Let me state from the offset that the idea for this post came from an interesting Washington Post article where they asked 24 professionals in various fields what movie best portrayed their individual professions. And naturally that got me thinking, “What movies best portray all the different jobs I’ve had in my life so far?” I figure that’s as good a setup as any, so let’s dive in:
Bookstore Salesperson: YOU’VE GOT MAIL (1998) dir. Nora Ephron
As cheesy as it is, there is no doubting that this movie made many girls (and clearly, speaking from personal experience, some boys too) dream about working in a bookstore. And in my case, I actually got to experience the joy and pains that was working in a small independent bookstore in my first job ever. As unrealistic as the movie was in terms of relationships and especially online relationships (“Don’t cry shopgirl” is still the cringiest line I’ve ever heard in a movie), the movie surprisingly approximated what working in a bookstore actually felt like. The generally lackadaisical and cosy workplace atmosphere, the bonds of friendship among the staff, and the special joy of simply being surrounded by books and people who love books were all things in the movie that were more true than not in real life. And yes, while it was the worst paying job I’ve ever had, and the hours were long and tiring, and there was no way I was going to make a career out of it, working in a bookstore was still one of the best gigs I ever had.
Student: RUSHMORE (1998) dir. Wes Anderson
Now I realize that saying that being a student is an occupation is about the most stereotypically millennial thing one can say. But the truth is that between college and grad school I spent eight years of my life in school which counts as the longest thing I have done in my adult life so it counts in my book. And no movie captures the sheer idyllic joy of being a student much better than Wes Anderson’s Rushmore in my book. It is of course not necessarily a great example of being a good student academically, but it captures the exuberance of all the seemingly boundless opportunities for exploration and growth that the extracurriculars bring. I was notoriously someone who stretched myself too thin running down ungradeable rabbit holes of my own interests (and excelling in them) while running up C’s in classes I could barely bring myself to care about. Fortunately there were enough other classes that fit in with my rabbit holes to make me a more successful student academically than Mr. Max Fischer was, but it is undeniable that he probably had more fun.
Musician – (TIE) ONCE (2007) dir. John Carney/ INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (2013) dirs. Joel and Ethan Coen
I’ve been playing music ever since Guy Smiley in That Thing You Do! made me fall in love with the drums. And there have been a plethora of movies about musicians that have glamorized the careers of musicians, enticing fools like me into dreaming about making a career out of playing and making music in the hopes of being among the marginal few to make it to the top. Worse still, I have also seen a glut of movies where the actors and creators obviously have no idea how music actually works (pet peeve: people playing guitars in movies without even the most basic knowledge of guitar chords and rhythm). And this is why I’m drawn to both of these movies above. Once is almost documentary-like in its tone as it follows two musicians who find each other, begin collaborating musically and eventually make an album together. Having gone through the process myself eons ago of finding band-mates, writing music, recording and producing it on the cheap, and seeing music evolve from an amorphous idea into a fully fledged album, I can attest that Once is shockingly accurate to that experience.
But if Once is an accurate portrait of how most of us musicians scrape together our first album, Inside Llewyn Davis is a sobering reminder that the career path of a successful musician is a perilous one. Inside Llewyn Davis reminds us that in the music industry it is entirely possibly to be really good at your craft and not advance because it is only the very best of the best who have the opportunity to rise on talent alone. And in place of that, some combination of having the right connections and enough lucky breaks is your only hope of rising to the top. In lieu of that, you had better just learn to love your craft for its own sake, or the rewards of being a musician will be sparse.
Church Music Director – 30 ROCK (TV Series)
I realize that this is a bit of a cheat because (a) 30 Rock is a TV series not a movie, and (b) 30 Rock is not in any obvious form related to being a church music director. But hear me out a second as I explain why I have such a deep spiritual connection to this series. 30 Rock is about Liz Lemon who is the showrunner of a weekly SNL-type show who finds herself frequently having to put out fires due to either conflicts between her egotistical stars while trying to please her boss and put together a show with a bunch of less-than-enthusiastic writers. In my experience as a church music director (and other church and music posts) I’ve had to also learn how to put out fires between musicians, who are individuals blessed with a potent and seemingly impossible mix of high self-image and crippling insecurity (and I include myself as one of those crazy musicians). While most of my bosses have been great, I’ve also had to deal with the wonderful fact that it is impossible to please everyone in the congregation with my musical choices, sometimes even managing to piss off both traditionalists and progressives in the same moment. And I’ve had to deal with the unique pressure that is coming up with a unique set of music to play each and every week for one hour, which really and truly does take up one’s entire workweek trying to figure out even if outsiders just assume I show up once a week and play music for an hour. So yes, when people ask me what it is like to be a music director of a church, my answer is unequivocally to point to Liz Lemon.
(Amateur) Critic – ALMOST FAMOUS (2000) dir. Cameron Crowe
What almost always gets lost in the “fans vs. critics” debate (at least from the fans’ perspective), is that for a significant chunk of critics (myself included) the reason we got into writing about film, music, or art in general is because we were fans first. I came of age in the era of 90’s blockbusters and remember vividly watching Jurassic Park, Twister, Independence Day, and Men in Black and falling in love with the movies there. And because I am wired the way I am, eventually the more I loved movies the more I wanted to dive into the medium to explore all that it had to offer. I wanted to read what others had said about movies and to learn to appreciate the very good ones. And somewhere along the way, inevitably, I became a (amateur) film critic. And like Will Miller in Almost Famous, the moment you become a critical voice in the field you love is the moment you suddenly find yourself a little bit more on the outside looking in. Creators are suddenly wary of your presence, fans wonder why you can’t just sit back and enjoy art without having to think about them, and your ability to get enamoured by subpar material is increasingly diminished. But what most people don’t get is that writing about movies, thinking about movies, dissecting movies, and continually trying to find better movies is exactly what keeps me continuing to fall in love with the movies. I’m the weirdo that wants to look behind the magic curtain because knowing how its done makes it somehow more magical to me. And nobody seems to capture that sentiment better in my book than Will, who gets to look behind the magic, see the music industry warts and all, and come out of the whole experience maybe a little bit wiser for the experience but at his core still a fan.
Well that is about it for my jobs. I’m currently a stay-at-home dad and I decided not to include “Dad” in my position of jobs because (a) most movies about parenting tend to have the worst views either about parents or children, and (b) the few that do not would also flatter this parent and his abilities. So we’ll just leave it out of this list.
But now over to you, what are the movies that completely nail what your job is like?