A belated review of “Night at the Museum”
One of the classic novel types is the bildungsroman, in which a youth matures into an adult. Usually, he must undertake long journeys or perform great deeds to prove his value to society. Recently, American films have inverted this genre in an interesting way, and “Night of the Museum” is another example. In this story, the hero is a father who either has a low-paying job or can’t hold down a job at all. For this reason, his wife has left him for another man who has less personality but higher social status, and she’s taken the children with her. Thus, the father must undergo hardships and do great deeds to regain the love and respect of his children. Rather than having the child prove himself to the adults, in our story, the adult must prove himself to the children.
Since the Sexual Revolution, broken families have become more common so this storyline has become rather common. Here are a few examples: Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds,” “Liar Liar,” and “Mrs. Doubtfire.” Most of these are comedies, which shows that the writers feel more comfortable addressing this sensitive subject in a humorous way. This makes sense both for male comedians who want to ease into roles with more emotional depth and for children and male viewers who can’t sit through soap operas. (In dramas aimed at women, the stock “bad parent” is the domineering mother.)
There were quite a few divorcees in black and white films, but most were childless. Since the Sexual Revolution, though, broken families have become common and public discourse about them even more common. Do the statistics, coupled with our new style of bildungsroman, indicate that adult males are less responsible now than they were before?
Something else that jumped out at me during “Night at the Museum” was that each male figure, from Theodore Roosevelt to Attila the Hun, revealed his own insecurities. These scenes were humorous, but the screenwriter who has Attila crying on a crooning Ben Stiller’s shoulder sees a different world than the one who writes John Wayne movies. In other words, we don’t take gender roles as seriously anymore.
As for the movie? It was colorful and lively, and you have to love a feature film that pumps up the Museum of Natural History, but not all its jokes are original. The museum curator (Ricky Gervais) has the best lines, and Robin Williams is less cloying than usual. I’m glad a new generation of children got the chance to see Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney before they’re consigned to the museum forever. I give it two and a half stars out of four, which translates to a mild thumbs-up.