[Five Deadly Everythings]

Kevin Smith makes a decent movie but nobody sees it

Posted in actors, break it down, movies by Jef on May 7, 2009

zack-and-miri

Well that’s unfair, Zack and Miri Make a Porno is actually Kevin Smith’s highest grossing film, by a smidgen, but by Seth Rogan standards (especially at the time of release) the film was a big bomb. All that’s old news, but I just got around to seeing this film the other day and it got me thinking about where the marketing went wrong. I’d like to think the general culture isn’t so prude that the word “porno” would tank a movie per se, but hey, who knows. The site Movie Marketing Madness has a good summary of the film’s marketing woes, if you’re into that sort of thing. (I was out of the continent when this came out in theatres so I don’t know how it played or what kinda hype it was getting.)

For me personally, I (with some surprise) enjoyed the flick.

Chasing Amy was always my favourite Smith flick and Zack and Miri hits similar sounding notes, but, despite the porn thing, I’d say it’s a much more mature film. Chasing Amy fucked with all sorts of stereotypes and biases and general white male baggage (and no, not just the lesbian stuff, which I agree is somewhat problematic but I’ll go to bat for it if you get me drunk and in debate mode) whereas Zack and Miri for all its boobs and confusion ends up with typical, normalized pairings. The non-mainstreamed sex stays on the cartoonish porno sets, whereas in Chasing Amy that stuff broke the characters and left them stranded. The guy (Seth Rogan) gets the girl (Elizabeth Banks) and vice-versa here and all the sex is much safer, for lack of a better term. Our worldview doesn’t change and we don’t go home re-thinking all our sexual and non-sexual relationships.

But no, the conservatism of it is not what makes it a more mature film. Smith’s growth shows up in the general lack of angst towards what keeps our couple apart for the first two thirds of the movie. Zack and Miri aren’t lying to themselves about their feelings, aren’t being dramatic about resisting the pull towards each other, aren’t being so damned emo about everything; rather they actually don’t know. Their feelings are just something that serendipitously happens because they have bills to pay. I really liked and appreciated that, perhaps for personal reasons.

I’ve always gravitated towards females when it came to building close friendships. I won’t go into the why’s of that, but in terms of movies, it’s always kinda bothered me that depictions of male/female friendships always featured one of the friends being secretly in love with the other one.

Zack and Miri doesn’t exactly support my thesis that men and women can be normal-ass friends, but I do like that neither of them falls in love until they perform their scene together. I like that their sex scene wasn’t about one character’s wish fulfillment, it was a genuine revelatory moment for the both of them. And, true to good filmmaking, Smith (and the actors) made sure we knew it way before the characters did; kudos to Smith for doing it without any cloying, obvious signals. See how this works so much better than the cheesy dating montage in Chasing Amy? Than in the confession of unrequited love in Clerks 2?

I guess when I say “mature” I more mean Smith’s maturity as an emotional filmmaker, not just Zack and Miri being a movie with emotions. The sex scene is fantastic. It invalidates the sometimes violent, physical passion seen in most movies, but it also doesn’t make a joke out of Miri and Zack’s missionary positioned, vanilla, fully-clothed encounter. Rogan and Banks sell the kiss, look genuinely surprised when they finally get going, and it’s sweet. The awkward porn dialogue that leads to this is hilarious, and the cuts to the crew’s reactions and splicing of two soundtracks keeps it from being from what it actually is: a boring sex scene. Smith found a way to film sweet, emotional lovemaking and still make it relevant to a raunch comedy. That’s right. Kevin Smith did that. And it means more coming from a dude who referred to sex with his wife as “trying to bury it.”

There’s other things I like. I like the film’s un-gendered attitude towards nudity. Craig Robinson gets to talk a lot about liking tiddies but Banks also gets to marvel at an impressive erection. She also brags about having a lot of casual sex without judgement from the film (remember, female sexual experience used to be Smith’s biggest anxiety). We see inflated breasts all over the place but we also see a dangling cock and nutsack. And ALL of these shots, regardless of gender, are comedic, not titilating.

Speaking of Banks, she owns in this movie. Miri is funny and more than that, she comes off as a real character, at least as real as Rogen’s Zack does. She has her own moments and her own lines, and she’s not just there to move Zack through his emotional arc. I was a little disappointed that during the boy-loses-girl part we follow Zack instead of Miri, but it made story sense. Also, when Zack goes off to sleep with the porno girl it’s Miri’s shot, Miri’s reaction, Miri’s gaze–and filmed quite nicely by Smith, I might add.

Don’t get me wrong, Smith’s porno gimmick makes a lot of room for some raunchy jokes and scatological gags. But whether that’s your bag or not, you have to admit it’s a nice place for Smith to be in because it mirrors Smith’s own career. That mirror and Smith’s underdog reflection was what we liked about him anyway, what we liked about Clerks all those years ago, and having Zack and his plucky indie crew film at the coffee shop where Zack works, after hours with the curtains drawn, recalls Smith filming Clerks at the Quick Stop during closing hours. The raunchy stuff that Zack captures on camera in the coffee shop you could say is a parallel to Smith’s work — juvenile but restricted to older age groups, preoccupied with bodily functions.

But I hope it’s a slight reference and not what Smith, always self-deprecating, actually thinks of his work. Zack and Miri, whatever its faults, shows there’s more going on in Smith’s employee backroom than his critics are willing to admit.

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3 Responses

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  1. trEmaine said, on May 7, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    I wanted to see it while it was out, just never got around to it. Now, I’ll cop it on DVD in about a month or so… I’m glad to know you enjoyed it. I’m sure my best friend saw it, he loves Seth…

  2. jeflee said, on May 7, 2009 at 10:49 pm

    haha Tre don’t go coping discs on my word alone! i liked it, but i can’t give it a blanket endorsement. do you generally like Smith’s or Seth’s stuff?

  3. trE said, on May 9, 2009 at 11:05 am

    I actually do. I find Seth Rogan distastefully funny…And, he’s not hard on the eyes either. Plus, I’ll get the hookup from Blockbuster on the DVD, so… trust me, a chick will not be breaking any pockets.


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