Friday, October 31, 2008

Zack and Miri make beautiful music together.

You know what's truly wonderful? When they tell you what the movie's about right there in the title. Like Aliens Vs. Predator, you know what the movie's going to be about. (Even if they bog it down with 40 minutes of sub-Gossip girl teen nonsense). Or like this latest offering from Kevin Smith: Zack and Miri Make a Porno. You can pretty much figure out that there will be two characters, one named Zack (Seth Rogen), one named Miri (Elizabeth Banks, my latest Hollywood crush), and together they shall make a pornographic motion picture.

In the hands of a lesser director, the movie could provide a few big laughs, but mostly feel shallow. But in the hands of Smith, the film becomes both a touching love story, an eerie topical statement, and a sentimental ode to the director's beginnings, gathering friends together to put on a show utilizing extremely limited means. It just happens that the show in this case involves lots of nudity.

Zack and Miri begins with the titular duo in their current existence. Zack works at a coffee chain, passing out lattes to people who actually care about how their coffee is prepared. He lives with Miri, an achingly hot girl that everyone around wants to be with except Zack. The two of them have a BFF relationship that never once crosses the line into "Can we be more than friends, even without alcohol involved?" territory. Naturally, everybody around them feels they deserve to be together, even if they can't see it.

With troubling times shutting off power, water, and heat, coupled with the sense of depression that always arises from a ten year high school reunion, Zack and Miri come to the inevitable conclusion that they need to live up to the title of their movie. Assembling a wide array of talent from their friends (Craig Robinson, from The Office and Pineapple Express, almost steals the movie away from the leads) the dynamic duo set forth on their venture and discover things about themselves that they never knew. To say what would spoil the movie.

Smith has long been a fan of his own dialogue, and loves to make raunchy but ultimately sweet-natured (and above all honest) films. this is a formula that has been used to much greater success by the Apatow gang lately, and it's nice to see the blending of comedic styles represented by Smith and frequent Apatow collaborator (and me-doppelganger)* Seth Rogen. Rogen fits in nicely to the Smith universe. (important to note, NOT the Askew-niverse, as this film stands alone from Smith's previous works).

What I like about the movie is that, despite the implications of the title, the movie is a rare peak into Smith's nostalgia for making the original Clerks. A group of inexperienced but passionate friends turn their workplace and home environment into a movie studio, all focusing on the project at hand and making new friends and alliances along the way. The scenes when Zack closes down the coffee shop to begin filming captures this perfectly, and I loved every minute of it. And not just because there were naked ladies on the screen. But that certainly helps. **

Ultimately, Zack and Miri provides a wonderful moviegoing experience, full of laughs and heart. There are some flaws (I really hate when people use the instantaneous aspects of internet viewers as a plot device) that are more than easy to overlook, thanks to the chemistry between the two leads, as well as the supporting ensemble. And while there are opportunities where the movie could have been even funnier and raunchier, its' heart never leaves the proper place.

*True story, after the screening, while the credits were rolling in the half darkened theater, someone came up to me and said "Nice job up there" and walked away. I figure it was Rogen they were confusing me for, and not Smith. But either way, Rogen dropped a bunch of weight and looks far better than me now.

**I'd like to point out I wrote this review about a month ago, and since then, everybody, especially Smith, has pointed out that only a few people got the veiled reference to the Clerks days. What I appreciate about it the most is that the gang doesn't have Hollywood ambitions, and the movie doesn't become about filmmaking.

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