Report from Azkaban

Some of the local theaters have thoughtfully organized a “Reel Moms” program, whereby they reserve a theater (11:00 on Tuesdays) for a baby-friendly audience. The volume is turned down a little, the lights aren’t quite so low (though still low enough), and, most importantly, if your baby cries you won’t have an usher encouraging you to leave. I’ve been waiting eagerly for a chance to catch such a showing with Ella, but what’s held me back week after week is that the movies they pick have sucked. About half of them have objectively sucked, while the other half were clearly selected to appeal to the core demographic: young mothers. My taste in movies doesn’t have a lot of overlap with your average young mother, it seems. But this week, to my pleasant surprise, the Reel Moms Film of the Week was Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

And so it was that Ella and I found ourselves surrounded and hemmed in by that most curious of species, the Georgetown Mother. Your average G.M. is thirty-three years old and is equipped with the following:

  • An impeccable haircut.
  • A physique bearing little if any indication of recent pregnancy, as well as expensive clothing designed to highlight this fact.
  • An incredibly gi-normous stroller/car seat/space shuttle combination device, larger and heavier than many European automobiles. These are wheeled to the front of the theater, whereupon the cockpit module is ejected to be carried up to the seats. I believe the cockpit modules tended to be Graco, not Prada. But the purses were definitely Prada.
  • (inferred) An SUV in the parking garage with sufficient space to carry the previous item, i.e. Andromeda-class or larger.
  • Oh yeah. The baby.

    The Georgetown Mothers tended to arrive alone but quickly located and joined their cliques, of which there were several. It wasn’t immediate clear how they were organized—perhaps by which side of Wisconsin Ave they live on? While generally peaceful, the cliques did clash over the most valuable seats in the theater: the single row immediately in front of the stadium seating. These seats were valuable because there was room next to them to fit all but the very largest stroller/car seat/shuttle combos, thus saving the mother the trouble of maneuvering hers down to the front. One particular mother was saving several such seats for the other members of her clique, who had not yet arrived. This struck a couple other cliques as clearly unfair—not so much so as to necessitate violence, but clearly within the threshold for making Catty Remarks as they walked by.

    While the Georgetown Mothers were the clear majority in the theater, there were a number of ordinary mothers as well, plus a handful of couples who had the shellshocked look of those still on maternity/paternity leave. I was the only solo dad in the house, and was clearly something of a curiosity. For mothers, Georgetown and otherwise, social norms dictate that you converse with other mothers in the theater within speaking distance and exchange vital statistics about your respective infants, ending the conversation with an exclamation appreciative of the “cuteness” or “adorability” of the other mother’s child. But it is not at all clear whether the same mores extend to fathers. Consequently I didn’t talk to very many people, which was just as well because Ella was insisting on standing on my lap and constantly rotating to try to see where all the crying sounds around her were coming from. She found the whole situation very intriguing, right up until when the movie started—that’s when she fell asleep. She woke a couple times to watch for a bit, slouching carelessly in my lap and staring at the screen with sharp attention paradoxically combined with callous disregard. (She’ll make a great film critic someday, if she chooses.)

    And the movie? We finally have a Potter film that does the books justice. It is, in turns, beautiful, scary, and wonderful, whereas the first two movies never got beyond “lackluster” and “vaguely suggestive of beauty, terror, or wonder.” It has its weaknesses, but I want to see it again (minus the soundtrack of crying babies, hopefully) before I do any quibbling. Cuaron, like Jackson, has proven that he can make the jump from indy greatness to big-budget greatness while keeping his directing chops in the process. He’ll be one to watch. I’m seriously bummed that he won’t be directing Goblet of Fire.

    Purely for the sake of anthropological interest, I think I’ll make my next Tuesday visit to the Reel Moms-friendly theater in Tyson’s Corner—a medium drive instead of a long walk. How will the Northern Virginia Suburbia Moms differ from the G.M.s? I’m guessing less Prada but even bigger vehicles, if that’s even possible.