Friday, April 8, 2011

David Gordon Green's YOUR HIGHNESS

Maybe it's due to how low my expectations were, as the case can be with any multiplex movie- the critics have basically savaged it with some exception (if anything Armond White's positive review made me *more* worried for it)- but Your Highness was surprising for how director David Gordon Green, Danny McBride and company made something that was just... fun.  It is definitely a step down for the filmmaker, who gained his acclaim from dramas that are indie-classics (George Washington, All the Real Girls, Undertow, Snow Angels being my favorite) and then really hit it out of the park with Pineapple Express, an insane action-riot that still had his improvisational chops showing (or rather letting his actors, including James Franco and McBride, go off in interesting directions) while making something for the "dumb" blockbuster movie crowd.

Certainly this film movie won't do him any favors with the fans of George Washington and Undertow, but hey, it says on the poster for 'Pineapple', so that is somewhat what to expect.  And the plot, from McBride and Ben Best, is ripped off of the sheets of ye ol' medieval tales of conventions: a prince (Franco) has to go and save his virginal bride-to-be (Zooey Deschanel, mostly put in corsets for cleavage-sake) from being deflowered and made the bearer of a Dark Lord's (hambone Justin Theroux) evil dragon baby that will take over the world and yada yada, oh and the prince has to take his brother (McBride) with him.  So it's simply a quest plot, with some of the usual double-crossing (guess who they are first time you see them, bet you can), and a surprise bad-ass/slightly-crazy chick in Natalie Portman's character.


It is very thin for a story, and Green knows it.  So as with 'Pineapple' he lets his cast go at it, and then some.  According to reports, there was never a 'full script' on set, just the outline and notes, which is a little startling for perfunctory scenes that should have some written dialog on a page, like in, you know, transitional scenes or ones with an actor like Toby Jones who I'd never think to be an improv actor.  It does show, for better and occasionally really for worse.  I don't mean entirely that every joke is bad that McBride makes up, but moreso in just some moments of behavior.  I have to wonder how much of Franco's performance was just made up as scenes went along (yet another in his amusingly brilliant run of experimental-career choices?), or with Theroux going so bat-shit in some of the dialog he has with Zooey Deschanel (then again she wavers from convincing to just her usual board-self).

And yet, dear reader, I'd be lying if I said I hated the film or felt cheated in some way.  Right from the poster it looked goofy and stupid, like one of those mid 90's crude comedies like from Chris Farley.  For Your Highness, the makers are all for the gross-out humor, if more to do with genital stuff... you know, that 'thing' you have between your legs, guys.  Some of the lines did have me rolling my eyes.  Other times, I was laughing, maybe against my better judgment but what the hell.  There was even a point in the movie that I had to just lay down and respect what was going on with the ideal of comedy: if you're going to do a dick-joke comedy movie, why not actually have a big floppy minotaur(?) dick swaying around from your neck as a prize trophy.  I'd call that a spoiler, but it comes at a point in the story that a spoiler is inconsequential.  Plus, you have to see it to believe it.

Matter of fact, that big floppy dick trophy is kind of a litmus test for people; if you see that scene and chuckle, you should continue on to the next scene; if you laugh out loud, you know what you came for and enjoy the fuck out of it anyway; if you groan, whatever, change the channel (if at home) or just duck out and take a shit for the duration of the screening.  I chuckled and sometimes had a laugh-out-loud at certain things, just for being as ridiculous yet self-knowing within the film of it.  At one point the brothers Franco and McBride visit some little-old-wizard in a tent on their quest (and it's an honest-to-goodness Muppet! some points for that) and the wizard gives some advice... and then gives a rather lurid demand involving a hand-job.  It was gross, disgusting, and in its own cheap B-comedy movie way, funny.

I can't quantify what will do it for you or not with this one.  And it is not at all a 'winner' of a comedy like "Pineapple", which was its own sort of low-brow genius.  This has talented actors like Franco and especially Portman, hot off her Oscar win and going from one Hollywood movie to another this year, getting to stretch a little bit while not quite phoning it in (she actually plays something we haven't quite seen her as before, a blood-hungry bad-ass!), and McBride has a hit or miss record in films that reflects itself throughout this one, his first he's co-written and produced and leads off on since The Foot-Fist Way.  Maybe his own legion of fans now from Eastbound and Down will eat it up like sugar.  Or for those out there who just like seeing knights of old and medieval ass-kicking and goblins and cool cgi-multi-headed demons and witches, it's a passable treat.

Okay, let's not get all Drew Struzan carried away here though.

Ultimately, it doesn't all work: not all the improv is as funny as it thinks it is, and there is some mugging.  But considering its hate, it's something to defend as a work that knows what it is and tries to be its own weird little action-comedy.  As far as supposed auteur-disappointments go, Zack Snyder still takes the cake for movies still in general release.  It's guilty pleasure central. 

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