Bringing Up Baby

by - Saturday, May 12, 2012

Right now at the Stanford Theater, DP is showing Howard Hawks movies, which are pretty much all amazing. My favorite will always be Rio Bravo, because nothing can beat Feathers and Stumpy, but Bringing Up Baby has moved firmly into second place. It is the kind of movie I want to get just so my kids can watch them as kids. Seeing it at 26, I felt like I giggled through the whole thing. It is so zany and smart simultaneously. See it!

There is no way to sum up this movie- there is an engaged paleontologist, a cranky super rich aunt, a puppy, a leopard, and fiercest of all, Susan Vance, played by the ridiculously amazing Katherine Hepburn (you don't want to like someone who is that popular, but damn she earned that reputation).  Susan is a quintessential Hawks female- witty, cunning but impossible to follow in the moment, and the more dominant member of her romantic relationship. The dynamic between Hepburn and Grant in this movie is the source of a ton of its humor, because their sparks come from a flipping power dynamic, until where they land is essentially an equal team (Hawks isn't particularly judgmental in the treatment of either of them). It is just amazing it was made when it was. 

I have been thinking a lot about where else the joy comes from in this movie (hence it taking me 2 weeks to write a blog that essentially says "this is awesome!") Part of what makes it a joy is that even though you know everything will be alright, you genuinely have no idea how the plot will play out. Though you can see some conventions beginning to crystallize, the plot line isn't so obvious that you can feel that ease at knowing what will happen. This is what makes it so funny as well. Part of the joy of Hepburn's character is that she is genuinely unpredictable and the movie feels no need to justify her actions with emotional conventions that her audience can instantly recognize and apply. This isn't to say the movie steps wildly out of narrative constraints, it just doesn't feel that constrained in the first place. There are a number of places that feel like it could be the climax, but they aren't. It doesn't feel hurried in any way. This freedom just makes it feel so much fresher than most of what I have seen lately (though I am getting crumudgeony and avoiding a lot of current films). I wonder if there is a way to do that now, like if there is a third option other than using narrative convention as a short hand or using it as something to work against and whether that third option comes from the way the narrative is temporally constrained. I am also not sure that the answer to these questions can be found in Bringing Up Baby, but it is a movie worth seeing all the same. i promise you will laugh unless you really suck as a person.

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