Zack and Miri Make a Porno

There is a certain tonal integrity to Kevin Smith’s Zack and Miri Make a Porno, which might wind up as ammunition for arguments against tonal integrity. It’s hugely, ridiculously raunchy, banned by Utah’s major theater chain and narrowly escaping an NC-17 rating. It’s also hugely, ridiculously sentimental, the sweetness and sap practically dripping off of it by the last third. Smith pulls no punches in either direction. The result, ultimately, is unwieldy and a touch uncomfortable, almost like if Woody took a machete to Buzz at the end of Toy Story. But you have to commend the writer-director for his fortitude.

You also have to commend him for his casting. Smith has been on the upswing, now apparently interested in making actual movies rather than merely cultivating a hip image, but his directorial approach is still mostly “point and shoot.” In Clerks 2, which I adore, he cultivated some impressive rhythm and timing. Here he’s a bit off his game in that respect, but it doesn’t much matter. Spending time with Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks is such a pleasure that I don’t want a director getting in the way.

I have not grown tired of Rogen, despite his ubiquity. His stock character, which he faithfully reprises here — a sort of clever, mildly erudite neanderthal sloth — continues to amuse me to no end. And I could go on and on about Banks, who is one of the few genuinely funny women to make it to Hollywood’s top tier. Both are in top form as long-time friends and housemates who decide to produce a porno to pay rent and electric. They have effortless chemistry, and are absolutely comfortable inhabiting these characters. Smith’s screenplay is funny enough, but just watching the two of them made me smile.

The plot is a goofy, occasionally forced parade of outrageousness. Rogen’s Zack and Banks’s Miri get the idea to make a porno after attending their 10-year high school reunion, where Miri’s old crush (Brandon Routh) turns out to be gay and shacking up with a porn star (Justin Long, bringing down the house). After auditioning a ragtag cast of variable sexiness, they try a Star Wars-themed production; when that goes awry, the setting shifts to Zack’s coffee shop and the title becomes Swallow My Cockuccino. Meanwhile, as Zack and Miri prepare for their big scene, their platonic friendship threatens to bubble over into something more. The whole thing feels so much like an R-rated sitcom that it had to have been intentional — this would have been an I Love Lucy plot, if Ricky had let Lucy make porn.

The comic set pieces and smaller jokes work in equal measure — roughly half the time. Zack and Miri’s attempt to have sex on camera — or rather the lead-up to it — damn near killed me. Another scene, which I don’t even want to describe, evoked not the usual exaggerated groans that usually follow on-screen gross-outs, but rather an awful stunned silence. You’ll know it when you see it; the stunt is a stunning miscalculation on Smith’s part, and proof that there’s more to effective shock value than mere shock.

Smith pits all of this against the romance, which is at least as corny as the jokes are dirty. The last half hour contains scenes that are almost obscene in their earnestness. There’s a certain logic to this, as I mentioned, but it’s too saccharine, even cringeworthy. The only way the turn to sweetness could have worked was if the film had swept us along in its giddy momentum, but Zack and Miri is too clumsy to make that happen. Instead, the effect is jarring — kind of like, come to think of it, some of Smith’s dirty jokes.

Despite my reservations about this effort, I still prefer post-Jersey Girl Kevin Smith to the pre-Jersey Girl incarnation. I’ll take Zack and Miri‘s awkward sincerity to early Smith’s affected cool any day of the week. It’s hard to dislike a filmmaker who will randomly stop his movie cold for a dance montage.

 

Seeking in movies meaning and reflection in real-time. On the look out for biography, thriller & drama best pieces.

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