Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Americanus Ignoramus: RED STATE, BRIDESMAIDS

No one's ever accused Kevin Smith of being a closed-mouth man. He likes writing characters that like to talk, and talk, and talk in language so unlike actual human speech it wears out the actors unless they pace themselves. Either they go all red-faced and sleepy by the end, or we fall asleep halfway through. Smith doesn't care - camera still rolling away. RED STATE (2011)--his first venture into 'straight' action thriller--is marred by at least two lengthy monologues that stop the film so cold you may forget all about it and start playing cards, forgetting the TV is even on. The first is a long, unfocused ramble by Tarantino stock company regular Michael Parks as a crazed bible-thumping arms hoarder and leader of a 30-strong family that's a little bit Waco, a little bit Westboro Baptist.  Parks is great but he's not much of a preacher, barely talking above a mutter when he should be shaking the rafters with righteous hellfire.  The second big monologue is far, far worse --John Goodman-- unfocused, haggard, and a hundred pounds too thin--rambling out a lengthy, half-asleep metaphor and a lengthy, drop-dead dull explanation of a plot device spoiler alert decency excuses me from revealing. Goodman's usually energetic and fun, but here he takes the idea of a lumpen proletariat ATF man to a tedious extreme. You want to feed him some Twinkies just to raise his blood sugar.

The plot has the crazy Christians using the devil's tool (Craigslist) to lure a trio of fledgling high school buddy virgin douchebags way out into bumfuck country by promising them a menage a quatre with a local divorcee.  From there we get a little torture porn, a little Mexican stand-off, some tense 'won't someone think of the children' drama, and a small arsenal that most of the captured menage-hungry douchebags are too stupid to take advantage of. We get the feeling Kevin Smith had just seen the entire output of both QT and RR in one long weekend before writing the script but QT's dialogue always works in brilliant ways that Smith can't seem to grasp. Lengthiness does not equal greatness. At the film's end, as Goodman, long-winded and exhausted, attempts to tie up the loose ends a proper movie wouldn't have left dangling, what we learn is that Kevin Smith hates the bible belt lunatics and thinks shotgunning Jesus fish in their holy water barrel is some kind of righteous apocalyptic satire, but as I wrote awhile back in my take on TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL --a real auteur, a Nick Ray or Godard, harbors compassion for the damned and that's why their films endure. 

BRIDESMAIDS (2011) on the other hand, feels real and lived in and we can thank SNL and Groundlings for the breezy, lived-in rapport the two veterans of those sketch comedy ensembles, Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig, share in little termite scenes at coffee shops and during mundane errands. When they talk to each other in low-key natural speaking voices it's suddenly apparent just how fake and trite most rom-com friendships are. Theirs is a quick lived-in rapport that only occurs when both parties are brilliant on their own, truly love one another, have known each other for years, and have been rehearsing and improv-ing for weeks or months beforehand.

But they drift apart when Maya marries into a cabal of rich, bland, whitey lawyers. Adept comic actress Jessica St. Clair is Whitney, the materialist wife of Maya's future husband's boss who tries to jostle Wiig out of alpha BFF position. And since Maya's real-life dad is the legendary Quincy Jones it's a nice touch that her onscreen dad looks like Quincy, and can afford the super rich wedding this unbearable (but hella hot) chick Whitney dreams of...

However, this movie has douche chill moments galore. Annie (Wiig) starts out the film in free-fall after her small business dream of a quirky bakery has gone bankrupt and her hot guy lover (Jon Hamm) only wants her as a second tier booty call. Along the way she throws over the Canadian cop who really loves her because her esteem is low, and that's all quite believable and well-done but still douche chill cliche down to its rom-com core.

That said, BRIDESMAIDS earns huge props in its skewering of the rampant materialism and bourgeois oppression that's encouraged and indulged in the name of bringing 'magic' to a wedding. Snob consumer Whitney flaunts her knowledge of expensive couture and personal relationships with haughty bridal boutiques and MELANCHOLIA-size country estates. We all know this type of girl, so naturally we relish when Annie just attacks her head on. Even if her motives are self-centered and/or lifted from MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING, it's damn heroic.

But in the end the film basically undoes the anti-bourgeois take-downs that have preceded it. After Wiig tells it like it is we're supposed to champion her ability to not wince at the mega-rich tackiness of the wedding at the climax - replete with lasers and fireworks and waterfalls and a surprise performance by Wilson Phillips.

The best scene prior to is when Whitney brings all the bridesmaids to pick out a dress at this ritzy all-white boutique and the fawning silken strong arm suffocation is so well done that the vomiting that ensues seems natural and deserved -- a performance art reaction ala Penny Arcade to the peer pressure-driven bridal business. Don't deny it deserves it! Bridal biz, you suck! Playing on female insecurity and competitiveness to choke what should be a special day near to death with table flower whimsy and lovely little ribboned bits of business is a friggin crime, so shit on it, sista!

More could have been done with Jill Clayburgh's AA mom--an actress and 12-step group both dear to my heart--and how much Wiig's meltdown, hitting bottom, and subsequent redemption, resembles an AA intervention. But at least it's in there. The 'normal guy' cute Canadian cop who just happens to have been a fan of Wiig's old bakery is actually not as douche chilly as I said earlier, but why are all the men in rom-coms either adorably scruffy blank slates or smug douches? Still, for all its concessions to the rom-com world, this is easily the best chick comedy I've seen since MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING. Of course BRIDESMAIDS could use a man like Rupert Everett again, a master who transcends all stereotypical gay best friend cliches the way Jesus transcends carpentry.

Carpentry... ah yeah, RED STATE could use a man like George Downes, too, and Kevin Smith could really use a dialogue editor and an understanding of how narrative works. If Smith had made DR. STRANGELOVE he probably would have re-written the ending to have a long-drawn out tribunal about how Major Kong's A-bomb was a dud, and Kong had a parachute, and the Russians questioned him for three days before releasing him. Only BRIDESMAIDS even approaches real satire, and dares to snap at the hand that feeds it. Ostensibly another materialist fantasy like MAMA MIA or EAT, PRAY, LOVE, BRIDESMAIDS turns around and trashes the empty-headed over-done prettiness of so many bourgeois weddings with great finesse.

Too bad in the end, waterfalls, moonbeams, Wilson Phillips, and fairy tales of composting hippies and two dogs fighting are all America has left. BRIDESMAIDS fights that truth for awhile, then surrenders to it. RED STATE just jeers both sides before apologizing like a shame-faced kid caught soaping cars. That might be your America, Kevin Smith, but it ain't mine, and it ain't the real America... the real America is heart, safety, and speed. It's gettin' where you need to go and fast. It's Ram. Built Ford Tough. This ad sponsored by Ram. Please ram responsibly. 


  1. I had to give up on Kevin Smith a long time ago.
    I like "Chasing Amy." I like "Dogma."

    But everything I've seen of his since then is so inexcusably bad it makes M. Night's fall look graceful...

  2. Minor mistake: Maya Rudolph's father is not Quincy Jones. He's the father to the other fetching biracial "it" girl of comedy, Rashida Jones. Maya Rudolph's mother, however, is the late R&B chanteuse Minnie Ripperton, of the octave-piercing ballad "Loving You," a detail which I felt provided some extra heft to her underrated performance in AWAY WE GO, playing a woman who has lost both parents at an extremely young age.


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