2006Director: Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer
Cast: Alyson Hannigan, Adam Campbell, Eddie Griffin
n this situation, parody finds itself without a vocation; it has lived, and that strange new thing pastiche slowly comes to take its place. Pastiche is, like parody, the imitation of a peculiar or unique, idiosyncratic style, the wearing of a linguistic mask, speech in a dead language. But it is a neutral practice of such mimicry, without any of parody's ulterior motives, amputated of the satiric impulse, devoid of laughter…” -- Fredric Jameson, Literary critic
Grant Funkyerdoder’s tuft of sandy blond hair is long, and then shorn in the subsequent scene where he and his fiancée, Julia Jones, attend pre-marital counseling. Their chairs are side by side one moment, and then separated the next, conveying the distance that’s grown between them in all their five days together. Followed and preceded by what is, to my mind, artless, grim, a-tenth funny, and very disturbing, this scene is, of its own kind, hardly recognizable as a parody of anything at all, which is implicitly Date Movie’s intention. And yet, it’s a parody of Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Go figure. So, not only is its title reductive, but so, too, are its gags, and, more troubling, its worldview.
As parody in movies go, Airplane, a riff on the 1957 thriller Zero Hour!, can be seen as the precursor to this genre: the parody film. (All deference to Mel Brooks’ smarter parodic fare) The parody film’s method was to reprogram the cliché, to invert natural cinematic conventions, and, by cleaving to a literal reality, to transform the mundane into the absurd. There was a lot to poke fun at then, and Airplane did so economically and with reverence.
Today, however, the culture is ravenous; either not enough material exist for the parodist to integrate into his art, or the landscape is overpopulated with carpetbaggers. Far from functioning as a strategy, something employed in the general scheme-of-things, parody has become the default position. Its saturation threatens the fate of parody, and Date Movie, it should follow, is the logical end-point of what may have initially been a good idea but clearly turned into something grotesque.
All of this, regrettably, is to parody’s disadvantage. For no longer can one make a parody of movies, or, for that matter, a movie of parodies, but instead, a pastiche of techniques that parody deploys; an empty vessel of prosaic reflexes. Pace Fredric Jameson, parody has become blank, devoid of its social criticism, a statue with blind eyeballs. In many ways this was to be expected. There are, at present, more products of “art” vying for our dollars than there were four decades ago, of which the film industry is the largest, most efficient, and most sophisticated extension. Without seeming tedious by alluding to commoditization, the margins have always been good for the Parody film. Relatively little production money and even less time are expended in creating, or rather constructing, a potboiler that, as they say, puts asses in the seats. And as the parody film has progressively gotten worse—The Naked Gun series and maybe the first Hot Shots being seen more favorably—it has spawned a cottage industry of enterprising young writers out to make a quick buck and even quicker product.
To be sure, Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, the writer-director tandem behind Date Movie, have cut their teeth in the industry; both served as writers on Spy Hard and the Scary Movie franchise. Not resting on their laurels, though, they’ve already sold scripts for future projects. The titles read like a pop-culture fever dream: Raunchy Movie; Remembering the Titans On Any Given Sunday Gives Me The Varsity Blues; Scary Movie 3: Episode I - Lord of the Brooms. Thankfully, these are all stuck in development.
Dave Movie, at any rate, has cannibalized its subject matter, excreting it into a soulless heap of ephemera. To begin with, our lead, Julia Jones (cute, prim, adorable Alyson Hannigan), wakes from a nightmare of Napoleon Dynamite, is obese like Gwyneth from Shallow Hall, has endearing internal monologues about romance like Bridget Jones, tames her wind-blown and elevating dress a la Marilyn Monroe in The Seven-Year Itch, and rolls her prosthetic flesh to Kelis’s “Milkshake” all before the opening credits finish. Her family is similarly nonsensical. Julia’s mother is Indian, her father is black (the always preposterous Eddie Griffin), her sister is Japanese, they—get this—own a Greek diner, and her love interest Grant (Adam Campbell) is a composite of Colin Firth.
Procuring the help of a date doctor, lil’ Hitch (the diminutive Tony Cox), who takes her to West Coast Customs to Pimp Her Body, our refashioned Julia finally nabs her Colin Firth on a spoof of The Bachelor. While on their first date, Colin Firth feigns an ineffable orgasm (When Harry Met Sally), orders pork chops, and reveals that his favorite song is 50 Cent’s “Candy Shop,” which turns out to be Julia’s, too. And, of course, they sing it in unison. In lieu of a romantic post-dinner walk down the esplanade, they accost and begin to assault a homeless man (Bum Fights or American Psycho). They steal his wallet (because clearly there’s money in it), and run to a nondescript alleyway to declare undying love to each other, while in the background Michael Jackson, with distinctive “hee-hee” vocals and entreating dance moves, lures a child.
Date Movie is a tape of remixes, not so much a movie as an expression of the ease with which projects like this get green-lighted. Moreover, it’s the utter bastardization of the parody film, and a comment on our cultural anesthetization. Where a parody film like Blazing Saddles offered unblinking social barbs about racism, Date Movie condones the wanton assault of the homeless; funny for no other reason than, well, it’s supposed to be funny, as if parody is in itself a justification for criminally bad taste. We should be troubled because this is the rule rather than the exception, and in particular, because it signals the end of parody, if not the decay of civilization.
By: Ron Mashate
Published on: 2006-03-30