m talking about—that I wanted something that was just fun, plain, and simple. Maybe this wasn’t right movie. Maybe it isn’t possible to feel that way anymore. Maybe I should see a therapist.
Acceptance. Either way, Maleficent has come and gone. There’s always Pitch Perfect 2.
Tara Aquino is the editor of Complex Pop Culture whose excitement for Pitch Perfect 2 makes everyone around her uncomfortable. She tweets here.