Over the last few days I’ve heard two things about Observe & Report, the latest Seth Rogen film:
- it’s really, really great;
- it’s possibly in trouble.
And of course the trouble – in the form of test numbers that make the studio nervous – comes from exactly what makes the film great. We may be seeing yet another movie whose very specialness stumps the studio.
Observe & Report is Jody Hill’s follow-up to the incredible Foot Fist Way (which I just watched again tonight at the New Beverly Cinema as part of Patton Oswalt’s mini-festival), and everything I’m hearing is that it’s a huge step up for a director who started out very strongly. Seth Rogen plays a petty, totalitarian mall cop who is forced to work with a police detective (Ray Liotta) to find a flasher running amok. While Rogen usually plays the likable, pot smoking schlub, here he’s got a much darker character, described to me as a racist asshole (which really gibes with what I saw while visiting the set), a character that makes Foot Fist Way‘s Fred Simmons seem cuddly.
And that’s the problem. Besides the fact that Hill specializes in edgy, not obvious comedy (the punchlines aren’t pointed out or delivered in traditional ways, which has led some people to bizarrely claim that Foot Fist isn’t funny. It just isn’t a film with neon lights on its jokes), which is going to be hard for mall audiences to accept, Rogen is playing very against type. For serious film and comedy fans this is exciting, but the sweet guy from Knocked Up suddenly playing a douchebag is off-putting to the middle of the road types.
The film had a test screening in the Los Angeles area this weekend, and I spoke to a couple of people who saw the current cut. I haven’t seen it myself (although I wish I had gone), but I trust the opinions of these folks. It helps that they had the same take: this is a great film, but one that left half the test audience cold. The films that were mentioned in comparison to Observe & Report were Bad Santa, Taxi Driver (!) and Anchorman (in terms of intensity of laughs). One of my sources, a very non-PC type, said that some of the jokes made even him uncomfortable, which he loved. And the film apparently pushes the envelope not just in the comedy but in some violence, which includes a parody of the classic Oldboy hallway/hamer fight scene. Both of the people to whom I spoke tried not to oversell what they had seen, but both felt that it was an incredible film, magnitudes better and even funnier than Foot Fist.
It’s fitting that Bad Santa came up – that’s another film whose darkness caused problems with the studio,. I always wonder why this happens with films whose script offers every dark nook and cranny up for inspection. Do the suits think that things will get softened up on set? So they hope that during the making of the movie that edgy, almost ugly joke gets lightened up?
Whatever the case, here’s hoping that the Observe & Report that hits theaters is similar to the test cut, at least in terms of being Jody Hill’s vision. I know that everybody had to sign draconian NDAs, but if you saw the test screening this weekend, drop me a line – I am not looking for reviews to run on the site, but I am interested in hearing what more people thought of the film.
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