I've long thought that it's easy to think a movie's good when you see it in the theater. By sheer default, the state of "being out" has you in its thrall. Renting a movie, on the other hand, is a much different kettle of fish. Whatever you're watching needs to be compelling enough to prevent you from getting a snack, going to the bathroom, reading a magazine, crafting, painting your nails, balancing your checkbook, or - horror of horrors - falling asleep (an offense of which I've been repeatedly guilty). All of these interruptions chip away at the movie-watching experience, breaking the theater spell we take for granted and reducing many flicks to mere plot points (ie, romantic comedy: boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back; action flick: the bad guys are out to get the good guys and lots of stuff blows up).
I had a chance to put this theory into practice recently when I rented No Strings Attached. You know the premise. Natalie Portman (Emma) and Ashton Kutcher (Adam) play friends with benefits only to find out that getting physical outside the confines of a relationship is harder than it seems. It was cute, enjoyable, and a little crude in places - in short, all the things you'd expect. Even so, one major element was missing: the two were never really friends in the first place, more like acquaintances who've met a handful of times. So, their decision to sleep together just for the heck of it is more like a well-thought-out one-night stand that segues into an "arrangement" than a groundbreaking turning point in a close platonic relationship. Although the movie was entertaining, I think it would've been more interesting had the two been watching TV together on the sofa every night for years only to have an "incident" break the pattern.
Given my opening ramblings, the added bonuses of movie theater popcorn and surround sound might have done the trick too. Then again, I also rented Cedar Rapids last week, a movie so bad no quantity of concession stand treats could sweeten its stench. So maybe I'm just full of nonsense.