Festival Nouveau Cinema 2008: Zack & Miri Make a Porno

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Zack & Miri Make a Porno

Directed by Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith’s debut feature, Clerks, was a potty-mouthed revelation when it came out fourteen years ago. But in the intervening years of Judd Apatow, South Park and American Pie, what was once an outrageous breath of fresh air has quickly come quotidian. And so the question becomes: does Smith as a director try to raise the bar in filthy comedy, or move on to different, more “mature” pastures. The answer is a bit of both.

Smith’s latest film, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, tells the story of two platonic best friends, Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) who live together in suburban Pittsburgh. Best friends since grade school, their friendship seems to be based largely on the fact that they are such total social misfits that they are the only two people who can stand each other. And like most lost, late 20 something souls, they are both pathetically bad with money, leading to mountings bills and the constant threat of eviction or the shutting off of utilities.

After particularly embarrassing themselves at their ten year high school reunion, the two friends return home to find that in fact, their power and heat have finally been shut off. Desperate and despondent they hole up in their local bar to try to brainstorm a way out of their dire financial straights. The usually unambitious Zack, inspired by a chance encounter with gay porn star (a particularly funny cameo by Justin Long) Brandon, somehow manages to convince Miri that the answer to their problems is to make and sell an adult film that they themselves will star in.

The plot then turns into a sort of Andy Hardy style “let’s put on a show” story, with Zack and Miri assembling a rag-tag crew to help them in with their lofty and looney plan. In a lot of ways this is where the film really starts to shine as one of Smith’s definite strong points is his ability to gather together comedic talent and the cast contains more than a few treats for both film nerds and fans of Smith’s films in particular.

View Askew standbys Jason Mewes (Jay) and Jeff Anderson (Randal) make appearances as a porno stud and cameraman respectively, the notorious Traci Lords stars as the matronly Bubbles, while contemporary porn star Katie Morgan shows considerable comedy chops as the ditzy Stacy and Craig Robinson practically steals the show as Zack’s coworker/producer, Delaney. Notable cameos include effects whiz (and Pittsburgh native) Tom Savini as a shady garage owner, Superman Brandon Ruth as a deeply closeted former high school hottie and Canada‘s own Kenny Hotz of Kenny Vs. Spenny fame as the deeply annoying Zack II.

Despite all the bare boobies (there are plenty) and a little bush, make no mistake: this is a romantic comedy, with the real dilemma being how Zack and Miri’s friendship will survive their on screen carnal encounter. And while it is easy to dismiss both Smith and Rogen as belonging to some sort of man-boy chauvinist’s club, the drama of the film really comes from Smith’s exploration of the differences between the sexes. While Rogen is basically playing a slightly more eloquent version of his Knocked Up persona, Smith smartly puts his focus on Bank’s Miri, who turns in a touching and relatable performance as a sensitive but unconventional girl trying to protect herself from yet another heartbreak.

However, like most films in this genre, the central love story does require quite a bit of suspension of disbelief in order to play out. The idea that a shlub like Zack would not have already slept with someone as hot as Miri (or at least made a serious attempt) is particularly hard to swallow, as is the reason these two losers still hang out together. But film is fantasy, and if you are able to let these two minor details slide, the inevitable conclusion does contain some of Smith’s most genuine and touching dialogue about love since Chasing Amy.

The biggest problem with the film is more that the conclusion really is telegraphed too far in advance, particularly if you are familiar with Smith’s brand of vulgar romanticism; and the overuse of the “misfits make good” plotline. But, as was pointed out earlier, this is a romantic comedy and these types of films rely on formula, even if the formula in this case happens to include shit-showers and strap-ons. The central characters also feel somewhat underdeveloped, but the performances and charm displayed by Rogen and Banks mostly make up for this.

While far from Smith’s best (that would be Chasing Amy), Zack and Miri Make a Porno is a far sight better than Jersey Girl, and should appeal to both View Askew fans and girls who think that testicle jokes are funny. And you get to see Jason Mewes’ penis, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Mariko McDonald

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  1. […] Writing Reviews for Sound on Sight (links here, here and here) […]

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