I hadn’t intended to write about Philip Hoffman — there have been more than enough blog posts written about him — but I’ve been thinking of the first time I saw him in a movie, so here is one more post about the deceased actor.
One of my favorite movies is the 1993 film My Boyfriend’s Back. The first time I ever saw Philip Seymour Hoffman was in that black comedy, though back then, he only called himself Philip Hoffman. Of course, that was long before he got his reputation for being such a great actor, so perhaps two names were all he needed. Still, his small role made a big impression on me. Made a big impression on his head, too. In the film, the hero, Andrew Lowry, comes back from the dead because the prettiest girl in school had agreed to go to the prom with him. (He’d saved her life, so what else could she do? Besides, he was dying . . .)
There is considerable prejudice in the high school against “dead kids,” and Philip Hoffman tried to kill Lowry — Chuck, Philip’s character, wasn’t exactly the brightest kid in school, so it never occurred to him he couldn’t kill someone who was already dead. Still, he took the axe from the emergency box on the wall (um . . . please tell me no one actually puts axes in schools anymore!). He swung the axe back to get momentum for a good swing, and because he was holding the axe backwards, he axed himself in the head. It doesn’t sound funny as I write this, but then, so often that is the nature of black comedy — the humor is in the moment.
The writer, Dean Lorey, penned some great lines.
For example, Dr. Bronson, who examines Chuck tells Big Chuck, Hoffman’s father, “I’m afraid I have some bad news. Your boy is very sick. He’s lost a massive amount of blood, and his pulse and retinal response are poor, and as you can see there’s an axe sticking out of his head.
Big Chuck: He’s not sick, you idiot, he’s dead!
Dr. Bronson: Oh, everybody’s a doctor. You think maybe I could make the diagnosis?”
Missy (the prettiest girl in school) tries to renege on her promise to go to the prom with the dead kid, and Lowry responds. “You may not know this, Missy, but I ate Chuck for YOU!” Missy’s friend tells her how lucky she is: “God, my boyfriend won’t even pump gas for me.”
I’m not sure why I’m telling you this, except that all the talk about Philip Seymour Hoffman reminded me of this movie, and it makes me smile. As great an actor as Hoffman is purported to be, he still had to start somewhere, and his “somewhere” was in a little known, badly acclaimed, poor money maker that is one of filmdom’s hidden gems.
It reminds me that no matter how serious we are about our writing, there is always room for a bit of humor, even black humor. It’s what makes our writing — and characters — memorable.
(An odd little mystery — Traci Lind, who played Missy, seems to have disappeared, at least disappeared from movies and the internet. Wherever she is, I hope she is happy. I always enjoyed seeing her.)
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.