July 27th, 2011

Rose-coloured reviews Some Summer Comedies

A lot of the problems with Bad Teacher could have been eliminated if Cameron Diaz hadn’t been the star. The deepest problem, that this film is dead at its core, obviously could not have been helped by anyone but the scriptwriters, but getting a pretty young unknown to star would’ve alleviated some of the surface nonsense.

This is not to say Diaz does a bad job–she’s even fairly funny as a sexy cynical snob who has evaluated her beauty as her best feature and wants to sell it to the highest bidder, ie., richest husband. When her fiance divines her golddigging ways and cancels the wedding, Elizabeth Halsey has no choice to return to what she had thought was an extremely temporary job, teaching junior high. There, she bides her time, trolling for men, saving money for a breast-enhancement to up her market value even more, and doing as little work as humanly possible teaching, or even speaking to, seventh graders.

One reason I wish that a young unknown had gotten this roles is that Diaz is 39 years old, and while she is far more stunning than most other humans who have ever lived, in my opinion she looks like a stunning 39 year old. Or maybe it’s just because I know how old she is that it always occurs to me when I look at her. Elizabeth’s age is not alluded to–ever–in the film, but it was on my mind, because, yeah, if she were 22 she’d kind of be shallow loser, but with time ahead of her to get it together and find something more useful to do than shoving her boobs at boys. But if you’re 39 and all that’s occurred to you career-wise is to sleep around until you get your hooks into a rich dude… I think this made the movie far more depressing than was intended.

If the filmmakers had given Elizabeth a clear past, and insisted that she was very young, I could’ve believed that she was 22–it’s not inconceivable. But Elizabeth has no past–no friends, no parents, no memories of things that happened before the director said, “Action!” on the first scene. Always the mark of a bad movie, in my book–the script just doesn’t bother with a whole character–a few characteristics will do.

The flip side–a fully imagined character– works wonders on the admittedly simple but enjoyable film Bridesmaids. Star Kristen Wiig is 38 and, again, looks an attractive 38. Here, it works, though, because the character has a history that coincides with her looks. Pretty Annie is a sweet loser, with a failed bakery behind her and only annoying roommates, a dead-end job in a jewellery store, and business-like sex with her unfriendly friend-with-benefits. She also has a mom, a hometown, memories of her ex, and she wears her life on her face. As played by Wiig, whom I’ve never encountered before but will be seeking out in the future, Annie’s hilarious resignation at say, being forced to climb over a gate when she can’t work the controls to open it, and then at the gate starting to move when she’s halfway over, is based on an imagined long history of similar issues.

I hate to say it, but a big part of the reason that *Bridesmaids* suceeds where *Bad Teacher* fails is that Annie is likeable, and Elizabeth is the worst person in the world. I am *not* saying that female protagonists all have to be likeable, but maybe they do in light-hearted romps about falling in love. Or at least have some redeeming qualities. The best we ever get from Elizabeth is that when finally gives a test to her class, she herself knows the right answers–apparently, she’s not dumb. But that’s all she’s got–she’s viciously mean to almost everyone, throws a basketball at kids heads, steals answers for a test to cheat for her students, and humiliates and eventually destroys a fellow teacher whose only crime is being really annoying and self-righteous. (That would be someone named Lucy Punch, doing some of the only genuine comic acting in the movie, as the manic Lucy Squirrel.)

Annie, on the other hand, tries her best, but life–job problems, man problems, and a bitchy fellow-bridesmaid in her best friend’s wedding party–push her towards the edge. When Annie does bad things–like screaming at everything at her friend’s bridal shower, then attaching a chocolate fountain and wrestling with a giant cookie–you kinda sorta get where she’s coming from. And it’s also way funnier than sleeping with a rival’s boyfriend, then planting drugs on her and seeing her dragged off to jail!

Reviews have been mixed about the gross-out moments in *Bridesmaids*–everyone knows the big puke-n-diarrhea scene was a late-stage addition by studio powers. It’s not all that funny–it’s *really* gross–but it’s a little funny, and it also has a great moment where Annie, grey-faced and sweating with the effort not to vomit, is forced to consume a Jordan almond by the evil bridesmaid.

This is the other reason it would’ve been great had Diaz’s role gone to someone else–she’s less funny than she could be because she’s a big stahhhhr, and she has to look good in every damn scene. She would *never* have done grey-faced and sweating–she doesn’t even do pasty or pale when Elizabeth is allegedly hitting rock bottom. I don’t know if the director’s decision or Ms. Diaz’s to insist that she always be perfectly lit and made-up, that Elizabeth’s day-to-day clothing be pinup worthy, and that she do a big sexy carwash scene that’s basically looks like a prelude to soft porn. Who doesn’t know that Cameron Diaz is pretty, seriously? Did we need a whole movie to prove that point?

It’s what we get–Elizabeth never really does anything undignified, certainly no real physical comedy. It bugs me that she gave away her big gross-out moment to Justin Timberlake. Remember *There’s Something about Mary*, semen in her hair? This time Mr. Timberlake gets all the semen, all the “Oh, no, really? In a *movie*?” So much for equality of the sexes–the implication here is that Timberlake has so much dignity he can spare some, whereas Diaz can’t (Justin is pretty funny in this movie, btw. But I wish he’d quit movies and get *NSYNC back together. There, I said it.)

The big crazy moment in *Bridesmaids* is also given to a co-star, but the star is a woman too–Maya Rudolph is hilarious giving the news (in a whisper) about what she’s doing inside her wedding dress. (Why Rudolph is not in every movie ever is a strange problem–she’s so great, and so *weird*!) So I love humour that resides in semen and shit? No, not really–but if you’re going to do it, but your heart into it.

In the end, I loved *Bridesmaids* but felt it could’ve done lots more–it’s supposed to be a movie about female friendship, but the whole central conceit is about catty rivalry between women. The friendship between Wiig’s and Rudolph’s characters starts out wonderfully, with an improvised-looking chat about how a lady might indicate she was not eager to offer fellatio right at that moment. But it peters out, until it’s all Wilson Philips gags, and Annie is saved by the love of a good (but not particularly funny) man in the end.

*Bad Teacher* too, is based on the idea that women hate each other more than they like each other, and in the end all problems are solved with a kiss and promise of romance (that would be Jason Segel, playing the pleasant schlub he always plays). These two films were promised as daring, original movies about women messing up, but the plot lines are pure romantic comedy, with a little poop and semen on the side.

It’s kind of devastating to me that one of the low-key, low-marketing, goof-off movies of the summer, a buddy-caper picture you might not even have heard of called Horrible Bosses, is so much better than both these movies put together. What is this movie about? Friendship, male friendship, and how dudes pull together in the face of adversity. The specific adversity in this film is the title–three friends from high-school having their lives ruined by their vicious and insane bosses. So they decide to kill them, as you do–the hire a murder consultant (weirdly good, played by Jamie Foxx) and go on a series of hijinx-y reconnaissance and later murderous adventures.

It’s so so so funny, because the screenwriters put their money where it matters–the plot barely makes any sense, I haven’t heard of two of the three lead guys, but the chemistry between them is perfect. Most of the movie, and all of the best parts, is just them bickering in a car or a bar or in front of the tv, sounding exactly like dudes that have been friends from high school, who love each other and are sick of each other in equal measures.

There are no love interests. Of course not: it’s a buddy caper, not a rom-com, so there’s no room for that. One of the main 3 is engaged, to a woman who has about 7 lines, all of them idiotic. But the guy she’s engaged to is an idiot too, so that’s supposed to be ok. You can’t help but notice that his idiocy gets laughs and hers doesn’t, though.

The only other female speaking role in this film is Jennifer Aniston, playing one of the horrible bosses. And, shock of a lifetime, she’s really really funny. I always thought she and Ross were tied for most boring characters on *Friends* and in *Marley and Me* her main characteristics were a) nice and b) tanned (that’s a surprisingly ok movie, actually, if you are into watching movies where a dog gets all the good lines). But in *Horrible Bosses,* playing a completely deranged psycho maneater, Aniston is balls-out funny. Prowling around in her panties pretending to be fully dressed, proposing to have sex on top of unconscious dental patients, grabbing and snatching fistfuls of flesh whenever she can–she’s a terror, and one who’s not worried about her “image.”

Jennifer Aniston is 42, and I admit that the cougar-type is a poor substitute for good roles for women. But Aniston makes the most of it, and some good gags come from the fact that some guys think she’s too hot to sexually harass anyone–why doesn’t the guy just sleep with her?

I chortled through most of *Horrible Bosses*–our boys accidentally sound racist, accidentally take cocaine, shove things up their bums, and whack each other on the head thousands of times. The actors aren’t afraid to goof around–the characters *are* goofs, so they’re just acting. I think there are no risks at all in this movie–it’s safe, because it’s about dudes being morons. It’s only risky when girls do it.

I wish *Bridesmaids* creators had been able to take more risks, and that *Bad Teacher*’s had been willing to take *any,* but I’m not entirely sure whom to blame. Maybe it’s the dudes who want the ladies laughing at the jokes and not making them, but maybe it’s the ladies who are afraid to look like idiots. Real empowerment, I would think, would be realizing we have dignity to spare.

4 Responses to “Rose-coloured reviews Some Summer Comedies”

  • Frederique says:

    This is so helpful. I have only seen Bridesmaids (which I loved) but I may need to check out Horrible Bosses. Hope things with your new feline roommate are going well :)

  • Rebecca says:

    Glad it helped, Fred. I read a negative review of *Horrible Bosses* in *The New Yorker*, so I guess not everyone likes it–if you see it, I will be curious to know what you think!

    Evan is an excellent roomate–except he keeps trying to crawl into the fridge.

  • Julia says:

    Have you seen ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ yet? I laughed so hard my face hurt. There were a few oh-no-this-is-over-the-top-please-please-stop kind of moments, but on the whole, I thought i was a pretty smart, hilarious, touching romantic comedy.

  • Rebecca says:

    Julia, I haven’t seen it yet, but it looks fabulous (I love Steve Carrell) and this recommendation puts it into must-see territory! I’ll report back!

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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