The boy and I went to see Tropic Thunder last night. Just before the trailers started he reminded me that there were fictional trailers. I promptly assumed that Role Models, Lakeview Terrace and Max Payne were parodies. I laughed my head off at how well they mimicked the pomposity of the trailer genre, and admired the artistry that had gone into their assembly. The Max Payne trailer starts “In a world…” which had me in stitches.
Everyone up to and including the boy looked at me oddly, at which point it finally dawned on me.
The real fictional trailers were a bit of a letdown after that.
The film made me laugh. I do enjoy Ben Stiller as an actor. There’s a lovely generosity to his comedy, here and in Zoolander. He’s unafraid to make himself look like a gigantic twat in order to let the rest of the ensemble glow, and he’s always with the big ensemble, bless. Steve Coogan was great, he always is, as the pompous Brit director in a Union Jack t-shirt. Jack Black was wonderfully manic as a sweaty junkie. Matthew McConaughy was surprisingly sweet in his role as Ben Stiller’s asshole-agent-with-a-heart-of-TiVo. Everything looked and sounded fantastic – great rainy and sometimes explodey jungle and excellent choice of Vietnam-cliche 60s songs. The whole thing was a very affectionate sendup of the genre.
I liked a bunch of the cameos – Toby Maguire and Lance Bass especially – but the big one everyone’s talking about left me cold. To me the big-name actor in question is the opposite of Ben Stiller. He sucks the air out of the room. He thinks he’s in on the joke but it’s clear we muggles are the butt of his joke. His massive self-regard is palpable and repulsive. I can live without being sniggered at by gajillionaires.
So, race! Downey’s metamorphosis from Osiris to Lazarus was especially funny for me because Lazarus was supposed to be Australian, a thinly veiled caricature in fact of Russell Crowe. (And maybe poor old Heath.) So the rattling off of Aussie cliches – Crocodile Dundee, a dingo ate my baby – was tiresome to me in much the same way that the black cliches were to the black character, Brandon Jackson’s Alpa Chino. I gotta say, though, I fretted about the portrayal of the Burmese-or-Laotians. The film’s moral hierarchy of race goes: white Americans, black Americans, Australian butt-monkeys, Asian drug kingpins.
And surprise, the film utterly fails the Bechdel test. Of three speaking roles we counted for women, two were cameos and the third was a receptionist. Mustn’t distract from the flow of the story! Where “the story” is defined as “things of interest to the straight white male protagonist”. Hollywood, I hate you.
Of our last five movies, Jeremy chose this, The Dark Knight (which I walked out of in tears) and Get Smart (which we both promptly forgot). I chose the Herzog Antarctica film and Up the Yangtze. Our findings: Up the Yangtze is the only one that passes the Bechdel test. And Jeremy should always let me choose the film.