Sunday, January 9, 2011

Get Him to the Greek (Apatow, Relativity Media, Spyglass Entertainment, Universal, 2010)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The film was Get Him to the Greek, a comedy from the Judd Apatow stable, and while I’m not generally a fan of modern comedies (especially not R-rated ones) I thought I’d take a chance on this one from the Columbia House DVD Club because I was interested in how they’d handle the basic situation: a willfully irresponsible rock star, Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), has been in a career tailspin ever since he put out a dreadfully pretentious album, African Child (in an interview given while shooting the video for the title song he said he saw himself as a “white African Jesus” and one critic reviewing the album called it “the worst thing that’s happened to Africa since apartheid”), fell off the wagon and started drinking and drugging again, and lost his supermodel-turned-singer trophy wife Jackie Q (Rose Byrne).

The boss of his record label, Sergio Roma (Sean “Puffy” Combs — and as repulsive as I find him as a musician and a media personality, I have to admit he can act: his performance as the condemned man in Monster’s Ball was one of the best parts of that interesting but overrated movie, and he’s as good or better here, acting the maniacal record label head with flawless attitude and comic timing), has arranged with one of his junior executives, Aaron Green (Jonah Hill), to put on a concert with Snow and his band Infant Sorrow at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles in order to revitalize his career, since 10 years earlier he recorded the best-selling live album of all time at precisely that venue. (I suspect writer-director Nicholas Stoller was thinking Peter Frampton here, though later he gives Aldous Snow a confrontation with his father Jonathan [Colm Meaney] that suggests the famously dysfunctional relationship of John Lennon with his dad.) The only problem is that Snow is in London and he doesn’t realize the concert is in three days — he thought it was two months hence — and Aaron is sent to get him and bring him to the U.S., first to New York for an appearance on the Today show and then to L.A. for the concert itself.

It’s actually quite a good movie, much better than I expected: the jokes about sex and shit are there but they don’t totally dominate the movie, and a number of the raunchy jokes are also genuinely funny. The situations are pretty predictable but also edgy — at times Get Him to the Greek seems like a parody of the marvelous film Stoned, also about a “civilian” getting involved in the orbit of a dissolute rock star (a building contractor hired to remodel the home of doomed original Rolling Stone Brian Jones) — and, like Stoned, this film makes being a rock star seem like one gigantic party but also a lifestyle filled so full of temptations and so irresistible that an ordinary person suddenly flung into the middle of this life has no chance to resist the temptations to party, fuck, drink and drug, especially when the star is making every effort to get the poor innocent to join his party. Like Brian Jones in Stoned, Aldous Snow is drawn as a totally irresponsible fellow who cheerily ignores all standards of normal human behavior, including the obligation to get to airports, TV studios and concert venues on time — and his lifestyle is presented as an overwhelming temptation the rest of us are protected from only because we don’t have the money and leisure time to pursue it. (Virtually all the fiction about rock ’n’ roll makes it seem inconceivable how any of this music ever gets made — it’s hard to imagine a person like Aldous Snow managing to sustain even the modicum of sobriety needed to make it through a concert tour or a series of recording sessions.)

Get Him to the Greek not only is genuinely funny — the laughs come at the expense of both Aldous and Aaron — it even offers pathos in the relationship of Aaron and his girlfriend, intern Dr. Daphne Binks (Elisabeth Moss), who in an early scene announces that once she completes her internship in L.A. she’s taking a job at a hospital in Seattle and just assumes that Aaron will move there with her — and when he balks, they more or less break up, which Aaron takes as an excuse to sample the hot young women available to him and anyone else traveling in the wake of a rock star (he and Aldous are cruising two women, and Aldous asks him which one he wants, the blonde or the brunette; Aldous asks Aaron the hair color of his previous girlfriend, Aaron says, “Brunette,” and Aldous says, “O.K., blonde it is” — and Aaron and the blonde sneak into a restroom for a sexual encounter in which Aaron, on the bottom, feels his ass getting wet from the toilet water) and which Daphne has a jealous hissy-fit over when they finally do get back together at the end. In the meantime Aaron has had a number of other adventures, including trying to secure a copy of the lyrics to “African Girl” just before Aldous is supposed to perform it on the Today show (Aldous has suddenly forgotten all the words to his own song); he’s unable to but Aldous at the last moment calls another song, “The Clap,” instead. Aaron also has to cope with Aldous’ demand that he stick Aldous’ heroin supply up his ass so he’s not caught with it at the airport, and later Aaron’s ass is assaulted again by a woman who brings a translucent dildo to their sexual encounter, shoves it in his mouth and then sticks it up his ass. “I feel like I’ve just been raped,” he says as he’s trying to make sense of the experience.

Aldous also sneaks him a “Jeffrey,” a cigarette spiked with virtually every drug in the hallucinogenic pharmacopoeia, then gives him an adrenaline injection when Aaron says he feels like he’s having a heart attack, then tells Aaron to stroke a fur-covered piece of wall because that’s apparently the only antidote to a bad trip on a Jeffrey. (Aldous even converts the experience into the basis for his latest song.) Get Him to the Greek is based on characters created by writer Jason Segel for a previous film from Apatow and Universal (which co-produced with Relativity Media — whose logo might briefly leave a moviegoer worried that s/he has stumbled by mistake into a documentary on particle physics — and Spyglass Entertainment) called Forgetting Sarah Marshall (about a particularly nasty breakup, publicized by skywriters putting up slogans like “I Hate You, Sarah Marshall,” which led people who were really named Sarah Marshall to get phone calls from their friends worriedly asking, “Hey, are you and your boyfriend all right?”), but it works quite well on its own.

As a satire on the deeds and misdeeds of rock stars it’s not far behind the two best comedies yet made on the rock scene, All You Need Is Cash (the story of the Rutles, the Pre-Fab Four, a marvelous meeting of Monty Python members with the original cast of Saturday Night Live) and This Is Spinal Tap; and, like the songs for those films, the pieces sung by Russell Brand (in his own voice) in character as Aldous Snow are quite credible arena-rock songs, melodically infectious and with the comic aspects confined to their lyrics (which, like those of Spinal Tap’s songs, manage to sound like real rock lyrics with the raunchiness quotient ramped up just enough to make them funny). Overall, Get Him to the Greek is about as funny — and as entertaining — as I can reasonably expect a comedy to be these days, and it makes me a lot more kindly disposed towards Judd Apatow and his stable than I’d been based on what I’d read about his films. And the perfection with which they skewer Aldous’ attitude towards Africa and Africans in the opening scenes — the mixture of surface compassion hiding bitter contempt which leads him to tell an interviewer, “I was watching the news one day and I saw footage about, uh, war, and I think it was in Darfur, or Rwanda, or Zimbabwe, or one of ’em, and I thought, ‘This isn’t right, is it?’ And I made some phone calls and it turns out, it isn’t” — would seem to make Russell Brand a “natural” for the egomaniac lead in a film of Bridget Jones’s Diary author Helen Fielding’s Cause Celeb, an hilarious satire of celebrities and their do-gooder pretensions!