Observe and Report

Posted on September 22, 2009 at 7:00 am

I have no affection for this movie but I have to admit to a grudging admiration for its willingness to be awkward, intrusive, and disturbing. A stark contrast to the similarly-themed and similarly plotted Paul Blart Mall Cop of just three months ago, this could easily have been a raunchier take on the same easy targets — mall shops, mall music, mall food, and mall shoppers as a proxy for an America that is soft in the middle and narcotized by things that can be bought by credit cards.

But writer/director Jody Hall (of the cult favorite “The Foot Fist Way”) makes comic movies with so much edge they can give you a paper cut. He does not go for the easy laugh that makes you feel good about yourself, you know, the one that lulls audiences into thinking that their families are not dysfunctional, just quirky, and that their pain makes them authentic and charming. This movie is funny but it is upsetting and very dark.

The overall structure of the movie is very much like the mall cop movie of just three months ago, “Paul Blart.” Both are about would-be policemen who take our their frustration with petty enforcements when they are not mooning over a pretty mall employee.

But where “Paul Blart” was cute and gentle, “Observe and Report” is harsh and bleak. There are no cheery pop songs on the soundtrack to let us know they are just kidding. And there is not much in the way of lessons learned or getting in touch with the life force. Seth Rogen plays Ronnie, a sad, lonely, and angry man who is borderline delusional. He lives with his alcoholic mother. He yearns for Brandi (a fearless Anna Faris), who works at a department store cosmetics counter. He bitterly resents Detective Henderson (Ray Liotta), who is assigned to investigate reports of a flasher who has been harassing women in the parking lot. In a subversion of the usual movie tropes, he decides to ride to the occasion and resolve the flasher case himself as a way of proving himself. But his instincts are skewed and he makes a series of poor judgments and expensive mistakes that are played for comedy.

Rogen, Faris, Celia Weston as Ronnie’s mother, and Michael Pena as his second in command manage the difficult material well, but Hall is more adept as writer (and selector of esoteric songs for the soundtrack) than as a director. The tone may be even more harsh than intended just due to an uncertain control of narrative and character. Hill says he was inspired by Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” and “King of Comedy,” but he needs to do a bit more observing and reporting of his own to make sure he understands what makes those movies work.

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Is there a Date Rape Joke in ‘Observe and Report?’

Posted on April 12, 2009 at 1:00 pm

Observe and Report is a bleak, harsh, disturbing, violent, and transgressive movie about a mall security guard who is often delusional. Billed as a comedy, it has some funny moments, though most of the laughs come from outrageousness rather than wit. While on this site the comments have mostly focused on the nudity in the film (extended and very explicit footage of a male flasher), elsewhere there has been a lot of focus on another issue.
In the midst of a frankly and unabashedly offensive film, one moment has attracted a lot of attention. Ronnie, the movie’s leading character has gone on what he thinks of as a date with Brandi, a woman who works at a department store cosmetic counter at the mall. She thinks of it less as a date than as a free meal, and she quickly gets high on alcohol and his prescription medication. By the time he takes her home, she is close to unconscious. At her doorway, she throws up and he declares passionately, “I accept you” and kisses her. Cut to the two of them having sex. She has apparently passed out. He hesitates, and without moving, she (with strong profanity) urges him to continue. Does this, as some people say, make the sex consensual? Or, given how impaired the character is, can there be such a thing as consent? Is this scene so much more offensive than the rest of the film, which includes extreme, graphic, gratuitous and consequenceless violence and a substance-abusing mother whose biggest laugh line may be when she casually confides that she used to sleep with all her son’s friends in high school?
The members of the Association of Women Film Journalists have an online discussion about whether this scene is a date rape joke. Katey Rich of Cinemablend says:
Is date rape funny? Of course not. But Observe and Report is a movie that gets laughs when its main character hits children, does heavy drugs, makes racist jabs and shoots a harmless man in the chest at point blank range. The date rape scene is just one of many, many awful things that Ronnie does, and the scene is so powerful and, yes, funny, because it’s such a huge moment of crossing the line.
I do worry that people will see the movie and think “Oh, she’s giving consent, it’s fine!” But I don’t think that’s the point- Jody Hill and Seth Rogen are making a satire about American masculinity and specifically about this deranged character, and they don’t support half of what he does.


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