I imagine Craig Gillespie would’ve preferred a little distance between his Toronto Film Fest fave, Lars and the Real Girl, and the wide theatrical release of Mr. Woodcock, the "comedy" from which he was "removed" a year ago. Reshot by Wedding Crashers‘ maestro David Dobkin, and frantically shuttled around the schedule by New Line like a kid trying to hide urine-soaked sheets, Woodcock is as crushingly unfunny as its lamely suggestive title. (I mean, the name of the guy who painted our house when I was a kid was Harry Dick, and while this was a huge hit on the playground, I never thought to stretch that one-and-done joke into a feature length screenplay.) Building an entire comedy around the sadistic gym teacher cliché may have seemed like a brilliant idea to tyro scribes Michael Carnes and Josh Gilbert, but we’ll see how hard they’re laughing when they’re unemployable, which should be from tomorrow until the sun engulfs the Earth.
If I wind up hating Lars and the Real Girl (it has been compared to my 2006 bête noire, Little Miss Sunshine), then I will revise the above and wish a lifetime of 1st-and-15th subsistence on Mr. Gillespie. But until that day, all blame must be dumped on Carnes and Gilbert, who have, with the character of Woodcock (as portrayed with phoned-in cruelty by Billy Bob Thornton), made stock what Paul Feig made so wincingly human on Freaks and Geeks – though even the great Tom Wilson would flail with this material. The basic premise of Mr. Woodcock – nerd-made-good returns home to to Nebraska find his mother (Susan Sarandon) shacking up with the junior high gym teacher who assailed his self-esteem as a youth – might’ve made for an agreeable time waster with some sharp gag writing, but the scribes have wrongheadedly written their protagonist, John Farley (Seann William Scott), as a vainly successful (i.e. unlikeable) self-help author, thus introducing a darkly comedic tone that neither Gillespie nor Dobkin (nor Shaye?) can maintain.
It’s unclear as to whether the purpose of Mr. Woodcock was to send up mindless red state cohesiveness (Woodcock’s up for some kind of civic honor even though he’s been unfailingly abusive to children), or to simply wring a lot of laughs from a grown man browbeating children and the elderly (Woodcock also oversees swimming class at the local nursing home), but, hey, it’s also unclear as to why a "studio" hoping to avoid getting swallowed by its parent company would shell out seven figures for a screenplay this devoid of wit. Even if the rewrites dulled whatever edge Carnes and Gilbert brought to the original draft, the vestiges of their "lost masterpiece" hardly suggests this script ever had a chance of being anything other than one of the worst films of whatever year in which it was released (that would be 2007, and let’s just say Halloween is grateful).
I’ve really gotta stop with the quotations.
In case you’re wondering, the comedic highlight of Monsieur Woodcock involves Farley sneaking into Woodcock’s house and getting trapped under the gym teacher’s bed while he lays the lumber to his mother (who, in the throes of ecstasy, speaks Portuguese). The only way this scene works in this day and age: Woodcock fucks her in the ass. There are also squandered supporting turns from Amy Poehler, Melissa Leo and Ethan Suplee, but only Leo seems to be having any fun (she plays Woodcock’s way oversexed ex-wife).
Pity Gillespie, then, who presumably took this gig to segue out of commercials – he was responsible for this funny Smirnoff Ice campaign – into the anxiety-fraught world of studio filmmaking. Perhaps he can retroactively lobby the DGA for an Alan Smithee/Thomas Lee/Judas Booth one of these days. Why don’t you do him a favor and avoid this movie like you were planning on doing anyway?
Mr. Woodcock would’ve merited a 1.0 out of 10, but it gets docked .7 points for ripping off the "Philip touched me" gag from Shaun of the Dead. Seriously, it’s the same joke all the way down to Sarandon’s stunned reaction and Scott’s hasty retraction. Bastards.