Once upon a time, in the late 1980s, there lived a mopey teenage girl.
Saddled as she was with bad skin, a mouth full of braces and a dark sense of humor that was often misinterpreted as an acute case of misanthropy, she did not have many dates.
Which is why, on a Friday evening near the Christmas holidays, she found herself in a dark movie theater for the umpteenth time. There were several reasons for this: The single screen theater only charged a dollar for first–run films, milking its audience by showing the same one for weeks on end. (This is how the girl came to be able to quote the scripts of Footloose, Die Hard and Dirty Dancing in their entirety.)
The theater was also within walking distance from her house. As she had crashed the family car three weeks after obtaining her driver’s license, it was cheap entertainment that did not require the embarrassing necessity of having her father drop her off.
But one particular film grew to be more than a convenience or a pop culture meme that winter, after Chanukah came and went without the fanfare we know today. Upon each viewing in the Junior Mint–encrusted seats of the Dollar Theater, The Princess Bride grew funnier and more relevant, its characters more beloved.
Thanks to a friendly librarian, the girl already knew the book by William Goldman, and director Rob Reiner masterfully handled the plot that was a marriage (pronounced “mah–wage”) of many elements: Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles ... As her friends busied themselves with tree decorating and caroling, the girl came to consider this film practically sacred.
She developed a deep girl crush on Princess Buttercup, played by the impossibly beautiful Robin Wright, who with her perfect spray of nose freckles and honey–colored hair had clearly never known the shame of a bad perm. And what teen wouldn’t have fallen for Cary Elwes as the farm boy Wesley, uttering the romantic phrase “as you wish” from his bow–shaped mouth, when most high school boys could barely more than grunt? In her unrelenting awkwardness, she even indentified with Andre the Giant (may he rest in peace,) misunderstood and poetic as the big lug Fezzik.
This is not to say the girl was alone in her adoration: The theater brimmed at every showing with mods, punks, goths, drama geeks, band nerds and other misfits in the high school social stratosphere. The film’s whipsmart wit, quirky wisdom and definitively metered–out justice somehow brought them together in their otherness, and in the three weekends The Princess Bride screened at the Dollar Theater, a code of dignity promulgated amongst these fringe dwellers.
From then on, when they passed each other in the fire swamp of the school halls, ducking the slings and arrows from the jocks and mean girls, they exchanged nods with the confidence that though life is pain (anyone who says differently is selling something, counseled the Dread Pirate Roberts), love triumphs, acne or not.
And for the rest of the school year when a teacher followed up any admonition with “I mean it!” someone was guaranteed to peep “Anybody want a peanut?”
Twenty–five holiday seasons later, The Princess Bride has reached cult classic status, its short box office life prolonged by VHS tapes and then digital downloads. New generations of nerdom quote from it with aplomb, though none have bonded over it on the big screen like we did in 1987.
Until last Saturday.
In the words of Inigo Montoya, let me s’plain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up: When Mindy Nash of M. Nash Events learned of the 25th anniversary of The Princess Bride, she conceived of “An Inconceivable Event” to celebrate. She arranged a screening through distribution site Tugg.com, who worked with the Carmike 10 Theater to host it.
The Dec. 8 show sold out its 175 seats three weeks in advance. Would you believe Nash was worried that there would be enough PB fans to fill the chairs?
“I wasn’t nervous. Maybe I was a little bit ‘concerned’ but that’s not the same thing,” Nash grinned, applying yet another fan reference.
Nash organized a fanciful pre–party in the Carmike parking lot, lit up like a Hollywood premiere by Advanced A/V with interactive trivia and noshes provided by bar food. Part of the proceeds benefitted the local chapters of Girls on the Run, which gives young women the kind of physical opportunities and encouragement a gawkward gal like myself could’ve used back in the day.
The Carmike is far more cush than my old high school haunt, but I will tell you I did not miss the sticky armrests. As I waited for the lights to dim, I reflected on the past 25 years: The braces are long gone and our blinky blue Chanukah lights are the brightest on the block. I haven’t been dateless for some time and though my husband isn’t nearly as acquiescent as the farm boy Wesley, he’s a mighty fine fencer.
I’ve even had the honor of knocking back tequila shots and hootchie dancing with the Princess herself in 2010, when Robin Wright came to town for the Savannah Film Festival’s premiere of The Conspirator.
But nothing could beat giggling along next to my own kids. While life may not be as simple as “happily ever after,” there is the satisfaction of integrating the weird, clumsy parts of ourselves into the people we are proud to have become.
I wish I hadn’t spent so much time undervaluing those parts, and I hope my children will avoid that mistake.
In addition, of course, to that other classic blunder, “Never get involved in a land war in Asia.”