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This Week in Netflix: “Observe and Report” May 18, 2010

Posted by Skippy in Popular Culture.
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I think it’s official. I have really bad taste in movies.

I must confess: I have an inexplicable crush on Seth Rogen, and that is the only reason “Observe and Report” was in my queue.

So, anyway. I’m glad I looked this movie up on Rottentomatoes.com and read that this was supposed to be a “black comedy.” It was not advertised as such—-I swear, I have got to stop paying attention to movie commercials. I’ve been burned before:

Burn after seeing.

Observe and Report is quite similar to Burn After Reading; if you’re expecting a screwball comedy in the vein of There’s Something About Mary, you’re going to be quite disappointed. Observe and Report had its funny moments (an extended “fuck you” insult fest between Rogen and Aziz Ansari is pretty hilarious), but after a while, it’s clear that this is a movie that is supposed to be “edgy.” It straddles and occasionally crosses the line between satirical comedy and outright offensiveness. At the end, I thought that it was an intriguing, if not wholly successful examination of failure and success in American life.

Ronnie Barnhardt (Rogen) is a mall cop with massive delusions of grandeur. He treats the mall as if it is his kingdom, has a thoroughly unearned and unjustified swagger and is, essentially, a fascist in training. He’s a live-action Eric Cartman. He all but screams “RESPECT MAH AUTHORITAH!!” He is not a bright individual. Hell, in many scenes, he’s a downright racist, sexist, xenophobic imbecile. Ronnie is a male Sarah Palin in a mall. Such a character with so few redeeming qualities shouldn’t be sympathetic at all–especially when the plot turns on Ronnie’s desire to become a police officer. I found myself wondering why I sympathized with him when, in an objective sense, a person like him shouldn’t hold a billy club, much less a firearm.

Perhaps, as I watched this movie, I thought that this black comedy was a commentary on our society’s tendency to tell everyone that they’re “special” and that they can be anything they want to be. We all know a Ronnie: a person who doesn’t seem to possess any good sense and thinks that they can sing/dance/write/whatever. They have a mid-level job but treat it as though they’re the King of England—-they take their responsibilities so seriously, they suck the fun out of nearly everything. And yet, no one has the heart to say to this person, “You do realize you’re not as good at this as you think you are, don’t you?”

Exhibit A. Someone really should have told this poor creature “No.”

Ronnie doesn’t even listen when his clearly exasperated boss tries to get him to calm down and stop asking for stuff like actual firearms. The problem is, Ronnie has just enough sycophants to co-sign onto his craziness, that he wouldn’t listen to good reason anyway. Again, the weird thing was, I kinda wanted for Ronnie to succeed and become a cop—-well, again, only for the purposes of this movie.

Ronnie also has a crush on a cosmetics counter girl Brandi. This is NOT a typical movie romance. Not only does the main character not get the girl, the one date they do go on is, by any account, an unmitigated disaster. The aftermath of their date became one of some controversy.

Fig. 1: Is this happening? What is happening here? I’m not really seeing what I think I’m seeing, right?

The question was whether or not Ronnie date raped Brandi. During their disastrous “date,” she was drunk and took a lot of Ronnie’s antidepressants/bipolar medication. Clearly, she wasn’t in any position to give consent to sex. However, during the above pictured scene, Ronnie stops and asks if she’s okay, to which she responds, “Did I tell you to stop, motherfucker?!?” It is a scene of such uncomfortable ambiguity, that the viewer is confused as to just what in the hot hell is going on.

I think the genius—if it could be called that—of this movie is that I wound up thinking about Ronnie and what kind of American he represented long after the movie was over. He has a sense of frustrated entitlement and is an uncritical person. Ronnie is a violent person, a racist, and thoroughly clueless about, well, pretty much everything. However, at the character’s core is a desire to do the right thing—the problem is, he’s not smart enough to figure out that his own actions are hardly ever the “right” actions. Ever noticed how commercials and such present “average” Americans as salt-of-the-earth people who are Special Snowflakes? We love to think that we’ll “do the right thing”…and sometimes we do, but more often than not, we don’t. We love to say we’ve overcome racism—especially after Barack Obama became president, but we’re hardly the “post-racial” paradise we’d love to think we are.

Fig. 2: Oh, yes. We have totally overcome.

As a black comedy, Observe and Report also satirizes our sensationalistic media culture. The plot revolves around a guy who is flashing women at the mall. The local media seize upon this and turns it into a Very Big Incident. Ever noticed how your local news station will turn a story into an insanely Big Story? The barely competent helmet-haired talking head will gravely intone, “Do you know WHAT CHEMICAL YOU HAVE WILL KILL YOU? Find out at 11!” Of course, Ronnie takes it upon himself to apprehend this flasher—he thinks the local police are incompetent (which leads to Ronnie’s attempt to get into the police academy). He does eventually catch the flasher…and promptly shoots him. Yeah. Of course, this egregious act of violence passes without comment—Ronnie is regarded as a hero who has made the mall safe again. Ronnie finds his purpose, gets a girl (a woman who works at the Toast-a-Bun) and heartily tells the cops who mocked him to shove off. So…it’s a happy ending? Right?

As black comedies go, this one fits both bills—and is a helluva lot better than the aforementioned Burn After Reading.

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