Sunday, April 12, 2009

Observe and Report (2009, Jody Hill)

OBSERVE AND REPORT is yet another recent movie taking place in a parallel universe of commerce: a space designed to make you feel safe and to milk you out of cash at the same time (who knows, maybe this safety is what we’re paying for).

But where Greg Mottola’s ADVENTURELAND was gentle and funny, OBSERVE AND REPORT is violent in a number of ways. Physical on-screen violence is the least of it (still, there’s plenty of it). Jody Hill has a crude writing and directional style, which makes it impossible for the viewer not to stay aware of all the points that are being made. There are no blank spaces, no nooks, no cracks to seep into. You’re being confronted by the movie, not invited to have fun with it.

As some critics have already pointed out, the movie is a variation on the TAXI DRIVER theme – it’s about a violent protection fantasy come true. The damsel in distress here is less ethereal than Jodie Foster’s hooker – Anna Faris projects the kind of rudeness very rarely seen in the movies, and the actress should be praised for her courage. But it’s Seth Rogen’s Ronnie who remains in the center of the narrative. He’s both like and unlike Travis Bickle, in that he’s much more eager to make verbal contact with people around him. Even if most of his conversations end up in awkwardness, it’s seen only by us, and not by him (which provides the basis for 80% of the movie’s comedy).

But Ronnie is Don Quixote, too – wildly convinced about his Dulcinea’s beauty and virtue, and made brutally aware of the opposite. In that, OBSERVE AND REPORT gives us a fascinating glimpse into the never-seen-before underpinning of a Inspector Clouseau character: a power-driven control freak in charge, oblivious to the mayhem he’s causing.

The movie could be called A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, and not only because of its subject matter and style. There’s a scene in the middle of the film when Ronnie, attacked by a bunch of lowlifes, reveals an unexpected range of martial skills to the amazement of both us and himself. Is he yet another Viggo Mortensen, channeling his violent impulses into the lie of social conventions – to a breaking point…? OBSERVE AND REPORT suggests violence is liberating, which makes it an interesting case study for anyone interesting in our brave new world.

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