Last week I moved to a new apartment. It’s a huge improvement — more space, more amenities, better location, and so on — but moving is, under any circumstances, a colossal pain in the ass.
In times of such upheaval, I find myself turning to movies for comfort and commiseration (this is also true in times of joy and times of boredom and … just all the time). But guess what? They don’t really make movies about moving, or about the other mundane things that have been consuming my energy. I had to think long and hard to come up with this handful of pictures of the prosaic.
1. Packing/organizing: Housekeeping captures the futility of tidying up when you yourself are a bit of a mess. I mean that in a good way; as Sylvie the itinerant, Christine Lahti is delightfully chaotic. But she’s certainly no Martha Stewart: when her stodgy neighbors disapprove of the state of her heaven-for-hoarders house, the best Sylvie can do is stack up the crush of newspapers and scrub out the clatter of tin cans. She ends up torching the whole damn thing, which sounded like a fine idea to me the night before the movers arrived.
By the way, the "trestling" scene in Sunshine Cleaning was totally stolen from Housekeeping.
2. Movers and moving yourself: When I was younger and cheap(er), I insisted on moving my own stuff, like Alice in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Get outta my way!
But now I’m a big fan of the big men with trucks, even when they scratch the edges of my pristine LCD TV (dammit). Next time I’m going to let movers actually pack up my stuff, too — or maybe I’ll use elephants and trains, like Karen Blixen in Out of Africa. She had more (and finer) stuff, and it all survived the trip.
3. Dog trauma: I think my pup is fine now, but for the first few days in his new home, he growled and barked at everything that twitched. And who would make a movie about canine neuroses? There’s The Dog Problem, but the problem (loving a rascally mutt) turns out to be no problem at all.
And there’s Pink Flamingos, which I mention only for that scene in which Divine devours a doodie sandwich (because it came to mind the day after the move, when my dog took an anxious dump on the doormat).
Oh, wait — how could I forget about The Year of the Dog? Dogs and trauma to the max. Poor Pencil the pup.
4. Back pain: Nobody wants to hear about, let alone watch a movie about, the aches and pains of lifting boxes and hefting furniture and flaying your own finger with a pliers. And the pain of moving is like the pain of childbirth: a few years later, you’re certain it couldn’t have been that bad and you’re ready to try again. So all I can think of for this category is Fast Food Nation, which portrays a workplace back injury (and which we happened to catch on IFC shortly after moving). But that’s not really a film: it’s more of an extended bit of vegetarian propaganda (I can say that because I too am a vegetarian), and Richard Linklater should be ashamed of himself. (But look: Chrissy Seaver is all grown up!)
5. Second-guessing your moving plans: We didn’t seriously reconsider our move, but we did have a few outbursts like “How can anything be worth all this effort?!” And then, while happily doing laundry for the first time in our new building, we saw a few minutes of the best movie ever in which people spend the whole time planning to move and then, at the last minute, decide to stay put: Meet Me in St. Louis.
It’s cloying at times (like, every time that little kid speaks), but Judy Garland is gorgeous and in very fine voice. Just be prepared to have "The Trolley Song" in your head for a few days or weeks afterward.
6. Apartments and elevators: I’ll end on a high note: The Apartment, in which Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine fall in love amidst misunderstandings. I’ve always run hot and cold about Ms. MacLaine (I’m sure she’d like to forget those crystal/chakra/psycho years too), but her savvy-yet-goofy elevator operator is delicious.
Pitch-perfect comedy and a flawless script make The Apartment a must-see even if you’re not moving to an apartment on the Upper West Side (ah, if only I could claim a fantastic brownstone like the one in the movie). And the story follows an immensely satisfying arc: life takes a strange turn, then flies completely off the rails, and ultimately lands you exactly where you want to be. If only every apartment tale — and every life event in general — could turn out so sweet.
Postscript: IMDb tells me there really is a movie about moving, and it’s even called Moving. It doesn’t sound great, though. Some things just aren’t cinematic.