Date Movie is the first film I’ve ever seen in a theatre where I felt like not just leaving, but maybe setting the print on fire on my way out.
Sometime during the movie, I fell asleep out of self-defense. It had worked once when I accidentally had to sit through Godzilla a second time. But I wasn’t sleepy enough, and I couldn’t make it stick.
I had my teeth scraped a few weeks ago by a dental hygienist on whose ancestral graves I had, apparently, unwittingly urinated. She was vindictive, brutal, and, like sadists and abusers everywhere, gleefully willing to turn responsibility for my pain back on my head: “You know why it’s like this? It’s because you don’t floss.” This said as she was picking under my gums with a metal hook.
Man, I’d rather do that again than see Date Movie. At least I would come away with clean teeth instead of a dirty soul.
Take the movie’s first ten minutes, in which Alyson Hannigan-in-a-fat-suit (an actress, judging by the script’s treatment of her, wholly different from Alyson Hannigan) dances in the street to the Kelis song “Milkshake,” coming on like a bitch on heat to every man she sees. Of course, her fat makes them retch. Literally. Her fatness is so unbecoming that even a fat man would rather be with another fat man than with her.
It’s possible — we could, if we were charitable, read into it that — this is merely taking to extremes what a normal “makeover” romantic comedy does, defining its character as unappealing in order to make her later swan self more dazzling. Films have certainly played with these conventions before, most notably and controversially in another fat-suit movie, Shallow Hal. But where Hal goes out of its way to make viewers aware that it is tweaking their body prejudices rather than exploiting them — by, for example, presenting handicapped characters in a respectful, straightforward, yet unpityingly funny way — Date Movie is simply playing the fat girl for laughs. Well, “laughs” is a stretch. Actually, it’s an outright lie. But the filmmakers clearly want us to laugh at a fat girl trying to be sexy. While the Farrelly Bros. make us cringe at our willingness to laugh when an oversize Gwyneth Paltrow crushes a lounge chair by making her a sympathetic and interesting character, the writers here (Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer) desperately beg us to laugh at her (actually quite athletic) movements and their unintended results.
The fat theme is dropped early in the film, but the writers’ evident disgust with the human body continues, malignant and unchecked, which explains why almost nothing in this film is funny.
I should say here that the mere fact of being in a theatre normally makes me much more receptive to movies, and especially comedies. Partly it’s the focus — it’s easier to get me to laugh when I’m not distracted by other things — and partly the comraderie factor, but mostly it’s a deeply rooted feeling left over from childhood that what happens in a theater is special. I don’t lose my critical faculties when the lights go down, and I may be more critical of a film’s flaws when I leave, but it’s fair to say that even if I’m not really enjoying a movie in the theatre I’ll laugh easily at its jokes and be concerned for the resolution of its plot.
I’m willing to be shocked into laughing, and I’m willing to laugh at cleverly packaged cliches instead of true wit, and I’ll giggle like a little boy at slapstick. I laugh a lot, and loudly, and I like to laugh at movies. Even a movie I expect to be bad (like Meet the Fockers or Rumor Has It) will generally get the benefit of the doubt for a reel or two.
So what does it say that during the opening 20 minutes or so of Date Movie I was desperately, hungrily searching for things to laugh at — and yet couldn’t laugh at all?
This is a bad, bad movie.
Body disgust ruins almost every scene of the film. At every turn, we are asked to be both revolted and amused — yet revulsion almost always wins out, in large part because the filmmakers seem incapable of framing something like, say, body hair in an objective or ironic way. But detachment is exactly what makes something personal like body hair funny. Consider, for example, last year’s Forty-Year-Old Virgin and its well-known waxing scene. The scene is funny for two reasons — first, because the initial reveal of Steve Carrell’s hairy chest is handled with some decorum and restraint (a modest medium shot rather than a goggling close-up), and second, because the reveal isn’t really the gag. Even the waxing isn’t really the gag. What’s really funny in the scene is the interplay between the reactions of Carrell and the woman doing the waxing.
By contrast, body hair incidents in Date Movie — there are several — are usually treated as the primary gag, and the writers mistakenly rely, over and over, on excess and disgust to try to force a laugh. But it doesn’t work. And that’s unfortunately, because that strategy undermines what could be some funny bits — for example, when Tony Cox’s “date doctor” character takes his ugly duckling to, not a hairdresser or spa, but the “Pimp My Ride” garage. That’s a funny idea, and it got a laugh out of the audience I was with, but apart from one excellent visual joke involving a flip-screen TV, the whole thing falls flat, as the writers and director consistently go for the gag reflex instead of actual gags.
The “date doctor,” a rip on Hitch, is an even worse example of revulsion trumping humor. Tony Cox has been making an apparently comfortable living burrowing deeper and deeper into the pigeon-hole of “foul-mouthed little person.” He’s been around forever, but it’s fair to say that this persona crystallized for the public in the Farrellys’ Me, Myself, and Irene — where, again, it was used as part of a strategy to challenge our ideas about what a dwarf could be onscreen. But the shock has worn off, and nowadays hip producers in Hollywood seems ready to use Cox as a kind of pre-fab prop; he has appeared in Bad Santa, the usually more astute Rescue Me, and now this, always playing a variation on the same character, and always relying on profanity and unpleasantness rather than real character work.
And here the real squeamishness and disgust with humanity becomes apparent, because, aside from the Pimp My Ride moment, there is literally nothing funny about anything Cox is given to say or do in the film. The writers don’t even try to give him funny lines or bits. But he’s black, and Will Smith is black, right? so we can make him a character called “Hitch,” and because he’s a dwarf, that’s funny. Also, he’ll swear a lot. Yeah. An unappealing, swearing black dwarf — that’ll be funny. Does it really make fun of, undermine, or subvert Smith’s character? Who cares? Angry dwarves are funny, dammit!
Perhaps the most primal revulsion the writers can’t seem to avoid revolves around food. There is nothing pleasant about food in this film. We know we’re in trouble early on when, in a spoof on the Windex bit from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the main character’s father carries around a spray bottle of hummus, applying it to all problems great and small.
But the hatefulness surrounding both food and the human body reaches an apex in the scene introducing Australian pop star Sophie Monk, a near-pornographic adoration of her lean, bronzed body. The scene is actually well-done, for the most part — it’s familiar but effective, and also, for the most part funny, in exactly the way it’s supposed to be: Alyson Hannigan’s character shrinks in jealousy and insecurity, and the scene even knows how to top itself — suddenly, out of nowhere, an SUV appears, and she begins washing it. It’s ludicrous and it made me laugh. But then, just as suddenly, the rags in her hands become giant, sloppy burgers, and she wipes the windshield with them, and then takes a big, nasty bite. In comparison to the rest of this film, it’s not an ineffective moment; it’s silly enough to get a laugh. But it breaks the mood that had been building, and again relies on the gross-out for a laugh. More to the point, it shows the writers are, like a couple of 12-year-olds, uncomfortable not only with fat, hairy bodies, but with smooth, sexy ones as well. So they undermine this one with the worst thing they can think of — to show it eating. Weird. Weird and unfortunate.
There are some very funny movies and shows about our discomfort around body hair, little people, fat, and the rest of it. (In particular, I recommend the above-mentioned Virgin and also several episodes of the first season of Denis Leary and Peter Tolan’s Rescue Me in which the Mike character falls in love with a fat bulemic.) Date Movie is just a dog.