|Academy Award winner Natalie Portman|
What happened to David Gordon Green? I remember seeing George Washington years ago on IFC and having my mind blown by him. Then, I got to see All the Real Girls shortly after his release and I thought to myself "This man is a genius.". After Undertow and Snow Angels, I could safely say that he was one of my favorite directors. Admittedly, I didn't care for Snow Angels, but it has grown on me overtime.
Then we get Pineapple Express. 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, with Your Highness? This... 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, so much is common knowledge; Green has even helped produce and direct episodes of Earthbound and Down - McBride's brilliant TV show. Pineapple Express was born of their friendship, and a mutual adoration for that sort of film. That worked, purely because of the 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. Perhaps again he might, 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 trying too hard to shock people. Absolutely constant "f" bombs and penis jokes, there's the drug use, for some reason there's a magical creature who is a pedophile and might 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 plot line to go along with the pedophilia, I'd be willing to laugh if someone said something funny. But, nope - here's a creepy mystical creature who smokes a lot of weed and touches little boys, or makes them touch him. It works in Family Guy because of the blindness to it. It doesn't work here because of the obviousness of it. 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 to be deflowered on the next eclipse.
I feel like I need to run down this cast - James Franco, Natalie Portman, Danny McBride, Justin Theroux, Zooey Deschanel, and even Toby Jones (whom you might remember as Truman Capote in Infamous; incredible performance). This seems to be a collective of people doing work extremely far beneath them. Theroux built his career out of startling performances in David Lynch films and satirical screenplays. Zooey Deschanel off of being that "it" girl that everyone loves. Natalie Portman has been earning her Oscar since she was a child, and she finally won for a devastating and transforming performance in Black Swan. James Franco got his Oscar nomination for 127 Hours; an absolutely breathtaking piece of work. Danny 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 gave his 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 angel for some of the more... uncomfortable subject matter. That seemed to be the last thing on Danny 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 David Gordon Green if that were true.