Years ago, my husband introduced our kids to the concept of watching a few select movies over and over and over again.
Having been raised at the altar of productivity, I saw this activity as a colossal waste of time, bordering on sinful. He'd summon the kids into the family room to watch My Cousin Vinny for the 24th time, and I'd scream in my head,"Again? Again?? Hon, they already know what happens!!" But as a good wife who understands that it is my husband's birthright to pass along certain useless behaviors, I didn't say a word.
Eventually, this became a family ritual: I would careen around the house with a to-do list muttering to myself, while my husband and kids would lie around on giant bean bags in the family room, watching Ferris Bueller's Day Off or School of Rock, laughing their heads off.
Then one day, I stopped judging just long enough to detect something new going on between my son and daughter. Their obligatory sibling cold war seemed to be thawing. They were laughing together, a lot, outside of the family room.
It was as if all those hours of laughing at the same lines and scenes had seeped down into their memory, alchemized, and then risen back up as a new shared language, a private world of jokes, gestures, and dialogues. In sharing the experience of falling increasingly in love with these dozens of characters and stories, they seemed to be falling just a little bit in... a new fondness... with each other, too.
This crazy movie watching is a pastime that has proven to be a joyful antidote to both the daily grind and the natural sibling tensions of sharing home and parents. It's a surprising bridge to a difference in both gender and four years in age.
And the awesome thing is, the more regularly they watch together, the more their bond is perpetuated. Real life scenarios leverage their shared movie scripts, constantly cueing them to throw out a line or break out in tandem dialogue for the hundredth time.
Sound annoying? Trust me, it isn't. It's about one of the most surprising and wonderful things I've witnessed as a parent: a connection between our kids that lives beneath the surface of their everyday lives, lying in wait to pop up and give them a good chuckle together.
Now when my husband rallies the troops, I can't say I have totally stopped careening. But I have definitely stopped muttering. Because this is one seemingly useless behavior that has turned out to be sort of genius.
Here are a few of the classic movies that do the trick in our house.
My Cousin Vinny. Could be one of the greatest semi-secret comedies ever. The accents. The hair. The outfits, paraded by Joe Pesci and Marissa Tomei, one of Hollywood's most hilarious and memorable couples.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Ferris introduces our kids to a crazy, pre-social media concept: Having fun in real, actual life. In the movie, people do things -- without taking pictures of what they're doing. We could all benefit from Ferris' central tenet: "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." John Hughes' script is wise, timeless and endlessly quotable.
School of Rock. Jack Black is a fabulously irreverent, hilarious and unlikely sage who uses the transformational magic of music to go from loser to hero, taking a class of kids with him.
Stripes and Caddyshack. Bill Murray. Need I say more?
Night at the Museum Part 2: Battle of the Smithsonian. A fantasy about spending a night in the Smithsonian with the huge personalities of history, featuring some of the best comics of our time.
Animal House. Get over it, because your kids have known these words since they were four. Seriously, a bit risqué, but in the end, really the granddaddy of the buddy movie and foundational comedy of the 70s and 80s. Plus your kids will have instant street cred (with classmates, if not teachers).
All classic movies. All packed with characters and lines that will delight your kids, apparently forever.
What's on your list?