Low expectations means better results.

On Friday nights, my husband and I practice an ancient ritual, passed through the generations. It’s called pizza and a movie. Totally secret, right?

Though lately, we’ve had a hard time finding movies we like. And I can’t decide if that’s because we’re getting older, or because the movies have headed south. Maybe both?

Well, he brought home this movie called, The Hangover – Rated R, and I totally don’t watch rated R movies anymore. But he insisted that he’d heard it was really good. (word of mouth) So I curled up on my couch, with a pepperoni slize in one hand, and my book in the other – ready to exit at the first sign of dumb dialogue. I mean, come on, The Hangover? How good can a movie be about a bunch of guys partying in Vegas for a bachelor party?

But (gasp) I stayed for the whole movie. I actually laughed out loud. Here are the factors that hooked me and I’m sure you’ll see the obvious relation to writing.

  •  Great character-specific dialogue that continually surprised me.
  • Enough backstory revealed that I cared about these guys and realized that they weren’t just a bunch of immature highschool wannabes.
  • Mystery revealed. The groom went missing. The movie was about solving this mystery – not about their partying. (Key point)
  • The stakes were high and things kept getting worse and worse.
  • The clue to solving the mystery was planted in the very beginning.
  • Great relationships between the four guys. Believable.
  • A suprising ending.
  • True character transformation in all of them.

Has a book or movie suprised you lately?

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23 Responses to Low expectations means better results.

  1. The Alliterative Allomorph April 26, 2010 at 6:42 am #

    Nope. I haven’t been surprised in a long time. Although, The boy in the striped pyjamas, has stayed with me ever since I saw it. I then read the book, and for the first time, realised that I enjoyed the movie more!

  2. Kris April 26, 2010 at 11:11 am #

    My hubby has been trying to get me to see the Hangover, too. I may give it a try now!

    We saw How to Train Your Dragon last weekend. I hadn’t read the book or seen many previews just “heard it was good.” It was really amazing. Surprise twists, believable (to the extent possible) characters, sweet ending. We all loved it. Even hubby who didn’t expect to like it at all, and was just coming along for family time.

  3. Laura Pauling April 26, 2010 at 11:18 am #

    AA – That happens to me sometimes. If I see the movie first, I like the movie better.

    Kris – Definitely see the movie. It enjoyed it and didn’t think I would. I can’t wait to see HTDYD. You should read the books too. 🙂

  4. Kris April 26, 2010 at 11:19 am #

    I went out and bought the first two books this weekend. 🙂 We’ll be starting them tonight!

  5. marcia April 26, 2010 at 12:39 pm #

    Wow, it’s one thing to hook a reader/viewer who wants to be hooked; it’s a really powerful thing to hook one who expects to hate your book/movie! Your points about why this worked are a great reminder to all of us. Especially like the point about backstory. It DOES play an important role. We just have to know how to handle it rather than “info-dump” it.

  6. Laura April 26, 2010 at 12:48 pm #

    Marcia – Backstory is crucial. If the director hadn’t shown the scenes at the beginning that gave me a glimpse into their homelives, the movie would not have been as good!

  7. Kelly Polark April 26, 2010 at 1:23 pm #

    I thought The Hangover was pretty suspenseful throughout. I mean, where was the groom?! And how in the world did that tiger get there?!
    My hubby and I had a ritual that we watched Nip/Tuck every week together. We record it and due to my writing were waaaay behind. We finally watched the final episode last night (the series finale!). I had high expectations as this show shocked me every season. I was disappointed.

  8. Anna April 26, 2010 at 1:53 pm #

    I saw the Hangover in the theater and definitely enjoyed it. I must say, though, that the trailers kind of spoiled it for me – they showed way too many of the funny parts. The movie certainly had all the elements you mentioned, but I felt like the surprise factor was diminished because of the trailers I’d seen. Note to self: Ignore trailers!

  9. Laurel April 26, 2010 at 2:04 pm #

    _Lars and the Real Girl_ had been recommended by my pastor, but I was skeptical that it would be anything other than low-brow humor. The premise is a young guy orders a life-size realistic “love doll” and insists on behaving as if she were alive. Weird, right?

    Well, this film blew me away. It delves into issues of grief and fear and what it means for a community to live their faith. This young man’s emotional healing becomes everyone’s business in the most beautiful way.

  10. Laura Pauling April 26, 2010 at 2:07 pm #

    Kelly – I’ve never heard of Nip/Tuck but I hate it when a series ends and I’m disappointed. I’m afraid that’s what Lost is going to be like.

    Anna – That’s why I enjoyed it. I’d never heard of it and I pictured this awful, bad humor, “guy” movie. It really is better to come in with low expectations. 🙂

    Laurel – I’ve never heard of that movie! Sounds good.

  11. T. Anne April 26, 2010 at 4:57 pm #

    I’m too ADD to sit through a movie myself but when I do the movie is good and I feel like erecting a statue to myself 😉

  12. Nelsa April 26, 2010 at 8:18 pm #

    I have been meaning to see this movie for ages – now I definitely will!

    I haven’t seen a movie that surprises me in awhile but the tv series that continually surprises me (although it is a very disturbing premise) is Dexter. Fabulous characterization and amazing actor Michael C. Hall. But definitely R rated.
    The way they ended the show last year blew my mind.

  13. Patti Nielson April 26, 2010 at 8:35 pm #

    My brother had a saying growing up. “Don’t expect anything that way you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

    I can’t say I’ve read anything or seen anything lately that I had low expectations on, but I love being pleasantly surprised.

  14. Laura April 26, 2010 at 9:17 pm #

    T.Anne – As I’ve gotten older, the movie has to hook me or I won’t watch it. I could be writing or reading.

    Nelsa – Definitely, watch it! Of course, now you’re expectations are up, so you probably won’t like it. 🙂

    Patti – I love being surprised too. And I also love going to into a book or movie with low expectations.

  15. Karen Lange April 26, 2010 at 9:37 pm #

    I watched National Treasure 2 over the weekend. Thought it would be uninteresting, as many sequels can be, but it was much better than I thought.
    Have a good week:)

  16. Jennifer Shirk April 26, 2010 at 9:43 pm #

    Laura, my hubby talked me into renting this movie with him, too. And I was just as suprised. I LOVED this movie. Aside from the language and whatnot, it was hilarious.
    And yes, you cared about the characters and the actual “story” was really good.

  17. Laura April 26, 2010 at 10:18 pm #

    Karen – I love the National Treasure movies! I love those kind of books too.

    Jennifer – The name of the movie I think threw me off. The Hangover sounds like a bunch of drunken guys partying with no real plot. I guess they didn’t title it to hook female viewers. 🙂

  18. Karen Strong April 26, 2010 at 10:51 pm #

    I was one of those who didn’t want to see the Hangover but I got a stitch in my side from laughing so hard.

    And I must say, I was really surprised with Avatar — because I’m really “anti-hype, anti-big” movie, but I really enjoyed it.

    And I saw a preview of a movie recently (not sure if it’s out yet) called The Perfect Score based on a true story of a Mexican Little League won that World Series. I didn’t think I would like it, but I fell in love with the characters.

  19. Jody Hedlund April 27, 2010 at 2:15 pm #

    Yeah, I have to agree about the movies heading south! Everyonce in a great while an R is actually good, but it’s usually just trashy. Interesting observations about your movie! I love when we can learn more about what hooks an audience and then translate that over to our writing!

  20. Ansha Kotyk April 27, 2010 at 3:26 pm #

    LOVED this movie! I had relatively low expectations. I wanted to laugh that was all. You hit all the key reasons this movie worked.
    I did see editing issues with the movie the second time around (I just HAD to watch it twice)… makes me realize movies have to get revised just like books do… just have to make sure they are seamless.

  21. Robert Guthrie April 27, 2010 at 7:29 pm #

    Last week saw THE LAST STATION about the end of Tolstoy’s life. Helen Mirren and Christopher Pummer. Great acting, great (& complicated) love between them. We may not all be Tolstoys… but good conversation about writing, ideas and the lives they can take on.

  22. Heather Kelly April 27, 2010 at 7:43 pm #

    Laura–I definitely want to see that movie–although a part of me reacts the way you first did–how can it be good!? And, sometimes, when I want to read to escape, books surprise me by being way better than expected, in the same way. I’m glad you like the movie!

  23. Kristin Gray April 29, 2010 at 7:33 pm #

    Being a parent has most definitely affected my movie-watching. I can no longer handle some scary/ overly sad scenes that used to hardly phase me.

    I just heard last week that in film, the producers try to hook their audience within the first 60 seconds. If they don’t, the majority of viewers lose interest. Makes you think how this hook principle translates to books. First page must show some sort of conflict.

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