It’s beyond me why I watch dumb shit like the VMAs, but R&B; singer R.Kelly, the diamond buried in the coal of Diddy (excuse me, Seandoleeza Rice)’s stocking, earned those three hours of my life. Overtly lip-synching to his own 300,000-part soap-operetta “Trapped in the Closet,” Kelly flung his body around the ramparts of a mostly bare set as he acted out the roles of a wronged wife, a wronged husband, a wronged gay boyfriend, and a wronged thug lover. Finger wagging, hands on hips, neck swiveling: the jailbait maven resembled nothing so much as a Malkovich marionette in Spike Jonze’s first feature. An intentional social satire, I’m quite sure.
A few more notes in the vein of my last post.
This week, Slate’s brilliant Dana Stevens has her way with the Entourage boys, laying out just exactly how she’d fix up that ode to young-dumb-full-of-cum. High on her list: flesh out at least one female character. Obviously the relentless appeal of Entourage is the chick-deflecting boy-on-boy bonding, and that it’s not hell bent on self-monitoring with that po-mo wink that sinks so many other telegenic ships. But I admire Stevens for genuinely not digging on the show, because I can’t fall in with her. I first watched it at the home of a rather premier rock critic and thought, I must admit — it’s so rock critic to dig this arrested-development traviata. But then I ate my words, most likely the way many men surrendered grudgingly to Sex and the City while their girlfriends glued themselves to it. Both shows, at their core, do what TV does best: illustrate a real-life dynamic (male or female friendships) against an eminently desirable backdrop. It’s entertaining as all get out to watch the boys wield their puny, TV-sized swords. Plus, Vince is cute. (What is it with me and Vincents this week?)
That said, Stevens is right. The patriarchy — would calling it cockacracy render this concept more, uh, palatable? — is such that no one connected to Entourage has thought to include a few women that aren’t just plot-movers. The always-capable Debi Mazar sinks her tiny, feral teeth into her tiny, feral role as Vinnie’s publicist, for sure, but it’d be just as easy to give more backstory to her as it has been to give to agent Ari Gold (an ideal role for type A Jeremy Piven, heretofore relegated to the premature-baldy special: la sidekick). I ain’t going to pretend that Sex and the City features any straight male characters who don’t play second fiddle in our girls’ urban orchestra, but because the girls view men with a more complicated cocktail of fear, confusion, and admiration (not just lust, in other words), the male characters benefit from greater depth. Big and Aidan are drawn with broad strokes, for sure, but generic boytoys they are not.
Also on a loosely related note: someone on David Poland’s Hot Blog pointed out that Wedding Crashers was marred by the romantic love object’s brother, Todd Cleary, a horrendous gay stereotype. Since the Hot Blog’s normally a hotblogbed for said boys-will-be-boys bluster, the comment took me aback — mostly because I couldn’t believe I didn’t bother to sputter about that character myself. The sheer hatefulness of both the character and the protagonists’ reaction to him (deranged, cringing artist throws himself on Vince Vaughn, who shrinks in terror) sinks any legitimacy of the relentlessly male angle of the film. The aggrandizing of the boyish antics (stone-cold dogging of chicks, mostly) seems less excusable when the film’s underlying old-school, geneneralized male anxiety translates into a protest that just because it’s about male friendship doesn’t mean it’s gay or anything. Nah, they’re real men.
That I didn’t bother to complain about the Todd plotline only shows how inured I’ve become to sacrificing my politics, empathy, or even self in order to gain the experience a movie intends. What passes for clever is backbackbackbacklashing more every day and sometimes I find I’m holding that whip.
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.