Three Easy Pieces

Hangout movies

By Rev. Adam McKinney on February 7, 2019

It's time, again, for Three Easy Pieces, the column where I examine a pocket of pop culture, from its birth to today. This month: hangout movies. The definition of a hangout movie is nebulous enough that a great many movies can get assigned this designation, but the basics of the subgenre can basically be summarized thusly: emphasis on character over plot (many of these movies only have the barest of stories), a leisurely pace, and an almost indescribable affability (leading you to revisit these movies to hang out with your "friends"). Because hangout movies live and die by their relative amount of charm they impart to the viewer, this selection is bound to be exceedingly subjective to my taste.

BIRTH: A Hard Day's Night (1964)

Honorable mention: Rio Bravo, M*A*S*H, American Graffiti, California Split

When Quentin Tarantino first coined the term for hangout movies, he pointed to the John Wayne classic Rio Bravo as a prime example. For my money, though, I'd much rather spend an hour-and-a-half with my buddies in A Hard Day's Night. The Beatles' first foray into motion pictures is a film that -- to use a euphemism -- is rich with incident. One of its taglines describes it as "action-packed," which must be a joke: if A Hard Day's Night is packed with action, it is of the shaggiest variety, using precision editing to turn a movie about nothing into a locomotive powered by pure charisma.

John, Paul, George and Ringo star as themselves, getting ready for a TV performance, and beset on all sides by roving gangs of hysterical fans. Beyond the madcap energy of scenes showing the lovable lads from Liverpool fleeing hordes of admirers, A Hard Day's Night really lives in its more low-key moments, such as a trickily-worded scene where Lennon denies who he is to a dubious fan, reaching an almost "Who's on First?"-level comedic rapport. Nothing much happens in A Hard Day's Night, but the movie's almost absurdly winsome.

DEVELOPMENT: Beautiful Girls (1996)

Honorable mention: Diner, Swingers, The Big Lebowski, SLC Punk!, High Fidelity, Ghost World

While A Hard Day's Night sails along on a wave of likability, hangout movies don't need to have their characters be infallible. Case in point: the men that make up the main cast of Beautiful Girls are all, to one degree or another, emotionally stunted goobers who have, if nothing else, regressed in the 10 years since they graduated high school. The Generation X answer to baby boomer love song The Big Chill, Beautiful Girls follows struggling musician Willie (Timothy Hutton) as he returns to his small town for a high school reunion. There, he reconnects with his old friends as they fall back into their old, dopey ways, and continue to have the faintest of clues about how to treat women as equals.

Beautiful Girls hasn't aged magnificently well. The toxic masculinity displayed by Willie and his friends is treated as stupid by the movie, but it could have been interrogated further; and a subplot about an innocent, faux-romance between Willie and his 13-year-old neighbor (a fantastic Natalie Portman) is handled about as tastefully as possible, but it would 100 percent not fly today. What the movie sees as a story of a girl with a crush on a cool older guy, and a man pathetically pining for his younger days, can come off as a little icky. Still, Beautiful Girls is full of great music, lived-in performances, and the sort of writerly, meandering conversations that make it a movie I take joy in revisiting.

TODAY: Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

Honorable mention: All the Real Girls, Whip It, Only Lovers Left Alive, Support the Girls

If there could be a king of the hangout movie, that person would be Richard Linklater. With movies like Slacker, Suburbia, Waking Life, the Before... trilogy, and more under his belt, Linklater seems preternaturally able to tap into a certain late-night rhythm, trading frivolity and stoned revelations with equal aplomb. Everybody Wants Some!!, the spiritual sequel to his seminal Dazed and Confused, transports the action from high school to college, and from the late ‘70s to the beginning of the ‘80s. Starring a cast of relative unknowns, the film follows college baseball prospects as they while away the hours over the course of a few days, tracking the aimless trajectory that flourishes in the young and hungry. Laid-back, funny, wistful, and episodic, Everybody Wants Some!! is everything you want in a hangout movie.

Three Easy Pieces will return, next month, with: Art-Rock in the Mainstream.