Sunday, October 30, 2016

Mr. Right, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, and Now You See Me 2

Long flights are an opportunity to watch forgotten movies, ranging from the "truly terrible" to the "so bad it's good" to the "weird, lost gems." Being adventurous here can let you see some Films That Time Forgot or at least soon everyone will.

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to see a triple feature of modern comedy.

First off was some straight to DVD fare "Mr Right."

It's a romantic comedy about a hitman, with not one second of quasi-serious soul-searching about "wow violence is terrible" or "we have killed a lot of people". It's 100% complete "yay the boy and girl get together" and "yay the bad guys are shot." Both of which are power fantasies of a sort, but when a movie gives itself so wholly into the fantasy, we can see through it more easily to some of the weird rules about such a world, where romcom love is a parallel for action movie violence.

For instance, Mr Right combines the action-trope of "bullet time" where the hero can see time slow down and avoid deadly attacks, with romance slow-motion where boy and girl feel how special this moment his. This means their love diagetically gives them super powers that allow them to defeat other assassins.

For another, one issue with romantic comedies is how much the characters cross moral lines, disregarding boundaries and otherwise acting in ways that make us question whether they are good people. In Mr Right, the main character's romantic-creepiness is very directly combined with "well yes he is a hitman" and we move pretty quickly beyond morality in judging these characters. These are not good people, but it doesn't mean they can't be sympathetic people. (The nemesis gives a psychological profile of the hitman's interest in love that is... pretty much spot on, all the way up to describing their meet-cute.)

The movie also played with the trope of ex-hitmen having a "moral code" that justifies their violence. The unnamed protagonist here now assassinates anyone who tries to hire him for a job because "murder's wrong". This is a laughable moral code that every character responds to with "that makes no sense" (including the hitman himself.) It's also a code that would make him easily manipulable into doing evil, which is in fact the plot of the villains. He only escapes at the end because he finds a higher calling than a simplistic moral code.

Romcoms with a side of action aren't that uncommon actually, and usually climax with the girl coming to terms with the violence of her boyfriend's life after he heroically saves her, and them probably moving to some farm where he'll never be violent again. Mr Right actually has the girl seduced by the action, where early on she weighs his hitman side as one flaw to accept in an otherwise perfect boyfriend. Then over time she comes to laugh at and enjoy the violence, a la Vanessa in Daredevil. It goes beyond that into Anna Kendrick's character gleefully killing her kidnappers and declaring "I'm a T-Rex dammit", tapping into violent impulses that female characters (especially actually feminine ones) so rarely get to express. It's kind of like the violence inherent in Gillian Flynn's female characters (such as in Gone Girl) that she wants to express.
I was not a nice little girl. My favorite summertime hobby was stunning ants and feeding them to spiders. ... Camille’s mother was inspired by my love of Brothers Grimm as a child: Screw the blonde, gentle heroines, it was those wicked queens and evil stepmothers I adored. 
There's also a bunch of charmingly portrayed side characters, such as adorable hitman Steve, the villain played by Tim Roth enjoying exaggerating various accents, and the mob boss Richie who portrays a ball of anger that has been to therapy and is functionally controlling his anger now. (In fact, "mob boss dealing with his anger issues through formalized therapy" is so common it's almost cliche now.)


On the "so bad it's good maybe" part of the triplet, would be "Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates". At least this one got some heavy advertising for its theatrical release.

The message of this trailer (which pretty accurately captures the theme of the whole movie) is that both men and women fear being labelled as lower class. The women hate themselves because they aren't "nice girls" and the men can't stand their family seeing them as "losers", both of which are heavily keyed around class appearances (like dress and vocabulary.)

In order to accomplish this, they must pretend to the other gender to be upper class, instead of the earthy hedonists they really are.

Also of note is the use of minorities as the upper class figure (in the boring stockbrocker fiance who is black, and the over-competitive shallow cousin who is a bisexual predator), which seems to be common in other comedies trying to talk about class dynamics without making it into white-vs-black (such as Kingsmen). Of course nothing so weighty can be swept under the rug, so you get this sort of "actually those cosmopolitan minorities are the ones in charge now" which is sometimes portrayed positively and sometimes negatively.


Now You See Me 2 falls firmly in the "terrible" category, but deserves its own full post, alongside the first and largely forgotten Now You See Me.

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