The Film: Observe and Report (2009)
The Principals: Seth Rogen, Anna Farris, Michael Pena, Ray Liotta, Collette Wolfe, Celia Weston, Jesse Plemons, Jody Hill (director)
The Premise: The head of mall security (Rogen) is in love with a pretty make-up lady (Anna Farris), and sees purpose come into his life when a flasher begins to terrorize his mall. All of this is true, but also the main character Ronnie Barnhart is functionally insane.
Is It Good?: I was motivated to watch this movie again because of the release of The Green Hornet, and this film has – strangely – turned into comfort food. But also because I recently saw Super (which I am under embargo about), which intentionally or unintentionally mines similar subject matter.
To me the premise of Observe and Report is: “What if we were to do Taxi Driver as an out and out comedy?” It’s also interesting to watch this film shortly after the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, which only enhances the film’s greatness. The film is told from the perspective of Ronnie, who is a virginal guy who seems to work a lot of things out by being into his job and into guns. He’s always had a crush on Brandi (Farris), but his game is pathetic. Their night out together is the ultimate version of the “grosser than gross” jokes my friends would trade on the playground. It starts with him wearing a Bel-Biv-Devoe based outfit, and ends with him having sex with Brandi while she’s barely conscious. This was the sequence – featured in trailers – that turned a lot of audiences off the film. But focusing on that misses the great point of the movie, just as people who got obsessed with the idea that Ronnie couldn’t beat the crap out of crack dealers would suggest – much like with Taxi Driver – that part of the narrative didn’t happen. In the world of the film (a heightened reality of some sorts) of course Ronnie can do all these things. That’s the joke. The film is partly taking place in his mind, which is why his fight scenes come with music from the Flash Gordon soundtrack. But there’s also a level to which the film allows itself room to comment on what’s happening – when Ronnie runs through the mall after the flasher, The Pixies’ “Where is My Mind” is playing, and it both comments on the action, but also is the perfect soundtrack choice for the violent, somewhat playful but most notably insane capper to the film.
For me this is just one of those films that’s a taste barometer. If you like it, I think you’re cooler, and if you don’t like it, I’m going to “oh…” It’s one of those films that either clicks for you or doesn’t. And I get why it wouldn’t, it delights in its transgressions, so much so that many people cheer when Ronnie punches a guy who’s completely innocent of anything but Ronnie not liking him (partly because Ronnie is a racist). But when I look back at 2009, when I look at Inglourious Basterds, and The Hurt Locker, Avatar and Watchmen, I think this is my favorite film of that year.
And I think that’s enhanced partly – though the film is apolitical – in the sense that Ronnie seems like a perfect representation of an element of the Tea Party movement. Gun crazy, Ronnie believes in a code that’s partly biblical and partly invented by him.
Is It Worth a Look: Big time. Hill knows his way around a camera, but the thing that takes the movie over the top for me is the music cues. Also, the supporting cast in this is insane. Celia Weston is brilliant as Ronnie’s alcoholic mother, Pena kills as Ronnie’s second in command, and Ray Liotta finds the exact right ways to play his annoyed cop.
Random Anecdotes: When I last interviewed Hill I thanked him for making the film. This film introduced “boom” into my vocabulary (I use it sparingly).