In a recent interview for the podcast Filmspotting, Bo Burnham was talking about his movie Eighth Grade, and the fact that some people might think of it as a "streaming" movie, not necessary to watch in the theater. "To me there is a significance when you see an image or a story on a big screen that is bigger than you, " he said. "This small story of this young girl whose problems, next to the problems of the culture or the nation, seem very small... We are going to sit and she is going to be 40 feet tall in front of us, and you are going to be humbled before the image of this girl."
When I heard Burnham say, "There's a significance to blowing up the small," I thought of the movie Clockwatchers, which I had just seen for the first time. The movie, a dark comedy about a group of young women who work as office temps, was a bit of a revelation to me. With its portrayal of absurd office drudgery and clueless bosses, it sometimes feels like Office Space about women. But as a string of small thefts dismays the office, it becomes almost a paranoid thriller — not in an overly stylized way, but in the authentic creation of tension and painful unraveling of trust. The movie is about relationships between women, about their lives. Sex is present only subtly and peripherally, as in an executive's favorite mug that shows a woman's bikini disappearing as it's filled with hot coffee.
The movie ends with a shot of Toni Collette looking directly into the camera. As it cut to black, I briefly teared up. Why don't more people know how great this movie is? I thought. Why aren't more movies like this?
Part of my enjoyment of both Eighth Grade and Clockwatchers, certainly, is that I see myself in their main characters. On the other hand, I don't identify in the same way with characters in The Florida Project or Moonlight — but those movies have that same feeling of exhilaration in seeing people and stories onscreen that are rarely there, and small moments given careful attention.
I love Roger Ebert's line that "movies are like a machine that generates empathy." What comes along with that is the question of who and what are worthy of empathy. What small stories do we blow up and make significant? What does it mean to see something we usually ignore or overlook or don't know about, suddenly larger than life?