Last week, I met Chunk.
The only thing that could make that sentence more exciting to type is if you replaced the words “last week” with “fifteen years ago”. (Okay, and maybe replacing “Chunk” with “Tom Cruise” wouldn’t hurt either.)
In case you don’t know, Chunk is a character from THE GOONIES, played by an actor named Jeff B. Cohen (sometimes credited as Jeff Cohen — thanks, IMDB). Fifteen years ago, Jeff was a curly-haired, wisecracking kid with a fondness for wacky hats. Today, I can tell you, Jeff is a curly-haired, wisecracking 29-year-old with a fondness for wacky hats. Some things never change.
Other things do. Jeff is also a little taller, a lot slimmer (his character wasn’t named “Chunk” for nothing) and is now an entertainment lawyer. He also happens to know somebody who knows my boyfriend Drew.
So when I asked Drew if he wanted to see the midnight screening of THE GOONIES at the Nuart movie theater last Friday night (okay, I think my exact words were: “There aren’t many things I’ll REQUIRE you to do with me, but this is one of them.”), he told his somebody, who figured it’d be fun to call Jeff up and invite him along. I had no idea there were only two degrees of separation between me and Chunk.
I also had no idea he’d accept. It turned out Jeff hadn’t seen the movie in a theater since it was first released in 1985 and thought it’d be fun to enjoy a blast from his past with a live, appreciative audience. Jeff and his friend joined me, Drew, Drew’s coworker Lauren (the somebody) and Lauren’s friend Sara, about an hour before the movie at the Airstream Diner (which I recommend for good reasonably-priced diner-type food in the Beverly Hills area — it’s owned by the Fred 62 people — okay, enough with my Zagat tangent). By the time Jeff showed up, we had been waiting for him for about an hour and a half and figured he was chickening out. Jeff had already told Lauren he was nervous about being recognized at the movie — and that he was even more nervous about running into Corey Feldman. I thought both of Jeff’s fears were likely to be realized — Corey Feldman turn up a chance to be recognized and adored by his “fans”? Never! — but I said nothing. I enjoy other people’s pain.
Nobody was in a rush to get to the theater, except Drew, who’s just naturally nervous, and me, who thought the movie might sell out. Jeff was convinced there would be a handful of fans at best (stop, Jerry — you’re setting it up too much. They can see where this is going!). So we didn’t leave the restaurant until 11:30. When we drove by the theater about ten minutes later, they were just starting to let the ticketholders inside. The line stretched around the block and out of sight — from the street, you couldn’t even tell how far back it went. It was the biggest crowd I’d seen at the theater since “The Blair Witch Project”. Granted, their usual fare is more like the main feature this week, Le Cirque Rouge — not exactly a blockbuster.
Jeff, clearly overwhelmed by the turnout, wore a heavy coat and a baseball cap, walked with his head down and made us stand around him so he wouldn’t be spotted. He wasn’t afraid of being mobbed so much as being pitied. THE GOONIES was Jeff’s only major movie role, and he didn’t want people to think that all these years later he still craved the modicum of attention it provided him — in other words, he didn’t want people to think he was Corey Feldman.
Thankfully, Corey wasn’t there. And thankfully, Jeff made it to his seat in relative peace. But if it wasn’t clear already that this was bigger than he’d anticipated, it became clear when the theater started playing a kooky novelty song that sampled dialogue from Chunk and Sloth from the movie. The crowd loved it. Jeff sank in his seat. But he was definitely smiling.
A few minutes later, a thirtyish father approached and politely asked if Jeff would mind saying hi to his preteen son. Jeff obliged and chatted with them for a few minutes. Then, as the movie was about to start, they took their seats, and the emcee got up to introduce the film. (Yeah, it’s that kind of theater.) He informed the audience that this was the largest turnout the theater had had for a non-Rocky Horror midnight movie ever. The crowd roared.
I couldn’t see Jeff during the movie, because the theater was so crowded that my group had to split into two rows. But I could hear him — talking, laughing, sharing little bits of information. He was enjoying it, and he was especially enjoying the crowd’s reaction. The audience was rowdy, cheering for all the good jokes and cheering the bad ones even more.
The movie is fun for its nostalgia value, but watching it as an adult, I can tell why it wasn’t a smash hit when it was released. Drew described it pretty well as, “Just a bunch of kids walking down a hallway for two hours.” What made it fun were the actors, who seemed to be having a blast walking down that hallway. I still love them all — Mikey, Brand, Data, Mouth, Stef, Andie and, of course, Chunk.
I barely said anything to Jeff all night. I knew THE GOONIES as well as anyone in that theater, and I remember a lot of things Jeff did during the 2 or 3 years when he was a successful child actor — his appearances on Family Ties and the Facts of Life, his celebrity guest star status on the game show Body Language. There were a million questions I could’ve asked him. Fifteen years ago, I probably would’ve asked them all, and he probably would’ve been more than happy to answer every one of them. But the guy was clearly afraid of being freaked out, and I didn’t want to freak him out.
When we said goodnight, Jeff was beaming. He avoided the attention, but he still felt the love of the crowd. And before he left, he thanked me for being the one who initiated the whole outing. He clearly had a blast, and although I didn’t gush, I couldn’t resist telling him what a talented kid he was. He gave me his signature “double thumbs-up” in return. And that was it, for one moment that night, he was Chunk. For the rest, he was Jeff. And that was great. Because ultimately, he was there for the same reason I was.
He just wanted to see the movie.