Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
February 2013

Movie 43

Star-spangled crap

'Movie 43' is a collection of potentially funny ideas that fall flat in practice

Movie 43
Relativity Media
Director: Elizabeth Banks, Steven Brill, Steve Carr, Rusty Cundieff, James Duffy, Griffin Dunne, Peter Farrelly, Patrik Forsberg, James Gunn, Will Graham, Brett Ratner and Jonathan van Tulleken
Screenplay: Steve Baker, Will Carlough, Tobias Carlson, Jacob Fleisher, Patrik Forsberg, Will Graham, James Gunn, Claes Kjellstrom, Jack Kukoda, Bill O'Malley, Matt Portenoy, Greg Pritikin, Rocky Russo, Olle Sarri, Elizabeth Shapiro, Jeremy Sosenko, Jonathan van Tulleken and Jonas Wittenmark
Starring: Elizabeth Banks, Kristen Bell, Halle Berry, Leslie Bibb, Kate Bosworth, Gerard Butler, Josh Duhamel, Anna Faris, Richard Gere, Terrence Howard, Hugh Jackman, Greg Kinnear, Johnny Knoxville, Justin Long, Stephen Merchant, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloë Grace Moretz, Dennis Quaid, Chris Pratt, Liev Schreiber, Seann William Scott, Emma Stone, Jason Sudeikis, Uma Thurman, Naomi Watts, Jeremy Allen White and Kate Winslet
Rated R / 1 hour, 37 minutes
Opened January 25, 2013
(out of four)

Usually when you see a marquee with a cavalcade of big-name celebrities (A-listers and B-listers alike, with a few Oscar winners sprinkled within), you wind up with a Garry Marshall monstrosity like Valentine's Day or New Year's Eve. But with the similarly star-centric Movie 43, we're mercifully left with something far less offensive.

Oh, I know, Movie 43 is "offensive" in the sense that it does everything in its power to offend our sensibilities regarding genitalia, bodily functions, race, sex, violence, relationships, parenting, child abuse and . . . well, name anything. But it is in such aggressively bad taste that it quickly becomes entirely inoffensive. There's no shock value when the intentions are so abundantly clear. In this case, the intention is to be as disgusting and offensive as possible. There is no envelope.

At least it's honest about what it's trying to do. Funny is another story. The thing is, for any voracious consumer of comedy (myself included), very little in Movie 43 is anything we can be particularly shocked by. You think we haven't seen a comedy sketch about a scrotum before? Or pooping? Or incest? Please. The only trick this time is that it's all piled into one 90-minute block. Goes down easier that way, actually.

Not funnier, but easier.

The problem isn't so much the desire to go to comedic extremes, but the laziness with which most of the sketches in Movie 43 go about those extremes. Most of the segments are at least conceptually funny - you can see how they would have sounded hilarious in the writers' room - but the jokes die out quickly because they have nowhere else to go. I don't think it's a coincidence that the funniest (and most original) thing in Movie 43 is a 1-minute faux commercial in the middle of the film - an absurdist non-sequitur taking the form of a PSA against child abuse, the twist being that the children are literally inside the machines we use on a daily basis (inside the copy machine manually feeding us each piece of paper, inside the vending machine rejecting our crumpled dollar bills) and are the victims of our violent tempers and outbursts.

Less successful is Brett Ratner's short about a pair of roommates fighting a kidnapped leprechaun (a sketch that spins its wheels for five minutes before landing on a predictably unfunny punchline regarding a sexy fairy's sexual proclivities that you just know the frat boy in Ratner thinks would be totally rad in real life), one featuring Halle Berry and Stephen Merchant on a blind date that escalates into an increasingly outrageous series of dares, and another about a seventh-grader (Chloë Grace Moretz) getting her first period.

The other sketch that works (for me, at least) is Will Graham's Homeschooled, about a couple (real-life husband and wife Naomi Watts and Leiv Schreiber) home-schooling their teenage son (Jeremy Allen White) and making sure he gets the entire typical high-school experience. Bullying, rejection, drinking, parties, gym class, abusive teachers, awkward first kisses, and even more awkward first sexual experiences. And yes, these are all administered by the parents themselves.

The reason it works - and the reason I think most of Movie 43 doesn't - is because it understands how to set up its concept and lay the framework for the ensuing discomfort and disgust. It begins unassumingly and casually builds to each stake-raising absurd moment. (It's also a great performance by White, whose stone-faced, sunken-eyed horror at what is happening to him provides the perfect counterweight.) But too often in Movie 43, we can practically hear the filmmakers shouting, "Look! Isn't that crazy and disgusting? Did you see? Did you see how offensive that was?! I'M TOTALLY PUSHING BOUNDARIES!"

It stinks of desperation. Bad taste I can handle. In fact, I'm all for it. Bad comedy is another matter altogether.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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