Toward the end of his career, Blake Edwards made a bunch of comedies that were widely regarded as not as good as the films he had made previously. But what you could count on in those ‘80s movies was that while he was going to introduce farcical elements into the topic, he was also going to seriously address some topic that was usually glossed over.
For example, Skin Deep looks at the Casanova-type both from the “good times” aspect of having a lot of unattached sex, but then from the more serious aspect of the effect those “good times” can have. Micki + Maude looks at when a couple’s urge to have children (or not) are in conflict, and it doesn’t gloss over the ending. Switch takes a look at misogyny inside of the body-switch-style farce.
I mention this because Kevin Smith, at his best, does something similar. (And he’s also often steeped in his time heavily that, like Edwards, you wonder if some of his “better” works aren’t going to age well.) Chasing Amy takes an unflinching look at the problems of expectations and desires in the post-sexual revolution world.
Also, like Edwards, he’s not afraid to go to the custard pie (or in Smith’s case, the fecal matter) for a joke, lest you think he’s overly full of himself.
And this brings us to Zack And Miri Make A Porno, the tale of Zack (Seth Rogan) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks), long term friends who, on the eve of their 10th High School reunion, find themselves without power, water and heat in the brutal Pennsylvania winter.
Let me take a moment to say that one thing I admire about the Smith kid is that he grows. Each movie he makes is a little more like a real movie. From the early days of setting the camera down for 10 minutes while a couple of characters talk in Clerks to actual camera movement and letting the visuals tell the story in Clerks II, he’s come a long way. One of the comments on Dogma was something like “It looks like a real movie.” And we’ve had a running gag about that ever since.
This really looks like a real movie. There’s some excellent visual work, like a withdrawing shot of a distraught Miri as Zack heads down the hallway to have sex with Stacey. She gets smaller and smaller and the shot gets darker, and finally on the side, we see the bedroom door close.
Besides Smith, there’s Rogen as (again) the lovable slacker–hey, it works well for him–and Banks as his platonic friend. Banks has real range, and she plays a character that’s fairly far removed from her sex-freak persona in 40 Year Old Virgin, her secretary-with-a-heart-of-gold in the Spiderman movies, or even her damsel-in-distress turn in Slither, just to name a few. Craig Robinson (the bouncer in Knocked Up and hotel staff in Forgetting Sarah Marshall) gets a meatier role here.
I have no idea what the Apatow connection is, except that there’s a superficial similarity between Smith and Apatow.
Meanwhile we have some Smith regulars doing some acting: Mrs. Smith as the too peppy high school reunion coordinator (she always does a good job, but she does tend to be cast as a bitch, hmmmm); Jeff Anderson as a-sarcastic-and-world-weary-but-not-really-Randall-esque cameraman; and Jason Mewes not being Jay. Also, going full frontal.
That’s right. Full frontal male nudity is here, for your viewing enjoyment.
There was also Tyler Labine, who is not Ethan Suplee, and Tom Savini, who is not Brian O’Halloran. Sorry, you tend to look for these guys when you know Smith’s movies and both of them confused me. (Savini’s gotta be 20+ years older than O’Halloran, too, but I just figured it was a good acting job.) Actual porn star Katie Morgan is in the movie, and she doesn’t look like a Smith regular, but she sounds like Joey Lauren Adams.
Rounding out the cast is former child actor Ricky Mabe and new mother Traci Lords. Traci looked a little tired in this movie but she’s got the acting-without-dialogue thing down. Justin Long and Brandon Routh play gay lovers. Long is hilarious. But what is up with Superman going on to doing gay kissing roles? That’s just what Reeves did!
It’s a good cast. One thing I like about the Smith kid is that he tends to keep his movies short. Brutally so, sometimes. Short and fast-moving. They’re not boring. This isn’t boring. But.
He’s trying to cram two things into one short movie here, and neither exactly work. First, there’s a love story between Zack and Miri–did you doubt it? (If someone could do it, it’d be him, I guess.) The dramatic tension is created through the fact that they’re going to have sex for the first time and it’s on camera, but it’s supposed to be “just sex”. But they’re also supposed to have sex with others which, well, you know, it’s not “just sex”.
Their transition from completely convincing platonic friends to being in love isn’t really built-up. Rogen and Banks sell it, though, so it does work. Their sex scene is intensely intimate; the antithesis of the porn they’re trying to make. The transition between the vulgar and the romantic reminded me strongly of Edwards better work.
The other thread, though, is the “let’s make a movie” part. This is a condensed encapsulation of Smith’s own experiences making “Clerks” but there just isn’t enough time for the camaraderie to really resonate.
Overall, it seems like one of his best movies. It’s not boring, it’s made with considerable attention to detail, and the dialogue is fun without being too much in Smith’s strangely idiosyncratic soliloquy style. It is, of course, vulgar, but not unexpectedly so. I’m a little surprised it didn’t take in a bit more money at the box office–though they really didn’t advertise it much, presumably because of the “porno” in the title.
Don’t leave before the stinger.