Nathaniel here. I’m writing to you in the middle of a global reckoning… multiple global reckonings. Populations regional, national, local, urban, and suburban are grappling with existential questions of who they really are, who they would like to be, and what they are willing to do about it. As the physical and societal health of our planet lies ready to be cataclysmically altered by these all-encompassing reconsiderations of how we live, I have chosen to write about Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, but not the whole film, one scene in particular — one line in particular.
I defend this decision upon two bases. Firstly, we all need to take a breather here and there. I know personally, when I have been doomscrolling for simply too long on a given day, I exhale, and put on a movie — often one with a Black lead or a Black director, so I’m not entirely tuned out, but definitely one that can let me have some mental peace for a little while. This brings me to my second defense of this somewhat anachronistic topic of writing; Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw may very well be one of those movies we put on during this period to scratch that itch — it’s got some breathtaking Black talent from Dwayne Johnson to Idris Elba and more. In fact, may I heartily remind everyone that the entire Fast & Furious franchise is one of the most consistently diverse series out there, with Black and other non-white people in leading roles from the offset. Good for them! So, I propose that writing about this film can conceivably be considered on-topic; we are spotlighting a worthy cinematic subject, after all.
Now, let me get this out of the way — Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is a pretty disappointing movie. I count myself among the many out there who consider the original franchise a bona fide guilty pleasure. From Fast Five onwards, this series decided to literally put the pedal to the metal and the balls to the wall to deliver the most unabashedly bombastic fun they could imagine, and I salute them for it. I also count myself among the many who strode proudly and excitedly into theaters, massive popcorn bucket in hand, to watch Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw last summer because it promised all the glitz and high-powered buffoonery of the main franchise with an added dose of Elba and some heavier emphasis on comedy. What we were given instead, by director David Leitch and writers Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce, was an overlong slog that recycles all the most tired tropes in the book with a heavy helping of unironic toxic masculinity both in front of and behind the camera. And it wasn’t even in an amusing way. However — we also received one of the most indelible and under-appreciated moments of dialogue in 2010s cinema. And this is what we are here to discuss today.
The line in question arrives during an early scene, in which Hobbs, played by megastar Dwayne Johnson, attempts to console his young daughter regarding their estrangement from their Samoan family. She wonders why he does not speak about them, and asks “Did something happen?” His immediate response is scripted thusly:
“In life, things happen. You may not want them to, but, they do. You just gotta do your best, and move on.”
Every now and then, the slow march of time witnesses written lines of dialogue so arresting and memorable that they stay in the cultural zeitgeist for decades. “We’ll always have Paris.” “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown.” “I coulda been a contender.” “Always bet on Black.” And now, “In life, things happen.” I am here to argue that for reasons both punitive and congratulatory, this line deserves such a memorialization.
Just in case the situation might not have struck you to its full extent yet, he literally says, “in life, things happen.” This is a real line in a real movie written by human people. This is in a scene that is included in this movie. Hobbs delivers this message to his daughter, and the best part is, this statement immediately ends her concern. Meaningful music plays for about three and a half seconds, she nods understandingly, and then we, indeed, move on. Never met the rest of your family? Well, honey, in life things happen.
“In life, things happen?!” Do they, Mr. The Rock?! Do things happen?!?!!? And if we do not want these things to happen? Oh, I see, “they do.” When these things happen, what should we do? Do our best and move on!?!?!?!? I will, The Rock, I will! Thank you!!
I went and saw this film with a good friend named Angus. I believe Angus and I spent about 85% of our post-film discussion excoriating this particular 12-second section of the 137-minute movie. Angus’ account of our experience gels with mine: “we went to that film in search of a big, fun, dumb, stupid time,” he recently wrote to me, expecting “that the film would be aware of that and play up those elements.” But, he continues, “it didn’t.” Angus said “when those immortal lines were spoken by The Rock, I realized that what I was watching was just a terrible film, poorly executed and without a shred of irony.” He then added something very true about the significance of these particular words: after realizing what a boring disappointment the film turned out to be, “the way I had to deal with this fact was through the condescending lines of The Rock, echoing in what was left of my brain after such a mess. They haunt me still.”
Angus makes a great point. What’s so deeply confounding about “in life, things happen,” is that it’s hauntingly, eternally, and mercilessly true. It is a statement so simple, so extremely, utterly basic, that to become incensed about its inclusion feels almost redundant, as if it was so clearly out of place that to take the time to acknowledge the line as such would be a disservice to one’s own brain — which only serves to incense one further. Of course “in life, things happen!!” Of course you deal with things and move on!!! And yet, what business does that sentiment have in a $200 million movie? None whatsoever.
But — and do consider that I am speaking mostly in jest, though not entirely — here is the mandatory section of the what-a-terrible-script article where I think, hold on, maybe paper-thin platitudes can offer some degree of useful introspection. How many times, since March 2020, have you had to sit back, exhale, turn off the news, and say to yourself, well, in life, I suppose, things do happen. Ten million infected with COVID-19? Actual cases probably ten times that figure? Global recession on the horizon, not to mention yet another push for judiciary reforms that are not wholly likely to bring meaningful reparation? These are things that did happen in life. Isn’t it striking that this global situation has become both so awfully absurd and so morbidly familiar that even the dumbest of big Hollywood blockbuster throwaway lines might take on some level of deeper meaning amidst it all? Because it is, after all, very true, and Mr. The Rock is not really wrong — in life, perhaps the only real truth is that things happen. You may not want them to, but they do. And you just do your best, and move on.
Love it or hate it, whether you’re amused, befuddled, reviled, or still not convinced this point is worth the digispace, I put it to you that this line deserves better. Who knows, at this rate, “Do Your Best and Move On” might be the next presidential campaign slogan. Thankfully, many around the world are not content to just consider all that happens in life as momentarily as Hobbs does in this scene, and are taking more consequential time and action to make a difference. However, to the vast majority, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw may have offered us a breathtakingly blunt reflection of the wider societal mood. Where other films might ignore or mischaracterize the realities of modern society, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw has held up a mirror to our uniquely human combination of apathy, curiosity, determination, and single-mindedness.
Hobbs may indeed be offering the most indirect, off-the-cuff, and frankly, poorly-written call to arms of modern cinema. For, when things do happen in life, we must do our best, so that we may move on, with our basketball-sized heads held high. This is the truth I choose to embrace. Thank you, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, for showing us who we really are, and delivering an unforgettable example of the written word’s capacity for the utterly simplistic.