This week, anyone interested in an illustrative example of just what we lost with the death of John Hughes can watch the redundant teen film 17 Again, in which a washed-up Friends star is magically transformed into a young up-and-comer who has no idea of the misery, obscurity and addictions awaiting those who peak too early. I must admit I didn’t bother watching this Freaky Friday/ 13 Going on 30/ Big/ that one movie with Judge Reinhold re-hash.
I did bother with a couple movies released this week, though, the latest R-rated guy-comedy and an old classic by a major director:
New Releases From the Box
I Love You, Man
I am an admitted admirer of the better “bromance” films produced by Judd Apatow, his associates, and his imitators. This film belongs mostly to the imitators camp, but excited by the exceptionally talented cast — Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones, Jane Curtin, J.K. Simmons, Jamie Pressly, Jon Favreau, and Andy Samberg among them — I popped this in hoping for frequent laughs, at least, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall-level hilarity at best. Unfortunately, this film has neither the sincerity nor the nonstop throw-jokes-at-a-wall-and-see-what-sticks humor of other Apatow-crew films.
The amusing banter between Rudd and Segel doesn’t extend far beyond jokes about the band Rush and Rudd’s awkward honest guy reactions to Segel’s laid back coolness. I submit that perhaps these roles were miscast, in reverse: as we’ve seen in Sarah Marshall and Freaks and Geeks, Segel plays the honest straight man with emotional problems well, whereas Rudd usually excels as offbeat characters in 40 Year Old Virgin, Anchorman, and Sarah Marshall. Here, Segel’s hard to take as a preaching, intrusive slob, less appealing than I feel the film wants him to be.
The talented women in the film are almost criminally underused. Rashida Jones is an insipid bride-to-be who has little to do but occasionally look flustered with the developing bromance between Rudd and Segel. Curtin merely plays the mother and is in about two scenes. Pressly, who has proved her comic acumen with her episode-stealing role on My Name is Earl, has one of the film’s funnier roles, but along with the other women serves mostly as an acknowledgment of the existence of another gender; they have little to do but react to the problems of the male characters.
One thing I will give it very high marks for is its relative lack of homophobia: perhaps due to the absence of Jonah Hill, this film is almost completely lacking in homophobic jokes. In fact, it manages to make a homosexual-themed joke without veering into the realm of —phobia. Samberg, in a role surprisingly bereft of stereotypes (beyond, possibly, the fact that he works at a gym), plays Rudd’s gay brother. He explains, in a scene a bit funnier than I could describe it here, that although he is gay, he finds that picking up gay men has been too easy for him, and that he now focuses on trying to convince straight men to go with him. It is an odd and funny idea about sexuality that isn’t about enforcing a strict line between the “straight” and the “gay.” The whole basis of the film, indeed — Rudd going on “man dates” to find a new best friend — flirts with the idea that sexuality is a continuum rather than a series of categories, and in that way this is one of the more grown-up of the recent R-rated comedies.
Though, sadly, its maturity may be one of the reasons it’s a little flat and uneven, never deciding if it’s crude or clever, and never managing to do either that well. I’m making it sound like I disliked I Love You, Man, although it is a funny movie. But it’s not great, and it never manages to shake the feeling that it’s just a cookie-cutter imitation of films like 40 Year-Old Virgin.
This WWII-era film by the German expatriate director Fritz Lang (who, as he claimed, fled the country when Goebbles asked him to work for the Reich high up in the Propaganda department) is a disappointment considering his many accomplishments. His M is one of the first and most intense serial killer films ever made, and of course Metropolis was the template for every science fiction film after it. Man Hunt, with its stiff acting, distractingly phony British accent, and excessively hackneyed Hollywood romance, does not belong among Lang’s best films.
On the eve of the Second World War, a British aristocrat decides to hunt Adolf Hitler, but when he is caught, claims that he never intended to fire. The film loses track of just how ridiculous this claim is around the same time that I lost interest in the motivations of all the characters in the film. Lang manages to pack in a couple cool scenes and several cool shots — a torture scene depicted entirely in shadows, a chase through foggy nighttime London streets, and another through the London Underground — but the overall product is dull and bland.
Next Week on From the Box
Next week I’ll review two of this week’s releases — Katyn, by Polish auteur Andrzej Wajda, and the Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film, The Class — because, let’s face it, you don’t want to read a review of Hannah Montana anymore than I want to write one.