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Zack and Miri Make a Porno: Chick Flick for Men, or Sex Comedy for Women?

Written by: The CinCitizens


Two of CC2K editors discuss Kevin Smith's new romantic comedy/porn send-up. Just what is this movie, exactly?

ImageJust what is Zack and Miri Make a Porno? It's a comedy starring Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks, which should tell you something, and it's directed by Kevin Smith, which should tell you a whole lot more. There's a lot of excitement building around this movie, and it's easy to see why. There's the fact that Smith looks to be leaving his failed forays into mainstream cinema (Jersey Girl, anyone?) and getting back to the raunchy material that made him famous. There's the fact that an R-rated comedy about pornography almost guarantees the presence of female flesh, and thus the attendance of frat boys and teenagers with fake I.D.s everywhere. And perhaps most importantly, there's the very real possibility that the movie will satisfy every American man's barely concealed desire to see Laura Bush (at least A Laura Bush) naked (Spoiler Alert: you won't). But when two CC2K staff writers saw the film at a recent press screening, they made a startling discovery. While they were both in agreement that Zack and Miri was far different than either of them expected it to be, they were of very different minds as to what it actually was. Was it a chick flick cleverly disguised as a gross-out comedy? Or a comedy vulgar enough for a man, but pH balanced for a woman? Read on, and let the debate begin.

When Zack Met Miri: Eighties Rom-Com Redux

by Rob Van Winkle

Certain artists seem doomed to spend the majority of their careers attempting to re-create the phenomenon that made them famous in the first place. Almost everyone agrees that The Sixth Sense is a pretty great movie, for example, and yet M. Night Shyamalan has yet to come even close with another ever since. Countless sitcom stars try and fail to make names for themselves outside of their one major role without success, first-time best-selling authors are sometimes unable to get a fraction of the audience for their next work, and as CC2K has written about before, the notion of the sophomore slump in the music world is very real.

This brings us to Kevin Smith. Smith's first movie Clerks was famously financed with maxed out credit cards and filmed in the very convenience store where he himself worked while writing it. It was undeniably shocking, unbelievably profane and unequivocally hilarious. Smith spoke to our generation in our own language, mixing thoughts about our place in the world with ruminations on the pop culture we grew up on, while using a VERY healthy dose of the sort of vulgar humor we used amongst ourselves in the high school cafeteria. Clerks showed us all just how much further the envelope still could be pushed.

But after Clerks? To call Smith's subsequent filmography a mixed bag would be kind. Mallrats was a disaster, Chasing Amy was a hit that hasn't aged all that well, Dogma is hit and miss, and Jersey Girl was more famous for its paparazzi-orgasm-inducing stars than for its entirely forgettable plot. Smith has even attempted to dip back into the Clerks well on two other occasions, with Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Clerks II, both with what would have to be called middling success.

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Is This…

The problem that Smith has – which is endemic of all “edgy” artists – is that their success relies on their edginess, and yet with success comes acceptance, which dulls edginess. In other words, how do you continue to shock an audience that comes to your movies ready to be shocked? (If you have the answer, I'm sure the aforementioned Shyamalan would love to hear it…) As Smith moves forward in his career, he seems to be settling down, thus transforming himself from the take-no-prisoners, anything goes writer/director of Clerks into just another mainstream filmmaker.

But recently, excitement started to build about Smith's latest project: Zack and Miri make a Porno. Given the recent Apatow-led renaissance for raunchy sex comedies, and Smith's still-intact-if-fading reputation as an auteur of vulgar humor, this was an eagerly anticipated comedy to say the least! As word started to leak about the movie, there was real hope that Smith had truly re-embraced the sensibilities that made him prominent a decade and a half ago.

And I'm here today to tell you that he in fact HAS done that…for the first half of the movie, at least. The first fifty percent of Zack and Miri is exactly as fun and raunchy as you were hoping it would be. Zack and Miri are two lifelong friends who live together platonically, and have a surging mountain of debt. One day two teenagers film her as she changes clothes in the coffee shop where Zack works, and within twelve hours she is the internet sensation known as “Granny Panties.” It is because of this that, when their water and electricity are turned off (in Pittsburgh, in winter) Zack gets the idea that making a porno will end their financial difficulties. They then set out to write, finance, cast, and film their X-rated venture.

There is much to love in these first two acts. The language is poetically foul, the situations are gleefully absurd, and there are SEVERAL anal sex jokes to choose from (one of which involves excrement!). However, by the time the movie had ended, I walked out of the theater with a startling revelation: rather than seeing the triumphant return of Kevin Smith, I had instead just watched the final step in his transformation into Rob Reiner!

Zack and Miri Make a Porno, despite its overt attempts to disguise itself as the next Knocked Up (complete with Seth Rogen being desirable to a woman way too hot to ever find him attractive), is actually just a remake of When Harry Met Sally. WHMS (for those of you who haven't seen it) is the story of two people of opposite genders who, after a few false starts, become truly inseparable platonic friends. Their love for each other is palpable, though they both insist there's nothing more. One night, during a moment of emotional weakness, the two sleep together, which ruins the precarious balance they had reached. They lose contact and go their separate ways, until Harry ultimately has an epiphany of true love that sends him hurtling back into her arms and a happy ending.

Zack and Miri, by contrast, tells the story…of two people of opposite genders who are truly inseparable platonic friends. Their love for each other is palpable, though they both insist there's nothing more. They agree to have sex for the movie they're making, but they PROMISE each other it'll be “just fucking,” and so there will be no complications in their friendship. Alas, it is clear to both of them as they perform the act that it is something far more, and this ruins the precarious balance they had reached. They lose contact and go their separate ways, until Zack ultimately has an epiphany of true love that sends him hurtling back into her arms and a happy ending.

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…the New This?

Due to the shocking similarities between these two movies, I am forced to conclude that, against all odds (and perhaps his best intentions to boot), Kevin Smith's latest film is nothing more than a chick flick, disguised in raunch to get men into the theater. Both plots contain an element of truth to them – I don't believe two good friends CAN sleep together and find their relationship unchanged the next day – but in both cases, the resolution to those situations is, forgive me for saying so, female wish fulfillment. Here's what I mean: for all of the hundreds of thousands of cases that have ever existed where two friends end up having sex and finding their relationship irrevocably altered, how many of them do you think were ultimately resolved by the man RUNNING to her to declare his undying love? Not many, I'd wager. Instead (and again, I'm only offering my honest opinion here), I'd bet that FAR more often, sex between two good friends is a combination of built up desire and insatiable curiosity, which ultimately results in one or both of them realizing why they hadn't done it in the first place.

If this isn't enough to make you see the comparison, then consider this: When Harry Met Sally and Zack and Miri Make a Porno SHARE THE SAME RATING! This might seem absurd at first blush, but remember that we have had almost 25 years to accept the former, and the latter has had the benefit of those same 25 years of cultural desensitization to language and sex in movies. See, even if you haven't seen WHMS, the odds are VERY good that you have seen (or at least heard about) THAT scene; you know the one I'm talking about. That scene was incredibly controversial when it came out, and Meg Ryan was lauded for her courage to do it on screen. So, not to put too fine a point on it, this particular chick flick had elements of shocking sexuality – in as far as it could get away with for its time – to get men into the theaters along with the women. And it worked.

Only time will tell whether Zack and Miri will age as well as Harry and Sally, though I suspect people will still be quoting Reiner's film long after they've forgotten Smith's. None of this makes Zack and Miri a bad movie, but just be warned: if you take your girlfriend hoping for a night of uninhibited fucking afterwards, you might find yourself staring down a night filled with moony-eyed stares and protestations of love instead.

And the word is that Smith's next project is a profane and sex-filled remake of Beaches. He's BACK, baby!!

Author: The CinCitizens

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