July 10, 2011 § Leave a comment
Written by Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein
Story by Michael Markowitz
Directed by Seth Gordon
Starring Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jason Bateman, Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell with Jamie Foxx, Donald Sutherland and Bob Newhart
Comedy is all about trends. What made people laugh one year makes people scratch their heads, roll their eyes or simply stare blank faced another year. Currently, the comedic trend has taken on a Farrelly Bros. level of mean spiritedness, gross-out potential and blackness that is further embraced by the mainstream with each additional entry. Horrible Bosses is a perfect embodiment of this blackness.
This is a film with 3 stories about 3 miserable but gainfully employed 30-something men who feel that the level of personal insults and grief they receive from their respective bosses is tantamount to morally unjust and must be met not by filing a complain with their HR departments or court systems, but by way of death to their insufferable superiors. Jason Sudeikis is Kurt, a mild-mannered middle-management type who helps run a small, family owned chemical business that was created by a kindly old Donald Sutherland, but which is being purposefully run into the ground by his selfish, arrogant, greedy son, played by Colin Farrell with an impressive ‘balding’ wig and quite an attitude problem. Jason Bateman is Nick, whose situation isn’t much better, as he’s the preferred prison-style bitch of his arrogant, selfish boss played by Kevin Spacey in ‘Swimming with Sharks’ mode roided out to a degenerative level of corporate schmuckery. This is exemplified by Spacey insisting on Bateman being the first employee at work every day by 6 AM. At 6:02 they’ll have words and heads will roll. Charlie Day’s Dale makes up the third out of this trio of woebegotten but gainfully employed men. He’s an assistant dentail hygenist with the kind of problem most heterosexual men would pay to deal with. He’s engaged to a lovely young woman but his boss, Jennifer Aniston, wants nothing more than to get as sexually deviant with Dale every which way possible at every remotely opportune moment. It isn’t clear if she’s attracted to him or is a sexual predator dressed up as a dentist. Either way, our fantasy is his nightmare. Eventually, once the three realize that in these troubling economic times, it would be imprudent to simply quit their jobs, they decide to do the next most inconvenient but satisfying thing and kill their bosses.
First off, this is a funny movie. In some ways it’s frustrating because, like a Farrelly Bros. movie the center of this tale is gooey with moral fiber so no matter how crazy things get, it’s obvious that the writers will bring us back from the 9th circle of hell and leave us somewhere in the vicinity of justice and acceptability. All will end up right and our heroes will not be thrown to the lions. So while the outcome for our protagonists is clear from the get-go, the meandering path they take to enlightenment is nonetheless charming, hilarious, entertaining and satisfyingly dark. For whatever punches they pull with our heroes, they deliver 3-fold with their so-called horrible bosses. Spacey, Aniston and Farrell are conniving, selfish, dirty and display shockingly poor taste. In some ways Horrible Bosses suffers from action-movie syndrome of giving us somewhat square heroes in order to keep us invested in their ultimate triumph, leaving all the juicy stuff for the people we’re meant to root against. Spacey has the largest part of the 3 titular bosses, probably out of reverence for him as a legendary, Academy-Award winning actor. He’s a WASPy, angry man who isn’t as comically evil as Aniston or Farrell. Aniston clearly has the most fun with her character, a sexpot sex addict who, if she didn’t look as good as she does, would be number 1 on anybody’s shit list who wasn’t interested in her. As it stands in the film, they put us at a moral-sexual crossroads of either being frustrated by Charlie Day’s hatred for her or siding with Charlie’s better angels and empathizing with his plight.
Sudeikis has the most fun as a man who is very enthused about these murder ventures they’ve embarked on. He’s a bit of a lady’s man but has a strangely strict moral code that works out alright in his own head but clearly has some flaws in practice. He’s definitely becoming a humorous but good looking leading man, filling a void that nobody really left in recent years. Bateman is Bateman. Exasperated, too mature for his own good, but still somehow along for the ride.
Along the way they encounter a dubious hitman named Motherfucker Jones, which is Jamie Foxx in an extended cameo as a hilariously sensitive, vaguely experienced Ex-Con that the 3 wanna-be murderers enlist for his supposed expertise. The way his character plays out is satisfyingly ludicrous and not nearly as gangster as his name “Motherfucker Jones” might suggest.
The film was co-written by ex “Freaks and Geeks”/Apatow University alumnus John Francis Daley, who is still quite young. The level of detail and intelligence and strength of humor in Horrible Bosses bodes well for this young thespians even younger writing career.
Director Seth Gordon’s first film was the documentary “King of Kong” and his first feature was the equally over the top but conversely unfunny Holiday RomCom “Four Christmases” starring Reese Withserspoon and Vince Vaughn. His directing style works for our generation’s comedic sensibilities, as we’ve eschewed favor of over the top slapstick and clown-esque hijinks (like Jim Carrey) for more subtle humor that fits somewhere in realm of ‘realism’. The beauty of the film is that on some level many of the characters aren’t overtly funny- they could easily take the same characters and same dialogue and with different delivery and stylistic tweaks, make this a dark thriller. I think that’s the gift Seth Gordon has brought us with his toned down directing style.
All in all this is a high water mark for this generation of comedy, which exploded on the scene with ‘Bad Santa’ and has continued since. It’s dark and devious, willing to go to shocking lengths for a laugh, but shows us the its better angels when push comes to shove, proving that not even Hollywood is devoid of its morals in search of the almighty dollar.