By Scott Martin
Your Highness, USA, 2011
Directed by David Gordon Green
What happened to David Gordon Green? I remember seeing George Washington (2000) years ago on IFC and having my mind blown. Then I got to see All the Real Girls (2003) shortly after its release and I thought to myself, “This man is a genius.” After Undertow (2004) and Snow Angels (2007), I could safely say that he was one of my favorite directors. Admittedly, I didn’t care for Snow Angels at first, but it has grown on me over time.
Then we get Pineapple Express (2008), and while it doesn’t fit in with the rest of his filmography, it’s a solid film toting subtle homages to films Green loved growing up, and even he has said it’s a film he wanted to get out of his system. But Your Highness? This is a strange inclusion to an otherwise flawless canon. I feel like he’s lost himself, or fallen in with the wrong crowd.
I don’t know if this is supposed to be a farce, a spoof, a straight comedy, or what. It’s all played for laughs, which is a plus. No one takes any second of it seriously; perhaps if they had, it would have been funnier. I think the safest thing to call this film is a misguided effort from almost everyone involved. Danny McBride and David Gordon Green have been friends since college, which is common knowledge; Green has even helped produce and direct episodes of Eastbound and Down, McBride’s brilliant television series. Pineapple Express was born of their friendship, and a mutual adoration for that sort of film, which worked purely because of their dedication to the material and Green’s unique ability to put a satirical and sarcastic twist on even the most vile subject matter. He used to remind me of Atom Egoyan (Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter), and perhaps he might again, if he avoids further films like this.
The trailer made this seem like a pot comedy, kind of, and yeah, there’s a bit of substance abuse here and there, but, mostly, the screenplay just seems to be trying too hard to shock people with absolutely constant “F” bombs and penis jokes, drug use, and for some reason there’s a magical creature who is a pedophile and may have molested one of our main characters during their childhood (note: that pedophilia thing isn’t anywhere close to a plot point; it’s only something to laugh at for a couple of seconds). I’m not one to tell anyone that something dark can’t be funny, but some things deserve not to be glossed over as something merely amusing. If there were an actual plotline to go along with the pedophilia, I’d be willing to laugh if someone said something funny. Instead, it’s just a creepy mystical creature who smokes a lot of weed and touches little boys, or makes them touch him. It works in TV’s Family Guy because of the overall blindness to it; it doesn’t work here because of its obviousness. It gives the film an uncomfortable and greasy feel.
Natalie Portman is in this, if anyone’s interested. I was, until I saw what she was required to do. Essentially, she’s required to be Natalie Portman. She’s a determined warrior princess, of the Xena type, and she says a slew of determined things, none of which build any sort of character around her. She’s meant to be ogled by the audience and our heroes alike, and that’s basically it. Zooey Deschanel, who worked with Green and McBride on the remarkable All the Real Girls, is there as the damsel in distress, kidnapped from James Franco’s Fabious on their wedding night by the evil wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux) and threatened with being deflowered during the next eclipse.
Between Franco, Portman, McBride, Theroux, Deschanel, and even Toby Jones (who you might remember from his incredible performance as Truman Capote in 2006’s Infamous), this seems to be a collective of people doing work extremely far beneath them. Theroux built his career out of a startling performance in a David Lynch film and his satirical screenplays for films like Tropic Thunder (2008); Deschanel started off being that “it” girl that everyone loves. Natalie Portman has been earning her Oscar since she was a child, and she finally won last year for a devastating and transforming performance in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. Franco got his Oscar nomination last year for Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, an absolutely breathtaking piece of work. McBride is a comedian, through and through, and he’s been much better than this, even with thinner characters, but, with the screenplay that McBride and co-writer Ben Best gave their cast, it seems that none of the focus was put on situational comedy or even dramatic irony. It seems to be more like “say a lot of foul things in a period piece. That’s ironic, right? That’ll be funny.”
It’s a film where we’re expected to laugh at the threat of rape, looming pedophilia, wearing a penis around your neck, and extremely pointless foul language. I can laugh at those things, but only if you give me something to laugh about. Everything can be funny, I’d like to assume. You just have to work harder to find that angle for some of the more uncomfortable subject matter. That seemed to be the last thing on McBride’s mind, but maybe this was some sort of contractual obligation and none of them gave a damn in the first place. I might sleep better at night believing that, and I wouldn’t fear so much for the future of David Gordon Green if it were true.
Contact the author: ScottMartin@MoviesIDidntGet.com