1. A.J. Soprano, the world’s only 54 fan
Building a character’s likes and dislikes is a quick-and-dirty method of turning a fictional creation into something vaguely resembling a real person. But the pitfalls are multitude, particularly when pop culture gets involved. Not even a classic like The Sopranos was immune to the scourge of assigning its characters distractingly out-of-character tastes—it makes sense for the show’s mobsters to revere the Godfather trilogy, yet Soprano family consigliere Silvio Dante has a penchant for re-enacting scenes from the worst of those three films. Still, that’s easier to explain than the viewing habits that are foisted upon Anthony Soprano Jr. in the fifth-season finale, “All Due Respect.” Noting her son’s possible future in event planning, Carmela Soprano mentions that he “watches that DVD over and over again—the one with Mike Myers about Steve Rubell, the Studio 54 guy.” She’s referring to the 1998 disco-era turkey 54, now mostly remembered as the movie that was supposed to launch the “serious actor” phase of Mike Myers’ career. A.J.’s an idiot, but even if he has designs on running a nightclub, he should be able to read the tax-evading fall of Studio 54 for the cautionary tale it is. Then again, no one on The Sopranos recognizes a cautionary tale when they see one—or maybe gangster’s son A.J. was just swayed by Rubell’s infamous assertion that “only the Mafia made more money” than Studio 54.
2. Lane Pryce, rubber-monster enthusiast
Stiff-upper-lipped Brit Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) was always a fish out of water in Mad Men’s swinging ’60s world of promiscuous alcoholics, but he did try to fit in. It’s true that some of his efforts (such as setting aside his English football interests in favor of a pennant celebrating the moribund New York Mets of the era) were more sad than successful, but in the fourth-season episode “The Good News,” Lane finally cuts loose for a night on the town with Don Draper. When Don suggests seeing a movie, he and Lane pore over the listings in an attempt to reach consensus. It appears they’ve decided on The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg (“Catherine Deneuve!”), but a hilarious smash cut reveals they’ve actually opted for a Gamera picture. And Lane, for one, has never been happier. Or drunker. He’s as surprised as any of us when he announces, “This movie’s very good!”
3. Undeclared’s Ron defends the merits of You’ve Got Mail
On Judd Apatow’s college sitcom, Undeclared, Seth Rogen’s Ron was a beer-drinking, sarcastic wise-ass—the Seth Rogen character, in other words. Though cuddly in his own bearish way, Ron’s the kind of guy who’s too detached for sentiment, so it’s surprising to learn he harbors a taste for Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movies. During a daylong keg-floating session with Charlie Hunnam’s Lloyd, Ron lets down his guard to admit that, while he tells people his favorite movie is Red Dawn, it’s actually You’ve Got Mail, Nora Ephron’s 1998 treacle about two bickering soul mates brought together by America Online. “You think you’re better than it—ooh, this movie’s gonna suck—then you watch it and it becomes a part of you,” Ron gushes, insisting that he and Lloyd watch it together. Yet even with countless hours of steady beer drinking—and Ron acting as his You’ve Got Mail guru, urging him to allow the “waves of pleasantness” to wash over him—Lloyd remains unconvinced (as does the audience). Rogen is right about Greg Kinnear being likable, though.
4. Juno creep Mark prefers Herschell Gordon Lewis to Dario Argento
In the 2007 comedy Juno, the first warning signs in the eponymous character’s quest to find cool adoptive parents for her baby come early. While the prospective mom strikes her as square, the dad, Mark Loring (Jason Bateman), is actually pretty hip. So hip that he can even dismiss Dario Argento for someone she’s never even heard of, Herschell Gordon Lewis. Juno’s intrigued, but picking gore over giallo says it all. With demented backstories, first-person murders, baroque-textured backgrounds, pulse-pounding electronica, and courting of the fantastical, Argento codified the slasher genre in the ’70s. Meanwhile, Lewis found creative ways to impale women. Argento led to Halloween. Lewis led to Saw. That should have been Juno’s cue to leave. Instead she watches The Wizard Of Gore with Mark and repents. “This is even better than Suspiria!” Oh, honey. If only Juno could see Mark’s bad taste for what it is—which isn’t knowing hipness but childish silliness—she could have spared herself a lot of misery, not least that embarrassing pronouncement.
5. WALL-E loves Dolly
WALL-E is Pixar’s most poetic film, centering on a garbage-collecting robot, WALL-E, who’s the last self-aware creature on a future Earth abandoned by humanity. Until mysterious robot EVE appears, WALL-E’s only company is a VHS copy of the 1969 Barbra Streisand vehicle Hello, Dolly! The largely forgotten musical was made well past the date when Hollywood’s love affair with the movie musical had entered its “not tonight, I have a headache” stage, and moviegoers had to wonder whether even a garbage-compacting robot would have preferred Singin’ In The Rain if given the choice. Still, “You’ll love it! Assuming civilization has been destroyed and it’s the only movie you have access to!” is a heck of a quote for the packaging of a future Blu-ray reissue of Hello, Dolly!
6. Albert Brooks’ character in The Muse wows Hollywood by rewriting Ace Ventura (basically)
Albert Brooks has made some biting, insightful satires in his career. The Muse is not one of them. Brooks (who also wrote and directed) plays Steven Phillips, a screenwriter who’s told by the studio execs that he’s “lost his edge.” He regains it with the help of Sharon Stone, who claims to be an honest-to-goodness Greek mythology-style muse. Stone inspires him to write what the movie treats as a terrific bit of screenwriting—a lowbrow, derivative comedy that involves Jim Carrey running a zoo, with high jinks and shenanigans aplenty. Brooks could have intended that as satire of what Hollywood considers a stroke of brilliance, but the movie (and his character) act as if it’s nothing short of genius.
7. Monica Geller suddenly discovers an affection for the work of Jean-Claude Van Damme
The Friends leads were broadly drawn enough that their personalities could accommodate whatever that week’s stream of punchlines demanded. But it was still jarring when prissy, high-strung Monica revealed her undying love for the films of Jean-Claude Van Damme, the 1980s action hero with possibly the lowest-brow oeuvre of the era, one that includes Bloodsport, Cyborg, and his dramatic turn as twins in Double Impact. Would Joey be a fan? Almost definitely? Chandler? Possibly. Rachel? Weirdly plausible. (Like Undeclared’s Ron, Rachel lies about her favorite movie: She says it’s Dangerous Liaisons, but it’s actually Weekend At Bernie’s.) Monica? Not in a million years. Unless, of course, the show needed someone to gush over that week’s special guest star… Jean-Claude Van Damme.