It’s difficult to know what to say about Movie 43, the raunchy anthology comedy from Peter Farrelly and his There’s Something About Mary producer Charles Wessler. There’s a long history of these movies, from the theatrical hits of The Kentucky Fried Movie and Amazon Women on the Moon to less successful fare like Sham-Wow and Slap Chop king Vince Offer’s The Underground Comedy Movie, distributed on late-night infomercials on Comedy Central. I’m reasonably certain, though, that there has never been one with this kind of star power involved, both in front of and behind the camera. And while it’s not quite as smart as John Landis’ seminal (sorry) work, it’s a damn sight smarter — and funnier — than most comedies that ignore the boundaries of good taste.
The film plays out like a session of “The Aristocrats”, with a bunch of comedians each trying to outdo the others with the sort of extreme material that can still get a reaction from their jaded colleagues. This is not for the faint of heart; if it is possible to shock and offend you, you will probably be shocked and offended at some point. And yet, it’s not like there aren’t far worse videos passed virally around the internet already.
Still, even among those ready to take whatever these filmmakers dish out, there’s a delicate balance to be maintained. Offer’s movie failed because it’s not enough to offer a raunchy premise; you have to actually do something with it. On the other hand you can’t do too much with it; a single outré gag cannot support an entire feature film the way Bucky Larson tried to pull off. Even Bridesmaids suffers when it feels like its story is only a contrivance to get its cast into that dress shop.
And, personally, I think that Movie 43 hits that sickly-sweet spot: bereft of context, the segments exist just long enough to deliver their payload and get out before they overstay their welcome — one can’t be more than a minute long — though I admit some do this better than others. But the bits aren’t just empty premises, either; about half of them are actually tried-and-true comedy setups taken to outrageous extremes. The Farrelly-directed segment starring Hugh Jackman and Kate Winslet could have come from any number of single-insurmountable-flaw sitcom episodes on prime-time television, but for the particulars of the flaw and how it plays out. Elizabeth Banks appears with Josh Duhamel in one particularly un-family-friendly spin on a zany anthropomorphic animal family comedy, and she directs Chloë Grace Moretz, Jimmy Bennett, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Patrick Warburton, and Matt Walsh in a straightforwardly-executed awkward middle school date that will probably be among the least favorite sketches for most guys in the audience.
The name-dropping above is just the tip of the iceberg; the cast is incredible, and to a person they dive into their parts enthusiastically, which is even more impressive than getting them all to put their faces and reputations on camera in the first place. I’m not entirely surprised to see Stephen Merchant show up in an over-the-top game of truth or dare, but for Holly Berry to be the other half of his blind date is completely unexpected. It’s this eager willingness on the part of the actors that goes a long way towards making it feel like we’re laughing with and not at them.
And they do seem to be enjoying themselves. Like The Aristocrats, there’s a feeling like this is the sort of material actors and writers riff on early in the process before cutting it back to what’s deemed acceptable for the general public. And for the most part that’s probably a good thing: a lot of people are going to be repulsed and offended by what Movie 43 has to offer, and that’s a perfectly valid reaction. I can offer no guarantees, but this: those willing to take the risk are definitely going to see things they never expected. You can decide for yourself whether that’s good or bad.
Worth It: if you don’t already know, probably not.
Bechdel Test: fail.