For me, John Goodman can do no wrong. He’s a miraculous actor and has a superb screen presence. The ability to take on any sort of role, from deranged shut-in during 10 Cloverfield Lane to his leading role looking for love in True Stories, he can do no wrong. Well, almost no wrong, The Gambler is still fresh in my mind. But the reason I open with praise for Goodman is that Matinee very much survives on his name, and even though he’s not front and centre, it’s good to have him in this 90s Joe Dante piece. Right at the height of his powers here, Dante teams up with Goodman to bring us a wholly brilliant experience, combining their love for the movies with their fear of imminent global destruction thanks to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
There’s a lot of fun to be had with Matinee, and for all those who love the monster movies of old, this loving mockery of the genre will settle well. If the appearance of Mant toward the end isn’t enough to warm you to the heart and energy of this film, then the solid performances from Simon Fenton and Cathy Moriarty will make it hard to resist the charming temptations of such great performances. Dante crafts a film that relies on misunderstanding and mockery of films from aeons ago. Although set in the flower-power decade of the 1960s, there’s never quite a moment where it falls to full acceptance of such a decade, nor is there a part that fully criticises or cares for this tumultuous period. It’s a very clever backdrop to a great story, and the brief moments of interaction we have with missiles, movies, and madness are all the better for it.
Here, Dante’s direction feels fresh and exciting. He didn’t leave much of an impression on me with Gremlins, but his stylistic choices here make for great viewing. Focusing in so clearly on those little moments that set the chain in motion, Matinee thrives on showcasing how proud it is of its little details, and how they come together to form a grand, exciting time. Manic characters that, should they appear in any other film, would be rightly criticised as one-note and underwhelming, work great here. Adding to that mixture of insanity in all the right ways, they provide necessary structure to the articulate nonsense that our climax brings us.
Matinee is a far smarter movie than I’d expected, but to keep all the pieces moving in this love letter to films of the past, Dante and his crew work hard and fast to make sure every character bounces off of one another. A crisp example of how chemistry can take you a long way, and how knowing what to do with such a unique variety of characters can pay off in the long run. Matinee may not have been a big financial hit, but its ability to laugh and love the period it mocks is rather touching, one that makes for a wholly enjoyable comedy thriving on its muddled cast of eclectic individuals.