What Can Be Said About Movie 43 and What Movie 43 May Say About Us

by: Dominick Mayer 

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When I reviewed Movie 43 last week, I wrote the following:

“Logic would suggest that the film is too dirty for the age group that’d actually find it funny. But perhaps not. At the screening I attended, two youngish men wearing track pants and beanies indoors chugged Red Bulls and audibly guffawed at the film from start to finish, occasionally interjecting with comments like “HAHAHAHA TAMPAX” in response to a faux tampon commercial. So, maybe there is an audience for Movie 43.”

If you haven’t heard about Movie 43 yet, a) congratulations and b) I can’t blame you. The omnibus comedy (and I use “comedy” with the utmost looseness) was essentially buried by Rogue and dumped in theaters during one of the slowest periods of the filmgoing year to try and recoup its modest $6 million budget. It’ll probably at least break even, which is the best possible outcome for a film that’s already being touted as one of the worst films of all time. This is the sort of feeding frenzy on which most film critics secretly get off, flush with the opportunity to flex their phrase-turning muscles and see who can offer the funniest evisceration of a film that was more or less dead out of the gate. If anything, Movie 43 is the ultimate affirmation that actors alone cannot sell a movie if it sucks enough.
Now, I don’t think Movie 43 is the worst film ever made. It’s hideously tasteless, sure, and all things considered it’d probably be easier to make a list of social groups to whom the film isn’t offensive. But it doesn’t reach the insulting failure of something like The Dukes of Hazzard or the gross incompetence of the great duds like Gigli. A lot of people are talking about this film because of the star-studded cast (including current Oscar nominees Hugh Jackman and Naomi Watts, among a wealth of others) and wonder just how wrong the production could’ve gone. But stunt casting is nothing new. Look at most modern-day animated films, which use A-list names to bring families into a perfunctorily assembled shitshow which hopes to trade on the imagined stupidity of kids. (Sup, Shark Tale?)
This is hardly a new phenomenon, and to focus on Movie 43’s economic failure misses the more interesting and important question. Getting a film made takes a lot of pull and effort, which means that a series of people over an indeterminate period of time sat down and decided that Movie 43 was an idea that could sell. That a studio (even a small one) saw this as a saleable enterprise is shocking, because who would find this funny? As I mentioned at the start, there are people who would laugh at rote jokes about explosive diarrhea or the menstrual cycle, but are there enough of them to get a film greenlit? Apparently so.
And even Peter Farrelly, the mastermind behind this whole tawdry enterprise, believes so. After the film became a public punching bag last weekend, Farrelly (the mind behind secretly genius movies like Dumb & Dumber, and movies like Hall Pass that are the opposite of that) took to Twitter to decry the attacks on the film. He said:

“To the critics: Movie 43 is not the end of the world. It’s just a $6-million movie where we tried to do something different. Now back off. You always complain that Hollywood never gives you new stuff, and then when you get it, you flip out.”

Here’s the problem. Farrelly isn’t completely out of touch (his Reddit AMA from just before the film’s release is funnier than anything in Movie 43), but to rage against critics for finding your painfully unfunny movie painfully unfunny is missing the point. Nothing that happens in Movie 43’s 93 minutes feels new at all, if you’ve ever spent a half hour on the internet. Though the Farrellys have suffered from diminished returns over the past decade or so, they’re proven comic minds, and I want to believe that skits like the one in which an Apple-esque company rolls out a new portable music player designed to look like a vacuum-eyed naked woman (seriously one of the scariest things I’ve seen in any recent comedy this side of Family Guy) say a little bit more than that they’ve simply and irreparably forgotten how to write jokes. The whole point of making comedy at the big-studio level is to make a comedy that people will come to and laugh at. They made it because they figured people could relate to these jokes and appreciate them.

When you put Movie 43 in this context, then, things get a lot scarier. To think that the aforementioned iBabe skit is hilarious, or the one in which Batman helps Robin attempt to perversely pick up comely female superheroes, one has to willfully put the blinders on and act as though the past two decades of social progress never happened. This is a film trapped in the Porky’s mentality, the one that says that women having orgasms is inherently ridiculous and hysterical. And it’s sad to watch, more than anything. It’s sad that actors who’ve for the most part proven themselves more talented than material like this have to appear in a film where a discussion about “pooping on skanks” is considered the vanguard of comic edge.

For as much as cinema has moved forward over the past few years with respect to embracing the changing times (in certain respects), trash like Movie 43 makes me think that a different sect of the population is pushing movies toward Idiocracy’s doomsday scenario where people crave Ass! The Movie out of sheer defiance of the march toward basic human decency and equality. And those people will go to Movie 43, and they’ll laugh at the very concept of the female body, at the very idea of sex, because it’s all so gross and ridiculous and hilarious. And they’ll do it because they won’t be told about political correctness, because people are just too sensitive and the word “pussy” is hilarious. And in four years, they’ll help pick the next leader of the free world.

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