Friday, November 21, 2008

Elizabeth Banks Is My Homegirl

The last three movies I've seen in theaters - W., Zack & Miri Make A Porno and Role Models - have starred Elizabeth Banks. I'm almost tempted to avoid the cinema until the January release of The Uninvited, where she will get to play an evil stepmother instead of a sympathetic romantic interest. At the moment, I can't even think of any movies I urgently want to see that would interrupt this streak of Elizabeth Banks films. Oh, wait - I want to see The Spirit. Why wasn't she in that?

Zack & Miri benefits from following my least favorite comedy of the decade in the director's oeuvre. Unlike Clerks II, Zack & Miri has likable characters and unforced jokes. Even more amazing - it has extras! Kevin Smith is almost like a real movie director now! You'd almost believe that he's directed EIGHT movies!

From his fondness for musical montage to his pussy-ass emotional speeches (not to mention Jersey Girl), it's clear that Smith would love to be Cameron Crowe when he grows up. That he'll settle for 2nd rate Judd Apatow is both humble (he's got a bigger cult than Judd) and ambitious (Judd has a bigger commercial audience). Whatever - better Kevin Smith aping someone funny than Kevin Smith aping himself.

Role Models suffers from following my favorite comedy of the decade in the director's oeuvre. It's almost admirable that David Wain would adhere to mainstream comedy tenets after the boffo narrative-nihilism of Wet Hot American Summer and The Ten (without surrendering all intelligence like Michael Showalter's mewling The Baxter - starring Elizabeth Banks), but you can feel the tentativeness. Unwilling to wink and unwilling (or unable) to go for earnest affect, Wain relies on Paul Rudd to provide any and all emotional pull. Not wanting to come off like a sap, Wain decides not to come off at all. Even when the cast is swordfighting in Kiss make-up, the film seems respectfully removed from the action.

Wain, Rudd and Ken Marino (the dudes behind The Ten) were handed what must have been a brutally pro forma script and made it consistently amusing through a strong supporting cast, novel gags and an impressive use of profanity. Now that this experiment in mainstream entertainment has succeeded, I'm curious to see if they'll revert to State hijinks, keep polishing cliches or find some kind of middle ground, for better or worse.

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