Attack of the Hollywood Clichés, now streaming on Netflix, is the kind of meta-entertainment that you wish did not end in an hour.
Story: Rob Lowe turns host in this documentary that offers a comprehensive lowdown on Hollywood’s most hackneyed tricks and tropes
In the opening minutes of Netflix’s latest documentary Attack of the Hollywood Clichés, presenter Rob Lowe cheekily declares he’d much rather watch a few films than interact with an invisible audience over a camera tearing apart those very clichés that his beloved cinema has and continues to foster with every new release.
It’s a slant jibe at celebrity culture, where artists are expected to relentlessly entertain viewers with a PR manufactured image, uttering crowd-pleasing words at every possible instance. Lowe sets the stage for a self-aware and funny look at revered Hollywood classics to identify the tropes and clichés that have been criminally repurposed for decades. Lowe is accompanied by a host of other industry experts, from actors like Florence Pugh, Andrew Garfield and Mark Strong to screenwriters and film critics.
Lowe’s natural enthusiasm proves to be a great fit for the format of the documentary. He coyly places a finger inside his mouth when introducing ever-dependable “meet-cute”, and nothing about his gesture feels out of place. It is a raucously uninhibited and unapologetic universe, where no classic is spared. From Notting Hill (1999), The Artist (2011) to Singin in the Rain (1952), experts weigh in on what makes these meet-cute scenes so memorable. Some say, it reminds the viewer of the high of first love. Still others say the contrivances differentiates a film from “boring” reality.
The discussion effortlessly segues into how films have generationally justified stalking and harassment by categorising it under casual pursuit. But these films are most often narrated from a man’s perspective. In case a woman displays similar outrageous behaviour, she is labelled as obsessive at best, deranged at worst.
For protagonists who are law enforcers, “on top of the tree are maverick cops,” notes Lowe. This hot-headed cop is usually shown to have had a particularly challenging childhood, which in turn has altered his perception of morality. A problematic trope, the maverick cop has had a natural death in recent years over public disenchantment with police officers and the power they wield.
Clocking in less than an hour, Attack of the Hollywood Clichés covers a lot of ground, from one-man army films like Die Hard (1988), Total Recall (1990) and Rambo: First Blood (1982); women running for their lives in pencil skirts and heels while being chased by life-threatening hybrids; using a mirror for the perfect jump-scare moment, depicting sex on screen with images of hand pressed against the window, brewing storms and rousing music; to conveying utter shock by spilling a drink.
In an attempt to do so, however, the documentary fails to be as incisive as it promises. Many of the observations made are not particularly groundbreaking. What makes it interesting is contextualization and comparison. Attack of the Hollywood Clichés is inconsistent in providing a social context or a detailed analysis into many of the tropes, making the show appear moderately superficial.
While it does not particularly skirt contentious tropes like the white saviour or the magical negro, the documentary itself looks too pressed for time to tackle such an exhaustive list of tropes. It would perhaps have fared better for it to have gone the episodic route.
Verdict: Attack of the Hollywood Clichés is not a pathbreaking addition to film scholarship. The documentary offers nothing new that one may not have already known or made fun of. But its tone is as exalted as the Hollywood films it discusses. Moreover, it’s a clever, witty, easy watch that does not demand much attention or examination