Summer movie season means we story-lovers are treated to some outstanding storytelling. Also, we’re bombarded with clichés. Let’s take call some out, in the hopes of shaming them out of the collective writer’s toolbox.
That thing where a character dies with their eyes open and another character closes them. I get it. Character A died and Character B wants to be all charitable and make sure they can enjoy death’s peaceful slumber. Or something. Actually I’m pretty sure Character A’s new full-time job as a dead person means they can’t tell you shut their eyes with your fingers. I know what it’s supposed to do: show how humane and grief-stricken Character B is. But it doesn’t work anymore. Retire it.
Guilty Parties: Even recent masterpiece Snowpiercer is guilty of this bullshit.
Exemption: You can use it if the villain opens Character A’s dead eyes back up to show what a sick, sacrilegious twat he or she is. Christopher Walken did it once and it was the only bright spot in a lame film.
Inspirational speech by a dude on a horse. Braveheart did it. Lord of the Rings did it twice in one movie, but that was decades ago now. Here’s how it goes: Army A is small, but heroic. They’re up against Army B, which is comprised of Orcs or Imperialist Englishmen, as if there’s a difference. They have a massive numeric advantage, heavy cavalry, trolls with giant bass drums, crooked teeth (and that’s just the English har-dee-har!). So Army A is pooping in their kilts or armor or kilt armor, until their hero gets up on his horse and goes “Schmamedy Schma-schma Doobeedoo” (I see them and I’m scared too). Then he gallops a bit and goes “Dippidy Doheckadeedron Schmamedydoe” (But I refuse to give in to fear). Then he raises his sword and goes “Schmadoopiddy Da-doo-bah Teabag!” (To Hades with their numbers. Let’s kill them all and teabag their corpses). They rally. They win. Yawn.
Guilty Parties: See above + every movie with an underdog army
Exemption: You can use this if Army A listens to the speech, runs bravely into battle, and gets completely eviscerated. That would be a wonderfully realistic surprise.
The night is darkest just before the dawn. I love you Dark Knight, but holy cliché, what were you smoking when you shat this line into an otherwise glowing script? I know, a line isn’t a cliché, but the philosophy behind this one is. Night isn’t darkest just before dawn. It’s darkest in the middle of the night. When things are all wrong and the Joker is killing judges and blowing up Rachel despite Batman’s best grunting inquires of “Where’s Rachel?!” there’s still a lot of work to do to get out of the darkness. In fact, putting things in order takes a lot longer than destroying them. This horse shit quote implies that just sticking it out passively is a good plan of action. This line is the equivalent of that kitten poster that says “Just hung in there.” Wrong. Irresponsible. Improvement requires a ton of work. This cliché isn’t just corny, it’s a dangerous lie.
Guilty Parties: Pretty much every action movie.
Exemption: None. This line and the philosophy behind it are pure ass. All forms of it should be violently torn from all scripts henceforth.
Wise and moisturized Abercrombie Elves. I feel like I’m picking on LOTR a bit, but there’s a reason Tolkien’s world has become cliché – it was amazing so a billion people copied it. That said, I’m dying for a fantasy where the humans and the race of comic relief dwarves/goblins/gnomes come upon the elves in an hour of dire need. And the elves, instead of being wise and perfectly moisturized orgasmic hair gods, come out of their huts with beer bellies and warty noses and go “Deerrrrrrrrrrp, me dunno how too halp yoo!”
Guilty Parties: All movies featuring the vain, pointy-eared bitches. Sorry Orlando Bloom. And call me.
Exemption: See above. It’s time for ugly dumbass elves.
A Rom-com that doesn’t end in an airport, train station, bus depot, or wherever they gather hovercraft. I like a good Rom-com in part because they’re so rare. "Friends with Benefits" was great despite ending in a train station. But most of them are so formulaic that watching them is pointless. I don’t have the answer, but I can tell what I don’t want. No more confessions in the rain. No more last minute wedding objections. And please, for the love of Justin Timberlake and Channing (sigh) Tatum, no more confrontations at places where people get on things to go elsewhere.
Guilty Parties: Every fucking Rom-com.
Exemption: Maybe if the grand gesture fails, but then the two people run into each other months or years later and they decide to give it another chance for an actual, adult reason. "Enough Said" did a nice job of this. It was a plus that the actors looked human, rather than trim L.A. robo-beauties.
So let’s retire these tropes. They served us well for a while. Then they grew stale through repetition. It happens. We just need to acknowledge it and act accordingly. Who knows? Some of them may even reappear in a decade or two, in a fresh context. Except for that “Night is darkest” bullshit. I really can’t get over that one.