It’s such a hassle to pack up my 2-month-old to go anywhere. So why would I — or any parent — bother to take a baby to the movies? Babies are unpredictable and often require every drop of your attention. But yet, one Friday morning I decided to test the waters at a baby-friendly matinee at the Coolidge Corner Theatre.
First I have to get baby Zed, and all of his gear, packed up and into the car. There are pacifiers, bottles, diapers, wipes, a change of clothes, light blanket, heavy blanket — you get the idea. I debate the merits of an enormous stroller (the only one I have that works) and end up heaving it into the trunk. He’s clicked in behind the driver’s seat. Then I remember: coffee.
Finally, we’re off. About five minutes en route I pull over. It sounds like he spit up and needs his pacifier replaced. So we take a brief stop and we’re back on our way.
Good thing we left early enough so he can still get a bottle in the parking lot just outside the theater. Timing is everything with babies. I’ve yet to figure out how I’ll deal with him during the movie — do I leave him in the car seat? Wear him in a front pack? I have that sling. Wait, I forgot the sling.
I push the bulky stroller, jammed with stuff, up to the box office window. Today’s title is right up my alley. “Faces, Places” is a documentary that follows the legendary director Agnes Varda and street artist JR through the French countryside. A far cry from watching another episode of “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” with my 3-year-old.
The Coolidge’s Beth Gilligan meets me in the lobby and leads me — now wearing baby Zed in a front pack — into the grand, art deco main theater. It seats 440 people at a normal screening, which this is decidedly not.
“We generally do not get 440 babies,” Gilligan laughs. She’s stopped in on her day off with her 18-month-old daughter, Laura. Laura takes over the theater’s front row while the grownups talk.
“It’s a morning screening so we like to leave a lot of space for moms to spread out their stuff,” Gilligan says. There’s stroller parking in the lobby and changing tables nearby, plus, she explains, “We keep the lights up and the sound a little bit lower than in a normal screening so we try to make it as baby-friendly as possible.”
Gilligan points out that the Coolidge is already running matinees, so why not open a few per month to a niche audience. The screenings are timed so parents can grab lunch after, which is something she would do when her children, including Laura, were younger.
“You and Laura aren’t staying?” I ask.
“I think Laura would last 10 minutes maybe?” says Gilligan as Laura takes off running toward the lobby. “There’s a reason it’s not called Box Office Toddlers!”
The film begins and I settle into my seat. There are three people here without kids and three, probably moms, with kids. I keep Zed in my front pack. Others hold their babies on their laps. One woman gets up and walks her fussing baby up and down the aisle.
Midway through, almost all the kids have cried a little. One baby starts up a few rows back.
To my surprise, the chorus of shushes and cries is soothing. And I realize this is an utterly unique moviegoing experience.
“Unfortunately Maisie threw up halfway through the movie,” says Monica McEnrue in the lobby after the credits roll. She’s here with her 11-week-old.
“So we did a costume change in there and then she fell asleep. Hey, that’s what Box Office Babies is all about!”
Box Office Babies, as the Coolidge calls its screenings, is also about bringing the art of cinema to a community that may feel newly isolated -- from their former lives and the world at large.
“A friend of mine had told me that maternity leave was very isolating,” says Kate Repantis. “So I made a Google calendar of every possible activity that’s going on all around the area,” she adds. Movies are just one of the many outings she’s tried with 4-month-old Myles.
Another parent, Leah Hampton, brought Will, her 11-week-old. They’re first-timers.
“I like that this is for me,” reflects Hampton. “And something that is interesting and intellectually stimulating, not that mommy and me activities aren’t wonderful too … but it’s nice to do something that’s interesting for myself when he’s at an age where he really doesn’t mind what’s going on around him yet.”
As for me and mine, I did what any slightly deluded new parent would do. I asked him.
“What do you think? Was it worth it, little baby? Oh, there’s a smile.”
Here are a few baby-friendly film series in the area:
This segment aired on December 26, 2017.