Zack and Miri have been friends since first grade, but have never been
boyfriend and girlfriend, even though they live together to share their
meager incomes. Since that is probably the single oldest cliché in the
book, right away you know where this is going, right? Could it be any
other way? Well, maybe it could, but not in the movies. It's obvious that
they have to find the proper connection with one another, so we know the
destination, but in this type of movie the important element is the
journey, not the destination. Will we get to know both of them as people?
Will we like them? Will we believe them as a couple? Most important, will
be be entertained in the process? The answer to all four questions is yes.
The characters have been developed well; the pacing is smooth and fast;
the dialogue is hip and funny.
How do they get to the predictable destination? Film title says it all.
They become destitute and realize that they can pay all their bills with a
xxx video, so they recruit some other people and get to it. The key plot
point (you might say the ONLY plot point) is that they eventually have to
dance the horizontal tango on camera - with each other - even though they
have gotten through twenty years of friendship without ever having done
the deed. How will that affect them? Well, as I've already pointed out,
you already know the answer and the fact that you know is irrelevant to
your enjoyment of the film.
Except for the guy who writes Duchovny's lines on Californication,
Kevin Smith is just about the only person in America who's currently
managing to pull off the combination of raunchy, hilarious, and heartfelt.
It's not easy to walk the fine line between open-hearted sentimentality
and bawdy humor - the Mel Brooks line. Very few people have ever
negotiated that walk successfully. In addition to Obi Wan Brooks himself,
there are the early Farrelly films and maybe Judd Apatow's best flicks and
... yeah, that's about it. Kevin Smith has sort of tried before, but has
ended up either with talky jokefests in which the characters are only
there to deliver Kevin's own opinions and one-liners, or he's gone with
the mushy sentiment and forgotten about that whole pesky humor thing (as
he did in the accursed, hell-spawned Jersey Girl).
Kevin may not like to think of it in these terms because he's a
super-hero comic book readin' kind of permanent adolescent fanboy (and I
mean that in the most complimentary sense because we need those guys), but
his ultimate destiny is to save the romantic comedy genre. The whole
problem with that genre, at least from a male point of view, is that there
is no comedy. Why do they even call them that? But ol' Kevin has the same
streak of sentiment as the people who write Hollywood rom-coms, and he
also has the ability to make people laugh. Maybe he falls back too often
on easy and obvious scatological humor, but that's only a small portion of
his sense of humor. He can make jokes within a wide range of styles and on
a diversity of subjects, and he's always tuned into the zeitgeist.
This is a funny movie, both sweet and raunchy. In fact, it might have
been a great movie if Kevin had been willing to follow the path of the
Coen Brothers in bucking the traditional clichés and digging deeper into
the human psyche. In real life, either Zack or Miri would have fallen in
love and the other would have realized that there was a good reason why
he/she never felt inclined to make love to the other. The challenge would
be for the uncomfortable one to tell the truth and still keep the best
I probably should set that relatively minor quibble aside. After all,
this is a lowbrow comedy and not a Bergman film, so there is no reason for
it to seek truth rather than to fall back on a feel-good cliché. The
purpose of the film is to entertain with laughs and heart, and Kevin got
that just about right. And yet I get the nagging feeling that Kevin can do
much more. If he were willing to take as many chances with his story lines
as with his dialogue, he could be his generation's version of Woody Allen
or Preston Sturges.