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Scott Mendelson

Scott Mendelson

Posted April 11, 2009 | 10:30 PM (EST)

Observe and Report -- Yes, It's Date Rape, but It's Not Supposed to Be Funny (but the Movie Still Is)


Wow, from all the hub-hub about Observe and Report ($4.7 million opening day.. or about what people expected Paul Blart: Mall Cop to open with), you'd never guess that everyone is actually seeing The Hannah Montana Movie ($17 million opening day, about $40 million for the weekend).

MAJOR SPOILERS -

While anyone can like or dislike a film, I think certain critics and pundits who don't like the film are missing the fact that Ronnie is not supposed to be likable. He is a frighteningly obsessive, blindingly judgmental psychotic, and a racist to boot. And many of the other characters are unlikable too. Frankly, I loved that Farris played the female lead without any redeeming qualities, as it was a nice spoof on the idealized dream girl, or the comfortably 'bitchy' drama queen who just wants to be loved. Those complaining that it was sexist for Melanie to be so horrible are missing the point - she is horrible and so is Ronnie.

The film has a very similar vibe to The Cable Guy. And once again a major star is being criticized for playing a character that is well outside the audience's comfort zone. What many people are missing is that, first of all, the very 'redemptive elements' that Ronnie achieves may just be in his imagination. It's open to debate, but (as friend and colleague Randy Shaffer first clued me into), there is evidence that the action climax and the mid-film drug dealer beat down were delusional fantasies. Second of all, most importantly, not everything that occurs onscreen is supposed to be funny. Just because it is a comedy doesn't mean that every moment is intended to be humorous. Also worth noting to those criticize Ronnie's alleged redemption is that Ronnie's behavior does not change in the course of the movie. It is only random circumstance that allows his behavior to be viewed in a new, heroic light at the end of the film (again, assuming that the climactic chase actually occurred in the film and not in Ronnie's head), which turns the film around and makes a judgment on the audience instead of just Ronnie.

As for the 'date rape' scene, it's pretty cut and dry date rape, especially from a legal point of view. The humor, if you choose to find it funny, comes from A) wow... he really is a loser and B) wow... he honestly thinks that he had a wonderfully romantic evening. It's perfectly logical in terms of how Ronnie sees the world (he of course thinks of it as a magical night). Audiences who watch the film and think 'that's awesome, he got her drunk/drugged up and had sex on her barely conscious, vomiting body' have their own issues. I'm pretty sure most intelligent folks will think 'he got her drunk and had sex on her barely conscious, vomiting body... that's sad and pathetic'. And even if they don't, that's not the responsibility of the filmmakers.

Whether or not Observe and Report is a good film is open to debate. But criticizing a black comedy/social satire for having unlikable characters, awkward situations, and uncomfortable material is awfully foolish.

Scott Mendelson