Sometimes you go to the movies for death-defying stunts, hard-hitting social commentary, or to be dazzled by some stunning cinematography. Other times, you just want to chill out. There’s plenty of movies that fall into the latter category, and often times they’re part of that relaxed, laid-back subgenre known as the hangout movie.
We here at Film Inquiry decided to take a load off by looking at some of our favorite hangout movies. There are friends galore and plenty of meandering through thin plots. And hey, that’s not a sign of bad cinema. It’s just hangout cinema.
Tynan Yanaga – Lost in Translation (2003)
Film, by its very nature as a visual form of storytelling, is about a dramatic arc. And while it’s crucial to have compelling building blocks with a beginning, middle, and end, sometimes there’s something freeing about going away from convention. Where events happen and the environment becomes like a character unto itself, and it’s against this canvas we get to spend time.
We live vicariously through performances even as we come to appreciate them and see how their thoughts and feelings overlap with our own. Lost in Translation isn’t solely about hanging out. There are a lot of heady themes in Sofia Coppola’s meditation on life and friendship as her two protagonists (Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray) drift through Tokyo.
Hanging out is an activity of comfort and leisure, but it takes on a new meaning when you get to take part in it as an outsider or in a place you aren’t altogether familiar with. What a joy it is to link up with other people and stumble along through all the escapades and inside jokes that bond friends together.
No agenda or social significance needs to be plowed up or excavated. These elements may be present, but they don’t always have primacy. We are given license to enjoy the process of actually existing, going on adventures with a buddy, and experiencing life together. Because what is a hangout movie if it is not communal – unifying people over a shared experience – and ultimately tying them together indefinitely? As long as the memories last.
There’s something safe and satisfying about this — the underlying sense you can return someday — and they will be there waiting for you. I also realize hangout movies are personal. I lived in Tokyo so I’ll take any opportunity to return to those oh-so-familiar streets, even if it’s only on celluloid.
Emily Wheeler – The Innkeepers (2011)
Ostensibly a horror movie, Ti West’s The Innkeepers is really a hangout movie in disguise. Yes, there’s a haunted hotel and potentially some ghosts, but no one is exactly champing at the bit to figure out whether the Yankee Pedlar Inn is haunted or not.
Most of the movie is filled by the goings-on of the two remaining employees, Claire and Luke, who are seeing out the last weekend of the hotel’s run. They’ve whiled away countless hours collecting the myths surrounding the hotel and swapping ghost stories, but they’re slackers at heart. All the info they’ve collected is wasting away on Luke’s lo-fi website, and despite some halfhearted attempts to solve the mysteries of the Yankee Pedlar Inn, they’re mostly just desperate to avoid thinking about the expanse of time before them with no jobs and no real prospects.
That’s what you have to be down for to enjoy The Innkeepers: whiling away time with good-natured goofballs who occasionally do some ghost hunting. Sure, there’s some hanging dread (their uncertain futures loom large as do the potential ghosts), but that’s placated by plenty of beer (which you can certainly kick back and enjoy with them). Hangout horror at its finest.
Clement Obropta – The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a series of minor miracles, all swept up in the mammoth challenge of adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy series into a film. In The Lord of the Rings, it’s the relationships and characters that ground the films, and nowhere is that more clear than in the second installment, The Two Towers, which is mostly a buddy movie among Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies).
The guys hit the road after the breaking of the Fellowship, hot on the trail of the kidnapped Hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd). Their journey to rescue the Hobbits is the most low-stakes quest in the film — compared to the mission to destroy the Ring and the political intrigue at Edoras, the lives of Merry and Pippin seem rather inconsequential.
But in seeing the trio bond and Legolas and Gimli look beyond their races’ respective prejudices as they become friends, the whole saga is brought back down to (Middle) Earth. The low-stakes hangout story winds up being the emotional throughline of The Two Towers, in the same way, that Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin)’s friendship is for The Return of the King.
The Warg fight set against the gorgeous hills of New Zealand, the siege of Helm’s Deep, and the third film’s battle at the Black Gate — none of the story’s outstanding set pieces would work without the characters to ground them. And The Two Towers is effective at making those characters matter, at humanizing our three hardened warriors. The film is an enduring fantasy treat, one where dudes are just being dudes — overcoming racial prejudice, slaughtering orcs, and saving the Free Peoples of Middle-Earth.
Those are some of our favorite hangout movies. What are some of yours?
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