Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Kevin Smith Makes Some Magic When Zack And Miri Make A Porno!

The Good: Funny, Generally decent acting, Character!, Message
The Bad: Very predictable plot
The Basics: Funny, surprisingly heartwarming and wonderfully clever when it isn't busy being foul(though you'd expect that!), Zack And Miri Make A Porno is one of the best movies of 2008!

Kevin Smith fans tend to be people who have drunk the Kool-Aid. The moment one admits they are a fan of Kevin Smith's movies, the rest of what they say about whatever current endeavor he has presented can pretty much be discounted. While that might be true for the works of most writer-directors, it seems to be especially true of Kevin Smith. After all, outside of the major film franchise by George Lucas that Smith himself references in his works, there is no other writer-director's franchise that is as merchandised as the works of Kevin Smith.

The problem with this, of course, is that when one discusses Kevin Smith's films they tend to be either preaching to a rather large (and admittedly somewhat juvenile) choir or are proselytizing to people who cannot conceive of a truly great film packed mostly with dick-and-fart jokes. Yet, there is Dogma and Chasing Amy that virtually everyone can agree fills a niche that is otherwise empty or underrepresented in American cinema and Smith's works readily fill. And fill well. And now, added to that list, is Zack And Miri Make A Porno.

Friends since childhood, Zack and Miri have done little to nothing with their lives since graduating. Stuck in Monroeville, the pair gets by as roommates working at the Bean 'N' Gone, though they never make enough to pay all of the bills and as the ten year high school reunion approaches, they find their bills are overwhelming them and the power is (literally) being shut off on them. Zack decides that the best way to deal with their cash flow problem is to shoot a porn flick using their friends and people who will work on the cheap.

Miri is initially reluctant, but facing eviction and Zack's actual business model for selling a porn with the two of them convinces her that it is worth trying. They soon begin impressing their friends into service for the movie, casting people willing to expose themselves for the cause and make the dream a reality. As the work progresses and Miri and Zack work toward the moment they have to have sex on film, the tensions between them rise and they are forced to deal with all of the emotions that being platonic friends allowed them to sublimate.

First, it is worth noting that anyone who is going to complain about a Kevin Smith movie for the dialogue is about as ill-prepared for watching a movie as can be. Expecting Smith's movies to not have sexually frank dialogue (and Star Wars references) is like expecting a Saw movie not to have blood or a Spike Lee movie to not have people of color. Here, Kevin Smith does the viewer the favor of putting it right in the title; this is a film that pretty literally follows the Truth In Advertising laws. Going in to Zack And Miri Make A Porno ought to leave the viewer absolutely prepared for graphic language and/or nudity and Kevin Smith does not disappoint.

What the viewer might not expect is how funny Zack And Miri Make A Porno actually is. Smith wrote an incredibly funny script this time out with jokes that are more than just a string of expletives or conversations about sexual positions. And yes, there is that, but there is far more than that in this film.

Kevin Smith never seems to get enough credit for his repetitive statements on human interactions. Chasing Amy is great, not for the ridiculous male fantasy of a man seducing a lesbian, but rather because it explores the nature of human relationships in an unflinchingly realistic way. In Chasing Amy, Smith adequately explores that emotions are far more complicated than the boxes we stick ourselves into and knowing who we actually are is subject to change based on how our lives change. Similarly, in his masterwork Dogma, Smith explores just how complicated and frightening living as a holy person could be in today's world and the shock that would come from learning the supernatural and mythological beings were real and one was a part of that ongoing narrative.

By extension what far too few people seem to be saying so far about Zack And Miri Make A Porno is that Kevin Smith has a real grip on what makes friendships work and how the love of a friend transitions into a romantic love. In this case, just because the viewer sees a romance between Zack and Miri coming does not mean that it would necessarily be done well or with any sense of realism or insight. Smith, however, manages to do that extraordinarily well by illustrating the friendly love Miri and Zack have and how their friendship works as a solid partnership well before the whole filming a porn idea comes up. Kevin Smith wrote a script that beautifully explores the banter, camaraderie and, yes, love between friends in such a way that the viewer actually is looking forward to the pair pairing up. It's a clever turn of conceits and Smith works it well.

One of the ways he plays it out well is by fleshing out (pun intended) Miri and Zack's world with other friends. These two are not just two pathetic underachievers living in Pennsylvania. No, they are part of a community and they are surrounded by other (fairly) young people whose lives have similarly failed to launch. This fills out the regular Kevin Smith niche that was previously carried by Jay and Silent Bob. Removing some of the pressure of keeping Zack and Miri on the screen the entire time are Delaney, Deacon (who takes on editing the porno), and Lester, all of whom contribute to the process of making the porno as well as more or less facilitating the budding romantic relationship between the two leads. And yes, for fans of Kevin Smith, Lester is played by Smith mainstay Jason Mewes, just as Deacon is played by Jeff Anderson. One is left wondering where Walt Flannigan and Brian O'Halloran are (perhaps because it was not set in New Jersey there were no Hicks family members out there!).

Just as in Clerks II Smith illustrated that his mainstays are not needed to carry a film of his, the top three performers in Zack And Miri Make A Porno are all new to the Viewaskewverse. Craig Robinson explodes onto the screen as Delaney, a coworker of Zack and Miri's who offers some of the film's best lines. Robinson has an amazing sense of comic timing and he plays Delaney out well as a parody character in a way that his brief role in Knocked Up or his role as a heavy in Pineapple Express did not allow him to. Here he is straightforward comedic and it works great for him, especially in that he and Seth Rogen seem to play off one another remarkably well.

Rogen is relegated to the same type role he has been stuck in since he left television for movies. Judd Apatow, who pretty much single-handedly made Seth Rogen a household name, took some risks with Rogen, having him go from the quiet yet emotive student in Freaks And Geeks before he lobbed him into the stoner rut that Rogen has been stuck in since. Smith does little to shake Rogen from that niche, instead playing in it with a slacker-type character that is instantly familiar to fans of Kevin Smith's works.

What Smith is able to do as far as actors go, is get Elizabeth Banks a role that challenges her range. I've only recently become acquainted with the works of Banks, but she seems to have generally taken roles that are, well, classy. As Miri in Zack And Miri Make A Porno, Banks is given the task of mouthing some particularly titillating dialogue. She gets through it and is able to balance the more dramatic moments that she seems accustomed and comfortable with with some genuinely funny bits. Banks is quick on her lines, playing off Rogen with an equal wit that one might not expect from her performances in things like Meet Bill. Instead, here she holds her own, sometimes with a wonderful physical sense of just a glare. She keeps the movie grounded as well, despite having Hollywood good looks.

What Zack And Miri Make A Porno does not have is a terribly original plot. Anyone who has seen two Kevin Smith movies knows that Smith is not a master of originality as far as plot is concerned. But what Smith is an expert at is repackaging the same plot so it feels fresh and different and here the setting and concept is just different enough to make the viewer feel like Smith has not lost his touch as a writer or director.

On DVD, the film is packed with bonus features. There are several deleted and extended scenes which (in true Kevin Smith style) are hilarious and add to the characters involved. There is a blooper reel and an extensive documentary on the making of the film as well.

Zack And Miri Make A Porno is an adult film with adult humor and it manages to be funny and sweet in a way that fans expect from Kevin Smith, but far too many others write off because of the writer-director's notoriety. The thing here is, the notoriety is what makes this movie so funny and one suspects even from the first viewing that Zack And Miri Make A Porno is one that will hold up remarkably well over multiple viewings!

For other works with Seth Rogen, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Green Hornet
Monsters Vs. Aliens
Pineapple Express
Step Brothers
Donnie Darko
Freaks And Geeks


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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