Friday, 30 September 2011

30 Minutes or Less (2011) Dir. Ruben Fleischer

Female Characters: 2 (Kate/Juicy)
Male Characters: 6 (Nick/Chet/Dwayne/Travis/Chango/The Major)
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? No

Rape jokes? Check. Child molestation, abortion and AIDS jokes? Check . Racist slurs and misogynistic language? Check.  30 Minutes or Less sure covers all its bases when it comes to offensive, juvenile comedy.  It makes for some particularly awkward viewing, especially since this film is by no means intelligent enough or self-aware enough to tackle the material it does, most notably when rape is the punch-line. Much in the same way that the word ‘fucking’ is used incessantly by Danny McBride’s character throughout the film, (as if swearing automatically makes the mediocre script funnier) rape jokes are used for ensuring cheap laughs.  

And since when exactly did rape become so hilarious anyway? Take for example 2009’s Observe and Report (Why on earth did this year offer up two films about mall cops?) which contained a scene in which lead character Seth Rogen has sex with a drunk, passed out Anna Faris. Now, I know what you’re thinking, how could this get any funnier? Well, I’ll tell you. Midway through the rape (which, contrary to popular belief,  IS the same as the cuddlier term ‘date rape’) Rogen stops, prompting Faris to slur, ‘Why are you stopping motherfucker?’. Hi-larious! And apparently, according to Rogen, this verbal consent is the ‘one thing that makes it all OK.’ When really all this scene does is confuse the issue of rape further for an audience of mainly adolescent boys.  

30 Minutes or Less is also guilty of trivializing rape, with the inclusion of a scene in which a cashier, ringing up toy guns and ski masks, asks the main characters if they ‘wanna grab some condoms’ -  because apparently that’s ‘what men buy before they rape someone’. Ok, I must be a bit naïve because I feel like I’m the only person who didn’t know this side-splitting fact. Just who exactly is this joke intended for anyway? I can only imagine it being intended as a piece of observational comedy for actual rapists. In a recent interview lead actor Jesse Eisenberg was asked what he thought about some of the film's risqué jokes, to which he replied:
I’m very uncomfortable with that word [rape], personally because I do work with domestic violence organisations and I’m very aware of the alarming statistics of women who are abused. So I’m very uncomfortable with that. I’m not uncomfortable with the sexual jokes.
I have to give Eisenberg credit here, not just for realising that rape isn’t funny but also for distinguishing between rape and sex jokes, which I feel are treated as one in the same in some comedies. If the film hadn’t been shot pre-Social Network I might have thought Eisenberg to be a tad hypocritical, because I can’t image it being too difficult for a young, white, male actor, with an Oscar nomination under his belt, to find decent film roles. Hopefully Eisenberg’s future films will focus more attention on being good, rather than exploring the apparently comic side of rape.

In this same interview Eisenberg commented further on the film’s shock humour tactics:
Danny McBride and Nick Swardson’s characters are the bad guys in the movie, and they just say the most insane and crass stuff, because guys like that would be – they’d speak in this awful way.
Whilst it’s fair to say that the film does undeniably set these characters up as the bad guys, and there are occasions throughout the film where we are encouraged to laugh at their stupidity, there are also  many instances where the obvious intention is that we laugh with them. For example, when asserting his role as the mastermind of their criminal operation, Danny McBride quips,  ‘I’m the one fucking this bitch you’re just holding the camera’, and then there’s the conversation where they reason that they need to hit Eisenberg’s character where it hurts, and not  ‘in his dick’ but ‘in his pussy’ – a reference to Eisenberg’s girlfriend.  I’m just not buying that these kind of throw-away misogynistic one liners were intended to make a targeted audience of mainly young men think , ‘Oh, I get it, these guys make incessant misogynistic remarks – they must be the bad guys!’ especially since these are the kind of jokes we hear from the supposed good guys in most Judd Apatow comedies.

As for the female characters, there’s really not much to say because there are only two. On the upside they are both women of colour, on the downside they are fairly insignificant characters. One is used mainly to provide gratuitous T&A shots, whilst the other plays the lead’s love interest and is, unsurprisingly, kidnapped half-way through and turned damsel in distress.

Ultimately one of this film’s biggest crimes is simply that it is just not that funny. However, some credit has to go to go to Aziz Ansari, who plays something of a 'new man' character in the role of Chet. He has a stable job as teacher, makes light of his attempt at quiche making (apparently just as difficult as dismantling a bomb) and at one point delivers an enlightened rant about how the guilt of letting Eisenberg blow up might spoil his future relationships with his wife and kids. I was reminded of a similar character in the 2003 film School of Rock, where Mike White played the responsible half of a duo containing a lazy, immature Jack Black. Contrastingly, this character was portrayed as timid, weak and ultimately miserable, buckling under the thumb of his domineering girlfriend. I find it refreshing therefore to see a male character in the genre of fratboy humour who is not a feckless man-child and, more importantly, is not portrayed as weak or effeminate because of this.

Rape jokes are so funny they put them in the trailer!