We’re desperate for a laugh these days. Life was bad enough already without oil-covered seabirds. So naturally some gits arranged to provide us with oil-covered seabirds, really glopping the oil on them so they’re clearly immobile in the photos except for their terrified eyes, and they’re bound to die there in the muck, slowly and horribly, if someone doesn’t come and rescue them right after the photo is snapped. Which someone does, of course, of course someone rescues them, the photographer himself maybe, pulling them out of the clotted Gulf, careful not to hurt their wings, and cleans them all off till they’re white again and puts them in a nice airy room to dry, and then transports them to a beautiful safe estuary somewhere, where they live happily ever after. The End.
This desperation for a laugh may make Get Him to the Greek seem funnier than it actually is, but we don’t care about that right now. There are some definite laughs in it. Good enough. It’s from the Judd Apatow comedy factory, so we know exactly what to expect, the guy-love, the women-hating, the raunch, the bizarre moralizing everyone calls “sweetness,” the scenes that work and the draggy interludes in between, and either Seth Rogen or Jonah Hill or both, to represent supposedly cuddly porcine men everywhere. Fine!
Jonah Hill is actually pretty good as Aaron Green, a nebbishy nobody working for an L.A. record company who lands his big opportunity: transporting his rock idol Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) from London to L.A.’s Greek Theater for a live concert which might salvage Snow’s trashed career. Brand is reprising his showy role as Snow from the earlier Apatow factory product, also directed by Nicholas Stoller, Forgetting Sarah Marshall. (Which I didn’t see because it stars Jason Segal, who makes me shudder. The line has to be drawn somewhere.)
It must be admitted that Russell Brand is kind of lovable. It’s something about the mad teased hair and the madder gleam in the eyes combined with the fussy precision of his diction. After keeping Aaron up partying for days, for example, Snow keeps prodding him as he tries to nap, saying, “Don’t sleep, Aaron. You sleep too often,” only he pronounces it “off-ten.”
Brand would be great starring in an uncensored version of the lively novel Auntie Mame. You can just picture him looking sensational in a beaded dress, holding a long cigarette holder, singing out, “Darling! Open a window, it’s as hot as a crotch in here!”
Aldous Snow is supposed to be a Brit rocker of the old school, who stays thin and affable on a steady diet of drugs, hard alcohol, and clap-ridden groupies. Aaron is the small square fellow who’s absolutely out of his element in Aldous’ world and helpless to resist or redirect its hedonistic forces. That’s a good comic duo, one we’ve seen before, in the 1982 film My Favorite Year, for example, with Peter O’Toole as the long, lean, dissolute, washed-up star, and Mark Linn-Baker as the small, square, helpless fellow trying to get the star to stay sober long enough to do something, or to get anywhere on time.
“You’ve got to mind-fuck him,” advises Aaron’s boss Sergio Roma, played by the surprisingly effective Sean (Puffy/Puff Daddy/P. Diddy/Whatever) Combs. He’s the ruthless record company executive who throws Aaron to the wolves. “I’m mind-fucking you right now,” demonstrates Roma, glaring at him. That’s one of Combs’ two expressions in this role: the flat, blank stare, and the slightly intensified glare. He doesn’t need any more than that, because his character is one of those interesting sociopaths who tend to make it in showbiz, and Combs is clearly familiar with the syndrome. Unsurprised by anything, capable of limitless cunning and depravity, absolutely immune to the sufferings of others, he casually terrorizes his staff with warnings of their dire plight if the record company goes under, while noting that he himself will be fine because he owns twenty-one Koo-koo-roo franchises. “How many Koo-koo-roos you got?”
Roma provides some welcome trickster inventiveness later in the film when he has to step in to “mind-fuck” Aldous Snow himself, Aaron having proved incapable. Combs acts this out in fine style, determined to party these “fuckin’ Limeys” into the ground and make them long for an interlude of sobriety. Even more could’ve been done with such a promising idea, because halfway through the movie the plot’s running out of gas a bit, and writer-director Stoller is hunting for the “moral of the story” to prop up the rest of it. I’m not sure why it is, but in recent comedies, the meaning always has to be announced by a sudden lurch into drama. We can’t seem to get it though our heads that comedy is also meaningful.
The movie gets pretty grim from then on, showing the consequences of hedonism in busted relationships and twisted encounters and sad faces. Since the whole movie’s been a tribute to hedonism—yes, it’s risky, but there’s no denying it’s a thrill we all need sometimes, and none of us are getting out of here alive anyway—there’s a terrible grinding of gears to get the machinery moving in this new, stupid direction. Who wants to find out that Auntie Mame/Aldous Snow is really deeply unhappy, and merely acting out spectacularly because of the emptiness in her/his pitiful, lonely soul? Nobody, that’s who. Auntie Aldous is fine, doing infinitely better than the vast majority of miserable sods in the world.
But this movie insists on driving Auntie Aldous to rock-bottom, giving him suicidal thoughts, and pain, and blood, so it can sober him up, and send him back to rehab, dashing the martini from his hand. Only then can he generate another hit song, and be a true friend to Aaron, and all that crap. It makes no sense at all. Big, specious plugs for the importance of sobriety and monogamy were exactly what we thought we’d avoid with this movie. It starts out with TMZ-style reports on Aldous Snow ruining his career by trying to be a rehabbed, monogamous do-gooder. He’s recorded a sickening Bono-esque song called “African Child” that’s decried as “the worst thing for the African people since apartheid.” The point seems to be that he’s not cut out for this and that the hypocritical lifestyle is self-destructive.
Aldous falls off the wagon when his longtime girlfriend, ex-stripper Jackie Q (Rose Byrne), leaves him, so he’s halfway home. But he’s still clinging to the idea of “African Child” as a good song. Along comes overanxious, hero-worshipping Aaron, and now they can help each other: Aldous can loosen up Aaron but still make him grateful to go home to his nice sane hard-working girlfriend (Elizabeth Moss) in the end; Aaron can help Aldous get back to his rock star roots. Done and done. There’s a perfectly neat way to wind this up without the nauseating dog’s breakfast the final act becomes, with every disgusting thing thrown in, gobbled up, regurgitated with horrible hacking noises, and eaten again.
Mick Lasalle of The San Francisco Chronicle says this film is part of the new golden age of comedy we’re in, only we dopes won’t realize it till years and years from now. So get your laughs while you can, people; if he’s right, this might be the best we can do!
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