With the exception of The Baxter, which comes out this week and has thus been appropriately relegated to the end-of-summer sloppy seconds, the comedies released this summer have been distinguished by three qualities. To wit:
1. They are unabashedly, almost histrionically male. (An unshocking fact; pedestrian even)
2. They are dirty: chock-full of eff words and plastic titties and swollen cocks. (This is less pedestrian on the heels of the born-again malaise that’s swept the nation.)
3. They are funny. (Distinctly unpedestrian; shocking even)
Wedding Crashers, particularly the first 30 minutes, is genuinely amusing. It may be fratty as all-get out, but count on marble-mouthed, swarthy (part Lebanese, according to imdb) Vince Vaughn to tromp all over the bleached-out DC status quo, with his Bluto-boy cake-stuffing, wildly effusive back-slapping subversions of age-old WASP esthetics. In the grand tradition of Hollywood comedies, Crashers falls off like a bad wig in the last 20 minutes, but I still saw it twice. I’ve always had a soft spot for lanky, funny boys, and ham-handed V.V. may be my new boyfriend. The movie is unabashedly male, of course: shot from an unremittingly masculine perspective and all about the maddeningly overdocumented struggle of American boys fighting maturation.
The 40-Year-Old Virgin takes the cake when it comes to slavishly documenting that struggle. It’s also funny as hell and highwater, its plot doesn’t merely serve as the necessary filler between gags, and it doesn’t fall out the end. It actually ends on an insanely high note; Paul Rudd wiggling his always surprisingly silly body to “The Age of Aquarius” is a high note to me, anyway.
It’s both a relief and terribly frustrating that all good-boy pretenses have been dropped in this summer’s batch of comedies. The chief example of this is that comedians’ valentine to themselves, The Aristrocrats, a deft exploration of the ultimate meta joke. I’m glad Hollywood has returned to its Caddyshack and Meatballs era of gross, rated-R, naked titty comedy. Concept comedies like Zoolander and Dodgeball go but so far (although Stiller’s scent, Eau de Hack, lingers forever). That’s why the loser-takes-all clunker Baxter stinks so badly. It’s refreshing for films to shed their Disney-approved handcuffs to take their innuendos to their natural, uh, extensions. Furthermore, the chief conceit of all of these films is to stand those white-boy antics on their heads. Crashers’ chief message can be translated to mean, “Even if you’re white and male and straight, it’s impossible to pass if you have an iota of taste or humor.” Virgin’s major selling-point is its overt assumption that men are babies, least of all the 40-year-old virgin. But self-installed criticism or not, it’s still all about the boys. That’s part of why Whoopie Goldberg and Sarah Silverman shone so bright in their renditions of the Aristocrats gag; fresh perspectives make old hats new. The other reason was because they both, especially Silverman (every smart guy’s sloe-eyed fantasy), are high-larious. Hi. Vagina jokes are high-larious. They are!
I’m waiting for a good old mainstream comedy written by the likes of SNL molls Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Mean Girls was not only snarky in the best of ways but so very smart. While watching it, I didn’t feel the least bit like I was clamoring to be something I wasn’t — didn’t feel, in other words, like I was pretending to be a forever-adolescent male who, um, runs a studio or something.
Jessica Hopper sounds an anti-capitalist cry, reminding us that modern feminism isn’t all DIY crafts and Le Tigre.
I’ve never thought much of Green Day since I saw them open for Liz Phair at Roseland back in 1993 (or was it 1994?). Billie Joe Armstrong was jumping around the stage like his postpunk-monkey self when, almost as an afterthought, he unzipped his Dickies and whipped out a surprisingly thick, fake-looking schlong — really unwelcome in a room full of mid-’90s identity-politics queens. But their controversial ”Wake Me Up When September Ends” video has redeemed them hundredfold. At least.
Starring Jamie Bell and Evan Rachel Woods, the actual song doesn’t even kick in until the second minute of the 11:29 minute movie. Instead, the video begins as two young lovers murmur “I’m never going to leave you” into each other’s sandy, wind-swept hair, brows knit with sweet sincerity; limbs wrapped about each other as they romp in rolling, verdant fields: Americana at its earnest, cheesy finest. Then September ends, the song kicks in, and reality rears Armstrong’s ugly head. Woods first crashes out of their modest house, hysterically sobbing, “Tell me you didn’t do it,” and despite myself my heart sinks. Ah, when first love betrays. Bell jumps up to pacify her. But he turns out he didn’t cheat (nor is a September 11 homage on the horizon). Worse: He’s joined the armed forces. “I did this for us! I thought you’d be proud of me. I thought of all people you’d understand why I did this.”
The song starts up again then and a sepia-toned Iraqi battle scene replaces the small-town Technicolor. At first, a group of armed, anonymous soldiers, any one of whom can be Bell, storm the streets, veiled women looking on anxiously. Then we see Bell himself, peering bleakly from beneath his helmut. Shot in the leg, he goes down and the video ends with the image of a tear-streaked Woods back on high school bleachers in those rolling, green hills.
The response has been very telling. Some think it’s both heavyhanded and too apolitical. Granted, no one lights a picture of George Bush on fire. But what could be dismissed as simplistic is instead simple. Accessible rather than sentimental. Pedestrian, corny, overt, whatever. I had a lump in my throat at the end of this video.
So few stories are being told about the war that the US is actually waging right now and who ends up waging it. The video is about the armed forces’ treacherous seduction of working-class America’s youth. More and more of our boys and girls are dying over there every week along with the Iraqis whose lives we continue to ruin, and most of us blogger and mainstream- and alternamedia kids alike just don’t really talk about it. Why not? Why aren’t we more upset?
Because the media is mostly still peopled by the kind of folks who can afford to go to swell schools, function in expensive urban areas on shitty salaries — and this war isn’t real to them. These are the kind of people who don’t really know too many people who have enrolled in the reserves or flat-out enlisted because they aren’t the type of people who would need to. As the middle-class becomes a thing of the past in the US, places like LA and NYC are increasingly mere press playgrounds for people who enjoy the luxury to forget about the war this country is waging. So this video is generating this kind of whiny-ass mishegos from these folks because, more than most videos, this one isn’t directed at them. It’s directed at the kind of folks with so few options that they considered the armed forces. Or, as in the case of a lot of the preteens and teens who worship Green Day, still do.
At my uncle’s funeral back in June, I found out two of my cousins’ kids are over in Iraq right now. Back in December I basically got disinvited from Christmas for going off on my cousin Sue and her husband Frank for when they let their oldest daughter enlist in the reserves. Frank actually called me “Jane Fonda” when I told them Lindsay enlisting was dangerous morally and mortally. Now Lindsay is actually over there. She’s 18 and until now, she’d never really even been out of New England. As for dead-eyed Kyle, my cousin Kim’s oldest, I already knew he was in Iraq.
The funeral was bad for Kim. Not only had Uncle Al died, but so had Kyle’s grandmother. “So he’s back, then?” I asked her. “Just for the funeral,” she replied. “He’s on his second tour of duty. They got him doing chemical cleanup. I’m sick about it.”
In the funeral procession, I drove behind her shitty Gremlin, festooned with two bumperstickers. One was a yellow ribbon. The other said “Mothers for peace.” I know that, no matter what, everyone in my family now wishes none of us were over there. Our lives aren’t worth it.
Understand I’m not flashing my working-class credentials. I don’t have them. I went to one of the nice colleges of which I speak and no matter how broke I’ve been lately, I have resources I can fall back on. It’s just that the rest of my family didn’t get those chances and the US military dangles quite a carrot, especially if there’s nothing to eat. Those of us writing stories and talking the talk have overlooked this fact. Green Day has not.