Sunday, April 19, 2009
Three Comedy Reviews
I Love You Man
content advisory: lots of language, drug use.
This is a very funny film, quite a tender film for its intended audience, that can’t quite decide whether it’s going for the verisimilar quality of an Apatow picture , or the more cartoonish absurdity of a Farralley Brothers film (out of left-field celebrity cameo included). It would work as either, but it’s got one foot in each, which breaks its comedic and narrative rhythm. Its hearts in the right place, it’s a much needed film, and there’s nothing really glaringly bad about it. It’s a solid comedy; so if you’re interested go see it. But it doesn’t do anything special to transcend its genre or suggest a larger audience.
content advisory: Lots of drug use, some language.
This is a sweet, cute film; too cute in some respects; though it is one of the better romantic films of the past while, partially because it isn’t afraid to confront darker themes. That said, it’s also an homage to a time and a place, and to some extent a certain type of film. It’s basically Fast Times at Ridgemont High only this time with college grads and a Garden State like ultra-hipster soundtrack (with the score by Yo La Tengo). Ridgemont is one of the great American films, it combined humor with a very timely and serious problems. This film emulates those aspects and is every bit as charming. The film is well acted and nearly flawlessly composed by Mottolla. But there are two problems that I have with this film. The first is that this film doesn’t take enough chances, or any chances, outside of being a piece of nostalgia. Its plot is predictable, the characters do what their Ridgemont counterparts did (or counterparts in countless other 80’s teen films). The bigger problem is the ending. Not because it’s a happy ending or not very original. But that it tries to have its cake and eat it too. Compared to the ambiguous last shot in The Graduate, the simple innocence at the finale of Ridgemont, the existential leap of faith in Eternal Sunshine (which becomes much more than that), or even the romantic anxiety present during the finale of Garden State, this ending feels like a cop out, as the film goes from rocky to smooth too soon to feel true to the characters, who are presented as iconoclasts but succumb to the most formulaic of endings.
Observe and Report
content advisory: everything.
This is one of the most interesting American films I’ve seen in a while. It’s dangerous; it takes chances; it does things that you don’t see in most mainstream American films. And I wouldn’t’ feel comfortable recommending it to anyone. While not all of the chances it takes pay off, I’m really not sure I needed as much Ray Liotta as I got, it definitely is more effective than it is a mess. Though for most of its audience that will be a negative, the film is meant to disturb. Several people walked out of the screening I was at and I can understand why. This isn’t gag inducing humor for humor’s sake. Nor is this an homage/parody of Taxi Driver, in the same was that Shaun of the Dead was an homage/parody of Dawn of the Dead (not that that’s all it was). Rather, this film reminded me much more of Lindsay Anderson’s If… Both films start out in one tone, use comedy as an initial point of drawing the audience in, take you deep into a disturbed state of mind, and end in violence. In both films the place and locations where the events take place are integral to the larger cultural statement and psychology of the characters. And there are more than a few Avant-garde practices at work in this film. From some gorgeous manipulation of time, to one moment where, while giving his Taxi Driver inspired voice-over monologue, Seth Rogen breaks character and asks to try a line again. While some of the musical choices may be a bit over-determined, it is a very cleverly put together piece.
This film concerns Ronnie (Rogen), presented here as a sort of Fankenstein’s monster of American mass culture. His domain is a shopping mall, his rent-a-cop uniform the only skin he can live in where things make sense; where he feels like he matters. When that domain is threatened by a flasher and a string of robberies it’s more the police invasion of his turf than the crimes that bothers him. To his credit Seth Rogen is able to play Ronnie in such a way that he is able to scare us, but not lose our pathos. We can hate him, but at some point we can either feel sorry for him, or seem to almost understand him. We see that he is the sort of person who could actually go through with the sort of things he does. He’s bipolar, but doesn’t believe he needs help and stops taking his meds. His alcoholic mother obviously hasn’t helped in his grip on reality either, and none of the characters in the film, except the saintly yet ill-treated corn-dog girl are played out as gross caricatures.
And that’s why this feels so much like a film like If… which was the quintessential “Angry Young Man” picture during the eponymous era in the UK. Where disaffected youth responded to a culture of arbitrary punishment and a structure of violence the only way they had been taught to respond; in a like manner. The same happens here. It’s an inevitable action, but the audience doesn’t think it’ll actually happen. This is a comedy right?