Zach and Miri Make a Porno
The downside of Judd Apatow’s current popularity is when other filmmakers try to mix their own formula with his. A common theme running through Apatow’s work is his character’s dealing with their own gay panic as they mature from adult boys to adult men. This is exemplified by a scene between Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd in The 40 Year Old Virgin, where they play video games and taunt each other with lines like “You know how I know that you’re gay? Because you macraméd yourself a pair of jean shorts.” There’s even an extra on the DVD that shows that this improvised scene went on for more than 10 minutes as they came up with new reasons why the other person was gay. This continued between Rudd and Rogen in Knocked Up where Rudd tells him “you look like Babe Ruth’s gay brother. Gabe Ruth.”
Now whether you think this is a homophobic way to deal with immaturity in a mainstream film is entirely up to you, but there’s no doubt that in Zach and Miri Make a Porno, just out on DVD, writer/director Kevin Smith’s attempt to mesh his dick and fart joke motifs with Apatow’s maturity bent (even casting Seth Rogen as the lead), that Smith’s cast is uncomfortable with the issue. This is proven with Justin Long’s ridiculous overplaying as a gay porn star trying to comfort and ease his boyfriend out of the closet. “I’ll be your sherpa up the mountain of gayness,” he says with a gravely lisp. Now that line reads a lot funnier than it plays, which is all too common a problem in Smith’s work (Chasing Amy, Clerks, Dogma), as actors struggle mightily to overcome the wordiness that is totally unnatural to their character’s traits, and is simply a way for Smith to show off. But the surprise is the emotional dishonesty and discomfort with the material he’s written, especially as Chasing Amy is a smart exploration of gay relationships and the complications of romance.
This may be because Smith is a moralist at heart, and making a movie about the joys and financial success of two working class best friends making a porn film to pay their bills doesn’t jibe with his moral compass. And yet, all of this could be ignored if the movie were funny. For some reason, Smith constantly resorts to Mel Brooks style nudge-nudge jokes and even sabotages professional scene stealer Craig Robinson (the bouncer in Knocked Up and the hitman dealing with his partner’s weaknesses in Pineapple Express) by introducing him with tired race baiting lines (“you gonna make a black man work Black Friday?”) and letting his character drift off into being solely used as a deus ex machina.
Maybe Smith was bored? Sure, the plot trajectory is quite obvious as Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks (who is awfully toned for someone who’s supposed to be lazy and unmotivated) are clearly headed for a happy romance, and we have to wait out 100 minutes for this to develop, as if it were in any way a surprise. But watching Smith’s version of porn, in which everyone is chummy and comfortable with each other (despite none of them being actual porn actors before this experience), and the technical complications are missing, and clichéd 70’s porn music is played on a boombox, while the camera is rolling and the actors are fornicating, is more than embarrassing, it is simply amazing. Smith’s humor has completely devolved into his self-satisfaction regarding the shock value in his script, as the characters constantly curse unnaturally, as if to offend us, as if someone willing to watch a movie with this title would act like a little boy in church any time someone says fuck. Of course, Smith is a little boy in church, maybe his hangers-on ought to let him know.
On one of his older DVD commentaries (I believe it was Dogma), Smith mentions that the reason he can’t always get larger budgets is because his movies tend to hit a brick wall at the box office once they gross $30 million, indeed Zach and Miri went to… $31 million.
A mid-end-credits sequence hints at what direction the movie should have taken. It would have been much funnier if the starting point was this badly produced infomercial with Zach, Miri, and crew offering to make a needy couple “the porno of their dreams.”