Thursday, 30 October 2008 21:00

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

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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!!


 

Zack and Miri Make a Porno: A Gross-Out Comedy for the Ladies

By Big Ross

While my counterpart has argued both eloquently and passionately that Kevin Smith's latest cinematic offering to the masses is nothing more than When Harry Met Sally glimpsed through the filter of Dumb & Dumber, I see Zack & Miri differently.  This is not an attempt at subterfuge by Smith to tug at the heart-strings of male viewers.  The male demographic aged 18-25 is Kevin Smith's target audience, and has been with him since his days making Clerks and Mallrats.  You can be sure that they will be in attendance when Zack & Miri premieres this weekend, and Smith will give them exactly what they expect to see.  What I would like to argue is that with Zack & Miri Smith is attempting to create, not a chick flick for men, but a raunchy sex comedy for women.  A movie that male fans of his movies can bring their girlfriends and wives to and not have them huffing and sighing and rolling their eyes at the antics onscreen.  A movie that will have them slapping their knees and guffawing right along with their boyfriends and husbands.  Allow me to defend my position in an argument in three parts.

Miri - She is the female lead of this movie, and if Smith was ever going to sell Zack & Miri to women he had to find just the right actress to portray her.  Miri needs to be attractive but not overly so; women should be able to identify with her sans twinges of jealousy at her beauty.  Miri also should be strong, confident, and secure in her sexuality without coming off as a slut, and certainly not as so many chick flicks like to portray female leads: desperate and pining for Mr. Right.  Ultimately Miri has to be a girl that can hang with the guys, but enough of a woman that she doesn't come off as too butch.  Fortunately Elizabeth Banks found her way into the role of Miri.  Banks meets all of the criteria I just mentioned.  She is attractive, but there are flaws and moments women may notice and find more humorous than men (I'm thinking of the "Granny Panties" scene, among others).  Banks makes Miri a portal through which women can enter Smith's world of gross-out humor and reassure them that it's alright to laugh.

The Sex Scenes - Regardless of how the censors have dictated Zack & Miri be promoted, this is a movie that at its center is all about making a porno, i.e. sex.  I'm sure there will be women in the audience with a very negative view of pornography and the demeaning way some examples often portray women.  Here again Smith makes a wise choice to ensure that Zack & Miri doesn't lose its appeal with the female audience.  By having Zack and Miri emulate the porn of decades past, initially attempting to create "Star Whores" complete with a set, costumes, and a script, it makes the porn in Zack & Miri humorous and almost, dare I say, innocent.  This takes away its "edge" and makes Zack & Miri more palatable to those more sensitive viewers, which - not to indulge stereotypes - are probably the viewers with vaginas.  Additionally, Smith portrays the female characters that Zack and Miri contract into helping produce their porno with a bit of depth and strength, rather than simply bringing in flesh and blood blow-up dolls.  It also helps that he includes a scene with a touch of porno role reversal, something many a girlfriend could deliver swift nudge in the ribs to their male companions over.  Of course, it can't all be T&A all the time.  Smith wisely injects a bit of heart and sensitivity into the sex scene between Zack and Miri, choosing not to have either character completely naked (good on both counts as women probably don't want the men in the audience ogling the character they're supposed to be identifying with, and no one wants to see Seth Rogen less than fully clothed).  While other sex scenes throughout Zack & Miri are seen from the point of view of the other characters, Zack and Miri's is much more intimate, focusing more on their facial expressions than the motions of the act.  That doesn't mean that Smith has gone all The Notebook on the male viewers and that the scene is immune from being the butt (pun intended) of jokes, but here again Smith has one of the supporting female characters come to the defense of the intimacy and romance.  Smith manages to balance keeping things crass enough to appeal to the men without offending women.  Of course, it's often funny as hell.  The epitomy of gross-out humor in Zack & Miri comes near the end of the film; I won't ruin it for you, but you'll know what I'm talking about.  Trust me.

The Ending - So Zack and Miri are life-long best friends and roommates who decide to resort to porn to pay their mountain of bills and in the process, yes they have sex and though they promise things won't get weird they do, and they fall for each other.  A classic bit of movie mis-communication drives them apart and sees Zack taking a job that requires him to offer his groin up for target practice to juvenile delinquents with paintball guns - the things a guy will do for a paycheck.  Some of the friends they made during their brief foray into the porn industry convince Zack that he and Miri love each other, and he should go after her.  He does and declares his love for Miri and she her love for him, and they live happily ever after.  Sounds like a chick flick ending, right?  Well, not quite.  Smith deftly includes all of this romantic BS to catch the women in the audience hook, line, and sinker, but does so without layering too much cheese on the proceedings that it is unpalatable to the fart-joke lovers in the audience, which again, not to advance stereotypes but are, let's be honest, the viewers with testicles.  And really it's all just a vehicle, camouflage used to slip in more crass, vulgar, gross-out humor.  From Zack's new "job" to Jason Mewes' interruption of the romantic proceedings with a "grand" entrance and demonstration of the "Dutch Rudder" to the happy ending (no pun intended) that centers on them starting up their own porno production company, this isn't a chick flick in disguise, no sir.  This is a comedy with all the dick jokes and toilet humor and gross-out visual gags men love, but with enough feminine sensibilities to drawn in, and be enjoyed by women.

 

Read 8286 times Last modified on Friday, 31 October 2008 04:36