>> Zack and Miri Make a Porno (7/10)

Kevin Smith, the filmmaker, brings out conflicting feelings in me.  Kevin Smith, the personality, I’m perfectly fine with.  He can talk all he wants, and I’ll listen; sometimes, I might even buy his merch,  But Kevin Smith, the writer/director?  Man, I just don’t know about that guy.  How many movies does this guy have to make before I can stop watching the learning process that is taking place behind the camera?  I understand that all directors are learning with every film blah blah blah, but I don’t want to watch it happen right before my very own eyes, during one of his films, like I’m at film school with him.  Zack and Miri Make a Porno is within fingertip distance of feeling like a “real” movie and not a Kevin Smith film, and that’s not a knock, except that it is, really, but even the fans will know what I’m talking about here.  Kevin Smith is like a master artist that uses a giant novelty crayon to create emotionally resonant pieces of art–clumsy but effective.  When he achieves those moments of emotional truth, they feel almost like an accident, and then I have to ask myself how many movies the guy has to make before I start considering him more seriously than just a comic geek who lucked out and made a hit indie movie a long time ago.

In Zack and Miri, Smith casts Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks as two friends whose relationship dates back to grade school.  Financial irresponsibility, a chance encounter with two porn stars at a high school reunion, and a much-watched viral video of Miri’s exposed granny panties lead the pair to consider making amateur pornography as the cash grab they need to avoid financial ruin.  They enlist the help of some acquaintances (Craig Robinson, Jeff Anderson), hold casting calls for actors (Jason Mewes, Katie Morgan), and become instant filmmakers.  The conflict arises when Zack and Miri also agree to perform sex acts on film with each other, an idea that stirs up unresolved feelings of attraction and jealousy between the two platonic buddies.

Smith uses the porn setting as the quickest way to get to the story he really wants to tell, which is whether or not sex really does ruin everything between two friends.  There’s a similar theme in Chasing Amy, but with a different dynamic (Holden’s sexual relationship with Alyssa threatens to destroy his friendship with Banky).  Overlooking the jaw-droppingly profane humor, Zack and Miri is actually a fairly conventional romantic comedy in structure.  The strength of the movie is that the scenes that need to feel the most real, always do.  The weakness of the movie is that nothing else does.

As Zack and Miri approach the point of no return, then try to shake themselves of their complicated thoughts once they’ve crossed that point, Rogen and Banks knock the material out of the park.  Banks is a godsend in this role, elevating the material beyond the page, and creating something real out of something that could’ve been just another Kevin Smith fantasy babe (like Rosario Dawson in Clerks II).  It’s a star-making role in a movie entirely too dirty to make anyone a star, which is an unfortunate truth.  Rogen’s Zack reminded me a lot of Kevin Smith, actually, and this is the first film where one of Smith’s characters actually felt like a surrogate for the filmmaker himself.  I don’t think it’s really a harsh criticism (Woody Allen does it all the time), and it gives Rogen’s loveable slacker persona a little bit of a different flavor.  He’s less sarcastic and witty, more goofy and amiable.

Craig Robinson got more laughs from me than anyone else, though.  Just like in Pineapple Express, Robinson is the secret comedy weapon, and Smith gives him all the good lines.  Smith, the screenwriter, known for forcing long, awkward comedic monologues into the mouths of his actors, avoids that completely here, for the first time ever, and his actors talk like characters usually do in movies.  It’s a big step for him as a writer/director–to be able to trust the actors to carry the scene without having to say everything they’re thinking.  While Zack and Miri isn’t exactly laced with subtext, it’s reassuring to know that he’s confident enough to let Banks’ face fill the frame and to let her eyes do the talking a bit.

All in all, Kevin Smith continues to learn, but has made his first movie that no one could really call amateurish, after fifteen years of film making.  It sure makes Zack and Miri Make a Porno a very strange accomplishment.  It’s a juvenile comedy with an adult understanding of sexual politics.  It examines sex in a way that is not often seen in film–that, for some, sex is just sex, while others can’t separate the physical act from love.  The film never passes judgment about those that can’t (or won’t) make the separation, and it’s a sweeter film because of it.

7 on a 1 to 10 scale

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2 Comments

  1. I don’t think we’re going to see Kevin Smith elevate beyond “Kevin Smith”, and by now I don’t think I want him to anymore, not after seeing Zack and Miri. At this point, I think we’re unlikely to see Kevin Smith produce a film that’s as resonant as a Woody Allen film, but I don’t get the sense that he really wants to now, if he ever did. Smith appears comfortable with his strengths as a writer and is focusing on building that element with each film, which he’s done increasingly well since Jersey Girl. He’s like the anti-Shyamalan.
    I don’t know, I feel like from now through the end of his days we’re going to get really good Kevin Smith films, and not really good film films, which I’m fine with. He brings a mature knowledge to immature material while still being able to present it as immature. It’s like a teenager comes up with the concept, he then gives the concept to his Dad to write, and the Dad then gives the script back to the kid to make into a movie. As long as the Dad remains in the middle I’m cool. I’d much prefer that than have the kid write the script then give it to his Dad to make into a movie (Shyamalan, and I’m not even going to cough to try and hide it).
    Lastly, on to actual Zack and Miri talk, the moment at the end of the film where Banks reunites w/ Rogen right after his bathroom door speech, her line combined with her delivery of the line is my favorite heartfelt moment in a romantic comedy. I think if Zack and Miri was a mainstream film that line would rank above Zelwegger’s “You had me at hello”.
    That line shows an understanding that once you fall in love with your best friend they don’t stop being your best friend. To me, she was responding more to her best friend coming back than the guy she was falling in love with. I love that line.

  2. I like your dad/teen analogy.


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