Ah, the magic of the cinema.
The glitter of the silver screen, the glamour of Hollywood, the £6 bag of Starburst that your child accidentally boots out of your hand while jiggling about on the seat.
The glare of the people sat next to you – people who are somehow surprised to see children at an 11.30am screening and oddly upset when they make even the slightest noise. Lovely stuff.
Going to the cinema with kids is an entirely different experience depending on their age, isn’t it? Here’s a breakdown.
Age: In Utero
Evenings out in the UK tend to be booze-oriented, so the discovery that you are expecting an addition to your family tends to go hand-in-hand with rediscovering your inner cinephile. If you go to see an 18-rated film at the cinema on a Friday night, you can bet 20% of the people in there are expecting a child.
Going to the cinema with a newborn is brilliant. They aren’t going to absorb any information coming off the screen, so you can see whatever gnarly bonkers-ness appeals. There are even special screenings where they show grown-up films in the middle of the day but keep the lights up – the Picturehouse does one of these, called The Big Scream.
There’s something genuinely brilliant about staggering out of an intense film at lunchtime holding a tiny baby. I watched A Star Is Born, which has a really bleak ending, with my wee daughter on my lap not taking in a bloody thing. It was great.
Toddlers aren’t known for their attention spans, their adherence to be quiet in an auditorium-type environment, or their ability to follow plots for two hours. Taking a toddler to the cinema involves a lot of running after them as quietly as possible, feeding them loads of snacks in a bid to keep them busy, and annoying everyone around you by pointing at things on screen and narrating them out loud (because parenthood has turned you into a weirdo).
I will never know what happens at the end of Wonder Park, because my daughter ran around the cinema for the first 45 minutes, got all tired and then went completely bonkers so we had to leave. I wept through Toy Story 4 and she didn’t give a rat’s ass about it.
A lot of films are aimed at this kind of demographic – kids who will see a film advertised on the side of a bus, or an unskippable trailer on YouTube, and insist they are taken to it.
They will then fidget like mad for the whole thing, eat too many sweets, get on everyone else’s nerves... and remember exactly one bit afterwards. My friend James’s son Wilf’s only takeaway from the Bigfoot film Missing Link is “He ate a poo”.
Children think they can handle anything by this age. Some of them reckon there’s nothing out there that’ll scare them – and then something a bit surprising happens and it’s all tears and screaming. I took my cousin to see Casper in about 1995, and he got overwhelmed and started shouting: “I don’t like this one!” so we had to take him into the other screen to watch The Hunchback Of Notre Dame.
You get to have some exciting formative cinema-going times, though – I’m sure many adults can trace certain passions back to fateful cinema trips with their parents. I certainly can.
Going to the cinema with your mum and dad as adolescence takes hold is fraught with anxiety. What if, in the next row, there’s a bunch of the cool kids from school without parental supervision? What if there’s a sex joke you understand and laugh at, and then your parents know what you know about?
What if – oh noooooo – there’s a sex joke you don’t understand, but your parents do? What if there’s nudity? What if it’s… erotic? You never know with these things.
Taking your kids to the cinema in the throes of teenagerdom must be heartbreaking, given the “I will happily let you pay for my ticket, and insist you buy me an unholy amount of snacks, but then I’m going to go and sit on my own because I find your very existence humiliating” side of things.
My daughter is already cooler than me – you should see her hair, it’s amazing – so I’m fully expecting a nightmare during that era. I’ve got a few years to really perfect being the most embarrassing dad in the world, though.
Quite nice, probably. They can buy their own bloody Starburst by then.