25 April 2008

hey, dracula!

I remain convinced that The 40-Year Old Virgin (or 40YOV from this point forward) was jobbed out of its Best Picture Oscar nomination (not saying it deserved to win it, just saying it should've been nominated). I have a couple of reasons for saying this: 1) most of the best [mainstream] American films that have come out in the '00s have been comedies (and basically all of them have had something to do with Judd Apatow); 2) they nominated Sideways, and 40YOV deals with most of the same subject matter as Sideways, except that it does it in a much better way, and with characters that are actually likable; 3) movies with heart deserve to be recognized as such, and 40YOV has heart pouring out of its ears. Its ejaculate is heart.

Perhaps I'm somewhat biased towards a movie that so closely comments on my state of mind during these last three years (approaching four, which is a thought so depressing that I'd really rather not dwell on it), but one of the trademarks of the Apatow company of writers/directors/players is sincerity; not once in 40YOV, Knocked Up or Superbad (the big three, such as they are), did I feel like the movie was betraying its sensibility to garner laughs. The comedy, and the tragedy, all came from honest places, and I think this was the first time since that fantastic first film that the feeling was recaptured.

If I can avoid simply restating plot points and go for a transcription of my reaction to the film, I'm going to be pleased with the way this response comes out.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is, as of this moment, and perhaps this moment only, my absolute favorite of the Judd Apatow gang's movies to date. The key to the R-rated comedy's success, in my mind, is, was, and always will be heart and sincerity, for you can throw as many curse words and sex jokes and exposed sex organs at the viewer as you want, but if they're not tied together in a meaningful way, and placed inside of a much greater framework that amounts to more than just dicks and titties, you might as well have just been spitting (or masturbating) into the wind.

FSM does this spectacularly well, and for reasons that far outstrip the sledgehammer subtlety of Jason Segel's penis flapping out in the dead, awkward air that floats into the room when his then-girlfriend (played by Kristen Bell, who will always, forever be Veronica Mars to me. She does a great job of not being Veronica Mars, but being Sarah Marshall, here, but I will always think of her as the lovely, spunky, feisty Veronica) drops the "there's someone else" bombshell on him. Every character that has a speaking part in the movie is attempting to overcome some sort of grand obstacle in their lives, be it artistic expression (the fellow that owns the bar in Hawaii that Jason's character Peter frequents), emotional expression (Jack McBrayer's emotionally frazzled newlywed) or expression of any kind at all (Jonah Hill's starstruck restaurant employee, who can't get past his man crush on Russell Brand's brilliantly funny British rock star). Sex is an obstacle as much as it is an answer, and that goes for everybody, male and female.

Speaking of males and females, one of the other big selling points of FSM is the inclusion of the strongest, best-developed female leads in one of the Apatow crew's movies since, well, maybe ever. I loved Catherine Keener's character in 40YOV, but it is tough to buy her two abrupt "switch" moments in the last twenty or thirty minutes of the movie ("Oh no, Andy's a serial killer!" to "Oh, Andy, you're just a virgin."). Knocked Up was almost malicious in its depiction of the female half of the relationship, and Superbad mostly used its women as a means to an end, or as ancillary, single-note cameos. The movies are mostly about the male experience, written by men with a specific point of view, so that obviously has to be taken into account, but it becomes tougher to forgives oversights of this sort when one is face-to-face with the fascinating and compelling women brought to life by Kristen Bell and Mila Kunis (who I'd written off for lost because of her longstanding involvement with the dumbass comedy that Fox has been riding for so long - That 70's Show and Family Guy).

Kristen Bell reveals sympathetic layers to her character that a lesser actress would've left untouched (if there's anything I can assume about her, it's that she knows every bitch is really just trying to compensate for a soft spot), and Mila Kunis plays a rebound girl to be proud of, one that's smart enough to know when to play along and when to tell the guy to get the fuck out.

As much as I would have loved a good melancholy ending to the movie, one where Peter finds his redemption in his staged Dracula puppet musical, and not naked in the arms of a girl who really does love him, despite his myriad flaws, I found comfort in the movie taking me where I expected it to go. It's so rare anymore for a movie to present me with characters that are likable enough for me to wish the best for them that it's rewarding when good things actually do happen to good people, even if they are fictional.

Much more writing would probably take this into the realm of autobiographical, and that's best saved for another night. One that involved alcohol.

1 comment:

jedibix783 said...

Well now that I've read basically your entire blog, I decided to comment on... this post.

But first let me say that your writing is so entertaining to read, you are such a good writer!

Anyway. I have not seen Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but I have seen 40YV, Knocked Up, and Superbad. I like 40YV more each time I see it, and I LOVE Superbad, in part because it somewhat reminds me of our time at Mullen. But I LOATHED Knocked up, for the exact reason that you point out -- the way that women are portrayed. The main female's character just makes no sense. Particularly there is the scene where she is out to dinner with boyfriend, sister, and sister's husband and boyfriend jokes that he freaked out when he found out he was a dad and her response is to get really angry and say that she never freaked out, she was always happy about it -- when in fact earlier in the movie we saw an extended scene of her freaking out. I guess that it's impossible in 2008 to make a nuanced version of what pregnancy/motherhood might mean for a woman in a comedy -- if she's shown to have doubts or anything either the movie has to become serious or she's a bad mother, the end.

The other side of the coin is that it is totally ok for potential FATHERS to show ambiguous feelings about fatherhood.

So I guess the point is that they couldn't have made it with a realistic woman/mother character... or else I'm just a baby hating bad American.