Dir: Mike Judge
September 7, 2009
Judge's funny workplace winning streak continues, but I guess it should go without saying that this isn't exactly a "good film" in terms of what a film is, or should be. Like Idiocracy (2006) (which wasn't horrible, or good though, but got trashed by every critic and no one saw it), this is one of the most technically mundane and boring experiences one could have watching a movie, but it still manages to be kind of subversive, weird, and extremely likable in its own super-conventional way. Actually, Judge is basically making movies the exact same way "indie" directors in the 90s did. It certainly has the same sort of conventional minimalism. It definitely works in its favor, though, as it makes the tone all the more unassuming. I should probably mention that the trailer for this is completely misleading. It basically takes away all of the complexity and condenses it into some cutesy love story thing. It is anything but. Jason Bateman is playing the same character as he did in Arrested Development as Joel, a man of power whose hours and hours of laborious devotion seems to go unrecognized by all around him. Things get worse when a freak accident occurs in the workplace, which leads to a lawsuit, an untimely one since his company is working on striking up a deal with General Mills. Comic hi-jinx ensues, right? Oh, uhm no, I guess not.
Don't get me wrong, this movie is hilarious but it is so in a way far different from what one would expect from that trailer. This is Mike Judge after all. The humor is not only in Jason Bateman whining about not having sex with his wife, but also in how he responds to this. Like Michael Bluth, Joel worries and complains to a point that risks losing all sympathy with the audience. Unsurprisingly, many of the characters here never become more than one-dimensional cartoons, all characterized by one defining quirk. This usually is a no-no, and a pathway to a terrible movie, but I think that, within these rather flat characters, Judge has instilled as much life and energy into them as possible. Something probably should be said that, even though these characters aren't exactly going to knock the socks of you, they aren't exactly cut from the Hollywood mold. Mila Kunis' character is a terrible, terrible person and yet the trailer makes her out to be a cute and extremely likable earthy girl along the lines of Natalie Portman in shitty Garden State (2004). Again, she is anything but this. In all honesty, Kunis' character is hardly in the movie at all. She is, like pretty much every narrative device here, on the peripheral. Joel's arch comes along her character, but there is no sentimental "relationship building" or emotional bonding. They have sex one time, and it plays out as nothing more than a one-night stand.
Ben Affleck's character operates on a similar point. He plays a major part in pushing the story forward, but his character never seems to be a "part" of the movie by himself, instead he is seen as someone Joel just talks to. Affleck in himself makes me laugh, because he's a shitty actor who thinks he is great. I think he should, like Edward Burns, move into directing, where at least he can do something interesting, instead of flapping about the screen (did you see him in State of Play (2009)? Yeesh.). In the process of this film, however, he introduces Joel (and the audience) to not only marijuana, but xanax, riddlin, and maybe horse tranquilizer. From this, he introduces friend/gigolo/extremely stupid person Brad (Dustin Milligan) to Joel. On drugs, Joel agrees to a terrible plan of getting his wife (Kristen Wiig)(who is actually much more likable and real than the trailer indicates) to have an affair with the aforementioned Brad. The next day Joel tries to call the whole scheme off, but it's too late and now Brad has fallen for his wife, even though she realizes the limits of the younger man's intellect. As her final decision regarding Brad isn't one of melodramatic betrayal, she continues to come off as the only person (along with Joel) whose sanity we can trust.
Perhaps ironically, a major plot point comes from the fact that Joel begins to believe that he is losing his sanity. He's definitely on a downward spiral and countless situations he gets himself into unravel with the brutality and power of a film noir. This element is disguised very well, but noticeable if you are well versed in cinema. The adventure (if one wants to call it that) here is much less obvious in its trappings. It was only afterward that I realized how the movie sort of is a crime-drama, but in its own special little way. It's quite hard to explain, but it makes total sense. While Judge is obviously no great humanist, or even a legitimate artist, he has (once again) made a seemingly conventional movie without letting the mainstream aesthetic influence his unorthodox storytelling qualities. This actually serves as a great counter-weight to Office Space (1999), where there it was about the groundlings wallowing in the system, this is about the guy on top who gets in a mess. Also, did I mention the movie is really funny? Because that helps a lot.