Miracle on 34th Street
By David Puner
In the Loews 34th Street lobby, on a recent Tuesday morning, rows of strollers lined up like Harleys at a biker convention, were corralled inside a roped off area. To those not accompanied by a baby for this morning screening of Miracle, Disney's action/drama version of the 1980 US hockey team's campaign for Olympic gold, the ticket seller would have suggested picking another film.
Not because she had disliked Miracle, hockey, Olympics, or the film's star Kurt Russell. Unruly crowd, she would have warned. Hockey fans? Nah, just jumpsuit clad babies, clutching rattles and damp with drool. This was the weekly Reel Moms screening at the cineplex.
Thirty-fourth Street is the anchor theater for Reel Moms, which is catching on at Loews theaters across the country. The program, designed by Loews and UrbanBaby.com began in the fall of 2002 and has since spread to 33 theaters across the country (including eight in the tri-state area). The hunch was that new mothers (with dads welcome, too) stuck at home would want a weekly, baby-friendly opportunity to get out and go to the movies--no sitter required. UrbanBaby.com, an online resource and community for new parents, with about 20,000 online subscribers, took a shot, sent out an email, and the program hit. Certain locations now have Saturday morning showings too.
Ticket price for Reel Moms at Loews 34th is a discounted $8.95 (most theaters charge regular price), which will get a mom-baby combo admittance and includes free stroller check. The program provides a large matted area and lots of toys during the hour prior to the show--sometimes there are sing-alongs, puppet shows and baby massages---more potential for babies to get tired before the movie. Also, many weeks there are sponsors set up around the mats-among others, Beechnut baby food has dished-out free samples and the A.G. Edwards brokerage firm has provided information on tuition savings plans.
Moms hated Daddy Day Care. "Moms like to see the romantic comedies that aren't too romantic," said Reel Moms coordinator Denise Dvoravic, 24. "They said, 'We don't want to see any movies like that again. That's our lives.'" Loews picks the Reel Moms movies from their current offerings and Dvoravic writes a report after each screening with moms' feedback and requests. She says that moms sometimes request "fluff" movies and sometimes they want independent films. "Mainly they say, 'I'll take anything.' It's just a good excuse to get out of the house."
This winter Reel Moms attracted a large crowd of around 270 moms for Big Fish at 34th Street, and an even bigger crowd of 400 for the R-rated Love Actually (coming close to the high-water mark of almost 420 for the George Clooney vehicle, Intolerable Cruelty).
And Miracle was off to a slow start. Dvoravic counted about 50 pairs of attendees before the screening. "It's less than last week for The Big Bounce, and almost everyone thought that was horrible," she said. Despite the low turnout and equally low expectations, the crowd was clearly pleased with the film. Babies propped up on laps, were transfixed by Kurt Russell's portrayal of U.S. Olympic hockey team coach, Herb Brooks. One baby perched on dad's lap did not utter a peep the entire show, making him arguably the most well behaved moviegoer in Manhattan that day. It may not have qualified as a miracle on 34th Street, but it was downright close.
The unwritten code of ethics among Reel Moms dictates that once a baby becomes more mobile (about 12-months-old), it is time to graduate from the program.
Some babies issued haphazard bleats, spontaneous coos and there was some light jibber jabbering. At Reel Moms screenings, baby noise is considered white noise. "There's a sense of calm with the other babies around," Dvoravic explained. "Even when they are making noise, you don't notice it." Also distracting from baby noise is Loews' state of the art sound system. During Miracle skate blades cutting rink ice were unmistakably sharp (as was Russell's Minnesotan accent). At least one pacifier was spit toward the movie screen. The disturbance was short-lived. With a wave to the projectionist, Dvoravic relays if the volume is jarring.
Many babies enjoyed a non-concession beverage during the film: milk--some slurped from a bottle, others from a nipple (no nipples in the actual movie, though, which is rated PG).
As the puck dropped for the big showdown between the U.S. and Soviet teams, suspense clung to the surprisingly clean-smelling theater air (diapers had been casually changed in the aisles throughout the screening)--and a few callow gasps of anticipation could be heard. Except for a few wahhhs when Brooks called a player a "candy ass," the audience seemed gripped by the 1980 play by play calling of sportscaster Al Michaels--it reveled in the recreation of the miracle.
Exiting the theater, Sophia, an infant who recently relocated to New York from Vancouver, kept her pre-nap comments brief. "She breast fed most of the time, ate some Cheerios and enjoyed it," said her spokesperson. It was time to reclaim strollers.
Much like the automobiles during that long-ago fuel shortage era, many of the Miracle crowd had little left in their tanks by the end of the film. Many infant filmgoers, lulled by Aerosmith's period hit "Dream On," which ran through the film's credits, slipped easily into dream states--perhaps dreaming of Olympic gold.