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Toy Story 3 and Get Him To the Greek – Movie Commentary

 

HOLLYWOOD DOES IT RIGHT, FOR TWICE

 

picture - Toy Story 3Movie Commentary

by John Topping

published June 19, 2010 

 

Toy Story 3

rated G

+ 

Get Him To the Greek

rated R

both now playing nationwide

 

It may not seem at first glance that Toy Story 3 and Get Him To The Greek have much in common.  One is a G-rated animated film tailored for the whole family, the other is an R-rated live action comedy with vomit, profanity, and lots and lots of drug use.  But both are mainstream Hollywood comedies, and we are going to think within those parameters when I call them the two best films of the year so far.  Calm down, cinephiles!  I'm not including foreign or independent films of any kind, or even dramatic Hollywood fare, so Mother and Child, Un Prophete (A Prophet), and The Ghost Writer – I love ya, babes, but go find another article.

 

picture - Get Him To The GreekI can't remember the last time I laughed so much and so consistently as watching Get Him To The Greek, to the point that I feared I was damaging my vocal chords.  To my amazement, it was based on characters from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, one of the worst comedies ever made – or so I assume, since it was so painfully unwatchable that I couldn't endure it beyond the first 30 minutes.  Though it may still be millennia before we understand the cosmic purpose of cockroaches, lice, and other seemingly meaningless scourges, the comedy gods have revealed the purpose behind that cinematic blight – so that Greek may be born (it's even the same director!).  It's also a surprisingly satisfying payoff for putting up with Jonah Hill's habit of popping up in countless cameos of unfunny comedies (such as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, wherein he played a different character than here).

 

It is because I can get so easily suckered into seeing Yet Another Hollywood Comedy That Isn't Funny that there is a knee-jerk reaction to "knowing" it's a film I'm uninterested in based solely on the billboards.  And when I find myself suffering through yet another one – and this is true with many Hollywood films, not just comedies – I always find myself asking, "They have the talent and the money.  Why don't they just take a few extra weeks before production starts to get a screenplay into shape and make a quality product?"  Instead, way too often, top comedy stars routinely get films greenlighted with the expectation that comedy gold will be improvised on the set – and they usually make money, but it's always a formula for a terrible film. 

 

Being the story of a music industry employee (Hill) assigned to get a drug-addled rock star (Russell Brand) from his London home to a New York TV appearance to a concert at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles within 72 hours, the film makes its mission statement early on during a company meeting where the boss (Sean Combs in his best performance) is fielding ideas from his minions for a "game changer" that will bring in some fresh, much-needed money.  Instead of creating a product-by-committee that will be artistically empty, Hill suggests fostering the comeback of a true artist, making money by marketing actual quality.  (Incidentally, that meeting, a wonderfully extended and hilarious scene that demonstrates the film's utter confidence in itself, happens early enough that, if you're not laughing, go and get your money back or see a different movie – it ain't for you.)

 

And, for the most part, the film lives by this credo of deserving its own success.  The screenplay is well-developed instead of roughly sketched out; Hill, though a natural screen presence, gets the acting coaching he needs to create a deeper character than he ever has thus far; the obligatory vomit scenes (required for comedies aimed heavily at a teen demographic) are convincingly integrated into the story; Brand as Aldous Snow, the rock star, is phenomenal; and all the comedy is heightened (and the film is enriched) by well-placed doses of dramatic relief.

 

Unfortunately, it's not perfect.  It occasionally crosses the line into typical mainstream over-the-topness – but not that often; most of the zaniness stays grounded and believable.  It ultimately loses some steam near the end, as if the production schedule demanded that story development stop and shooting begin.  And, being an entire generation after Ab Fab, comedy derived from being high on drugs is apparently now required to be tempered with a literally sobering anti-drug denouement.  But for the most part, it's an almost-uninterrupted delight, and unquestionably the funniest film of the year so far.

 

picture - Toy Story 3A mere two weeks after Greek's opening, Toy Story 3 already challenges it for that prestigious title, and comes damn close to achieving it.  However, if the award is for the combination of funniest and tightest, then TS3 wins hands down. 

 

Pixar could easily have cashed in with the third of their trilogy long ago, taking the same easy route that the Shrek franchise opted for, raking in quick bucks simply because it can with its name value.  But if making money is a certainty to begin with, I so often say while banging my head against the nearest wall, why not take the time to make a quality product?  How heartening it is that Pixar (I only recognize the latter part of the Disney • Pixar equation) continues to maintain their impeccable integrity.  It's been a full 11 years since the last Toy Story installment.  In between, they've bided their time with an output of (gasp!) original, high quality entertainment.  I certainly like some Pixar films more than others, but they have not produced a single one yet that could be called bad – unless you're talking in a 70s vernacular.

 

One wonders to what extent their integrity was planned to release the film in real-enough time for Andy, the child owner of the toys, to grow up, go to college, and leave them behind altogether.  That is the premise of 3, as Woody the toy cowboy struggles to hold all the toys to the allegiance of belonging to Andy, while the rest of them remain convinced that they're considered trash and try to make the best of their new lives in a daycare center.   It is ironic that what may well be the ultimate product placement film – familiar toys from childhood are the main characters – is also one of the most emotionally rich works to come from mainstream Hollywood (don't forget the parameters we set at the beginning here) – or does Pixar's being stationed in the Bay Area play a role in that?  Despite some surprising repetitiveness (okay, Woody, you're of the mind that you all belong to Andy; we get it), it is for the most part endlessly inventive, hilariously funny, and indescribably delightful.

 

ADDENDUM 1:  Pixar has established the tradition of preceding each of their features with a short, and the one shown before Toy Story 3 is an instant classic.  "Day and Night" is a brilliant rendering of two globular characters in bold outline who simultaneously inhabit the same space but in opposite time zones.  As they interact, their emotional world is reflected and illustrated within their cartoony outlines.  It's very trippy, inventive, witty, and amazing.  An absolute must-see for anyone who appreciates animation.

 

ADDENDUM 2:  If you see TS3 at the El Capitan theater in Hollywood, the steep price of admission includes a visit afterwards to their Fun Zone a short walk away, created just for this event.  Click here to see pictures of the mildly amusing Fun Zone.

 

johntopping @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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