Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)

Kevin Smith is growing up; Traci Lords is a notorious porn legend; and Seth Rogen is goofy but not funny. These are all undeniable facts, and you can bash your head against the wall trying to object to this reality, or pretend it’s not there. It won’t change the fact that Kevin Smith is growing up; Traci … you get the idea. This movie has many such FACTS going against it – and many would love to see them different, but it’s just not possible. For example, I would love to see a movie where Seth Rogen is truly funny – and despite the best marketing campaigns out there – it just doesn’t happen – he remains a goof in every film. Yes, there is a difference, and I should know. I would also love to see Kevin write material that’s as fresh and sharp as Clerks and Mall Rats – but it’s just not going to happen – been there, done that. It belongs to another decade. So let’s all move on from the fact that another time, in another place, this could have been a much different movie. Perhaps funnier, perhaps more poignant. It’s not going to happen. Let’s enjoy it for what it really is.

Another issue I have with it is how the word ‘porno’ in the title is creating all kinds of promotional problems and knee-jerk reactions in people. Some of these people are film critics – who should know better. Especially after seeing last year’s infamous ‘Young People Fucking’ film. Coincidentally, that turned out to be a movie about young people having … various relationship problems after having been engaged in … physical intimacy. Have we learned anything? The title ‘Zack and Miri Make a Porno’ is supposed to be sensational. This does not necessarily mean the content of the film is scandalous – it could just be a gimmicky title, designed to get people into the theaters. Why bash the film based on the title? Why not see it for what it, and then make judgments?

The film actually surprises with insight more often than bashes with vulgarities, and it’s that perfect mix that you usually get from Kevin Smith. His signature dialogue and quirky characters that simply exist – they do not change, in fact actively refuse to change sometimes – they just exist, jumping in and out of situations. There’s no big picture approach, long-term motivation, character development. It’s situations, upon which entire relationships can be built – and maintained. Zack and Miri Make a Porno is not a social commentary or an observation of our society being bombarded with overtly sexualized images day after day. It is exactly about what it says it is – and if you accept that at the opening credits, you will enjoy yourself thoroughly.

As usual, the cast is amazing. Seth Rogen (presented for the zillionth time as the love interest, and a funny guy – which he is not) and Elizabeth Banks – who really deserves all the credit here playing the ‘just one of the guys’ girl throughout the film. They do make a great couple on screen, and whatever rom-com plot devices come at them – actually make sense. They have been friends and roommates for years – never overstepping those friendship boundaries (btw, another great concept – a fully-developed male-female friendship that works). But now they’re low on money, their low-income jobs aren’t getting the bills paid, and they need to make some dough – fast. They attend a school reunion where they meet a few former classmates (Justin Long – probably destroying his career with this over-the-top gay film director; and Brandon Routh – who’s really got anything better to do after Superman flop – so he might as well go ‘edgy’) who mention adult film business, and the easy money that keeps rolling in. So Zack and Miri have an idea – why not make a homemade porn flick, market it, and get enough cash to cover the big bills. It’s not an easy decision, and not a career choice – just something they need to do NOW to make sure they’re not spending this coming winter on the streets.

That’s all the plot you need to know. The crew, their challenges, and the resulting film are the heart of the movie – going from one hilarious scene to another. Having little experience in movie making – the couple find a strange crew to put together their film: Jeff Anderson (from many other Smith’s films) as the camera man with hockey games knowledge; Craig Robinson (from The Office) as the producer with nudity issues; Jason Mewes (another Smith alum) as one of the stars of the movie, and yes – Traci Lords shows up for a few scenes – and no, you will not find out what exactly she does in her scenes, unless you go see it at the theater. And last but not least, Katie Morgan – a real-life porn star – is also in this film. But guess what – the female characters are all written as if their past didn’t exist. Banks is not playing up the typical hot chick type; Lords is just a woman who needs some money to make ends meet, and Morgan – pretty much the same woman, only younger, who’s curious about the whole ‘homemade porn’ concept, and wants to try it out. In between the ‘movie’ scenes, all these people interact as if they are real-life friends, or co-workers, sharing issues, giving advice, throwing one-liners. The ‘making of the film’ is essentially reduced to a job, which is another great writing achievement for Kevin Smith – it’s funnier if you just take it for granted. “What are we doing today? A double-penetration with another oral scene later? Ok, I’ll go and put my make-up on.” It’s funny, even though the subject matter might be uncomfortable for some.

I imagine ‘Zack and Miri Make a Porno’ was not an easy movie to make (or promote) – how do you talk about the adult industry and still keep the tone and pace of a romantic comedy? How do you have two leads who know each other very well, but have never had sex, and in fact, are willing to put their sex live out in public, just to make ends meet? How do you let Justin Long get away with his over-the-top performance? Don’t you know some people won’t get the in-jokes and film-references? But after having seen it, I can’t imagine why not more movies are made with such a good, and delicate balance of topics. I think that’s what’s happening here – the film is a cult-favourite before it’s even been through theaters. It’s getting a thrashing by critics, and yet the crowd I saw it with was weeping with laughter. Young people are loving the concept, while the older folks have a knee-jerk reaction based only on the title. Just like other Kevin Smith projects, it’s not a movie for everyone, but those who like it, will like it a lot. It’s sweet way more often than it is biting, and that may be its biggest surprise. I would have loved to see more satire and more observational humour, but then, it wouldn’t be a romantic comedy, and it probably wouldn’t be about two people who decide to make a porno to pay their bills.

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