Friday, June 1, 2007

The New Comedy God's Shining Moment: THE CABLE GUY Revisited

With KNOCKED UP finally opening today (I feel like I saw this thing six months ago - oh wait, I did), America seems ready to crown Judd Apatow as its new comedy king. The reviews are raves for the most part and the word of mouth will be pretty big, as will, no doubt, the box office. People are going to laugh a lot and tell their friends and the movie will start to get quoted and Seth Rogen will go on to be the next in-demand comedy star. Not that this is entirely undeserved, because KNOCKED UP has a lot of laughs to it and is a very upbeat movie that, despite its well-earned R-rating, leaves audiences smiling. I've even seen some critics already calling the film an instant classic, high praise indeed, and one that few films earn from the critics themselves these days. It's looking like nothing but glory days for KNOCKED UP from here on in, from great reviews to big office and DVD sales and (dare I say it) a possible Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. This would all be a lot more pleasing to me if it wasn't for the fact that KNOCKED UP, despite its quality and entertainment value, really doesn't deserve all the praised that's been heaped upon it.

Like I said before, KNOCKED UP is a good movie, funny and entertaining, filled with solid performances and some choice laughs throughout. It also has the benefit of solid pacing, since it runs over 2 hours (and was about 2 1/2 when I first saw it) and it never drags. But there's one overriding issue with the film that makes it difficult for me to jump on the bandwagon, and it's that the film is way too safe. I don't feel like there's anything in KNOCKED UP that hasn't been said on TV or other movies that makes it anything unique, except for the R-rated shenanigans that permeate throughout. This element is a big positive in the film's corner, because if they took a more family-friendly approach this thing would be dead in the water faster than a Hillary Duff movie. But the film is also too touchy-feely and preachy, filled with scenes of characters trying to figure out their lives and giving each other advice and it's nothing new. There's a line where Paul Rudd says that "Marriage is like an unfunny, tense version of Everybody Loves Raymond. But it doesn't last 22 minutes; it lasts forever." and the film is kind of like that, too, although it is funnier than Everybody Loves Raymond, I'll give it that. There simply is no edge to KNOCKED UP, nothing to it that makes it really makes it the classic that so many people think it is. I certainly enjoyed myself and recommend the movie for those who are looking for laughs, but I can't go beyond that, because honestly I don't think those classic ingredients are there.

That said, as an early proponent of Apatow's work (I was home watching The Ben Stiller Show every Sunday night back in '92), I was thinking about what I used to like so much about him and I found myself turning to a film of his that has that edge I felt was missing from KNOCKED UP. It's one that I don't revisit all that often, but I remember it very well and have long defended it to its many deriders (who persist to this day). THE CABLE GUY was an unfortunate victim of over hype and audience expectations, all thanks to its star, Jim Carrey. This was back when star Jim Carrey was still new to audiences and on a major roll of hits, on top of the fact that he was paid a then-record $20 million to star in the film. Apatow was brought in to rework an existing script by Lou Holtz, Jr. and it's said that he provided a page-one rewrite; it certainly feels like it, even though he gets no credit (he's credited as one of the film's producers). THE CABLE GUY has much of those Apatow settings and characters, but it provides a pretty dark and sinister edge to them that leaves an indelible mark in the viewer. OK, maybe an "indelible mark" is overreaching, but this puppy stings and if you don't identify with Carrey's character (a lonely TV-obsessed cable guy so desperate for friendship that he ends up taking over customer Matthew Broderick's life) then you've lived a life that's a little too sheltered. One of the great things about the movie is that for all it's outrageous moments, Carrey's character is a guy who has spent so much time away from reality that he can't deal with it, doesn't understand it and strains to create his own version of it, unaware of how insane he appears to others. In a sense, he's not unlike the stoner characters of Apatow's more recent pictures who may be a bit more socially aware but still don't subscribe to reality. Looking back on THE CABLE GUY today, you can see all of the elements for the Apatow formula were well in place, but there was a rage behind them, an effort to say to the audience, "Grow the fuck up a little, won't ya?" that, needless to say, didn't go over too well. But in retrospect, the film looks better and better as the years go by.

In looking at KNOCKED UP, it's obvious that the last decade has made some sweeping changes in Apatow's life (marriage, two kids, two much-loved-but-canceled TV shows, ect.) and his characters are willing to accept, for all its difficulties, all that life allows, while THE CABLE GUY gives us a guy who wouldn't know how to begin with real life. That's certainly a progression, but with KNOCKED UP it's all a little too pat (I'm sure others will disagree), while THE CABLE GUY's somewhat unresolved ending leaves us with more by giving us less. Is this guy OK? Is he going to snap again? While the guy is a creep, he's also strangely sympathetic, another plus. To use a stupid old tagline, there's a little bit of him in all of us, a representation of that inner yearning that many of us face when we're lonely and feel unloved and get desperate for someone to care. To me, it's a much more profound work than one that basically says, "Having kids is hard, but it's worth it".

So if you see KNOCKED UP, enjoy it, because you'll probably have a good time. But watch THE CABLE GUY again and see how much you identify with Jim Carrey. It won't make you feel as warm and happy as KNOCKED UP does, but in the end it will make you feel a hell of a lot more grounded and maybe, just maybe, a little bit better about yourself.

1 comment:

schnittman said...

Saw this film this weekend and loved it. But I do have to point out that "instant classic" is a phrase thrown around as much as used Kleenexes.

By the way, this comment is an instant classic. So is your blog entry. So is WAITRESS.

No, wait, I take that back. I can't even pretend that that comment didn't make me shudder).