September 27th, 2006

don't feed the seagulls

jamming the gears and tilting at windmills

OK, first of all: Little Miss Sunshine was a really good movie. I thought it looked fucking horrid from the previews, but it was really, really good.

With that said, though, I'm back to my usual gripe with Hollywood - I can understand taking a little artistic license when you need to to make a plot work, but why, why, why is Hollywood just so dead set on getting shit just plain wrong even when they don't need to?

If you've seen the commercials (and paid attention) for Little Miss Sunshine, you already know that there's a plot device involving having to push-start a Volkswagen van. Ok, that's fine. BUT, when you actually see the movie, the rationale is that the clutch goes out. Not the starter, the clutch. And, eventually, the mechanic in the little no-name fly-blown town they're broken down in volunteers "you know, those old Volkswagen vans don't really need a clutch to shift from third to fourth. Just from first to second. So you get her rolling about 35, 40 miles an hour, you start her up in third, and you shift her right up to fourth." And off they go.

How many different problems are there with this? First of all, a good quarterhorse has trouble doing 40 miles an hour. A family pushing a van? Fucking forget it. (They might maybe be getting the van up to around 8 miles an hour, if they're really working it. More on this later.) Second of all, you don't really need a clutch to shift from ANY gear to ANY gear in ANY manual transmission vehicle - it makes it smoother, yes, but you can certainly just snatch the stick fast and it'll work if you're vaguely within the powerband on the gear you're shifting to. If you're good, and you're driving like you've got a pair, you can even do it smoothly enough that a passenger will just think you're powershifting. What you REALLY need a clutch for is going from idling in neutral to accelerating in first... and in a VW van, if absolutely necessary, you can skip that step too; they're geared low enough that you can actually use the starter as an electric motor to *drive* the van in first gear until the battery dies.

HOWEVER, if the *starter* is busted - and VW vans were notorious for this - you *can* push-start the vehicle instead. Preferably, by rolling it down a steep hill; but if necessary and you have enthusiastic help, just by pushing it as fast as possible. Once you get the thing rolling as fast as you can, you dump the clutch and use the sudden violent deceleration to spin the engine over for you - which, with a little luck, gets it turning fast enough that when the ignition hits, the motor fires up and starts running. I had a boss when I was in high school that drove a little Toyota with a busted starter for six months without fixing it - he'd just make whichever of us was around go out to the parking lot and push-start him. The really shitty thing about that, if you're the one(s) doing the pushing, is that - unlike in the movie, when the vehicle just magically works - when you dump it into gear, it's basically like running into a fucking brick wall - you convert a good 5mph of vehicle momentum into torque on the engine INSTANTLY. Meaning whoever's behind the vehicle, if they aren't forewarned that the driver's about to dump the clutch, FACEPLANTS into it. (The boss in question NEVER warned us when he was going to dump the clutch. Bastard. Not warning the people running behind your car that you're about to dump the clutch is the busted-ass-vehicle equivalent to not warning your high-school girlfriend that you're about to come in her mouth.)

So the thing that ticks me off is, yeah, the van that can't slow down and everybody has to run to get into it after pushing it, it's funny. But it could have been totally workable as a comic device without making up stupid bullshit. Hell, it would have been *funnier* if they'd made it real, cause who doesn't laugh at a good faceplant into the ass end of a van? They just would have had to have the starter and the clutch go out. And they wouldn't even have had to make up that retarded shit about "35, 40 miles an hour" that the mechanic said, that more-than-obviously wasn't a speed that four people running behind a van was gonna get it to. Hollywood, I fucking hate you. Seriously.

But, just as seriously, aside from the standard Hollywood "we can't make an entire movie without making SOMETHING patently and obviously retarded" bitching, that really was a great movie. Especially for anybody that had Fucked-Up Family Hell growing up. It'll take you back.