Movie 43 is an anthology film with a stacked cast. It’s been pushing its alleged “audacity” and “outrageousness” in order to get YOU in that theatre seat.
However, there is something to be said about how much the marketing has pushed that angle in our faces. When a movie is urging moviegoers to focus on an element about the movie (in this case, its sheer outlandishness) instead of the actual movie itself as a whole, it’s almost trying to distract the viewer from seeing the big picture. Perhaps the big picture is the film’s tumultuous production history.
Movie 43 has received mountains of negative feedback and the most zero-star ratings I’ve seen in quite some time. That said, I’m here to defend the gross-out flick – to a point.
Movie 43 has confused moviegoers trying to figure out the significance behind that vague title. It’s too bad comedian/filmmaker Paul Provenza took the title of The Aristocrats for his 2005 documentary focusing on an infamous vile joke, because Movie 43 is that joke brought to us by award-winning actors and graduates of other gross-out comedies. That title would’ve been very fitting here.
The Aristocrat joke is about a good-natured family trying to pitch an idea to a talent agent. In order to get their show idea across successfully, the family performs their act for the agent. To say the act features tasteless stunts would only be scraping the surface of the joke.
And, that’s what Movie 43 is – for a little while. The story holding these short films together involves screenwriter Charlie Wessler. Wessler is played by Dennis Quaid, who is playing the character as a sleazier version of his blowhard soccer dad character from last year’s Playing For Keeps. I didn’t know playing it slimier was even possible.
Wessler is pitching his desperate idea for a movie to film executive Griffin Schraeder, played by Greg Kinnear – who not only looks confused by Charlie’s script but also as to why he’s in a low-brow comedy like this one.
Wessler pulls out pages from his script and reads them to Schraeder, to which we’re then transported to one of the many short films.
To my surprise, the Aristocrats approach is done tastelessly well. It does the structure justice in a disgusting form, and you can’t help but feel that fans of the long-running free form joke would approve of the first third of Movie 43.
The shorts that soar with Aristocratic hilarity are the first three – The Catch, Homeschooled, and The Proposition.
The Catch features Hugh Jackman and Kate Winslet on an unforgettable date where no one mentions the odd growth protruding out of Jackman’s neck – except for Winslet’s shocked face.
Homeschooled features real life couple Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts playing blissfully ignorant parents who have a backwards portrayal of homeschooling.
And, The Proposition is perhaps the most warped out of the most successful shorts. Again, a real-life couple (Chris Pratt and Anna Faris) find themselves reaching a new point in their relationship. Pratt would like to propose to Faris, Faris has something else in mind.
As we snap back from the shorts to Kinnear’s shocked and disgusted expressions, the film is in its fine moments of heightened grotesqueness. Peter Farrelly directed The Catch (as well as other shorts in this anthology project) and it’s as much of a throwback to his older gross-out comedy days as The Three Stooges was to his earlier slapstick outings.
What makes these shorts work is how the absurd is never outright recognized as disturbing behaviour. There’s usually a voice of reason but the oblivious attitudes of the characters around these sane people make the confused reactions that much more funny.
It isn’t going to hit comedy home runs with everyone – especially for those who just want the sane people to speak up more and point out the nasty – but for those who like dry readings and daftness amongst the most disgusting situations, they will have their laugh quota met.
However, the main reason why Movie 43 doesn’t work as well as it should have is because it does’nt know what movie it wants to be. As the shorts progress, the array of comedy gets wider and more versatile – changing the film’s Aristocratic outline to something more scattershot.
The shorts go from hilarious to only having a few good laughs to converting those laughs for titters and shoulder shrugs. Superhero Speed Dating feels like a rambling, cheaper version of a rejected Saturday Night Live sketch. It has an idea but doesn’t have enough material to stem jokes off of.
Happy Birthday (directed by action fiend Brett Ratner) teams up Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott once again since their portrayal of the Duke boys in The Dukes of Hazard. Knoxville gives a leprechaun (played by Gerard Butler and poor visual effects) to Scott as a birthday gift. However, it gets out of hand (which is funny) but soon grows bloody and violent (which isn’t that funny).
As you can see, the more perverse material slides to the back burner and the celebrity cameos step up to the forefront. It’s fun to chuckle at the random appearances but they don’t resonate as well as the previous sketches.
There are jokes that feel tasteless for the wrong reasons as well. The toss-off lines taking shots at different sexes and races are good for a few dark laughs, but as the film lingers on them, they start to feel less humorous and more mean spirited becoming straight-up sexist and racist.
To make the results even more uneven, The Pitch story involving Quaid and Kinnear gets meatier and the film wants to give these two their own outrageous story instead of using these scenes as transitions. Bad move.
As The Pitch sticks these two opposites in different situations, the film’s snowball effect gets bigger and bigger as the stakes get higher and higher. However, it paints itself into a corner to a point where the film has no idea where it wants to take Quaid or Kinnear. In fact, the film literally stops, breaks the forth wall, and waves a white flag. It has no ending.
That non-ending basically sums up Movie 43’s issues. Since it doesn’t know where it’s going or what it wants to be, it drastically affects the film’s confidence and that alleged “audacity” and “outrageousness”. It’s indecisive and becomes its own worst enemy.
Even the editing team behind this messy movie feels as if they’re confused as to what order everything should go in. For example, the end credits abruptly roll and moviegoers get credits for a film directed by Super’s James Gunn. As the audience look at one another as we wonder if the film is missing pieces, Gunn’s Beezel plays.
Movie 43 isn’t even sure if Beezel should be left in the film, left on the DVD special features, or left on the cutting room floor. After seeing the badly animated and weakly performed short, it wouldn’t have been missed if it had been axed altogether.
I don’t hate Movie 43 like most of the world does, and it’s going to be nowhere near my “worst of” list. As someone who compulsively watches movies – and now writes about them – watching a film with serious issues like these was an oddly compelling watch. I’ve never seen a mainstream film this broken before. Whoever signed off on this finished film is in big trouble.
I almost feel like a high school guidance councillor trying to help a student try to find what career they want. I want to help them and I’ll happily highlight they’re shining points, but until they become more focused and they narrow down their post-secondary options, I’m afraid I can’t do much more than that.