Maureen Johnson and the Out of Towners

Still suffering from the Valentine’s Day blues? Then Maureen Johnson has just the fix — a movie! Not just any movie, but one of her favorite anti-or-maybe-not-so-anti-Valentine’s films, The Out of Towners. So grab the popcorn, hunker down and queue up your Netflix!

The most beautiful movie I know is called The Out of Towners. I must be clear on this point — I mean the 1970 film with Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis and NOT the 1999 “remake,” which is in no way, shape, or form like the original. The two movies should NEVER BE COMPARED.[1]

I offer you the link to the original trailer here, just to give you a taste. But trust me, you require the full experience. You need to sit down and give it the full two hours and in the end you will understand life and love and everything.

The Out of Towners is about a very happy Ohio couple, George and Gwen Kellerman, who travel to New York for George’s job interview. He’s up for a big promotion and this, he is convinced, is the moment everything in his life is about to change. They are the all-American couple, certain of success, certain that the job interview will be made on time, certain that everything will work out. We know better, don’t we? We do. But even we, the jaded we, we do not understand the depths of depravity that are to follow.

The trip begins with a series of relatively minor problems — delays in flights, crowded trains, problems with hotel room bookings — all of which are entirely plausible. What makes this movie work is the pace and the beautiful stacking of problems.[2] In an age without cell phones or the internet, the Kellermans are left wandering the city, where their torments are ever-so-gradually ratcheted up. After each small disaster, Gwen proposes a reasonable course of action, while George is determined that everything will go to plan. What George wants to happen and what is actually happening are two very different things, but few characters are so ready to disregard observable reality. He stays on his path, even though the landscape is burning.

So what you get over the course of a few hours is a pleasing descent into madness and squalor, as bad luck and decisions strip the Kellermans of each tiny thing they have — a bed, luggage, money, teeth, hearing. It is wonderful to watch them an hour in, filthy and low, trying to bribe a child with a piece of broken shoe. I hold this moment in my heart. Throughout the film, George makes a list of all that has been taken away, everyone who has wronged him, all the ways in which New York shall be made to pay. In a perfect climax, this too is stripped away.

It could all have been avoided, possibly. Maybe. Who knows? Anyway, the Kellermans stay together in the end so it’s pretty much a perfect Valentine’s Day movie, I guess. SEE IT.[3]

[1] The 1999 remake is more hurtful than The Phantom Menace in my opinion, and I would watch six hours of nothing but Jar-Jar stepping in poop before I would watch the 1999 Out of Towners. George Lucas could watch the 1999 remake and learn a thing or two about real cinematic destruction. For all I know, he did.

[2] I once had a terrible job editing for a publication I won’t name — but it was basically a catalog of books. One person wrote the descriptions for everything and three of us edited the descriptions, which should tell you something right there. The writer of the descriptions had worked for the company for thirty years and wrote bizarre, unpleasant word-jumbles that gave everyone palpitations. But for some reason, the writer could not be fired, replaced or even edited. She could have sat at her desk all day setting kittens on fire and no one was allowed to say a word to her and it was never clear why. The day that broke me was the day I was presented with a paragraph about a cookbook that was all about stacking food into piles, which was bad enough. But the description of said book contained the sentence — burned into my memory — “Honey, remember that time we had that lovely stacked food at that really nice restaurant?” I struck it out, citing reality, but it was STETed and I quit a week later because sometimes you just have to. This is largely irrelevant to this story, but it is an example of bad stacking as opposed to good stacking, and also telling the story frees my soul a little bit more.

[3] BUT NOT THE 1999 VERSION. I cannot stress this enough.

Maureen Johnson

Are you a fan of the movie? Let us know in the comments! And be sure to pick up Maureen’s latest Shades of London book, The Shadow Cabinet, today! Visit our Everything YA page for even more teen authors, books and buzz.

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