More I Watched This On Purpose
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: The debut feature from sketch-comedy troupe The Whitest Kids U’Know—or at least Zach Cregger and Trevor Moore, who wrote, directed, and star—Miss March currently ranks as Metacritic’s most poorly reviewed film of 2009, with an abysmal 7 out of 100. (It’s also currently the site’s #12 worst-reviewed movie of all time: It’s tied with The Hottie And The Nottie, and ranks as worse than Alone In The Dark, Battlefield Earth, and Baby Geniuses 2: Superbabies.) Many of the reviews cruelly turn the film’s poop jokes against it: “The biggest pile of crap I’ve seen in ages” (Stephanie Zacharek, Salon); “…sprays like an exploding colostomy bag for 89 minutes” (Melissa Anderson, L.A. Weekly); “excremental” (John Anderson, Variety, in the kindest review surveyed). In his D-grade review, our own Nathan Rabin gives credit to Craig Robinson’s performance as hip-hop impresario “Horsedick.MPEG,” but says that his work is “all that stands between Miss March and complete worthlessness.”
Curiosity factor: Blame Screwballs. My recent review of the “Canuxsploitation” classic from 1983 not only provoked some embarrassing nostalgia for an adolescence spent flipping through lame sex comedies like The Malibu Bikini Shop and Fraternity Vacation, it also had me thinking they could be sweet, funny, and kind of sexy, too. With enough innocence and self-deprecation to counterbalance the frat-guy misogyny inherent in the genre, the sexcapades of horny teenage boys could, in fact, be a lot of fun. Perhaps the same prudish critics who dismissed Screwballs as just another quick Porky’s cash-in—which it was, though it was better than most—were wrong to decry Miss March as sexist garbage.
The second curiosity factor: What does the consensus worst film of 2009 look like? Because when someone declares a film the “worst” of anything, half the time, its alienating qualities make it compelling to me. In fact, I made that very point in my positive review of Vincent Gallo’s The Brown Bunny, which Roger Ebert called the worst film ever to screen in competition at Cannes. (He reversed course after it was re-cut.) Even Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, though indisputably awful, only earns that “worst ever” title for being more fun to watch than its equally inept also-rans. Granted, the response to Miss March in no way suggested an auteur misfire like Gallo’s, much less Wood’s disarming Z-grade incompetence, but being the worst of the worst takes special effort (or anti-effort), and so long as it doesn’t feature starring turns by Paris Hilton or Jenny McCarthy, I’m always interested to see just what the hell happened.
The viewing experience: Much as I’d like to declare Miss March a misunderstood sex comedy in the Screwballs tradition—or perhaps one of those offbeat sketch-troupe gems, like Kids In The Hall: Brain Candy, or Broken Lizard’s Beerfest, or the good parts of Run Ronnie Run!, which tend to whisk past critics like dog whistles—it’s every bit as risible as its reputation suggests. Though I wasn’t a fan of The House Bunny, another Playboy-inspired comedy with a gratuitous Hugh Hefner cameo, Miss March made me appreciate how far a skilled comedian like Anna Faris could take a movie that might have been a dumb, mean-spirited, Revenge Of The Nerds clone without her. Cregger and Moore don’t have a talent of Faris’ caliber to give their viciously sexist comedy any cover; they only have themselves, starring as a Mutt-and-Jeff team that’s excruciatingly dull on one end, and excruciatingly obnoxious on the other. They have chemistry together, in much the same way that an acid has chemistry with a base.
Cregger and Moore play best friends of divergent sexual interest: Cregger wants to save himself for that special someone, and preaches abstinence to bored students; Moore, on the other hand, is a slobbering horndog who devotes so much thought to T&A that he doesn’t know how to relate to women. (When Moore finally finds one who isn’t turned off by his boorishness and his perpetual humina-humina-humina expression, she’s a keeper. Mildly psychotic, like most of the other women in the movie, but a keeper.) On prom night, Cregger’s smoking-hot girlfriend (Raquel Alessi) insists that he finally end their two-and-a-half-year purity promise, but the ever-mischievous Moore gets him wasted before he can consummate his love. After falling down a flight of stairs, Cregger sinks into a Rip Van Winkle coma for four years; ever the trusty sidekick, Moore brings him back to consciousness by whapping him in the head with a baseball bat, but the coma has left his body atrophied, and he can’t control his bodily functions. Enjoy the first of several atrophy-related poop jokes:
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Of course, Cregger awakes to discover that Alessi has not only lost her virginity in the interim, but is a Playboy centerfold who enjoys sex on the beach—the fornicating, not the beverage. Thus begins Cregger and Moore’s cross-country journey to the Playboy Mansion, where Cregger presumably intends to confront Alessi for failing to squander her young-adulthood by his bedside, waiting for the day when he can bore her again. As it happens, Moore needs to get out of town, too: His epileptic girlfriend (Molly Stanton), while cool with his Jim Carrey-meets-unneutered-Spuds MacKenzie routine, doesn’t enjoy getting stabbed repeatedly in the face with a fork. (Why he stabs her with a fork is too labored to explain, but it involves a stripper pole, oral sex, and strobe lights.)
Though Miss March has ample opportunity to poke fun at its heroes’ caveman attitudes, it instead posits them as the stars of one long, raunchy beer commercial, punctuated by gross-out gags that went out of style after the last There’s Something About Mary washed up a decade ago. This is a surprisingly angry film, and not in a righteous way: Cregger and Moore both feel wronged by their ex-girlfriends while being entirely at fault, and until they recognize that, they (and we) see the world through belligerent-whore-colored glasses. Robinson’s turn as Horsedick.MPEG provides some relief, if only because of his laidback assurance, but his character’s insistence that people mustn’t call him “Horsedick” without the “MPEG” is but one example of the film’s reliance on running jokes that weren’t funny the first time. (Others: Cregger’s loose bowels, the firemen stalkers who keep throwing axes at Cregger and Moore, horny Slavic lesbians who are constantly pawing at each other, et al.)
Needless to say, Miss March is aimed squarely at the sniggering 13-year-old boy in all of us—the one who can’t get enough of fake boobs and potty humor (a centerfold drinks dog pee, and likes it!), and thinks the Playboy Mansion is the holy shrine of poontang, instead of the headquarters of a creepy, ossified icon and his failing empire. (Both this film and The House Bunny spend a lot of precious screentime genuflecting before Hef, which suggests that Playboy still commands a high price for its intellectual property.) But Moore leaves the biggest impression—his bug-eyed expressions could either be likened to Matthew Lillard in Scooby-Doo, or Carrey before he went legit. Here’s 20 seconds of him reacting to a potential paramour who’s just been bounced out a bus window. Enjoy:
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How much of the experience wasn’t a total waste of time: 5 percent. Robinson’s first appearance at least displays some comic professionalism, if not exactly gut-busting hilarity, and the boys eventually learn that women aren’t horrible, disloyal, psychotic shrews, so that counts as growth. Otherwise, Miss March deserves every fecal-themed critical barb lobbed in its direction.