Happy Dump Month, everyone! You’ve survived the hectic holiday season and face-planted into a brand new year. And what’s your reward? Movie theaters brimming with the films that studios don’t know what to do with.
January has become a dumping ground for poorly conceived tent poles (the $125 million kids movie Monster Trucks), star-studded disappointments (Robert Downey Jr.’s upcoming Dolittle), long-shelved selections (Underwater) and movies just too strange to sell to the mainstream. Distributors expect such funky films will tank whenever they’re released, so why not drop them in January where their failure is pretty much guaranteed?
It’s a rough month for the movies anyway — bad weather urges audiences to stay home and cozy up on the couch. All that holiday spending and New Year’s resolutions have us looking to spend less. And as award season revs up, Oscar-contending films expand their releases, making for a hostile environment for unbuzzed-about offerings.
But all this talk of dumps got us thinking about all the different kinds of dumps we encounter in even the best movies — from overlong info dumps to cringeworthy dumping of partners to, yes, actual dumps from actual butts.
Join us as we make the best of Dump Month by celebrating the dumps worth remembering.
The Info Dump
You know that moment in a movie where characters abruptly switch from talking like people and awkwardly start spewing plot points? This is an exposition dump, where screenwriters unload a whole lot of information crucial to understanding the film’s story. When poorly done, this device feels like a hasty shortcut from plot point A to plot point B. It can make audiences groan or eye-roll in frustration, like they did at the infamous architect scene in Matrix Reloaded. But savvy screenwriters have learned to play with this device, leaning into its awkwardness for some ludicrous fun. This was the case with the motor-mouthed Luis (Michael Pena) in Ant-Man.
This 2015 Marvel Cinematic Universe offering has some serious talent on its screenplay, including Joe Cornish (Attack the Block), Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead), Adam McKay (Anchorman) and the film’s star Paul Rudd. So it’s hard to say who deserves credit for the movie’s excellent runner of spirited exposition dumps, but co-star Pena deserves credit for making them dazzle. The first comes when ex-con Scott Lang (Rudd) is being pitched on a possible heist by his best friend and former cellmate, Luis, but it’s the later info dump that might be the best.
Forget a bland character whose sole purpose is to flatly explain a convoluted plot. With his rapid-fire delivery, unrepentant verve and stereotype-defying passion for rosé and Neo-Cubist art, Luis isn’t just dumping details on heists or Avengers’ hook-ups, he’s sharing his perspective and contagious enthusiasm! All of the characters in his flashbacks speak in his voice, literally lip-syncing to Pena’s hyped voiceover. And the bit players for the second one really come alive, especially the “stupid-fine writer chick” played by Anna Akana, who gives her performance an intoxicating musicality as if she were lip-syncing for her life.
Sure, it’s an info dump, but it’s one that’s bursting not only with exposition but also with excitement, laughs and plenty of charm. No wonder they gave Luis an encore in Ant-Man and The Wasp.
Dumping All Over Someone Else’s Plans
Don’t mess with Robert De Niro. Over the past 50-plus years, the Hollywood heavyweight has built his career on playing tough guys in movies like Cape Fear, Raging Bull and Goodfellas, and we always relish the chance to see his surly mug explode into intense monologues. But it’s a special thrill to watch this titan of cinematic charisma unleash on an unsuspecting joker, as he did to Sean Bean in Ronin.
This 1998 thriller starred De Niro as an ex-CIA agent turned mercenary on a mysterious mission. He needs to lead a crew, plot the heist, snag the package and survive. Yet in one painfully relatable moment, he has to deal with a deeply stupid coworker. Check out the scene where Sam (De Niro) lays into Spence (Bean).
Bean has been killed a lot onscreen, but De Niro metaphorically murders him here. It’s not enough to point out that supposed firearms specialist Spence is rolling out an offensively flawed plan — De Niro’s no-nonsense anti-hero humiliates the guy in front of the whole crew, proving him not only a fool but also a phony. After dumping all over his plan and character, Sam then has Spence dumped from the team for good measure. You love to see it.
The Total Dump
Forget movies set in exotic locales or awe-inspiring landscapes: Let us celebrate cinema that finds beauty in dumps. Recent movies like the celebrated fantasy-horror offering Tigers Are Not Afraid, the cosmic-inspired adventure of Thor: Ragnarok and the out-of-this-world drama of Star Wars: The Force Awakens all featured pivotal scenes in junkyards ranging from grim to garish. But for a movie proudly embedded in a trashed setting, we look back to 1986 and The Money Pit.
Tom Hanks and Shelley Long fronted this screwball comedy that followed a couple through the comically soul-crushing experience of fixing up a real dump. Sure, this grand house looked great from the outside, but over the course of the movie, this dream home becomes a hell, with sparking walls, crumbling ceilings and a big hole in the floor where the tub used to be.
A loose remake of the 1948 Cary Grant/Myrna Loy comedy Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, The Money Pit also offers a subplot about the threat of a metaphorical broken home, as the harried would-be husband fears his bride is eyeing her ex with renewed interest. But the curb appeal of this domestic laffer is all about the mayhem of home ownership and the fear of being trapped by it. Again and again, Hanks and Long not only witness their home falling to pieces, but also are outright attacked by it: Tiles shoot off walls, their oven fires off a roasted turkey like a cannonball and the stairs are a booby trap waiting to spring. Schadenfreude has rarely been this fun.
The Actual Dump
Scatological humor dates back centuries (seriously, it’s depicted in woodcuts from the 1500s.) Still, it can be a tricky thing to depict on the big screen. Filmmakers walk a fine line between riotous gross-out gags and too-gross jokes that leave audiences gagging. In the good, you have the food poisoning sequence in Bridesmaids, which climaxes in Maya Rudolph dropping a deuce in the middle of the street, with only an insanely expensive wedding dress to hide her shame. In the bad, you have Not Another Teen Movie, which took the juvenile poop jokes to a rank extreme, climaxing in a toilet spewing poo like a fecal fountain. But it’s hard to imagine either of these without the great that came before in Dumb and Dumber.
This 1994 buddy comedy starred Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels as a pair of profoundly stupid besties, who road trip cross-country to Aspen, Colorado, on a romantic mission to reconnect with the dream girl, Mary, who got away (Lauren Holly). Floyd (Carrey) fantasizes about making Mary his one-and-only. So when Harry (Daniels) hits it off with her, Floyd sabotages their date by doping his friend with bowel-churning laxatives.
This leaves a dapper Harry dashing for the toilet, where sound and fury are unleashed. Rather than showing the fecal fireworks, Peter and Bobby Farrelly rely chiefly on sound effects and Daniels’ go-for-broke performance, which involves much mugging, to sell the intensity of the dump. Then, they take the stakes up a notch by revealing the next level of this dating nightmare: the toilet doesn’t flush. So, what’s a man in love to do? Clearly, the answer is heavy lifting and “gargling.”
Breaking up is hard to do, but getting dumped is worse. Break-ups can mean both sides of a relationship realized things weren’t working, and there’s a chance that it was a conscious uncoupling — getting dumped means one partner got blindsided and abandoned, and now feels lost, alone and like trash. No movie has captured this low so well and hilariously as 2008’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
Written by and starring Jason Segel, Forgetting Sarah Marshall follows everyman Peter Bretter (Segel) through a savage dumping by his gorgeous and eponymous ex-girlfriend (Kristen Bell). Salt to the wound, Sarah’s a TV star, so Peter can’t escape her face. Then, she immediately starts dating sexy rock star Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), and the media can’t get enough of the newly minted power couple. Then, Peter’s attempt to get over it with a Hawaiian getaway is spoiled when his ex and her sexy new beau crash his holiday. Still, all these comical humiliations pale in comparison to how the movie starts: Sarah dumps Peter while he’s stark naked.
There’s little dignity to be found in being dumped — in such a moment, you feel foolish and vulnerable, so Segel’s scripted full-frontal nude scene makes tons of sense from an emotional standpoint. In execution, it’s both excruciating in its second-hand embarrassment and absolutely hilarious in the sheer, well, ballsiness of it all. It takes a real man to be this exposed on the big screen.
Dumping It All
What if it’s not just a bad boyfriend or a crappy job that’s being bailed on? What if it’s an entire life? Romance movies like My Fair Lady, Eat Pray Love and Under The Tuscan Sun imagine this “fresh start” as a rapturous fantasy, lush with high fashion makeovers, sumptuous feasts, breathtaking landscapes, and often, heart-stoppingly hot gentlemen. But this concept spun dark in David Fincher’s Gone Girl, a crime drama that plays like an ingenious inverse of sunny love stories.
Based on the best-selling Gillian Flynn novel, Gone Girl is the love story of Nick and Amy Dunne (Ben Affleck and Academy Award-nominee Rosamund Pike). It’s the story of how they fell in love with sugary kisses and clever banter, and how they fell apart through lies, betrayal and a mind-blowingly complicated plot for vengeance.
Spoilers ahead for one of the most popular movies of 2014: Though Nick Dunne is a lying, cheating, lazy jerk, he isn’t a murderer who killed his pregnant wife. That’s just what Amy wants her audience (their neighbors, the police, the public, the movie’s audience) to think. Infuriated by her deeply flawed husband, this former “Cool Girl” has embraced her role as merciless “cunt” to frame her bad husband for her faked murder.
After that, she sets forth with a stack of cash, a beater car and a box of dishwater brown hair dye to start, not exactly fresh, but furious. Amy was ready to dump her name, husband, home, family and even her pulse just to get back at the man she felt didn’t appreciate her enough. She’s the romantic heroine turned ruthless bogeywoman. Yes, her journey was breathtaking and heart-stopping, but in shocking, salacious and sinister ways.
The Dump(ster Fire)
Forget the good guys who play hero in countless Hollywood films — sometimes, it’s more interesting to look at the deeply flawed or outright fucked-up protagonists. At their worst, these characters are human dumpster fires, rotten and dangerous, and the best of these worst is hands down Alex, the psycho at the center of Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 classic A Clockwork Orange.
Adapted from the Anthony Burgess novel, this dystopian drama stars Malcolm McDowell as a vicious gang leader whose love of “ultra-violence” might be curbed by a radical psychological experiment.
Over the course of this controversial film, Alex commits brutal crimes of assault, rape and murder, sometimes while singing. His crimes are appalling, yet the panache with which he commits them makes him horribly compelling. Kubrick’s provocative production design, paired with McDowell’s bold performance, had audiences shocked, awed and even outraged: Was the film glorifying this killer and his crimes? By embedding the film in Alex’s twisted perspective — complete with his eccentric narration — audiences were invited to relate to this gleeful murderer. Then as his punishment turns to torture, we’re arguably even urged to sympathize.
What it all means is still a matter of debate nearly 50 years later. Either way, you can’t deny the character’s seminal influence on a wide range of anti-hero offerings, from American Psycho to Natural Born Killers, Gone Girl and Joker.
The January Dump
Let’s end with something worth rescuing from Dump Month. As a film critic, there’s an undeniable fun to be found in the January dumping ground: After months of watching prestige pictures that are doggedly stern and too-often predictable, this month’s slate is a breath of fresh air, full of big swings and wonderful WTF-ness. A prime example of this is writer/director Steven Knight’s Serenity.
Starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, Serenity was marketed as an erotic thriller about a world-weary fisherman lured by a femme fatale to murder her gangster husband (Jason Clarke). But swimming beneath the surface of this sultry stunner was a mind-bending twist that broke all rules and expectations, making it one of the most bizarre movies of the decade.
Headlined by two A-listers and created by a writer acclaimed for gritty dramas like Eastern Promises, Dirty Pretty Things and Locke, Serenity seemed precisely like the kind of mature thriller that would thrive in the fall, like Gravity and Interstellar had. Its distributor, Aviron Pictures, certainly thought so, scheduling Knight’s tale for an October 2018 release.
But October came and went with no sign of Serenity before the January rescheduling was quietly unveiled. This frustrated the film’s stars, who blamed the distributor’s loss of faith for Serenity becoming one of the biggest box office bombs on both their resumes. While critics and audiences alike panned this movie for its bait-and-switch trailer and absolutely bonkers reveal, there’s something wildly entertaining to be found in this unapologetically strange, sexy, and squalid movie.
It deserved better than to be dumped.