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Observe and Report: A surprisingly complex movie (really)

April 12, 2009
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observe-poster12I cannot remember a film this polarizing in recent film history.  As I write this, it stands at a 50% rating on rotten tomatoes.  Critics found the movie “brilliant” and “perfect” or they recommend gauging your own eyes out before watching this “unqualified mess”.  I myself fall into the former camp, and I have quite a bit to say about this movie. I do believe this movie was (like Adventureland last week) incorrectly marketed.  Both these movies were pitched to the Superbad crowd, which is an injustice to the movie and to the audience.  There’s a lot to scratch under the surface and if you are expecting a screwball cop caper you will be in for a disappointment.  It is not a movie for everyone, so I wouldn’t give it a universal endorsement.  It is extremely thought provoking and tackles quite a few serious issues. I can’t really say what I want to without discussing spoilers, so I will clearly identify when they are coming up in the latter part of the article.

I’ve spent the last hour reading some of the most negative reviews about the movie, in hopes  of understanding why some people hated it so much.  I just keep thinking “Seriously?  Did you people see the same movie as me?”

The plot is admittedly threadbare.  If  you’ve seen the trailer you know the premise. Seth Rogan plays Ronnie Barnhardt, head of a mall security force who takes his job very, very seriously.  A flasher has been frequenting the mall and exposes himself to Ronnie’s crush, a bubble headed cosmetic counter sales lady at the mall played by Anna Faris.  This presents an opportunity for Ronnie to gain her admiration by apprehending her flasher.  His big opportunity is thwarted when a local cop (played by Ray Liotta) is called in to oversee the case.  Ronnie perceives this man as a trespasser in his territory.  They antagonize one another throughout the film.

This movie relies more on its character development than plot to keep the film interesting.  Rogan’s character is fanatical about his laughable job as security guard. He truly has no clue that his job  is a punch line.  He seems like he’s always acting the way he has seen cops act in movies, and in the first part of the movie, he is hilarious.  He becomes furious with a television reporter when she  does not introduce him with his full job title, and he later claims he serves up “hot plates of justice”.  He throws around lots of unintentionally funny phrases throughout, and speaks police lingo you would hear on a homicide case, not the burglary of a shoe store.  He relishes in getting free cups of coffee from a sweet food court worker on a daily basis. He wants to feel important and desperately wants approval.  Seth Rogan impressively makes Ronnie a sympathetic character who is deeply flawed.  His scenes with his mother (played by Celia Weston) are quite touching, and when Ronnie’s dream of becoming a real cop is shot down, it is genuinely heartbreaking to see his pained reaction.

The rest of the cast is great as well.  Anna Faris nails her character.  She is ignorant, dramatic, oblivious and funny as hell. Ray Liotta is fine.  Aziz Ansari plays “Sadamn” a kiosk salesman who has the funniest line in the movie.  Apparently in the past Rogan’s character has accused Sadamn of planning to bomb the Chik-fil-a.  Saddamn’s character say’s “Why would I do that to Chik-fil-a?  It’s fucking delicious!”

Celia Weston brings a touch of humanity and realism to Ronnie’ s home life, and everyone in Ronnie’s mall security entourage does a good job.

The film is directed by Jodi Hill (The Foot Fist Way and HBO’s Eastbound  and Down).  It is a black comedy about failure, redemption and self discovery and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

SPOILERS AHEAD….SPOILERS AHEAD…SPOILERS AHEAD…SPOILERS AHEAD

*this next portion is 100% commentary.  I have no way of knowing the director’s intentions, but I do know what I thought while I was watching it.  Movies are a form of art, and art is open to interpretation, therefore I offer the following.

About halfway through the movie, we learn that  Ronnie takes  medication for bi-polar disorder, which ultimately crushes his dream of being a real cop.  In an all-too-real scenario, Ronnie has been feeling pretty good, so he decides to go off his meds.  This triggers a predictable psychotic breakdown with unpredictable consequences.  A lot of people are criticizing this movie for being inconsistent, for “not being funny the whole time.” This is why I loved it.  Hear me out, if you will.

Real people who are bi-polar are a blast to be around when they are in their manic state. They are energetic, engaging, the life of the party. Too often they start believing that they are really better, not recognizing that they are in the “high” of their cycle.  What entails when they go off their meds is not pretty.  I’ve seen it first hand, and I thought  this movie did a pretty nice job chronicling someone who is sick with this disorder.  It accurately explains the film’s erratic feel, it’s simply mirroring the highs and lows of this character.  The first half is funny and light, and then as the character goes, so goes the movie into dark territory. I couldn’t help but be reminded of how we’ve seen characters in the past bullied into a violent breakdown.  Ronnie is belittled, chastised and ridiculed for the entire first half, and quite frankly I thought it was going to end on an even darker note.

I also take issue with the fact that quite a few critics seem to believe that this film must be placed within a defining box, i.e. comedy, or drama.  Why can’t it be both?  I loved the genre bending aspects of this movie.  It is a twisty black comedy that took some serious chances.  Seth Rogan took a huge risk.  He was basically sitting at the top of the comedy world, and instead of choosing a safe project, he chose this edgy, unlikable role.  I have read comments from people stating they now hate Seth Rogan, and they will never see him in another movie.  I’m sure he knew that, but he did it anyway, and if you like the movie you owe him a big thanks.

Now I’ll open the can of worms.  The last spoiler I am going to mention is the “rape” scene.  This has created controversy, with a lot of feminists boycotting the movie because Seth Rogan’s character has sex with a drunk/passed out Brandi (Anna Faris).  I think the people who are upset by this did not see the movie. I personally saw this scene as an indicator for just how deeply delusional Ronnie is.  Nobody in their right mind would want to have sex with a puke covered smelly woman like that.  Ronnie is out of his mind, he is sick.   There’s no violence, no pain inflicted.  In his deluded state he believes this is a normal way to have sex and that Brandi has finally succumbed to his advances.   I’d like to add that the people who decry this scene are the same people who defend the ” guilty by reason of insanity” verdict in murder trials.  I’m not defending his actions.  Sick people do sick things, and Ronnie is sick.  That does not make him a monster.  Quite a few comparisons have been made to Taxi Driver.  Using the flawed logic that these protesters use, I guess no one should have seen that, either, because De Niro’s character does bad things.  Give me a break.

This movie was a unique,  ambitious endeavor. Jodi Hill tries to tackle quite a few issues, and if this is indicative of his potential, I can’t wait to see his next project.  If you like dark and twisted-see it.  If you can’t wait for Fast and the Furious 5 (which is unfortunately on its way) you’re better off renting Paul Blart when it comes out next month. On a scale of 1 to 10, I give this movie a 9.

Posted by Shannon 6:57am

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