Wednesday, September 25, 2019

I Finally Watched Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Chasing Amy
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Bac
Jersey Girl
Clerks II

 Well, if anyone ever wondered how Kevin Smith would make a romantic comedy, the answer naturally had to be "with porn."

Zack and Miri Make a Porno is Smith's eighth film overall, but only his second not set in his View Askew Universe. If you've read my review of Clerks II, I wondered how Zack and Miri was his next project. I also wonder if setting this film outside his usual playground is Smith trying to gain a wider audience.

The Premise  

The premise is in the title, but there's no sub-title to tell you why. Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) live together in Monroeville, a Pittsburgh suburb. They can barely pay the rent. Bills pile up as their seemingly aimless lives spiral into boring routine. She works in the local mall (natch) while Zack slings java in a local coffee shop.

It's Thanksgiving and their high school peers coordinated a reunion. Zack couldn't care less, but Miri wants to get Bobby Long, the ever attractive Brandon Routh, into bed and hopefully to pay off her debt.

That's not going to happen. You see, Zack struck up a conversation with the wonderfully named Brandon St. Randy (Justin Long), a gay porn star and boyfriend of Bobby. If that isn't bad enough, that same night, their power is turned off mere hours after the water was shut off.

What to do?

Granny Panties

At the reunion, St. Randy recognizes Miri from a viral video a pair of teens shot of Miri while she was changing in the coffee house. It's Zack's idea to make a porno movie to pay off all their debt. Miri's reluctant, but goes along.

Zack's original idea was to parody Star Wars as Star Whores complete with funny names like Luke Skyballer and Hung Solo. He recruits Delaney (Craig Robinson), Bubbles (Traci Lords), Stacey (Katie Morgan), Lester (Jason Mewes, of course), and a goateed Jeff Anderson to make the flick. But the building they were using gets demolished. Out of luck, whiling away depression in the coffee shop, Zack figures out a way to still do the film, but use the coffee shop as the setting.

Bawdy is an Understatement

I've listened to Smith's podcasts for seven years now. I know how he talks when there are no censors present. I know how he writes films (see language in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back). Given all that, I was still surprised at the sheer amount of dick and sex jokes in this film. Keeping to my policy of never reading anything about these films until after I've watched it, I now know he had to appeal the initial NC-17 rating. I can see why in language alone, but I wasn't prepared for the near-actual sex on screen.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not bothered by it. Hey, it's world's better than the "interspecies erotica" from Clerks II, but I just hadn't seen that kind of content in a mainstream movie in a long time.

I really enjoyed the entire brainstorming montage as Zack and Miri come up with possible titles before settling on a Star Wars parody. I suspect there are more than a few out there, but the promo shots Smith showed were hilarious.

It's Not If They Get Together...

No matter the cosmetics, this is still a romantic comedy. It's never in doubt if the two leads are going to get together. It's how.

Banks telegraphs Miri's feelings for Zack pretty easily. He's just too dumb to see it. Which brings up a point I don't think the movie touched on: how in the world did these two end up living together?

I'm a fan of romcoms. I'm fine with all the various tropes associated with them, but how many times have we seen the woman's feelings manifested first? And how many times do we have a clueless man missing what's right in front of him? That's what irritated me halfway through the film. And knowing the ending, why wasn't Zack more forthcoming? Don't get it.

I know Smith's characters are often clueless guys (of the movies I've seen to date) but it would have been interesting to see Smith write a guy who clearly loves the gal rather than the other way around. It would have been interesting to see how the traditional romcom roles were reversed.

And it's not like Zack doesn't already care for Miri. He washes her hair in a very intimate way. He comes across as a crass dude, but he cares for her. It just manifests itself in the script when he has written it in such as way so that Miri only has sex with Zack.

It's right there on front street, dude. Just tell her!

...It's How They Get Together

"Start kissing on three."

From the title and premise alone, the consummation scene was a given. And boy was it great. Might be the best scene in the entire movie. The characters of Zack and Miri are understandably awkward around each other in this scene, and Rogen and Banks pull that part off well. But as the scene progresses and the sex starts, you'd almost think the two actors really care for each other. Look, I know it's acting, but they carried it off so well that said thought entered my head. It was a really great scene in which their love was on full display. Even the characters in the film noticed.

Afterwards, Miri's all smiles. Zack's given her the big O, something she comments on earlier in the movie. But here's the thing: Zack knows something just happened. He may not be able to process it, but he knows, especially considering the ending of the movie.

Yet, during the wrap party, he actually goes into the other room with Stacey. Now, Stacey had asked Miri if it would be cool if she, Stacey, and Zack hooked up before their scene the next day. Miri's response: "You can ask him." Thus, we get the big test. A test, mind you, Zack fails miserably. He actually goes with Stacey. In my notes, I wrote "He knows...but still goes!? WTH?"

What the hell indeed. Which makes the next day's shoot with Miri and Luthor, the one scene Zack tried to change because he didn't want Miri having sex with anyone else, inevitable. Miri shows up, ready for her scene, and the inevitable fight ensues. "Did I do something wrong," asks Zack. Dude, if you have to ask, you know the answer. Accusations fly, but amid it all, Zack professes his love for Miri. Really? Then why did he go with Stacey?

What if I didn't, he asks Miri. "But you did," she replies.

If there was a boom in this movie, that's where is would have landed.

Three Months Later

I'll admit I was pretty pissed at Zack at this point. I knew the ending had to be resolved in the positive, but come on, dude. Why did you run away? Especially when you reveal the truth at the end.

Look, all the nice things that happened--the revelations, the awesome quote by Delany ("Sometimes we need someone to show us something we can't see for ourselves. And we change forever."), and finally Zack's declaration to Miri through the door--I I like them all. I do. It's why we watch romcoms. But c'mon. Couldn't Zack have done that three months earlier? What was he afraid of, especially in that last dramatic moment when he thinks she with Luthor and he declares that he'll wait for her. Aggravating.

But it ends well, as nearly every romcom does. And the mid-credits sequences are pleasant.

The Verdict

As I wrote at the top of this review, if Kevin Smith would ever make a romcom, it would have to be with porn. Sigh. Look, I know that dirty talk and all of that is the center of his wheelhouse. It is literally all over his face, neck, and chest of every podcast I've heard. Perhaps that just who he is and how he sees love and the world. I honestly wouldn't expect him to make a romcom without all of that.

But with Clerks II and Zack and Miri, it seems like it's all amped up to eleven. Strike Back had lots of language, but these last two films just seem just under over-the-top. I'm not sure why. Was it scar tissue after the Jersey Girl bomb (great movie, BTW, and nowhere near a bomb). Was he accused of being too saccharine with that film so much so that he had to dial up the dirty? I'm not sure. It'll be interesting to see where he goes next with Cop Out, a film, he didn't write but directs only. That in itself is an interesting situation, but that's also a topic for next week.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno is a decent film, but the clear star of the show is Elizabeth Banks. She sells Miri and her feelings perfectly at all stages of the movie. I enjoyed her the most. Seth Rogen is basically the same type of character he plays in other movies and a stand-in for Smith himself. Chris Robinson was also a fun discovery for me (first film I've seen him in) and I look forward to him in Reboot next month.

I enjoyed parts of Zack and Miri, but not all of it. I'm looking forward now to watching some of the DVD extras and get some additional insight. But not before I head off to New York City and "Cop Out" and to see if I can see why Kevin Smith and Bruce Willis had their famous falling out.

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