The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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How to survive seeing '127 Hours': Don't take your mother

October 14, 2010 |  7:00 am

James_franco OK, I confess. I spent much of my time cringing, covering my eyes and biting my fingers at a Tuesday night screening of Danny Boyle's "127 Hours," the film due out Nov. 5 about a hiker, played by James Franco, who gets trapped by a boulder in the middle of a Utah canyon and has to free himself by cutting off his own arm. After the screening was over, I discovered that I'd been biting my fingers so hard that my pinkie was bleeding -- though I guess I should consider myself fortunate, because after one of the film's first screenings on the festival circuit, there were three faintings and a seizure.

Perhaps you're made of stronger stuff than I am, and maybe you'll be able to handle the film's graphic scenes better than I did. After all, the film does have an uplifting ending, even if, as Variety delicately described it, the finale "comes at the expense of the hero's right arm." My only advice is not to take your mother to see the movie. That, I discovered, was a totally misguided idea, even before she began lobbing punches at me during the screening -- punches that were surprisingly on target, considering she had her eyes covered with her purse. In her defense, let me just say that my mother is an avid moviegoer who probably sees more films than anyone but Roger Ebert. Her tastes are pretty wide-ranging. She loved "The Hangover," was a big fan of "The Town" and "The Social Network," but she also haunts the art-house circuit, religiously seeing the latest documentaries and foreign films.

Still, she has drawn the line at "Saw," so I should have known that the Boyle movie would be tough sledding, even if one of her favorite films was "Slumdog Millionaire." I called up my pal John Horn, who works with me at The Times and had seen the film in Telluride, to ask him if he thought my mother could handle the graphic scenes in "127 Hours." "Oh, don't worry, it's really not that bad," he told me about the severed-arm related issues. "It's not that big a part of the movie."

Because we anticipated that we might not be hungry after the movie, I took my mother out to dinner beforehand. Leaving the restaurant, she was accosted by a woman -- a complete stranger -- who told her that she looked like Meg Whitman, the GOP candidate for governor in California. My mother, being from Florida, had no idea what Whitman looks like, but being a lifelong Democrat, she didn't take it as a compliment. "Do you really think I look like Meg Whitman?" she asked. "Mom, she's a zillionaire," I told her. "The lady probably thought you looked like a real mover and shaker. After all, it isn't like she mistook you for Arnold Schwarzenegger."

That's the thing about Jewish mothers -- there's just no pleasing them. I guess you could say the same thing about my mom's reaction to "127 Hours." Despite a stellar performance by Franco and all sorts of signature Danny Boyle filmmaking razzle-dazzle, all she could talk about afterward was, ahem, that severed arm. Finally, I just handed her the phone and had her call John, who, as turned out, was still at work, writing a piece about Danny Boyle, even though by now, he's written so many stories about him that he's practically Boyle's biographer.

"John," my mother said sternly. "How could you recommend that film? Nobody in their right mind would go see it. I can't imagine that it's going to make any money." (Everyone is a box-office pundit these days.) John offered some weak rejoinder, which only seemed to rev up my mother even more. "Let me ask you this," she said. "Would you take your mother to see that movie?"

John admitted that he wouldn't, but he quickly shifted into shameless flattery mode, telling my mother that he figured she could handle it, because she was clearly so much younger and bolder than his mom (which would be factually inaccurate on at least one point, though I won't say which one.)

That seemed to calm my mother down. By the time I dropped her off, she was almost back to normal. In fact, as we said goodbye, she recalled a poignant scene in the film in which Franco's character, thinking he was dying, was reminded that he'd never gotten around to calling his mother after she'd left him a message before he headed out for his weekend in the wilderness. It was a good lesson for all sons, she decided: Never forget to call your mother back. And I learned a valuable lesson too: Never take your mother to see a movie that might prompt her to slug you repeatedly. I've never felt luckier to have my right arm, but it's gonna be sore for a week.       

Photo: James Franco at a premiere of "127 Hours" in East Hampton, N.Y. Credit: Matthew Peyton / Getty Images