Review: Movie 43
You might be wondering why I even decided to give anthology Movie 43 a whirl, considering it has a 4% on Rotten Tomatoes. 4%. The reviews have been wholly unkind, yet this film was still appealing to me. Why? I think it was the cast and the trailer that was cut to maximize hilarity. And Chris Pratt. Love Chris Pratt.
Movie 43 boasts what can only be described as a powerhouse ensemble. Kate Winslet (shown above), Emma Stone, Greg Kinnear, Dennis Quaid, Elizabeth Banks, Kristen Bell, Justin Long, Hugh Jackman, Liev Schrieber, Naomi Watts, Chris Pratt, Anna Faris, Jason Sudeikis, Leslie Bibb, Uma Thurman, Stephen Merchant, and Halle Berry are just some of the cast members.
The movie is told in vignettes, with an over-arching framework story that we cut to and away from every couple of sketches. The quality of these vignettes is uneven, but none are particularly good. Each vignette has an entirely different cast (I don’t think there was one bit of crossover) and directed by a different director (Elizabeth Banks, Peter Farrelly, James Gunn, and Brett Ratner are some of the directors).
Honestly, these vignettes are no worse (and possibly better!) than a lot of SNL’s current skits in the post-Fey, post-Wiig universe. Just like SNL, the stories go on too long, way past the point of the setup being funny any longer. Each skit is basically only its setup; once the gimmick erodes, they keep harping on the same elements to produce laughs. Or not produce laughs in most cases.
Take the vignette starring real-life couple Liev Schrieber and Naomi Watts. The schtick is that they bully their home-schooled child so that he will have an authentic high school experience. The first several clips in the montage are funny or funnyish, but the longer takes seem stale (and we are only 3 minutes in!). Halfway through the skit, your mind wanders away from you and you start thinking about your grocery list.
I think the strongest segments are the “Blind Date” vignette starring Merchant and Berry and the “Picnic” vignette starring another real-life married couple, Chris Pratt and Anna Faris. However, the comic talents of these four fine actors cannot save these segments from weak structural underpinnings and an over-reliance on ‘gross out’ humor.
I feel like the Farrellys are living in an Apatow world. Although Apatow has had limited success writing complex female characters, that seems to be changing (thanks in part to Girls cohort Lena Dunham and Apatow’s own comic genius wife, Leslie Mann). I think the Farrellys’ situation is most comparable to George A. Romero. Romero is the undisputed godfather of the zombie sub-genre, but the contemporary maestro is Danny Boyle (or some would say Zack Snyder). The Farrellys found fame in the gross out comedy genre, but Apatow really revolutionized it and gave it back its humanity.
Anthologies are usually produced in the horror genre. Horror is known for not having an over-abundance of plot or character development, so you can get into the setup and started getting scared immediately. While many horror anthologies ultimately fail, this is probably the best atmosphere for a filmmaker looking to direct a segment of an anthology.
The romantic comedy genre has had very dubious success with the anthology. New Years’s Eve (which may be more of an ensemble piece than a true anthology, admittedly) has a 7% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I really enjoyed Paris, je t’aime, which I felt mainly consisted of solid work, but felt really let down the unevenness of New York, I Love You. More city love story anthologies are planned: Shanghai, I Love You, in 2013, Jerusalem, I Love You in 2014, and Rio eu te amo in 2015/2016.
Not Recommended (except maybe for ardent fans of SNL or for a particular actor in the ensemble)
I don’t think I would rate this as low as 4%, but I was on the right lines when I said watching this first would make ensemble-fest This Is The End less disappointing. It was poor though, and it begs the question of why any of these people would be in a film like this. It probably sounds fun and doesn’t take up much of an actors time. And as names got added they probably trusted the other actors who had already signed on. Still, their judgments should be better than that; most of this gross humour just isn’t funny, as you said.
The documentary anthology could be explored more, I feel (Freakonimics is a half-decent example: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1152822/ ).
Great point about Freakonomics! Although like all these other anthologies (especially the V/H/S series), it suffered from uneven pieces.
I think documentary anthologies could work with a more cohesive theme. Like permaculture or survivalism or endangered species.