The ensemble movie, for better or worse, reinvented: ‘Movie 43’ and ‘Holy Motors’
HOT FUSS SUNDAE - Paolo Lorenzana (The Philippine Star) - February 8, 2013 - 12:00am

Hugh Jackman has nuts for an Adam’s apple? Richard Gere has a thing for mangled penises? Halle Berry throws her breasts into her food? Yep, that movie the Hollywood A-list is keeping under wraps like a skeleton in the closet — ‘Movie 43.’

More than a decade after releasing outrageous comedies Dumb & Dumber and There’s Something About Mary, Peter Farrelly seems desperate to startle audiences once more with Movie 43. In the comedy anthology so inconceivable it lacks a proper title, it’s as if he put the teenage boy id responsible for fart jokes and zipper-caught scrotums into overdrive.

It takes a stoned 15-year-old to think up these premises: a girl played by Anna Faris wants to take her relationship to the next level by having her boyfriend “poop” on her; or a woman goes on a blind date and discovers the very eligible bachelor she’s with has two very evident flaws: the pair of hairy testicles hanging from his throat. More appalling, Academy Award-winner Kate Winslet plays the incredulous woman and Hugh Jackman, just nominated for an Oscar, plays the guy who has nuts where his Adam’s apple’s supposed to be.

Farrelly and his brother Bobby, the duo behind the aforementioned comedy classics, are known for getting lecherous laughs from their audience. But sans Bobby in 43, it’s as if Peter’s prerogative isn’t uproarious tastelessness so much as transgression.

Rather than laugh, I squirmed through the short where Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber are homeschooling parents who try to simulate a real high school environment for their son to the point where Watts even becomes his first lay. Naturally, a movie that gets a kick out of incest isn’t above bestiality: in another short where Josh Duhamel owns a gay cat fiercely jealous of his girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks), we’re treated to a dream scenario involving feline fellatio. Granted, the cat is animated, but from what I remember about amusement, it’s supposed to bust your belly, not make you sick in the stomach. Hell, even racially charged jokes in this movie are considered lighter fare. Comedic sabotage becomes clear when you take in Movie 43’s core plot: a crazed and burned-out movie producer played by Dennis Quaid pitches these ideas at gunpoint to Greg Kinnear’s staid movie exec. Just as Kinnear starts wondering how this lunatic got into his office, each absurd vignette makes the audience members glance nervously at one another, bewildered by how this movie managed to get green-lit in the first place. It helps that longtime Farrelly collaborator Charlie Wessler, incidentally the name of Quaid’s character, is a Hollywood vet who’s assisted guys like George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola. With the right connections, Wessler rounded up 12 directors including Brett Ratner and the dude who plays the lawyer in Breaking Bad. By making the right calls, he got everyone from flameout Seann William Scott to hot commodity Emma Stone onboard. For $6 million and four years of shooting to fit actors’ schedules in, Farrelly and Wessler assembled this Trojan horse of crap to invade filmmaking conventions and our sensibilities along with it. Watching Halle Berry use her bare breast as a joke prop or Richard Gere deadpan through a vignette involving mangled penises, you see a twinkle of disbelief and bloodlust in these actors’ eyes. They’re just happy to throw their celebrity under a bus and throw a smartass audience a curveball. It’s as if Hollywood is getting bored with itself and Movie 43 is a crude cry for creativity.

The movie reminded me of Holy Motors, a critically acclaimed French sci-fi film I saw a couple weeks before. In the film, we immediately encounter the surreal: Upon waking, a middle-aged man played by the film’s writer-director, Leos Carax, unlocks a passage in his wall opening to a movie theater where the audience seems asleep. We soon meet another man, Mr. Oscar (Denis Lavant), a sort of agent-performer tasked to act out real-life scenes or “appointments” around Paris. We follow him as he’s chauffeured around in a white stretch limo to meet these appointments. He plays a decrepit beggar woman; a father berating his teen daughter for her social anxieties; or a sewer-dwelling maniac who kidnaps a supermodel (Eva Mendes), dresses her in a burka, and sports a raging boner as she lulls him to sleep.

Most of the time, the audience ping-pongs between not knowing exactly what’s happening to not believing exactly what they’re seeing. One minute, we’re witnessing a gruesome knifing between a punk Mr. Oscar and his doppelganger; the next, he crosses paths — and limos — with a fellow agent and former flame (Kylie Minogue) who belts out a mournful ballad in an abandoned department store. Though you’re practically airdropped into these scenes and just as quickly displaced, you become gleefully absorbed and left wondering. Carax may be reminding us of film’s ability to transport. It’s a pinprick to a numb audience so flippant about culture on their social media accounts and to a film community swelling with complacency.

In numerous interviews, Carax mentions the image of a public you don’t know is dead or asleep, which inspired the opening scene. As for the vignettes, they’re unrealized ideas the director’s had in the past 13 years, a cited reason being lack of funding. Consider Movie 43 and Holy Motors proof that we, the audience, hasn’t seen it all. The former, a car crash you can’t tear your eyes from; and the latter, a ride you don’t want to end.

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