Film & TV, The Muse

Spread eagle with Zack and Miri

Viewers who go into director Kevin Smith’s latest offering Zack and Miri Make a Porno thinking that the film’s rather straightforward title is a clever marketing ploy will be in for quite a surprise when the aforementioned Zack and Miri make good on their promise. But if those same viewers think that this means Zack and Miri is just another mindless sex comedy, they’re in for another surprise. Because while Zack and Miri’s mind may be in the gutter, its heart is in the right place.
The film stars Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks as Zack and Miri, two penniless friends who come to realize that they could pay off their delinquent water and electric bills by, well, making a porno. After recruiting Zack’s friend Delaney (Craig Robinson) to produce and several ‘actors’ (including Smith regular Jason Mewes), they’re well on their way to making their harebrained scheme come to fruition. But the production soon runs amok when Zack and Miri realize the feelings they have had for each other since high school.
Rogen has such a natural, average-Joe charm that it’s difficult not to empathize with him. Banks deftly handles Smith’s dialogue like an old pro and serves as a great counterweight to Rogen. But it’s the supporting cast who really shines, as both Robinson and Mewes steal almost every scene they’re in ‘-‘- as they’ve tended to do in their earlier outings.
Smith does a great job of seamlessly weaving together his distinct brand of humor with a serious look at human relationships. Smith makes his point by treating sex liberally and humorously, but contrasts it with the actual love that grows between Zack and Miri, which he treats seriously. While there is gross-out humor aplenty, it never panders and the more serious aspects of the story don’t feel forced or shoehorned on. The pornographic production serves to give the film its comedic tone while also acting as a vehicle for the love story. It’s almost paradoxical ‘-‘- a dumb comedy shouldn’t inspire this much thinking and a serious film shouldn’t be this funny. Yet Smith’s script really delivers both.
That’s not to say the film isn’t without its flaws. Some jokes fall flat, and the first 20 minutes are almost uncomfortably awkward. Smith’s camera work, never his strong suit, won’t be making film students drool anytime soon. The appearance of actors normally associated with Hollywood’s other big-name comedic director Judd Apatow (Rogen and Robinson), give the film a tone closer to Knocked Up than Clerks or Dogma. And the movie gets so raunchy at some points that it’s not really a surprise that the MPAA originally gave it an NC-17 rating before eventually knocking it down to an R. But then again, if someone still thought the film would be family-friendly after hearing the title, its doubtful this warning would be enough to scare them away.
For Smith, Zack and Miri marks a big departure in terms of his storytelling. With the exception of the critically panned box office failure Jersey Girl, every film he has made thus far has featured his famous stoner duo Jay and Silent Bob, played by Mewes and himself. Many thought that it was impossible for Smith to make a successful film without relying on these characters, but he has proved the naysayers wrong with Zack and Miri. It’s dirty, crude, obscene and downright hilarious ‘-‘- a guilty pleasure that redeems itself with sharp dialogue and a fresh perspective on the love story. What ultimately sets Zach and Miri apart from the imitators is Smith’s ability to mix the bad with the good, the comedy with the drama, and the vulgar with the sublime.

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