Life Moves Pretty Fast by Hadley Freeman

Fourth Estate

Facebook is one of those funny things that has ebbed and flowed with the time. While it started as a social site for University students, apparantly now the average new sign up is a woman in her late middle-age, keen to share embarrassing pictures of their sons and daughters in their youth and connect with family and friends around the world. As an 80s kid, my Facebook experience is now largely photos of engagements, babies and inspirational quotes, and there’s often a deluge of nostalgia thrown in.

At the moment it’s Ferris Bueller – did you know he had his famous day off on June 5th? Then there’s the image that pops up every so often, the latest of which was last Wednesday. It’s a still of the date programmed into Doc Brown’s DeLorean time machine, the date Marty McFly went to the Future. The date is actually October 21st, 2015 (as opposed to June 10th, as had been shared and liked and squealed over a few weeks back), as any true fan would know.

Hadley Freeman certainly would – the author of Life Moves Pretty Fast has penned a paean to her favourite movies of the 80s, and both Ferris Beuller’s Day Off (and the rest of the John Hughes brat pack movies) and Back to The Future feature heavily. It’s quite obviously from a generational viewpoint, and has a touch of autobiography thrown in; Freeman spent her Lifechildhood in New York a reserved and somewhat isolated young girl, who came to life through the magic of her best loved films. Now a well known writer for The Guardian, her feminist worldview and self-aware, confident wit has been well honed, and she brings it in spades to this tome on “the lessons we learned from eighties movies… and why we don’t learn from them anymore”.

Each chapter takes a movie as its linchpin, around which others support theories and back-up clearly presented observations. Serious topics are made digestible by the subject matter, and the droll style and amusing anecdotes make it all the easier for this fan of fiction to warm to. Freeman has a self-deprecating way of writing that makes it seem like she’s the cool-girl-but-doesn’t-know-it-yet-but-also-kind of-does from one of the movies she’s writing about, which adds all the more to the feeling of being let in on intelligent ideas about seemingly vacuous movies, ideas which you never realised before now that you shared.

In the When Harry Met Sally chapter she muses why modern romcoms are “so scared of real modern women”. In the movie Meg Ryan plays a successful journalist, which isn’t presented as odd or surprising (for a woman), but… normal. There’s no distinction between “Jobs for the Boys and Jobs for the Little Ladies” like there is in modern romantic comedies, where high powered women are often portrayed as callous bitches, or insecure women who need to be tamed by a strong man to learn the true meaning of life. That is, you can have it all as long as you trade your black power suit, severe hair cut and filofax full of clients for floaty florals, loose curls and a reduced work load. For love.

In the part revolving around Ghostbusters Freeman further states that the men of that 80s buddy movie were ‘real men’ with real friendships. The Tony Sopranos and Don Drapers of the 21st century could be seen as man-boys; their prevelance a “petulant temper tantrum about the demise of patriarchial structures”. A reaction, then, to the suprisingly more progressive 80s, as far as how women were becoming more equal, at least in the eyes of the movie makers. It’s the studios that make movies solely for profit, the biggest target audience being teenage boys, and astronomicly-budgeted superhero and action flicks that make billions in the farther-reaching world market. The actress Geena Davis, after having the phone stop ringing for her after she hit forty, went so far as to sponsor the largest amount of research ever done on gender depictions in entertainment media, uncovering data that ‘appalled her: “In family rated films, crowd and group scenes contain only 17 per cent female characters… Why, in the twenty-first century, would we be training kids to see women as taking up far less space in the world than men?”

It’s not all gloom and dismay – overall the book is a big sloppy love letter to the movies she grew up with and era she grew up in. It’s about remembering the moment when you realised you’d seen your favourite movie, about keeping that with you forever and learning from it. The title is taken from Ferris Beuller’s famous, true message “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it”. And that’s the message of the book – to savour the things you love, and to learn from them.

Aoife B. Burke

First Published in The Tuam Herald on 17.06.15

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