BLOG: Celebrating Misanthropy: Eastbound & Down and Observe and Report

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Celebrating Misanthropy: Eastbound & Down and Observe and Report

Eastbound & Down has just returned to HBO. Co-created by Danny McBride, Jody Hill and Ben Best, the show is easily one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen on television. If Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm is a “social assassin,” Kenny Powers (McBride), the self-mythologizing ex-major league pitcher at the center of the show, is a fucking social atomic bomb.

In season one he returned to his North Carolina hometown after burning out in the majors to ruin the lives of his brother and his family, his high school sweetheart, and Stevie Janowski, the music teacher whose hero-worship of Kenny would be adorable if it weren’t so fucking horrifying. (Oh, and teach gym, I guess.) In season two he escaped to Mexico where he took up cock-fighting and eventually returned to the game of baseball, pitching for a local team. (And fucking up the locals’ lives as well, or as Kenny refers to them, “the villagers,” of course.) Season three finds Kenny going to Myrtle Beach to try-out for the minors, and the Nerd is fucking jazzed.

But the show is not a favorite simply because of it’s hilariousness, though that is a substantial part of its charm. No, what puts it over the top is its badassery in tone and visual style, how it treats every event, no matter how terrible or awkward, like its being filmed by Kenny Powers himself. Kenny may look ridiculous in his “La Flama Blanca” all-white cowboy suit, but he thinks he looks fucking awesome, hence the heroic slo-mo shots of him walking around in it and the kick ass song playing over the sequence. Another favorite gag show-casing the disconnect between the reality of the world and Kenny’s point of view is in the “Hispanic adventure” season, is how Kenny’s narration finds him talking about himself in terms that make him sound like a Leone or Peckinpah anti-hero.

Since the show is true to its main character’s worldview, Kenny’s hyper-misanthropy, be it driving kids around while drunk and doing lines or childishly destroying the recording studio of a man who slept with his girlfriend, is depicted in orgasmic, fuck-yeah celebratory ways instead of “jeez, wouldja look at this anti-social dick” ones. Naturally, we the viewers know that what Kenny is doing is reprehensible, but because we have affection for him and because the show presents him as legend-sized as Stevie Janowski believes him to be, most often we cheer his behavior in spite of ourselves. And that excuse to celebrate the misanthropic, to no-shit revel in transgressive behavior, is what drew me talk about this show and Eastbound co-creator Jody Hill’s insanely underrated writer-director effort Observe and Report, on a crime blog.

As I talked about in my last post, which was a discussion about what appeals to me about crime fiction, a big part of crime fic fandom for the Nerd has to do with the cheap thrill of watching or reading about people you empathize with (and possibly even imagine yourself being) transgress – fucking shit up big-time anti-social style. In that sense, Eastbound and Observe and Report, two stories of horrifically deluded men who constantly do terrible things, very much fit my broad definition of crime fiction.

But that’s enough about Eastbound for now, a show that I think a lot of folks are on board for, if HBO giving the show three seasons thus far is any type of real indicator. No, what I really want to get into is Observe and Report, a movie that confounded many upon its release in the spring of 2009, and as much as the Nerd fucking loves the film, my fervent devotion to it sure-as-shit doesn’t blind me to the reasons behind why the critical reception of the film was mixed and its box-office numbers poor.

The story of Ronnie Barnhardt, a mall security guard on a mission to catch the flasher who showed his dick to the beautiful makeup counter girl he pines for, the film stars America’s Teddy Bear, Seth Rogen, in a decidedly un-cuddly role. In fact, Ronne Barnhardt is basically Travis Bickle in the film, his beat the soothingly soulless halls of a suburban mall as opposed to the mean streets of New York City.

If it weren’t for Rogen’s innate likeability, his character would be unbearable. He is obsessed with guns and violent heroism, is racist against an Indian kiosk employee, has no filter whatsoever, is incredibly dense, and even, in the film’s most shocking yet undeniably hilarious scene, date-rapes a woman.

Many have accused the film of being nothing but shock humor, but there’s a deep love for the horrendously pathetic Ronnie at the heart of the film. The always great Celia Weston, who plays Ronnie’s drunken single mother, has a scene where she blames Ronnie for her husband running away in the most passive and resigned way imaginable, that manages to be both brutal and deeply felt at the same time. Ronnie may be a fuck-up and a generally bad person – a dangerous person, even – but his optimism and yearning for a little bit of glory and happiness make him endearing nevertheless.

In that way the film recalls the great beautiful loser films of the seventies, like Five Easy Pieces, The Last Detail and The King of Marvin Gardens. But unlike those films, Observe and Report has a kinetic, rough-hewn style to it not seen in other comedies. The use of pop music and slow-motion (not to mention, you know, the fucking Taxi Driver connection) is very Scoresesean, if the Nerd is allowed to pretend that’s a term. That sense of badass style, like it does in Eastbound, gives us entry to Ronnie’s fucked up brain, where he is not just some schlubby wage slave, but a merciless knight fighting to protect his lady fair.

And like I said, that chance to ride along with a crazy person doing truly awful things is a big part of the appeal of both these works and (the Nerd’s bringing it all back around, bitches!) crime fiction in general. And while I would be interested to see what Jody Hill could do with a more specifically crime-centered film, one with less laughs and more murders, I’m not certain I would treasure this thus-far imaginary film as much as I do these comedic masterworks of misanthropy.

Comments

  1. Observe and Report is a beaut!

    • Yanella says:

      Kenny: I like you, Tracy, but I’m gonna have to insist on you using some sort of itotecrpon. There’s a dental dam up in my truck.Tracy: What the fuck is a dental dam?Kenny: It’s like a rubber for your mouth. Nevermind what it is, just go get it! And it’s not just for my itotecrpon, because you don’t know what kinda shit I got either.