Basement Songs: “Night at the Museum”

Written by Basement Songs, Film

A look at Ben Stiller’s fantasy comedy in this week’s Basement Songs.

 

 

 

 

We snuggled on the big chair as the Twentieth Century Fox Fanfare played.

“Drun dun, drun dun, drrrrrrrrrrrrr, drun dun. Ba pa da da, babababababaaaaaaah!”

It was one of those rare mornings- Memorial Day, no less- when my daughter and I were the only ones awake. She was an early riser back when she was 8, even on holidays. As it didn’t seem like her mom or brother would be up anytime soon, she requested to order a movie on demand. Her choice was Night at the Museum, the fantasy comedy starring Ben Stiller. For her seeing the film was about the adventure and humor; for me it was watching Stiller, an actor I’d admired ever since his Color of Money parody aired on Saturday Night Live in the late 80’s. For both of us it was about having some father/daughter time while the rest of the family slept.

I must admit my expectations for Night at the Museum were low, even if the movie featured Dick Van Dyke and Owen Wilson. But you can’t beat having your arm around your little girl and having her prop her feet up on yours while watching a movie at home. As the film progressed, I found myself laughing just as much as she did. Moreover, I found myself getting emotionally involved with the plight of Stiller’s character, Larry, an inventor who takes a job as a janitor so that his son won’t be disappointed in him.

The script by Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant (two men known better for the acting on The State and Reno 911!) adheres to a tight, Hollywood formula. Yet the writers peppered it with enough adult humor, action and mystery to lift Night at the Museum above so much of the treacly crap sold as family entertainment. Director Shawn Levy uses a light touch and allowed not only Stiller room to have fun, but also the great supporting cast that also includes Carla Gugiano, Steve Coogan, Mickey Rooney, Bill Cobbs, Ricky Gervais and a reigned in Robin Williams. Even the cameo by Paul Rudd is a hoot. However, it’s Stiller who really delivers.

The first night on the job, Larry discovers that all of the museum exhibits come to life thanks to an ancient Egyptian tablet. Stiller had the difficult task of making us believe that the walking T-Rex bones were real, or that he was about to get eaten by lions, or that the miniature people who come to life are actually throwing tiny spears at him. Of course, all of the fantastic elements I just described were done with computer effects. Stiller had my daughter and me believing. One need only watch Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, in which excellent actors like Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman appear lost in their CG universe, to appreciate how hard it is to pull off this type of acting.

We had to keep our voices down, laughing loud and often. My daughter clutched my arm during the scary moments, and rested her head on my shoulder when the movie got sentimental. You can’t ask for a better movie experience than this one. We both loved Night at the Museum so much that I recorded it later that day just to make sure that Julie and Jacob had a chance to see it. When they did, they, too, fell in love with the movie. It wasn’t long before Night at the Museum became a Malchus household favorite. Five years later, if there’s a disagreement about what to watch on family movie night, Night at the Museum is a sure way to please everyone.

Since the death of my brother-in-law, Seann, in December, it’s no secret that my family is hurting. I’ve heard that eventually the pain will lessen and I won’t feel guilty when I laugh at a stupid sitcom or an inspired movie. In the meantime, we’re all trying to movie forward and return to the routines of our regular lives. This includes going on dates, as Julie and I did a couple weeks back, a belated anniversary dinner. Our night out happened to take place on the same day that Seann would have turned 30. As you can imagine, the entire evening was very emotional. After dinner, Julie and  I returned home to the kids, who then wanted a family movie night. It could have been a situation when some inane comedy or a loud animated film was chosen. Instead, we all agreed on Night at the Museum.

As the family snuggled on the couch and the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare played, it was like an old friend announcing his arrival, coming to help us heal. I don’t know when things will ever be okay, but for a couple of hours it felt like we’d be able to get through another night and face the next day. And it didn’t feel wrong to be laughing, as long as we were with each other, arms around each other, feet propped up together.

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