|by Collin Souter
I’m not a fan of babies. I just don’t get the big deal behind them. I don’t get what makes them cute, I don’t understand how people can tell one from the other and I don’t understand the need to flaunt them in public. If someone put a baby in my arms, my initial reaction would probably be one of confusion and indifference while saying something along the lines of, “That’s nice. Do you own ‘Starship Troopers’? Can we watch it?” I don’t want babies and they tend to not want me and I certainly don’t want them in a movie theater. Let me re-phrase that: I don’t want them in there while I’m in there. Luckily, a little theater chain has provided a service to those of us who liken the sound of a baby crying to being castrated by Kim Cattrall while listening to Barbara Streisand.
A little over a year ago, Loews Cineplex adopted a program called Reel Moms, which gives stay-at-home mothers and fathers a chance to get out of the house with their babies and catch up on the latest movies. I bravely decided to check this out even though I have no baby to tow around. I told my girlfriend that I would be doing this as part of the Multiplex, Shmultiplex series. She had hoped for the sake of my sanity that I would be sitting in a near-empty theater. I had a different attitude. I wanted to see those seats FILLED! The more people who know about this service, the less I have to put up with a screaming stroller crab on a Saturday night while I’m trying to watch Garden State.
I went to Loews’ Streets of Woodfield in Shaumberg, Illinois for their 11:00am Tuesday screening of Alfie, a movie I had already seen and sort of enjoyed. Unbeknownst to me at the time, they actually ran two movies, the other being The Polar Express, but due to scheduling mix-ups and newspaper/internet screw-ups I didn’t know this. I braced myself for an experience at the movies louder and more piercing than Return of the King on IMAX. I also braced myself for a foul odor to permeate the joint that would overwhelm the already pungent smell of buffalo wings and curly fries. I honestly can’t remember the last time I actually smelled popcorn in a multiplex, can you?
I walked in and saw a row of strollers in the area between the stadium seats and the floor seats. The place looked about half full. Were it not for the Polar Express screening, it probably would have been close to full. Moms carried their infants in their arms with their baby necessities occupying the seats next to them. A few came in groups but most came by themselves. One mother opted for an aisle seat near the front. No sign of Mr. Moms anywhere.
The crying started during the trailer for Alexander, which I completely understand. It looks so awful, what else can you do? The lights stayed dimmed and not extinguished, so that if during the movie the babies suddenly sprouted horns or a lizard tongue, the moms could see it and tend to the matter at once. The sound also stayed at a moderate level in case the kids wanted to drown out the sound of Jude Law’s smarminess. This they did, one crying baby at a time. There didn’t seem to be any eruption of noise until toward the end, where I noticed an amazing phenomenon: When Jude Law stopped talking and started crying, the babies all stopped as though their wish had finally been granted.
The moms in the audience seemed to enjoy the flick, but I must say I found it to be a strange choice for a movie in this setting. Alfie touches lightly on abortion while Jude Law looks at the audience and says, “Never get involved with a single mom” because of the unwanted baggage it brings. By the end, we’re still meant to have sympathy and be on his side for being a free, single man without peace of mind. I doubt any of the mothers in the audience really gave a damn.
Overseeing this whole operation week after week is a young woman named Airen, an usher who helps the mothers with whatever they need. At one point in the movie, a baby lost a pacifier on the floor. The mother called Airen over to help find it, which she did and offered to wash it off.
“I’m here every week,” she says. “I see a lot of the same faces and a lot of them have become regulars. I’ve known some of these babies since they before they were one.”
The mothers who come in every week now know Airen and feel comfortable in the theater tending to the usual baby needs, such as diaper changing or breast feeding (neither of which I saw first hand, thankfully). “It’s become a home away from home on Tuesday morning. They feel completely comfortable here. When you’re a mother, you’re at home all the time, so they’re just happy to get out of the house for a couple hours out of the week.”
Because of the mix-up and having two movies playing at once, Airen had to do double duty. I told her that I think it’s better for parents to have a choice. Why not do Reel Moms more than once a week? Why not have one movie on a Tuesday and a different movie on a Thursday?
“I’m trying to start something like that,” Airen says. “I’d like to start something where the audience has a choice where we could have one screen showing a family film and another showing a chick flick, or one screen showing a drama and another showing an action film to give more choices for dads.”
Loud action movies can be a problem for this format. A year ago when The Last Samurai played, the loud, high-pitched sounds of the swords clanging caused the entire theater of babies to erupt in an all-out, bone chilling cry-a-thon. For that reason, Reel Moms sticks to low-key, simple movies that have some appeal to female audiences. They usually stick to safe fare such as Shall We Dance?, although last week they screened The Incredibles. Today, as moms file out of the theater, Airen stands by the door to inform them, “Next week is Briget Jones.”
Sitting in a theater full of crying babies is not an experience I would want to repeat, but I’m happy about the service. Often, I hear from moms that they don’t have time to go out to movies because of the drastic change in their lives, but Loews has provided a great opportunity for them to stay informed and entertained without having to annoy the public with a spastic, wailing drool hawker on a Saturday night. Word has gotten around and the idea seems to be a success. Next, Loews will be trying a program aimed at singles. Think of the possibilities of hooking up with someone while watching Kinsey, Closer or Ang Lee’s upcoming gay cowboy film Brokeback Mountain. There’s a story for your kids and grandkids.
For more information on Reel Moms and where to find the service in your area, go to http://enjoytheshow.com/reelmoms/ .
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originally posted: 11/17/04 20:10:54
last updated: 01/03/05 13:51:27