So, uh, if you haven't heard yet, I really liked Observe and Report. While I patiently await the opportunity to see it again, thinking about it now I'm particularly struck by how everything about this movie seems to make more sense in retrospect. I mean, how brilliant is that poster? You take one glance at it at the multiplex and you can't help but complain--Christ, didn't I just see a Seth Rogen movie last week? And then you finally see the damned thing and take another look at the promotional material. The tagline perfectly captures the film's atmosphere and its frightening implications, and its minimalistic design doesn't really represent a straightforward introduction to its star so much as it resembles a wanted poster. Now all I can do is speculate on how much of the film was a product of Ronnie's fevered imagination. Those strange Yuen twins who serve as Ronnie's support team--nothing more than a surreal Lynchian fantasy?
Frankly, I'm still astounded that Rogen would be the one to carry the film with such natural understanding of what he represents in the movies today--the one to imply that the films we've all been laughing at over the last five years or so were informed by something simplistic and unhealthy. I looked back recently on some old reviews I wrote about the Judd Apatow flicks before my days at FFC, and realized how little the films' conservative agenda meant to me in the face of its quick-draw profanity. I figured they were saying something reasonably eloquent about the characters' basic immaturity and insecurity--and maybe they were. But then came Observe and Report, complete with a lead character who never, ever has to acknowledge how much of a maniac he is... and I was surprised to finally understand how little effort it took to coerce these characters into simply translating their immaturity and insecurity into something more socially acceptable. The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up both revolve around the idea that wanton irresponsibility will eventually lead to stable responsibility, right? The thing is that these movies want to impart to their audience that actions have consequences, but also that they're less severe than you think--the solution is to roll with the punches rather than try to affect real change in how you look at life. In passing the torch from Kevin Smith to Judd Apatow, you kid yourself into thinking that this brand of comedy is evolving, but no one's really learned anything since Clerks II and its ultimate message that you can be a hate-filled prick so long as you're a self-sufficient one.
It's really no different from any of the other lessons you can find in the family-friendly garbage that routinely infests theatres. See, the most infuriating thing about Paul Blart: Mall Cop is this idea that you can toss a lovable fuck-up into any scenario and comfortably pretend that none of it really matters. So why think twice when we give that lovable fuck-up a badge and more responsibility than he knows what to do with? He'll figure it out on his own, I'm sure. I said my piece about learning the follies of escapism on this blog in January, but what fascinates/terrifies me about these movies now is how the manufactured distractions are pitched as outright solutions to the problems from which they were supposed to distract you. Don't worry, Mom, your kid may be a profane idiot prone to bouts of self-destructive violence, but he just needs to beat his head against the wall a few more times before he settles down with some nice girl and has his two-point-five children. It's not a matter of learning from your mistakes--it's a vague Wile E. Coyote hope that maybe firing yourself from a giant longbow will eventually yield results that don't involve ramming your face into a telephone pole.
The comfort of maintaining that sense of cheap vulgarity is resulting in something less than savory. Out of the many, many things Zack Snyder fucked up in Watchmen, Doctor Manhattan's appearance wasn't one of them--and yet it's been a full month after the fact and I'm still hearing jokes about his "big blue dick." True enough that Watchmen was so completely atonal that it couldn't tell genuine pathos from a hole in the ground, but the end of the world looms overhead and you're still snickering about naked man-parts? What the fuck, man? It's already been well-documented in the early reviews, but I suspect that the full-frontal nudity in Observe and Report will dominate the conversation once everyone realizes how far and away this movie is from Paul Blart, and maybe that's a good thing. You know, what with that sudden revelation being the moment when the movie drops the very last hints of misinterpretation and confronts you with the full weight of its madness, dyed so thoroughly into the wool of its gross-out "humor" that no one can pretend that everything they've laughed at doesn't have consequences. Consequences that are going to require a little more introspection than you've given them up until now. At this early stage, the general response to the film looks like it's going to be a mixed one, which you can probably ascribe to its dearth of uncritical comedy. But at least it seems poised to jump-start a new conversation about the effects of what we watch on our general worldview--and maybe that's the best that anyone can ask for right now.