Saturday, March 18, 2006

THANK YOU FOR SMOKING

Over the last few years, the Sundance Film Festival has changed from a champion of true independent film to a venue for the latest star-laden $5 million production that is just waiting for distribution from Focus Features, Fox Searchlight, or Sony Pictures (most recently, one could point to “The Squid and the Whale” and “Garden State” as the best recent examples of this principle, whereas I could just as easily point to “Primer” as the best example of how the old system is still thankfully somewhat in place). In the case of “Thank You For Smoking,” it had a distribution deal months before Sundance, and I even saw the trailer for it running before “Munich” in December.

So while part of me wants to lash out at it for being the perfect example of how there’s hardly such a thing as an old-fashioned independent success story (see “Clerks”), I really can’t deny that “Thank You For Smoking” is one of the funniest, smartest movies of the past few years. As a satire, it’s brilliant, because it expects almost no prior knowledge to get many of the jokes, yet is still biting enough to have something to say.

And the cast IS amazing. Aaron Eckhart, Maria Bello, David Koechner, J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson from “Spider-Man”), Robert Duvall, William H. Macy, a surprisingly-not-awful Katie Holmes, Sam Elliot, Rob Lowe, Todd Louiso (Dick from “High Fidelity”!), and Adam Brody (best cameo of the year…one line of dialogue will have you laughing for hours). I don’t know if they had anyone else in mind for the parts, but all of these were so perfectly cast (well, Katie Holmes will never be truly perfect casting, but she’s decent enough as…a slut).

It’s tough to review humor, and the laughs aren’t constant in it (but neither are they intended to be), but the small jokes work and the big ones soar. And, as was my fear, it’s not a one-note joke about cigarettes or big tobacco, but there’s a lot of fun to be had with Hollywood, congress, education, alcohol, and firearms. The closest thing I can compare it to in a comical sense is “South Park,” not only for making us laugh at serious issues, but especially for making us laugh at both sides. The guys trying to cut down on tobacco use have methods just as bad as the guys trying to get America on a pack a day. The other comparison to “South Park” is the humor has almost no subtlety (but try to name the most recent comedy that does) – It’s bright, loud, and fast-paced, but it packs a lot for its running time. At 92 minutes, it feels like you’ve gotten a full 2-hour experience without a hint of boredom.

I'm not sure what the release schedule is for this...I caught it at a free press screening (no, not as a member of the press, just a lucky bastard). I'm almost positive it's in New York and LA right now, and I think it opens in Boston next Friday, so keep an eye out for when it comes to wherever you may be.

1 comment:

Ben said...

I'm tired of you badmouthing that sweet Katie Holmes, Scott Nye!