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Entertainment & Arts

How to host a virtual movie night with friends on Netflix

Screenshot of watching “Step Brothers” through a Netflix Party app.
Gab through a movie with your friends while helping to flatten the curve of the coronavirus spread with Netflix Party. Wine not included.
(“Step Brothers” is a Columbia Pictures release.)

The coronavirus may be cramping our social scene, but it can never take away our movie nights.

Yes, movie theaters are shut down and having friends over for a flick now constitutes an actual public health risk. Enter Netflix Party, which essentially takes the second-screen habit of texting your friends about whatever you’re watching and merges it with watching the film together through a live-chat feed scrolling along the right of the screen.

It’s a free Google Chrome extension (not actually affiliated with Netflix) that enables users to synchronize their viewing with friends and chat while watching. As a public service, we at The Times gave it a spin.

The thing with getting three film journalists together for movie night is, well, think of how tough it can be to get the family to agree on what to watch. Just imagine three cinema nerds going at it. Nevertheless, The Times’ Chris Barton, Mark Olsen and Michael Ordoña gave it a shot.

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From apocalyptic despair to restorative joy, here are just a few titles for your at-home viewing marathon chosen by film critic Justin Chang.

Luckily, we were able to eliminate a giant swath of choices by realizing we couldn’t do this with a movie we really wanted to see and hadn’t yet — just imagine all the text-shushing if you tried this while watching “Parasite” for the first time.

Michael tossed out the notion of watching something apropos, such as the docuseries “Pandemic,” but Mark wondered if we’d feel comfortable riffing on nonfiction so grimly current. There were similar plaguey fiction titles: “Carriers,” “Season of the Witch” or “Ravenous,” but based on the low user ratings, the proceedings would likely devolve into a “Mystery Science Theatre 3000" snark-fest. Chris suggested “Goodfellas,” which all three love, but might have become a bit too worshipful an exercise.

Then Mark threw out two Will Ferrell choices — “The Other Guys” and 2008’s “Step Brothers,” with Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Richard Jenkins, Kathryn Hahn and Adam Scott. Chris hadn’t seen the latter, so we were set.

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Trailer for the Will Ferrell-John C. Reilly comedy “Step Brothers” (2007)

We all connected through the Google Chrome extension easily and started chatting right away, marking our synchronization by acknowledging we were three men all seeing “JCR [Reilly] in his briefs.” Michael hosted but was able to switch tabs on his computer screen away from the film to, say, answer email without affecting the others’ viewing. Mark had a few connection problems, which he thought were likely on his end, but rejoined without any issues.

Chris’ takeaway on the experience: “The interface was, for me, seamless, the timing stayed consistent for each of us, and crucially, whatever jokes that needed to be lobbed arrived on time. This is the sort of collective time-killer best suited for movies you’ve seen multiple times because, as easy as the scroll was to follow, it wasn’t like subtitles where any action could be so easily tracked. That said, in watching ‘Step Brothers’ for the first time, I was happy to sacrifice catching every moment for learning from one of my viewing partners [Mark, a font of incredible tidbits] that Kanye West has taken to saying the line from the film ‘Don’t lose your dinosaur’ in interviews. (Because of course he has.)”

Mark’s experience: “I think a certain kind of movie lends itself to this sort of viewing, which is an odd combination of focused and distracted. Which frankly, is a pretty good description of how I have been feeling during our current moment.

“‘Step Brothers’ turned out to be a great choice. Its joyful exuberance, stuffed full of jokes and a sincere silliness, meant we could watch along and occasionally get sidetracked by some other conversation without missing much before snapping right back into it.

With three incorrigible film nerds watching, the chat turned into an appreciation of supporting actors (fond shout-outs to Gillian Vigman, Andrea Savage, Ken Jeong and Horatio Sanz) and weird factoids. No actual drinking was reported. Some of the highlights:

Michael: ‘I’ll kill you, Leonard Nimoy.’
Chris: I’m very much here for that line.
Chris: This is reminding me of Richard Jenkins in ‘Flirting With Disaster.’ The man is twisted.
Chris: ‘You reek of Scotch and cheesecake.’
Michael: We’ve all been there.
Mark: He is always good.
Chris: What was the movie where he learned African drumming?
Michael: ‘The Visitor’? Same year as this!
Mark: Also ‘Burn After Reading’ that same year!
Chris: This was the year of Richard Jenkins.
Michael: Villainous Adam Scott is premium Adam Scott.

After Scott and Rob Riggle aggressively assert the upcoming Catalina Wine Mixer event is very important:
Mark: I’ve seen Paul Thomas Anderson refer to this movie as “Catalina Wine Mixer.”
Chris: I feel like a drinking game should be built around Catalina Wine Mixer and how often it’s said.

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Chris: Wow. That’s such a beautifully narrow joke. Eighties Billy Joel cover band.
Michael: Just had to explain it to my son. But I’ve had to explain Billy Joel to my kids, so ...
Mark: Pete Thomas from Elvis Costello’s band is the drummer of the Billy Joel cover band.
Michael: !!!
Chris: Mark!

And it turns out the Kathryn Hahn energy was very strong in this group:
Chris: Kathryn Hahn is a champion.
Mark: Oh just wait. She is next level in this movie.
Chris: Kathryn Hahn is really stealing this movie.
Michael: It’s the risk they ran in casting her.

Chris: Ohhh, I hear a Mighty Mighty Bosstones song cue.
Michael: Yes the movie’s wrapping up.
Chris: The universal signal you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.

Does Netflix Party replace a group chat or even live-tweeting your first, horrified viewing of, say, “Cats”? Given its ability to sync the experience and shut out any unwanted commentary, yes probably.

Plus, as Mark says, “When I start to feel overwhelmed by all that is going on, I will now just close my eyes and imagine I am at the Catalina Wine Mixer.”


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