Hot Tub Time Machine was on TV the other night, and despite the fact that I should have been going to bed, I watched it. I’ve seen it before, but I couldn’t help myself. For those of you who’ve thus far missed out on this crude little comedy, it’s basically a men’s makeover story in which three best buddies get to relive their high school glory days – all of which seem to boil down to one weekend at a ski resort – and maybe, just maybe rewrite the course of their sadsack lives for the better. There is also a nerdy nephew along for the ride to introduce some plot complications and gross humor, as well as Chevy Chase because why not?
I was in a somewhat reflective mood, and instead of just laughing at Crispin Glover getting his arm spectacularly cut off and enjoying Craig Robinson’s take on The Black Eyed Peas, I started thinking about the plot a bit harder than necessary. Perhaps I’m only interested because my own fifteen-year high school reunion is happening this weekend, and I’m kind of curious about how people’s lives have turned out. I’m not going to the reunion to get the answers, mainly because I live 6 hours away from my high school and my idle curiosity doesn’t extend to putting out the time and money to go. (Also, I have no school spirit. I’m kind of a grinch that way.) But a movie about how your high school self determines your future definitely fits the moment.
I won’t bore you with descriptions of my high-school self, but I find that now, in my mid-30s, I’m getting closer to the age where stock is taken. I’m not talking about the regular New-Year’s-resolutions-type stock taking that many of us do when we’re deciding what step to take next in our careers, whether to have a kid, whether to get married, whether to move. I’m talking about the big picture stock taking that you do when you’re wondering about the direction of your life, its trajectory and whether you can still alter it, and when you start to realize that those college kids look about 12 because you in fact are far enough past college age that the difference feels tangible.
And on this note, Hot Tub Time Machine asks a lot of questions. What would you change in the past if you could? Would you ditch your current life for a chance to go back and redo it all, and end up wherever else fate takes you? Why do so many people feel the need to revisit high school, to show off their current lives, to prove something to their former tormentors or frenemies or whomever? High school ends when you graduate, and the desire to prove anything to anyone there should evaporate at that moment, too. That stage of life is over, and you should just grow beyond it – although I suppose that when you can’t, as with our heroes, it makes sense to return to that one moment when it seemed as if the outcome of your world hinged on one song or one break-up or standing up to one bully. Sometimes it’s easier to imagine doing that than it is to do the work of altering your current life.
But the fact is that all you can hope to control is the present, and even then a certain amount is beyond you. Accepting this is required for those of us without time-traveling hot tubs because we don’t get a do-over. Getting one is a comforting thought, and it makes for an oddly optimistic movie in the way that all makeover stories are optimistic, but it isn’t reality on any level. Could a couple of decisions in high school really remake your life into the perfection we see at the movie’s end, anyway? Since we can only live on one track, in one life, I guess we’ll never know. But it’s fun to think about.
And so the moral of the story is, get it right the first time around! Oh, and watch out for snowplows.