I didn’t laugh a lot at Movie 43, but I saw the movie with someone who did, and I have to admit it could be infectious. It’s a total mess and it gets worse as it goes along, but here and there, some good dumb fun pops up. Most of it comes from Peter Farrelly, who directs the most prominent of the 12 comedy shorts that comprise the film, and gets a gem of a performance out of Kate Winslet in the process. The rest of the film is touch and go at best… even by the proudly low standards it sets for itself.
Movie 43 frontloads its most potent stuff, then leaves the remainder the slowly suck out our goodwill. That’s a smart move, though it doesn’t leave much for us to cling to after its best material passes by. And “best” means much less than it should. The Winslet bit works solely because the actress sells it all so brilliantly, though Farrelly gets credit for positing an interesting question beneath it. Hugh Jackman plays her blind date: a handsome, successful, unquestionably desirable man who somehow avoided settling down. Turns out, he has a birth defect (one of the reasons why we haven’t seen Jackman in the ads much). Revealing it would give the joke away, but it carries some real humor and, more importantly, asks us to look at our own prejudices in the process. Why should something like what he has be a big deal? Why are we so incapable of overlooking such an obvious surface quality to see the good soul beneath? Like Winslet’s character, we can’t, and her panicked, fumbling attempts to overcome her/our prejudices translate into big laughs.
Alas, they cannot last. Farrelly cuts away from his concept without developing it at all, and as subsequent sketches pile on, the laughs dwindle to nearly nothing. Once the initial idea hits us, it falls to the actors to play it up. When they do, the sketch works, as when Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts demonstrate a unique approach to home schooling. When they don’t, it sits flat as a pancake, as when Justin Long and friends dress up as superheroes. Once the first three or four hit us, there’s nowhere else to go, and the sketches all lack the time to deliver a more interesting exploration of their ideas. We get the set-up without any real payoff, and have to mine what laughter we can from leftovers. The ads reveal the best ideas; the rest just can’t get up to speed before their time runs out. Even as a low-key goof-fest, Movie 43’s faults outnumber its modest benefits, and despite some good-hearted efforts, the second half is a total wash.
And it’s not nearly as outrageous as it thinks it is either. Movie 43 bills itself as a grade-A button pusher, stretching the boundaries at what we think we should laugh at. In truth, the Farrellys crossed a lot of this ground a good 15 years ago; the bevvy of directors here badly underestimate the impact and relevance of the material. That’s not the same thing as being dreadful, however, and a lot of its fiercest critics go overboard in their condemnation. I have no doubt it will find its intended audience, and the possibility of cult filmdom looms large in its future. The same fate befell similar anthology films like Kentucky Fried Movie and Amazon Women on the Moon… both of which were excoriated upon their initial release, only to achieve niche success later. Movie 43 deserves at least some of the bad press it’s getting, but don’t be surprised if it sticks around a little longer than its detractors believe.