G. But let's hold off on just leaving it with G. This is a G-rated movie that has aged poorly. This in the same camp as Breakfast at Tiffany's. Maybe not THAT bad, but racist is racist. At first, I thought, maybe it's not that racist. There's a lot of Chinese characters being associated with dragons and honor, which is pretty dicey. But then it just completely embraces some racist stuff against the Chinese people and it just gets icky all around. G, but racist.
DIRECTOR: Robert Stevenson
Is it bad that I didn't remember all the Chinese stereotypes within this movie? Let me backtrack. I think I have a very obsessive personality. If I liked something, I really liked it. When I was a kid, I loved Herbie. These are the movies that would just play on a loop in my house. I'm sure that my parents probably hated introducing me to Herbie because everything in my house was Herbie. My son and Sonic the Hedgehog right now? That was me and Herbie. A billion of my toy cars were bugs. It doesn't matter what the color of the car was, I would take a sharpie, draw racing stripes just right of center and write 53 all over the car. It was bad. So I had to have seen the original Love Bug a billion times. How do I not remember all of the uncomfortable racism in this movie?
I guess I was just a kid and it was a different time. As I age, I find myself saying "It was a different time" more and more. I know that I run into people who still smoke and say that they were raised in a time period where it was okay. (It probably wasn't, but I don't want to get off track.) At least I'm adapting to the times. A lot of the joy that I derived from this movie came from a sense of nostalgia. I don't think the movie is bad. Outside of the really uncomfortable racist bits, my family seemed to enjoy it. I kept distracting them when racist things would come on the TV. A good dad would have shut it off, but I was just there praying that it was probably over...and it wasn't. But the basic premise is pretty darned entertaining. My kids had a few too many questions about the mythology of Herbie, to which I had no answers. I think Herbie is one of those things that has fallen into obscurity. I could make Herbie references in a crowded room and maybe one or two people would know what I'm talking about. At least, someone might know Herbie: Fully Loaded. But the mythology of Herbie should stay a mystery.
There's a really weird message in The Love Bug that not a lot of other stories have taken. The surface level morality is that of avoiding pride. Jim Douglas is boastful even though he kind of sucks at driving. The movie doesn't really go over the top with the commentary on Douglas as a driver outside of the opening credits where it establishes that he's pretty washed up after all of the car accidents that he's been in. Okay, that's on the table. He gets bigger and bigger with the help of Herbie to the point where he buys a fast car to prove that he's the driver and not Herbie. The movie really just stays at this surface level morality. Jim needs to let go of his pride if he wants to win a race. But this brings up a whole different question that might raise eyebrows a little bit more. By this entire string of logic, Jim is a waste of space. I think every other sports movie has taken the exact opposite stance as The Love Bug. There are so many movies (and I can't name any of them) where this magical gift / sentient object is only covering up for the real talent of the protagonist. At the beginning of the third act, the protagonist loses this lucky charm and he or she can't seem to get their groove back. It is only upon discovering that they had the talent all along that the story can progress. It usually is in the final moments of the story and it's this great message about confidence. The Love Bug, on one level, could be about confidence versus pride. Confidence is good. Pride is bad. That's perfectly fine. But there's a way more haunting element to the story that the Love Bug plays right into.
Jim is fundamentally a useless person. He's there as Christian from Cyrano. Herbie is the prideful one in the story. Herbie is all about winning. He knows that he can't actually enter races without people involved, thus he needs Jim, someone with the bare minimum requirements to become a race car driver. Mind you, I never thought this when I was a kid. I just thought it was silly that Herbie kept peeing oil onto bad people and driving really fast. But Jim actually has no value in the story. If anything, the second that Jim starts having any pride in himself, that's when he is smacked down. Herbie wrecks his new Lamborghini and embarrasses him time and again. Yeah, the bad guy, Peter Thorndyke, is way worse. But Thorndyke is never really supposed to be a dynamic character. We know from moment one that Peter Thorndyke is going to be evil because he's British and rich. There's no changing that. What? Are you going to make him un-British? You can't do it. (Or can you?) No, the story has to be about Jim accepting that he's just a vehicle for Herbie. There are some famous cars out there in the world of pop culture. Baby from Supernatural. Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters. KITT from Knight Rider. (Okay, ignore that last one.) But imagine that Ecto-1 was busting ghosts and the guys were just an excuse to go from place to place. That's gotta be pretty disheartening.
Which leads to a concept of "With whom are we bonding?" At the end of the day, we bond with Herbie. Yeah, it's told from Jim's perspective, but I think Jim might be the most replacable element of the story. Buddy Hackett's Tennessee might be the most enjoyable human performance, but he's definitely the sidekick / Jiminy Cricket of the piece. Instead, we bond with Herbie. And now we've come full circle. (Ourobouros!) Herbie is the one who has to win the race. Jim, Tennessee, and Carole can help, but it is ultimately Herbie who is in the race, not Jim. Jim is, at best, an avatar for Herbie. He vocalizes the concerns that Herbie has. But we're full circle because we still have no idea who or what Herbie is. And we shouldn't. If there's ever a franchise that did not need an explanation for a sentient Herbie (which in my mind is a dead kid inside a car, not a sentient A.I. situation), it's The Love Bug movies. Herbie has personality. I will even say that Herbie has more personality than the other famous cars I put on this list. But Herbie's morality system is all over the place. We know that he's (or she?!?) mischievous and reckless. He likes messing with people. We also know that he's extremely jealous. In an odd way, Herbie could quickly be re-edited to make him a villain of the piece. He really does terrorize Jim, only rewarding him when Jim's intentions align with his own. There's no way for Herbie to be sensitive or vulnerable. Instead, Herbie has to be a bull in a china shop (no racist pun intended) to get what he wants throughout the piece. The fact that he does smash up the other car is almost not even funny. It kind of comes across a little psychotic.
Herbie is the spurned former lover throughout the piece. "How dare you break up with me, Jim?" I think that the only reason that Herbie permits Carole into the story is because Carole is so loving of the Love Bug. The actual name "Love Bug" is really kind of scary because Herbie isn't actually nice...to anyone. He drives Jim and Carole off on their honeymoon because he got what he wanted. And as far as I understand, the humans in a lot of the movies change. If Herbie is indeed sentient and has relationships with people, does he break up with them over time. I mean, I get the distance between The Love Bug and Fully Loaded. Maybe Jim and Carole are dead. But Herbie is actually kind of fickle if he jumps from owner to owner. After all, it is Herbie who chooses his owners throughout the entire franchise, as far as I understand. (I love that this blog allowed me to wax poetic about the problem with sentient cars.) How good can Herbie be as a moral complex being if he just keeps using people to win races? With Jim at least, it is a symbiotic relationship. Ideally, he's finding kindred spirits whose goals tend to align with his, but why not just stay with Jim? Jim literally could be a 100 year old man as long as he's in the driver's seat. At least in that scenario, there's a meaningful relationship with one person. "We're doing this together" and all that. It's actually pretty dark the more I think about it. Especially considering how intense Herbie wants to win races. Because the first time I saw these movies, I thought that Jim wanted to win. Yeah, he does, but this is all Herbie's master plan.
This got intense. I wasn't planning on that. In fact, I'm having just an awful teaching remotely day and I didn't want to write. Herbie's psychosis actually probably helped me get over a bit of a slump. Regardless, this movie is racist and would be really great to show my kids over and over again if it wasn't.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.