Sunday, April 12, 2009

OBSERVE AND REPORT

Jody Hill's Observe and Report proudly feels like the writer/director's logical next big step from his 2008 overnight cult hit, The Foot Fist Way. Both films center around an unlikable underdog with unchecked ego and ambition. Unlikable, yet not unsympathetic. Both men (Fred in The Foot Fist Way and Ronnie in Observe and Report) are the products of disastrous and neglectful homesteads so, in turn, they have chosen professions that offer up prospects of authority and control. Fred's dojo is his kingdom, as is the mall to Ronnie.

Over the opening credits - with Bob Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece" playing over top containing the lyric, "had to be held down by big police" - Ronnie surveys the wide corridors and wide ranging customers in the suburban mall where he is head of mall security. But it isn't the mall patrons that Ronnie is most concerned with in asserting the power he has behind that six pointed star on his chest (one point too many to make a proper Sheriff's badge), it is in his peers, and his co-workers that he wants to leave a legacy-like impression on. Ronnie is delusional in thinking that they (outside of a couple of his fellow guards) care or are impressed by his uniform, but he presents an amazing facade of self-confidence for someone who grew up in an abusive home.

The pitch black comedy of Observe and Report is a timely rejoinder to the godawful "dark comedy" of Sunshine Cleaning in that the former is dark in substance and execution and not just in surface topicality like the later. I also imagine that some of the violence and filth and drug use in Observe and Report will shock moviegoers expecting Knocked-Up in cop uniforms. But Observe and Report operates in somewhat of an alternate universe that has more in common with someone like Wes Anderson (albeit a very demented Wes Anderson) than the "true-to-life" comedic takes of Judd Apatow. Most of Hill's characters are soft-caricatures and that helps alleviate some of the blunt force of the actions onscreen.

One thing for sure, Seth Rogen seems naturally at home here in a multi-leveled character of anger, honor, ambition, and torment than in the one-note pot smokers he's known for from Freaks and Geeks, Knocked Up, Zak and Miri, and - most horribly - Pineapple Express. While Rogen is definitely still banking on the delivery of foul-mouthed one-liners in a gravely voice, here he shows a sensitivity that was lacking in previous roles. It's the best performance of his career. Also interesting is the goofball antics of the underrated Michael Pena, an actor who continually stands out by appearing in a lot of crap (Shooter, Crash, Babel). Pena is fun to watch, but his character is one of Observe and Report's weaker aspects. Hill seems to dump his riskiest and most extreme ideas on a creation that seems unevenly sweet and sinister.

Further down the troubled line, Observe and Report has already kicked up a bit of controversy over "the rape scene". If you haven't seen the movie or even heard about the scene in question, here it is, briefly: Seth Rogen is seen on top of an apparently passed out Anna Faris, grinding away. He then notices that she is unresponsive and stops. Faris replies (eyes closed, drooling) "what are you stopping for??!?". I don't think the scene is making light of date rape, but admittedly, I was shocked when I first saw the image. I can't speak definitively for my wife, but she seemed to take her offense to that scene into the lobby with her, and writers such as Nikki Finke have already weighed in by saying that everyone involved with Observe and Report should be "ashamed".

Personally, I think there are nuances to Ronnie's character that cancel out any despicable intentions of rape. But it's the image that lingers and holds power. It's the mix of vomit and drool on Anna Faris' pillow, it's the passed out look and the vacant expression on her face. Jody Hill could have easily filmed drunken sex between Rogen and Faris without giving the icky quick sense of a sexual crime taking place. It seems to me that he knew what he was doing when he set up the frame this way. So, is an image like that excusable in a film that is deeply, darkly comic? Could it even possibly add a bit of depth to Ronnie's character? Or, is it wholly irresponsible? At this point, I've entertained answers on the side of all three of those questions.

Interestingly, I think that scene is just but a small example of how deceptively complex a movie like Observe and Report is. I look forward to digging into the bucket of reactions to this movie, and I hope readers of this post will weigh in with comments as well.

28 comments:

Keith said...

I wasn't sure if I had wanted to see this film or not. The trailer didn't really bowl me over. I've got some good reaction about the movie so far. Your writeup definitely has me interested in seeing it.

bill r. said...

I'm surprised you liked this. I haven't seen it, but want to, and your review makes me even more curious. I've been reading some wildly different reactions to the film this morning. Check out Jeffrey Wells and David Poland, two websites I hate, but there are some interesting discussions going on.

Fox said...

Keith-

Agreed on the trailer. It's not very good. It's also not very telling of the darker nature of the film. (And though I liked the film, that dark nature doesn't always work, as in the storyline that progresses with Michael Pena's character).

Bill-

I was telling my wife that I was anxious to read the different reactions to the film. Last night I read a couple of negative ones and I will dig into more this morning. BTW... Ebert hasn't posted a review of this movie on his site. And he reviews EVERYTHING! I wonder if the absence of any write-up is supposed to tell us something about his feelings for it.

Thanks for the links. I'm gonna go check out Dave Poland's blog, but I will hold off on Jeffrey Wells. (I share you disgust for that guy.)

bill r. said...

The Wells recommendation has more to do with the comments than anything that rat bastard has to say.

Fox said...

The Wells recommendation has more to do with the comments than anything that rat bastard has to say.

Bill-

I pictured you saying that with a chomped-on cigar butt in your mouth. Kinda like Gene Evans in The Steel Helmet.

bill r. said...

I'm exactly like Gene Evans in The Steel Helmet. That, mixed with Lee Marvin in Prime Cut.

The M'hael said...

I really need to go see this movie.

Arbogast said...

I really need to date Anna Faris.

Fox said...

I really need to date Anna Faris.---

Over my de... well, I was about to say "over my dead body!", but then I realized that wouldn't really be an issue for you.

Nova Mob said...

My girlfriend definitely took offense to the movie due to the date rape scene. I myself have mixed feelings- on the one hand, I think Jody Hill has balls to take that scene to such an uncomfortable, honest place, on the other, a lot of teen boys seeing the movie because it stars Rogen might not understand the subtleties of this very dark flick. Comparisons to TAXI DRIVER are very apt- even the cop-out "happy ending" (that still manages to leave one unnerved) mirrors the one in Taxi Driver that sees Bickle a hero. *spoiler*the slow-motion jog at the end punctuating with Ronnie plugging the flasher- brilliant stuff. As uneven a flick as any I've seen, but impossible to shake.

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