Sometimes a middle of the road, uncomplicated family friendly movie is exactly what a person needs to distract them from the very real and work heavy semester they will undertake in graduate school. At least, this is what the Ben Stiller vehicle Night at the Museum provided for me last night as I attempted to forget about the fact that I will have very little free time until at least the end of April. I will admit that I would never have given this family feature any credence, were it not yet another discovery as a result of buying DVD lots and being afforded copies of films that I had otherwise dismissed. Of course, Night at the Museum was not a revelation in the same way some of the other films within this method of obtaining have proven to be, but that should not mean that I found it to be terrible. For a feature focusing on one man's attempt to, on a cursory level, maintain the magical world of a museum coming to life at night, and proving his worth to a doubting son on a deeper level, it is really hard to think terribly about this film. In fact, Night at the Museum gets its message out, leaves viewers happy with some decent special effects and certainly has enough cameos to make a viewer of any age ecstatic. Furthermore, while I am wary to give Ben Stiller complete, unadulterated praise (despite adoring Tropic Thunder) it is hard not to love his commitment to such an absurd plot, so much so that you can believe him both as a man struggling to maintain his paternal identity, as well as a befuddled night guard placed in an absolutely incomprehensible level. One cannot help but consider the possibilities of this notably star-studded film had the producers considered providing even a bit more time with the work, as opposed to clearly creating it as a quick money grabber, suitable for a handful of straight-to-DVD spinoffs. Night at the Museum could have been a far greater and respectable film, but at the same time it could have been way worse and probably still made a considerable amount of money, it deserves acknowledgement at the very least and maybe even an earnest viewing cinephiles with even the most discerning of tastes.
Night at the Museum focuses on the constantly changing life of Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) a single dad living in New York, while attempting to make his various "big ideas" translate into money with little or no success, much to the disappointment of his ex-wife and son Nick (Jake Cherry) who is proving to take a liking to his mom's new husband and successful Wall Street broker Don (Paul Rudd). Desperate to make a respectable living and assure his ability to stay close to his son, Larry agrees to take a job at a museum on the night shift, even though he has been warned of the headache that will invariably ensue with the notably odd job. While the former employees seem quick to pass the torch to Larry, he, nonetheless, sees the work as a means to make money for doing next to nothing, however, during his first night on the job he realizes that working at this particular museum may be a bit more complicated than he initially assumed, especially since everything in the place comes to life thanks to an ancient Egyptian rune that adorns the wall above a sarcophagus. Assuming it to be a bizarre hallucination it is not until Larry is confronted by the museum manager about some figurines being out of place that he realizes it is, in fact, something much more complex. When it is revealed that the rune causing this magic to occur is of high value and sought after by a set of thieves with close ties to the museum, not to mention the threat by the director of Larry losing his job if he is to find another thing out of place, Larry plans a means to properly maintain the wily world of the museum. This of course involves the help of his skeptical son and the eventual aid of one of the museums curators, for whom Larry has taken a liking. It is through his ability to acknowledge history, as well as the promotion of unity amongst the disparate and famously jarring identities within the museum that Larry is eventually able to save his job, as well as the magic of the museum. More importantly, Larry is able to gain the much desire respect of his son and assure their future together.
It seems a bit foolish for me to dig too heavily into the commentary within the film, but to ignore the notion of history within Night at the Museum would be equally foolish in my book, particularly its clear promotion of studying it in order to better understand one's own relationship with the world around them. For Larry this has a very literal sense, in that he is forced to learn the ways of Mongolians, warring Romans and rambunctious cowboys, in order to maintain the museum from delving into complete chaos, not to mention learning the ways of a variety of animals as to assure that they do not maim one another. This learning, while narratively manifesting itself with his relationship to the museum, nonetheless, reflects his own evolution, particularly considering that he is depicted as a spineless, self-loathing individual, emphasized by a poster in an elevator, as well as his own inability to get a job, or blame inventive competitors for his failures. It is not until Larry gains knowledge that he is better able to navigate between his past failures and the promises of his future, going so far as to defy historically powerful figures like Attila the Hun, as well as deal with the tiny revolutions in his world, brilliantly visualized through the cowboys and Romans. These tiny figures serve as an exceptional metaphor because in the films earlier portions it is clear that Larry is allowing for a series of small inconveniences and missteps to completely navigate his life. Furthermore, it is no coincidence that when he learns to harness the power of a T-Rex and break a few members of the museum from glass freedom, or even tame an entire menagerie of animals that he finally asserts a self-esteem and authority that gains him respect from his colleagues, as well as his son. Sure the antics of Larry taming the zoo have a great cinematic appeal, however, one must consider how these elements exist as a reflection of his life, as it is attached from the museum.
Key Scene: Robin Williams is Teddy Roosevelt is Robin Williams...enough said.
Rent this film, by all means it is not close to worth owning, but who knows if you are in a bad mood or need to relieve some stress it is well worth affording a few hours towards.