When you’re living in the wrong movie.

when you're living in the wrong movie

Will came home from work the other day and fresh from a disappointing meeting. He told me about the players and the outcomes and why he suspected it went awry. He’d done a good job running the meeting, he thought, but it still didn’t work out the way he’d wanted it to.

I said: Maybe you’re in the wrong movie.

He said: I think I am. But what’s the right one?

Believe it or not, this conversation made total sense to us.

I’ve been working my way through the podcasts you all recommended here on this post (thanks again for the recommendations!) and have been enjoying them so much. They’re entertaining and informative while I’m out and about, but the occasional phrase or concept is permeating my (and sometimes our) daily vocabulary.

The episode in question here is Sam Jones’s interview with Matt Damon on the podcast Off Camera. (Heads up for profanity.) They cover a lot of ground, discussing Damon’s “business meetings” with Ben Affleck in the high school cafeteria, the directors he’s worked with, tricks of the trade, and his ambitions to one day fill the director’s chair. But my favorite moment is at minute 54:23, when he shares one of his favorite notes he’s ever gotten from a director.

It’s Damon’s Big Moment in The Informant, a movie directed by Steven Soderbergh and based on a true story. After the very first take, Damon thought he nailed it. He was feeling every emotion his character should be feeling: his performance was heartfelt and raw and pretty darn perfect.

But Soderbergh wasn’t impressed. He came out from behind the camera, walked over to Damon, and said, “Um, no.”

Damon thought he was crazy: he thought his scene was spot-on.

But Soderbergh told him his performance wasn’t bad, not at all. The problem, he told Damon, was this: “You’re in the wrong movie.”

Earlier in the episode, Damon had explained the concept. He said that if a seasoned actor’s performance didn’t work, they had one excuse, and it was not knowing what movie they were in. The actor thinks he should take a certain tone, but the scene needs an altogether different one. Maybe the scene demands tragedy and the actor brings sentimentality. Or the scene needs a straight man and the actor brings irony. The acting can be amazing—but if they’re in the wrong movie, it still doesn’t work.

I know little about the behind-the-scenes of movie making, which is one reason I found this episode so fascinating. But being in the wrong movie? I get it: I do it all the time.

Take my kids: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve brought out my bossiest self when what a kid really needed was a sympathetic ear (or vice versa). I recently exasperated a friend by expressing sympathy for her struggles, when she actually wanted some problem-solving help. I wasn’t being a horrible mom or friend; I was just in the wrong movie.

And how many times have acquaintances tried to say something comforting—maybe after a loss or a disappointing event—but they still got it all wrong and made you feel weird? Wrong movie.

Or you deliver a rousing speech at your meeting and you did it well, but it wasn’t what people needed to hear? Wrong movie.

I find it oddly comforting to think that so many times when I’m screwing up in life, maybe it’s not because there’s a gigantic problem with me and what I’m bringing to the table. Maybe I’m just in the wrong movie.

And thankfully, it’s not terribly hard to put myself in the right one.

I would love to hear about the times you’ve been in the wrong movie and how you’ve figured out how to put yourself in the right one. If you have any other tips and tricks for being your best self in the big (or small) moments, please tell us all about them in comments. 


Leave A Comment
  1. I can think of more times when others were in the wrong movie than times that I was in the wrong movie – but I am sure I’ve been guilty of that many, many times. It’s just easier to recall times when I was the one that received a different response than what I needed.One scene that comes to mind is a meeting with a boss and another colleague. We were talking about how others on our team/in our department were doing and he repeatedly mentioned firing multiple people. I’d never worked for someone that would loosely/casually say “we’ll just fire them” and it was so jarring and awful. I never felt comfortable in that role again after that and ended up leaving the company.

  2. Rachel says:

    I totally agree with Kate! I hadn’t ever thought of it in this exact way, but it makes perfect sense!! Sometimes I’ve actually flat out asked the other person what kind of feedback they’re looking for from me because everything I’d offered up until that point hadn’t panned out.

  3. Katia says:

    What a great concept! I will keep it on the periphery to help me interpret challenging situations in the future. Like Rachel, I have been asking people about what kind of feedback they would like to receive. When a friend shares a story about a struggle or a dilemma that he or she is facing, I have started to ask whether he/she wants some advice or simply a listening ear. Similarly, when I share my story with someone, I have been upfront about whether I simply want to share the story without expecting feedback/advice or if I want to receive a response. This method has been helping to transform the way I communicate with my friends and family, allowing for transparency that feels refreshing and productive.

  4. Kim says:

    Maybe I’m looking for things that aren’t there, but this resonated on a “listening” level. My hubs and I are currently reading “The Listening Life” by Adam McHugh. We quickly realized we are truly horrible listeners (even when we think we’re doing well at it). But then, that’s why we’re reading it — to become better listeners. But back to the point: Sometimes I think we end up in the wrong movie because we haven’t truly listened. We get a completely wrong take on the situation because we were rushing ahead in our minds to what we should do/say next, rather than really listening to the other person/people. Or, vice versa, the other person hasn’t truly listened to us so they put us in the wrong movie 🙂

  5. Luana says:

    Do you think maybe we are ‘always’ in the right movie, because that’s where He has us? But, we are listening to the ‘wrong’ voice – me, myself and I versus His Spirit.

  6. Thank you for sharing this podcast interview! I just watched The Martian and fell in love with Damon. I’d never seen him act before, and I’m excited to go back and watch his earlier work!

    A few weeks back, I was very distant to a friend who had wronged me, and I realized that she needed me to confide in her my anger. Being distant only made it worse. I need to shift my lens with every situation I am in.

    • Anne says:

      So glad you enjoyed it! (I have a ton of other episodes queued up. So far the only other one I’ve listened to is Connie Britton, which is great.)

  7. yettie says:

    Ditto with my kids. I think I sometimes struggle to get teh movie right. Give empathy at the right time and sympathy at the right time. Challenging for an overly logical mother

  8. Florence says:

    I was in the wrong movie when I chose the wrong career. I became a teacher because at that time, that’s just what a young woman did until she married and had a family. That’s a wonderful movie but it wasn’t mine. I went back to school, got a degree in pharmacy, and was a hospital pharmacist for 22 happy years until I retired.

  9. That’s such a great way to put it! It’s so easy to lack grace for yourself. I think it’s so important to be confident that we’re doing the best we can with what we’ve been given. Often I later have insight that shows me a better way I could have handled a situation, but at the time I was doing my best with what I knew. All I can do is pick myself up and try to be in the right movie next time. Thanks for a great reminder.

  10. Jeannie says:

    Really fascinating concept. I had a breakup with a friend and I now think we were in different movies, or at least had different casting ideas. She had cast herself as main character and me as listener and audience, whereas I thought our roles were equal. It’s made me think more about expectations in relationships and about the importance of honesty.

  11. Judy says:

    I love this. And yes, I’ve been in the wrong movie. A recent interaction with my husband when he was telling me how disappointed he was when something didn’t work out for him. Instead of empathizing, I said something like “It happens to me too.” Then gave an example of one of the dreams I’ve had to give up on. What I should have done was told him how sorry I was that he had to give up his dream. Maybe we can ask what they’re looking for before we chime in with the wrong response.

  12. Margie says:

    I think we all have ‘go-to’ responses to people and situations that we use as a default when we’re tired or life is crazy. This is a good reminder to make the effort to really listen so I can respond appropriately. Taking a moment to reflect can also help me recognize when I’m starring in a comedy and not a drama….

  13. Amy says:

    YES. This dissonance is exactly what makes me feel awkward at times. I’m in the wrong movie. (And now Adele’s song “When We Were Young” is playing in my head.)

  14. Jamie says:

    I can relate to the motivation and love being right, but playing the wrong role. There was a situation that required reconciliation, to which I happily contributed, but it did not require my physical presence. Being swept up in the idea of a happily ever after trumped what God, my husband, even close friends were trying to tell me: I was where God wanted us. Instead of letting Him lead, I tried to take matters into my own hands. And even with loving motives, that always hurts other people. Once I shifted my focus, I took what I’d learned in the other situation to invest and love in the current one. Though the ache might always be there, the choice of throwing all in where I was led to peace and joy and freedom.

  15. Ana says:

    OMG this is a great concept and I can see how it will be something I drag around with me. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I find myself totally lost in the wrong movie. I have visions of tumbleweeds and a completely dry desert and I’m wearing a Vera Wang dress….. so not the location I want to be in when I’m wearing a royal blue Vera Wang dress….. Thanks for sharing this. It helps put things in perspective.


  16. Kelli says:

    I love this! It seems so much better to think this way rather than “I’m bad”, “They’re bad”, “It’s all bad”. It’s just the perfect thing in the wrong movie!

  17. Maryalene says:

    This is super helpful in understanding situations in which people don’t do what we expect. I’ve been through some tough times in recent years, and I have a dear friend who always seems to say the wrong thing. I’ve thought she’s being insensitive but maybe she’s just in the wrong movie. Framing it that way actually makes me feel a lot better about some of the things she’s said.

  18. Bridget says:

    Take my kids: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve brought out my bossiest self when what a kid really needed was a sympathetic ear (or vice versa). I recently exasperated a friend by expressing sympathy for her struggles, when she actually wanted some problem-solving help. I wasn’t being a horrible mom or friend; I was just in the wrong movie.
    I find it oddly comforting to think that so many times when I’m screwing up in life, maybe it’s not because there’s a gigantic problem with me and what I’m bringing to the table. Maybe I’m just in the wrong movie.

    Oh wow. This is very comforting. I can’t think of an example because I need to ponder the epiphany this post opened for me.

  19. Eline says:

    I hadn’t thought of it like that, but you are absolutely right. I think it’s easy to see yourself as a failure when you don’t get something right, but by looking at it as if you are in the wrong movie, you can actually change that and realise that it’s just a one of and you can easily change it. Love this subject.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.