Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Lapping Up Profits the Talladega Way

In my last post I mentioned that we'd been to see "Talladega Nights," the new movie with Will Ferrell, and since my daughter, probably most faithful of my blog readers, asked what I'd thought of it, I told her, or tried to, and will do so here perhaps more successfully.
My problem is that I'd hoped it would successfully lampoon some of the extreme points of view taken by those we've begun to associate with the Nascar crowd (not that I think it's fair to do so). Throw in some commentary on homophobia, hard-headed religious beliefs, commercialism, declining family values, and international relations, and see how it mixes with the back-slapping, lead-foot, drinkin' and drivin', my country right or wrong crowd. But I don't think it was successfully connecting this lampooning with its audience.
Some of it I liked. Will Ferrell is a funny guy, and he's willing to go the extra mile for the laughs, putting himself and any dignity aside, as in a scene where he runs around the track clad only in his whitey tighteys and his helmet after a wreck. I laughed right along with all the little kids, just like I did when in "Elf" he similarly was silly and innocent. I've seen the "Saturday Night Live" episodes too where Ferrell plays an excellent and hilarious George Bush, and I suspect he's got some critical views of the president's stands.
But if the film is satire, that is, if it means to illustrate the weaknesses of the behaviors depicted, then I'm not sure it works. I need an example here. In one scene a gay Frenchman says he's going to break Ricky Bobby's arm if Ricky doesn't say he likes crepes, or at least thin pancakes--a reasonable compromise, says Cal, Ricky's lifelong "Shake and Bake" buddy and fellow driver. Ricky refuses, partly because the Frenchman is gay, and Jean breaks Ricky's arm. As Ricky is about to faint, he comments on how homosexuality is wrong, ending with a word to Cal: "I love you, buddy." Or words to that effect.
Get it? If it's satire, then you need to get it. You need to hear the enjambment of one kind of love and the other. But I don't think viewers did get it. It's like someone not realizing you're being sarcastic. You've got to explain, or they think you're a fool.
Anyway, I wanted this to be brief. But there were other troubles. Watching Ricky's sons badmouth their grandfather early in the movie was painful in a funny kind of way.
The wife says Ferrell was more often going for the quick and easy laugh, rather than crafting a scene that was funny and telling. I agree. But I do think there's some commentary on contemporary American culture, and I think it's worth seeing, noticing where the film complicates the issues, and yet still keeps the viewer interested.


P. Block said...

This week I have been inundated with comments regarding this film. I have not yet taken the time to view it, and likely will not until it is out on DVD. Everyone who is talking about the film raves about how funny it is and how I should go see it right away. The comments are all very similar to those I heard when Ron Burgundy came out. Unfortunately, when I broke down and rented Ron Burgundy, I thought it was a long, boring film with a few funny moments. Then again, I prefer Faulty Towers to Friends. Maybe that says something about my taste in comedy.

After reading your post and thinking of conversations had with the people who sing the praises of TDN, I have come to form a hypothesis.

Mr. Ferrell is catering to those who do not get the jokes. As you mentioned, the enjambment of two lines of dialog, when taken separately seem silly and when taken together speak of a deeper message for the film. Those who, from what I have observed, love the film are those who would not put the first line decrying homosexuality, and the second line as a profession of homosexuality together to get the sarcasm or satire of it. These folks, in my estimation, would view the first line as just what it is, a condemnation of an alternative lifestyle and the second line as a profession of plutonic love for a friend.

Maybe I am way off base, but it simply seems to me, in my completely unscientific research methods, that the very people the film attempts to lampoon are those who gush about how funny it is. Maybe that is what Will Ferrell banks upon, the target of his mirth not understanding they are the targets? Or maybe I am simply waiting for the next Mr. Beans movie to gush about.

April said...

We went to this last night and ended up leaving after about an hour. Mostly because the fish store closed soon and I had wanted to get some fish yesterday. However, I could have waited another day and wasn't really enjoying the movie. Then again, now that I've read this blog I wish I would have stayed. We'll wait until it's rentable, I think.

JN said...

Thanks for your comments! I do think the film is worth seeing. I just wonder if filmmakers today can actually make salable satires, ones that will actually make them some money. But it's not a satire if most people don't get it, is it? If you've read about the film you've probably heard about the actual Applebee's commercial in the middle of the movie. Now, if Applebee's had high bid for this right, which I'm sure they did, and all the other products also brought in money, then who is the joke on? Filmmakers who sell out by placing products, or the dupes who sit through this blatant commercial move? I don't think you can have it both ways, and it made me squirm. I suspect the wife would have been willing to walk out midway, too, had I been itching for a fish.

Deana said...

The wife did think about leaving early and walking home, but she wasn't wearing the right shoes. (And yes, I am frugal enough that I'd already worked out that with John's free ticket and the relatively cheap ticket price of $4.50 that I would only be wasting $2.25 if I walked out early. I'd decided $2.25 could be sacrificed, but the feet are another thing.) I've fallen asleep during several movies, but only walked out on one: Hercules, starring Lou Ferrigno. That was back in high school when peer pressure probably forced me to walk out and waste that money or a boyfriend had paid my way so I wasn't worried about it.

Anyway, about TDN. I think what disturbed me the most was the audience in the theater. It is one thing if the adults in the theater aren't "getting it," but when those adults bring their young children (or worse yet drop them off and send them in alone), it bothers me. I guarantee the 5 - 10 year old kids yucking it up were not understanding the satirical nature of the film. Instead of enjoying the movie, I just kept thinking about what message these kids were taking away from the movie and what kind of people they would grow up to be. The conclusions I drew were not amusing nor hilarious.

Pastor Jonathan C. Watt said...

Well... maybe the satire is a double? Purposely appealing to the folks your kicking at, so that they miss the joke. Hardly anything is funnier than someone who doesn't get the joke that on them.

I don't really think so. I couldn't possibly that kind of double entendre credit to an industry that hasn't had an original idea in 20 years.

Still this film could be the exception... another double e?
Pastor Watt