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movies / June 6, 2010

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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.”

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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?”

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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.

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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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12 Comments

Add your own

  • 1. JoJoJo  |  June 7th, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    I really hate these Apatow comedies. I knew this was shit just from seeing the commercials but thanks for dutifully ass raping it anyway, Eileen.

  • 2. senorpogo  |  June 7th, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    Q: How unbearable will our future be?

    A: Only memories of Pineapple Express will bring us joy.

  • 3. tazio  |  June 8th, 2010 at 9:15 am

    Sounds like this Lasalle dude probably still thinks John Hughes was a comic genius

  • 4. FrankMcG  |  June 9th, 2010 at 10:31 am

    Every time Apatow is mentioned, I’ll drag out my thesis on him again:

    Apatow comedies are not funny because they are the lazy regurgitations of a couple unfunny friends sitting around talking about random shit. The characters simply ramble about completely unrelated culture crap and except us to find that funny. Not one shred of the humor comes from the situation, story, or character quirks like a good comedy should. The lazy Apatow crew sees fit to shoot the shit about action movie stars and calls it a day, expecting us to pat them on the back and pay them $10 for it.

    It’s like the very worst of Tarantino meets the very worst of Kevin Smith, only worse because there’s always a chiding morality lesson behind it all. There’s always the extremely warped message behind them all that being with women means that men have to surrender their friends and who they are, all in the name of “maturing”. It’s like watching a slightly less socially inept manchild lecture other manchildren how to act mature, and the movies make shitloads of money because the primary audience is socially inept manchildren.

    I used to think Wes Anderson was the worst thing to happen to comedy, but the unfunny strain has mutated into something far worse: the Apatow bug.

  • 5. Phil  |  June 12th, 2010 at 4:53 am

    It is a golden age for comedy… only its not being cooked-up by the Yanks (that’s why they’re trying to leech off the Brits – the likes of Brand and Gervais may be sub-par across the Atlantic, but at least they have character; rather than the self-deprecating losers Hollywood puts forward for laughs).

    Nope, there’s some great comedy. The British “Peep-Show” was a masterstroke – unfortunately it’s now running out of steam. But no worry, it’s writers have collaborated with the brilliant Chris Morris on the wonderful “Four Lions” (while Morris’ erstwhile genius collaborator Steve Coogan is selling ass in the States).

    Hollywood did get an injection of funny recently from… God help us… the Germans. “Bad Lieutenant” was one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen in years. It also proved once again that Cage can be brilliant given the right over-the-top Southern comedy role (“Raising Arizona” anyone).

    Broaden your horizons people. Hollywood is dead. And I’m not particularly upset.

  • 6. Shepherd  |  June 17th, 2010 at 6:39 am

    In my opinion its just a different brand of comedy that really hits the spot for some people. I can get good laughs from Apatow, he captures friends well, the stories are good, they aren’t bad movies. If its not for you go re-watch The Oddcouple or sumshit.

  • 7. Sean Flanagan  |  June 17th, 2010 at 8:56 am

    Apatow and Rogen may not justify the holocaust on their own but they justify all antisemitism except the holocaust.

  • 8. FrankMcG  |  June 17th, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    Shepard, you know what captures friends well? Actually hanging out with friends.

    At their very, very best, Apatow movies are on the same level as an average group of buddies shooting the shit.

    Why on Earth would you pay money for that when you could just go hang out with friends for free?

    Movies are for an ENHANCED version of life. Would you watch an action movie where the climax was an every day guy hurrying across the street before the light changes red? No, we watch action movies with exploding gas tankers and comedies where the characters and dialog is funnier than anyone we know in real life, not an exact recreation of some frat bros’ ramblings.

  • 9. Bill Rush  |  June 21st, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    Apatow comedies will never be as funny as the Coen Brothers films.

  • 10. nick  |  August 22nd, 2010 at 10:22 am

    Look i hate to burst your bubble but people don’t watch movies that celebrate ‘immoral’ shit. For someone to without any caveat enjoy a drug or something debaucherous goes against 400 years of puritan ethic. If you want to see a movie like that watch herzog’s bad lieutenant, which is probably my favorite movie but a commercial failure for a reason. When i tried to show it to my friends that aren’t as cynical or depressed as everyone that goes to this website they didn’t like it specifically because cage doesn’t get his comeuppance and doesn’t learn his lesson at all.

  • 11. do i have to  |  September 1st, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    I really wanted this film to be good, and it sounds like it might be until the half-assed moral message appears.
    Pineapple express and the hangover were apatow-related comedies, right? they don’t have any stupid fucking moral message coming in (other than hurr bro love). And I still consider pineapple express as one of my favorite comedy films of recent years (although of course as someone who smokes around an ounce a week I have no credibility whatsoever when it comes to judging weed comedies)
    I genuinely like Brand and i wish people would use him better, his standup is fairly amusing and his radio show was great before middle aged housewives who knew him as ‘that man who looks like that man in pirates of the Caribbean’ kicked him off the air because he left an ‘insulting’ message on the answering machine of a man whose sole claim to fame is playing a quasi-racist caricature of a Spaniard.
    Without further digressing Brand is a talented young man who should be used to better effect in films, even if he’s essentially the mickey cera’s whiny nerd of flamboyant british rockers.

  • 12. Mike Z  |  September 24th, 2010 at 1:24 am

    I loved all the Apatow flicks and I’ll definitely watch this one. The review sounds like this might be a good flick, I mean, what about the film it does trash, exactly – the unoriginal plot?! Holy shit, and here I was, expecting an Apatow comedy to win Best original Screenplay!


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