BOOK REVIEW: Life Moves Pretty Fast - Hadley Freeman

There are certain films which leave an indelible impression on the memory after you watch them for the first time. Back in the days when Sky+ boxes were a thing of the future and the only way to record things on the TV was to wind up the VHS Player, I set a shiny new blank tape up to record a film. That film was Wing Commander because I was very much going through a Freddie Prinze Jr phase (shush).

The brilliance of the VHS recording system, something that has since been lost with the more precise recording equipment of this century, was that sometimes you ended up with whatever came after your initial choice too. In this case, it was The Breakfast Club. I got to the end of another enjoyable viewing of Wing Commander (shush again, I like it and revel in its naffness) and, hearing the nice BBC announcer say that The Breakfast Club was due next, I settled back down for a film that sounded like it might involve pancakes. And I like pancakes. 

Instead, what I got was the John Hughes masterpiece that didn't involve pancakes, but sushi, Barry Manilow's wardrobe and a collection of misfits who I adore to this day. It was one of the first films I'd seen in my awkward teenage years that actually spoke to me about the difficulties of trying to be cool and 15 at the same time. I fell in love with Bender because who doesn't love a brash yet sensitive burnout who wears plaid and a grotesque amount of demin? I empathised with Bryan and the comments about his deeply uncool desire to get good grades because I too was an insufferable swot. And then there's Allison who remains to this day the kind of social outcast I always wanted to be, but was never quite cool or confident enough to become. 

These were my people. Those characters coupled with an endlessly quotable script saw the film enter my favourites list immediately, even with the lack of actual pancakes. John Hughes would also go on to become one of my favourite directors. 

When I cracked open Hadley Freeman's ode to 80s cinema, Life Moves Pretty Fast, I knew immediately that I was in the company of a kindred spirit and settled down to read what turned out to be a pleasant surprise of a book. The subtitle, "The lessons we learned from eighties movies (and why we don't learn from the movies anymore)" may create an initial trepidation regarding rose-tinted nostalgia, but the result is that the book is a fairly well-balanced mix of that nostalgic fondness mixed with genuine insight and interesting analyses. 

It does of course help that a fair few of my favourite movies are featured within the book. Dedicating a chapter to The Princess Bride is always a swift way to get me on side (because it's obviously the best film ever made - unlike many films, I don't remember seeing it for the first time because I'm fairly certain I've been watching it since birth), not to mention another on When Harry Met Sally (because it's obviously the second best film ever made). 

Yet it's not just the content, but the way it is written that makes Life Moves Pretty Fast such an entertaining read. Freeman's easygoing prose feels more like you're having a conversation over a pint with a friend rather than burying yourself in some weighty tome, especially the fun Top 10 lists at the end of each chapter. I found myself nodding gleefully at several parts in the book, not least of which the moment in which young Dan Aykroyd is declared to be sexy (he was Elwood Blues; of course he's sexy). Given that the best place to have highly enthusiastic, all-gesticulation conversations about film is in the pub, this is definitely to the book's advantage. It's pretty much a film geek's dream.

Freeman is also not afraid to tackle some more weighty issues in her analyses either. The feminist focus of the book arrives at a particularly interesting time when it comes to representation of female characters on screen, given the recent debates surrounding Avengers: Age of Ultron (oddly enough, Freeman's analysis of modern superhero blockbusters is the one section I don't really agree with). Whilst there are examples of bigger blockbusters getting better, it's not hard to disagree that we have gone backwards since Sally had her deli moment or Andie refused to change one iota to get Blane to continue dating her. 

The book allows us to celebrate those characters, many of them now iconic in popular culture. Freeman's analysis of Dirty Dancing as a surreptitiously major feminist work in cotton candy clothing and her conversations with the film's screenwriter, the great Eleanor Bergstein, are a particular highlight, demonstrating the power of letting women tell their own stories behind the scenes. The feminist focus may run through the book, but a wide variety of topics are tackled also from the way in which race is represented on screen, the decline of mid-budget films and issues of masculinity in cinema. There's even a list of 80s films that Freeman regretted not mentioning. My heart soared at the albeit too brief inclusion of St. Elmo's Fire.

In a world where cynicism reigns supreme, particularly in the film world when snark is seemingly more regularly dealt out than praise, Freeman's book storms in like a breath of gleefully positive air. It's hard not to get swept up in the sheer amount of love within these pages, but it's grounded in carefully thought out analysis that keeps it both conscientious and relevant. I can pretty much guarantee that the first thing you'll want to do upon finishing Life Moves Pretty Fast is finally get round to seeing or rewatching the films mentioned. As for me, I've got a glorious Reiner/Hughes marathon planned. 

And for anyone else with fond memories of VHS days, I really do recommend picking up the paperback edition rather than the ebook (see above). It's gorgeous.

- Becky

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