Sometimes, even The A.V. Club isn’t impervious to the sexy allure of ostensible cultural garbage. Which is why there’s I Watched This On Purpose, our feature exploring the impulse to spend time with trashy-looking yet in some way irresistible entertainments, playing the long odds in hopes of a real reward—and a good time.
Cultural infamy: Critics rightfully eviscerated My Best Friend’s Girl as a perverse semi-remake of Cook’s last vehicle, the similarly reviled, equally gimmicky Good Luck Chuck. It scored an all-too-generous 34 on Metacritic and a 15 percent freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Our own Scott Tobias gave it a D+ and acidly wrote of Cook’s deplorable protagonist—who makes his living by being so obnoxious to the women he dates that they come screaming back to their ex-boyfriends, who pay Cook under the table for his services—“Under the layers of Cook’s faux-smug jerk persona, there may well be a genuine tool. If a guy makes his livelihood pretending to be a pig, then it may be difficult for him to stop oinking when he’s off the clock.” Actually, Dane Cook: Genuine Tool would be a good title for his next album.
Curiosity factor: I’ve long nursed a strange fascination with Cook. When I first saw him on Saturday Night Live, I was semi-impressed. No one would accuse him of profundity or innovation, but in the longest monologue in the show’s history, he struck me as a fairly solid observational comic.
Tales of Cook’s likeability and accessibility dominate his early press. According to his publicist, at least, Cook was a true man of the people, a tireless self-promoter who spent hours each day answering fan e-mails and pimping MySpace. So it’s a little ironic that Mr. Likeable is now, with the possible exception of Carlos Mencia and Larry The Cable Guy, the single most hated stand-up comic in the world.
Accusations of plagiarism have long dogged Cook, particularly the charge that he’s stolen material from the brilliant Louis C.K. He’s come to epitomize hackery and the reverse meritocracy not just in stand-up, but in entertainment as a whole. “You’re probably a Dane Cook fan” is one of the Internet’s most ubiquitous insults. He’s one of the most popular stand-ups in the world, and he afflicts audiences with movies, specials, and albums on an unconscionably regular basis; even his detractors concede that he casts a long shadow over pop culture. But he looms even larger as a symbol. It’s almost impressive that an overly caffeinated Everydude can inspire such vitriol. He’s gone from superstar next door to comedy antichrist.
Cook’s films have played a huge role in cultivating the public’s contempt for him. They’re uniformly terrible, yet I feel strangely obligated to see each one. Hell, I even subjected myself to the Commentary Track Of The Damned for Employee Of The Month. So last Christmas, I decided to forego the ancient Jewish custom of commemorating Jesus’ birth with a trip to Chinatown and a movie theater, and I decided to have what I called a “Douchemas,” celebrating the season in the most obnoxious manner possible.
The plan was to get a lot of junk food and malt liquor, then punish myself by watching a double feature of My Best Friend’s Girl and Death Race (which I actually hear isn’t that bad). I only made it to the malt liquor, junk food, and My Best Friend’s Girl part of the evening before passing out in a puddle of shame. While you were celebrating with your family and loved ones on the most specialest day of the year, I was luxuriating in self-hatred with some of the worst food and entertainment known to man.
So this column is less I Watched This On Purpose than I Re-Watched This On Purpose. I’m willingly subjecting myself to 112 more minutes of Dane Cook at his Dane Cookiest. Weep not for me, dear reader, for this is the life I chose—or rather, the life that chose me.
The viewing experience: My Best Friend’s Girl opens with its version of the money shot: Cook in action as the world’s most worst date, trying to sleaze his way into a woman’s pants following a nonstop parade of boorishness. The film pretty much exists for this scene. It’s the purest distillation of its premise, and an opportunity for the stunted pre-adolescents who constitute Cook’s core demographic to vicariously live out their puerile fantasies of being as horny, rude, insulting, and arrogant as they want toward the women they fear and desire equally. Best of all, they get to live it through the Danemeister (High five!) and console their consciences with the knowledge that all this douchebaggery is being done for the ostensibly good cause of reuniting victims with the kind of assholes who’d hire someone like Cook.
I’m not too proud to concede that the scene’s gleeful vulgarity brought me to the verge of mild amusement. It’s all downhill from there. While picking up his payment, Cook succinctly expresses his philosophy on attracting and repelling the opposite sex: “To get them to run, I make them think I’m shit. To get them to come, I make them think they’re shit.” Given Cook’s persona, casting him as a professional asshole is something of a no-brainer.
Aptly named My Best Friend’s Girl director Howard Deutch gave Cook free rein to improvise. Watching Cook riff his way through the ugly depths of misogyny, I was reminded of the Mr. Show sketch where David Cross gleefully tells college comic of the year Kedzie Matthews (filling in for Bob Odenkirk, who had to run some errands) to ad-lib away, inexplicably overjoyed by Matthews' campus-cutup improv. Confidence is the essence of Cook’s comedy and his appeal. He swaggers through his films and shows with a wholly unearned bravado that says, “This is the funniest fucking thing you’ve ever heard, and I am rocking your world even if you’re sitting there glaring at me.”
Ah, but under Cook’s asshole façade lies a soft, squishy center. When he sees a client cheating on his fiancé, he takes him aside and gives him a stern talking-to. Cook, you see, does bad things for the right reasons. Or something like that. This lets audiences have it both ways; they can revel in Cook’s sexism and transgressive shenanigans while still rooting for him.
Cook’s cynical take on relationships contrasts greatly with that of best friend Jason Biggs, a drip who calls his girlfriend (Kate Hudson) his “angel,” and in this scene, asks her to move in with him before they’ve even slept together:
As I mentioned in my Lower Learning review, “Jason Biggs is stuck playing the thankless Jason Biggs role of the hapless, long-suffering, good-hearted dope. I can easily imagine Biggs angrily yelling at his agent, ‘I’m tired of playing these Jason Biggs types! I want a decent role for once!’”
Distraught, Biggs resorts to hiring Cook to date Hudson, then destroy her psyche—you know, ’cause he loves her so much. Hudson takes the bait. After a pep talk from her roommate about she needs to “suck a few frogs” and “bang a whole shitload of dudes” and down a shitload of margaritas, Hudson goes to a strip club with Cook and proves she can be every bit as horny and repellent as her partner in debauchery. She’s hip to Cook’s game, but is into him anyway. Hudson throws herself at Cook, but since he’s an undercover mensch, he turns her down. Initially. Then she begins fucking Cook behind Biggs’ back, while her desperate ex tries to win her back through a campaign of kindness. When Biggs discovers that Cook and Hudson are screwing, he’s devastated, and so is Cook.
Seeking moral guidance, Cook visits his father (Alec Baldwin), a women’s-studies professor at a college populated almost exclusively by what appear to be education-crazed porn stars. Baldwin’s womyn-friendly façade hides a rampaging inner horndog:
After an unpromising start, My Best Friend’s Girl loses what little energy it’s developed, and turns serious and mopey in a leaden middle section that asks us to be emotionally invested in a love triangle between a huge asshole, a deeply shallow, curt, unpleasant woman, and a hapless dope. My Best Friend’s Girl lasts 112 fucking minutes. Yes, it takes Deutch and Doucheier more than half an hour longer to tell this stupid story than it took Noah Baumbach to dissect his parents’ agonizing divorce in The Squid And The Whale. It’d take even longer if not for the constant montage sequences.
Seventy minutes into this piece of shit, with 42 minutes left stretching before me as a veritable eternity, I started into boredom-induced free-associative mental rambling: “Man, how did they get Kate Hudson to look so fucking terrible? Why did I once find her charming and delightful? What was the last halfway decent film she appeared in? Almost Famous? That was nine long years ago. After this ends, I will have spent almost four hours watching this movie, four hours I will never get back. On my deathbed, will my greatest regret be the time I spent re-watching My Best Friend’s Girl? Am I wasting my life? Is it too late to go to a yeshiva?”
For a Dane Cook movie, My Best Friend’s Girl has vast, unnecessary oceans of plot. So when Cook learns that one of his creepy clients is marrying Hudson’s sister, a now-reformed Cook, awash in self-hatred and convinced that he isn’t worthy of even a woman as terrible as Hudson, decides to resurrect his über-asshole persona at the wedding so Hudson will break up with him and go back to Biggs. In this clip, slow-mo and Johnny Cash accomplish the seemingly impossible feat of making Cook seem borderline cool:
Cook works his magic and destroys the wedding (you know, ’cause he’s the kind of sensitive dude who sobs softly while watching Ghost) and succeeds in driving Hudson away. Throughout the third act, Cook sports the frowny face that is one of the two expressions in his acting arsenal (the other being a frathouse-ready self-satisfied smirk), but Hudson just can’t quit him. In the climax, she spots him out with a woman and verbally humiliates him, just as he did to her on their first date. They’re back on. A horrible man has been tamed by the love of a horrible woman. One can only imagine the obnoxious children they’ll have.
By this point, the Dane Cook movie is a curious little subgenre onto itself. In both this and Good Luck Chuck, Cook plays a sleazy womanizer who’s secretly a conduit for true love. In both films, he plays a man whose sleazy, oversexed exterior masks the soul of a true romantic. Apparently that’s an appealing fantasy for at least a small portion of the filmgoing public. Dudes can live vicariously through the nonstop fuckfest that is his life (though he’s really just looking for the right woman), and women can pretend that behind Cook’s heavily moussed bad-boy demeanor lies a sensitive little boy whom they can save.
A second viewing of My Best Friend’s Girl might just have cured me of my Dane Cook fascination. It’s a brutal, pandering, unpalatable train wreck of glib, hateful, unfunny comedy and unconvincing romantic drama. I’ve always considered the Dane Cook backlash a little overblown and silly, but I’m starting to hate the guy.
How much of the viewing experience wasn’t a total waste of time? Four percent. I was on the verge of mild chuckles once or twice, but by the end I was starting to hate my life.