We usually break in our interns with simple tasks like record and movie reviews. Nobody important reads that stuff, so they can’t do a lot of damage. If they manage to write a complete paragraph without getting reported to the publisher, we let ’em keep writing reviews. If their work is bland enough, we might even let them try their hand at restaurant or theater reviews. You can’t run the risk of upsetting the people who run restaurants and theaters; those people are insane, can’t take a joke, and will come and find you.
If the interns piss somebody off, we make a note to read their work in advance of going to press. We really can’t let that type of thing go by without a little advance warning. If we can’t wrangle these fools, we put them on the political beat and tell them to go at it. People who read political writing are addicted to being angry all the time, so it works for them.
We had an advertiser drop out at the last minute and had to fill a little space, so I told one of our interns to go review a movie. There were a lot of new ones out this week, so I figured he’d go see something the kids like, but I guess he misunderstood what I wanted, and he came back with this review of “Muriel’s Wedding,” a movie that came out 18 years ago:
“Muriel has an addiction to cigarettes and suffers from chronic vertigo. After several episodes where Muriel stumbles, while trying to light cigarettes, sometimes falling into the street in front of speeding automobiles, she lands in jail, suspected of public intoxication. After a medical evaluation, she is admitted to hospital where she meets Sam, who suffers from a bipolar disorder but has dreams of opening a boutique wherein he would sell souvenir candles to the tourists who visit their lovely seaside town. Muriel thinks he is funny, but before they can exchange information, she gets dizzy and hits her head on the wall and passes out.
“Months later, after Muriel’s disorder is treated by inner-ear therapy and shock treatment, she walks by a candle shop and has a strange feeling. Upon entering, she meets Sam, who has since their initial meeting perfected a pharmaceutical cocktail that balances out his emotional extremes but has damaged his short-term memory.
“It is evident that they don’t recognize one another, but they are awkwardly drawn to one another. They talk for a long time; Sam ignores his customers, and they eventually walk out of the candle shop into the streets of the little town and up to the city hall where they fill out paperwork and get married on the spot.
“When Muriel’s family discover what she has done, they are furious and try to get the marriage annulled, but over the course of several days, they realize Muriel and Sam are actually in love, and instead of working to separate them, they organize a large celebration and public marriage ceremony to commemorate their union. Everybody comes to the wedding, including Ben Stiller, who heard about the story on the local news and figured it might be a good vehicle for him if it were developed properly. The end.”
Sure enough, we got letters from several angry movie fans who were pissed off because “Muriel’s Wedding” is their favorite movie ever, and that review was, according to one of them, “bullshit.” I had never heard of anybody getting upset over a movie review, so I made a point to watch “Muriel’s Wedding” (well, actually, I asked somebody else who’d seen it what it was about) and, sure enough, other than the fact that it was about a woman named Muriel who gets married, our reviewer’s account was pretty far off. Ben Stiller wasn’t even in it.
After a long conversation, we decided that the intern’s skills weren’t appropriate for the features section, and he was reassigned to the theology department, where he is allowed to make up anything he wants without running any risk of angering our readership because that section isn’t actually printed or published in any way. Surprisingly (or perhaps not so surprisingly), his recent work has been stellar.
For further consideration: Why would Miranda July write such strange stories? Seriously, what is she trying to say about humanity? Does she think everybody is a sex pervert?