Archives for posts with tag: Billy Madison

Sofia Coppola’s latest effort is very much her own. Bright, punchy, or ambient music, an elegant eye, and a sardonic sense of humor imbue yet another examination of rampant girldom with Coppola’s trademark sensibility. Unlike Lost in Translation or Marie Antoinette, however, The Bling Ring features no strong or particularly likable central protagonist, and is consequently a much more detached and ironic study than its predecessors.

The Bling Ring opens with shots of the Facebook pages of characters Marc (Israel Broussard), Chloe (Claire Julien), and Rebecca (Katie Chang) – an appropriate means of introduction in this true crime story set in an amoral teenage order founded on trendiness and popularity. All attending a high school for affluent problem kids, these are the more sophisticated and fashionable counterparts to the hedonistic nihilists in Larry Clark’s Bully, operating out of the sinister psychological intersection of thug chic and a privileged entitlement mentality.  Along with like-minded recruits Nicki (Emma Watson) and Sam (adorable Taissa Farmiga), the group combines its vapid interests in celebrity, pop criminality, and haute couture by committing a series of casual burglaries of the homes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and others.

An odd feature of these young people’s lives is how little concerned with love they appear to be. Tawdry apparel, dirty dancing, sex, and group acceptance interest them plenty, but these new teen creatures bear almost no resemblance to their grandmothers, the malt shop loiterers of old, with their puppy love crushes and idealism. The new teen queen is a kind of ravenous beast sustained by a constant regimen of dope, dainty baubles, irresponsible escapades, and protected from introspection by forbidding walls of abrasive music preoccupied with self-determined fabulousness.

It is difficult to watch The Bling Ring and not be reminded of another group of young Californians who targeted celebrity victims – namely, the Manson Family. In both cases, pathological fascination with the rich and famous, coupled with peer pressure, drugs, and an unhealthily violent cultural diet, result in celebrities being simultaneously venerated as idols and dehumanized as potential victims. Marc, reflecting on the meaning of his acts in the aftermath of his arrest, confides that after the story of his involvement hit the news, he received over 800 Facebook friend requests, suggesting that it is criminality itself as much as fame that attracts the adulation of the unsavory masses.

If The Bling Ring has any discernible shortcoming, it may be the dearth of surprising event, as the film proceeds along a fairly straight, predictable line as far as the plot. Apart from the signature Sofia Coppola seal in terms of color, design, and atmosphere, the film’s most attractive strength must be its delightful cast. Israel Broussard, featured in what, for lack of any real hero, is The Bling Ring‘s lead role, has a Byronic look and an enigmatic vulnerability that complements the Coppola aesthetic nicely; and all of the damsels in dissipation, from Katie Chang to Claire Julien, Taissa Farmiga, and Emma Watson, are irresistibly vile, divine, and luscious.

4.5 stars.  Ideological Content Analysis kisses Sofia Coppola’s ring and indicates that her most recent flourish as a dependable writer-director is:

11. Multiculturalist/pro-miscegenation.  People of different races interact as without the least consciousness of their physiological or cultural differences. One of the girls has a thug Latino boyfriend. The camera lingers longingly over untouchable Katie Chang.

10. Anti-wigger.  Pop veneration of the ghetto mentality goes hand in hand with nihilism, crime, and self-destruction.

9. Pro-police.  Authorities conduct their investigation and effect the necessary arrests professionally and without inflicting unnecessary harm.

8. Anti-religion.  Modern woman’s faith is junk spirituality, “the philosophy of the Secret”, a kooky, relativistic melange in which words like “Lord” rub shoulders indiscriminately with new age talk of “karma”.

7. Anti-gun.  Privately owned guns, this film appears to want to convince viewers in one very frightening scene, make homes less safe and endanger the mentally deficient.  However, the fact that one of the girls steals a gun and gives it to her thug boyfriend demonstrates that criminals are not above obtaining their guns illegally and that gun control legislation is therefore futile.

6. Philanthropy-skeptical.  One suburban family claims a commitment to charitable causes in Africa, but cannot identify the specific country where they are active.  This pretended philanthropy is played as a sympathy card after the girls are caught by the police.

5. Statist.  The pitiable demonstration of home schooling as practiced by one ditzy mother (Leslie Mann) is an implicit endorsement of public education.

4. Anti-drug.  Drinking and driving results in a non-fatal accident, which, however, fails to prevent the girls from going out and behaving just as carelessly as before. Accelerating substance abuse parallels the girls’ increasingly poor judgment and carelessness in their criminal endeavor.

3. Pro-gay.  Sexually ambiguous Marc shares his girlfriends’ interest in fashion (including high heel shoes) and refers to a male schoolmate as “hot”.

2. Class-conscious.  Coppola (perhaps responding to the criticism that Marie Antoinette depicted a self-absorbed aristocrat sympathetically without taking into consideration the economic plight of the French peasantry?) depicts moral decay as in part deriving from wealth and privilege (cf. Billy Madison).

1. Pro-family.  The horror wrought by permissive or absentee parenting is the unstressed theme that haunts The Bling Ring.

Part V of The Filthy Films of Adam Sandler in Ideological Content Analysis: A Cranko-Politico-Critical Retrospective of the ICA Institute for Advanced Sandler Studies

AdamSandler

Unfairly trashed by the consensus critical apparatus on release, this ambitious outing from Adam Sandler goes where few previous comedies have gone with such earnestness of purpose, grappling with the eternal philosophical questions that have given mankind pause over millennia.  Why does evil exist in the universe?  Are there black people in Heaven?  And, most fundamentally, can white men jump – even when descended from the Prince of Darkness himself, and when the spiritual fate of the planet is being played out on the cosmic battlefield of the Harlem Globetrotters court?

Who but Adam Sandler – who, to his credit, manages to keep his face contorted in a comical grimace through every scene – could possibly have brought the heir to the throne of Hell to life in such edifyingly funny fashion while also essaying a bold theological meditation and commentary on the morals of fin-de-siecle America?  The answer – nobody!  Add a bevy of Sandler’s Saturday Night Live buddies including Dana Carvey, Jon Lovitz, Ellen Cleghorne, Kevin Nealon, and Rob Schneider in cameos, stir with a pinch or two of tasty scatalogical humor and outright depravity, and Little Nicky makes for a strange but satisfying brew guaranteed not only to get the audience wasted, but lay their souls to waste as well.

4 out of 5 stars.  Actually a fairly heartwarming experience, Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Little Nicky is underrated, unholy, unashamed, and:

10. Corporate.  Bellicose product placement puts Popeye’s Chicken on the side of the angels.

9. Anti-South.  Nicky more than once jokes that he is from the “Deep South”, thus equating the region with Hell.

8. Pro-gay, at least from the standpoint that all publicity is good publicity.  Clint Howard portrays a grotesque but amusing transvestite.  Also, breasts are made to sprout from Kevin Nealon’s head, which later elicits a favorable remark from Rodney Dangerfield.

7. Multiculturalist/anti-racist (i.e., pro-yawn).  Validating the authenticity of kitsch pictures hanging in the homes of believers of color, Little Nicky depicts a flock of angels of different races.  Hitler receives special (and very unwelcome) attention from Satan in Hell.  A pro-wigger current finds expression in the line, “Popeye’s Chicken is the shiznit.”

6. Drug-ambivalent.  Central to Nicky’s task of taking his errant brothers back to Hell is trapping them in a magical liquor flask, which could be interpreted as suggesting that liquor is the gateway to eternal damnation.  A boy is depicted vomiting after the drinking age is lowered to 10.  Still, “I came for the beer and the bitches,” says a kid at a Globetrotters game, and marijuana-spiked pastries also receive an endorsement.

5. Pro-miscegenation.  Nicky is the spawn of Jewish Satan (Harvey Keitel) and an Anglo-Saxon angel (Reese Witherspoon) and has one black and one white brother (Tiny Lister and Rhys Ifans, respectively).  Carrying on the bestial tradition from Billy Madison, a giant bird vengefully humps pervert John Lovitz.  A demon (Kevin Nealon) and a gorilla also find themselves in the throes of jungle fever.  Dog Mr. Beefy and sewer rat Heather have “five of the ugliest children you’ve ever seen.”  Jew Sandler again goes for the blondes, in this case mousy Patricia Arquette.

4. Anti-Christian.  Quentin Tarantino represents the faithful as a stereotypical blind-eyed fanatical street preacher.  Angels are portrayed as ditzes.  (See also no. 2)

3. Family-ambivalent/anti-marriage/dysfunction-tolerant.  “I love my father very much,” Nicky says, attempting throughout the film to do his father’s bidding and save him from oblivion.  His family is majorly dysfunctional, however, with unmarried parents and abusive brothers constantly scheming against him.  (“Mom and Dad tried dating for awhile, but were unable to deal with a long distance relationship.”)  The sum effect is a normalization of dysfunction.  A churchgoer praises God for his wife’s pregnancy only to be informed that the child is not his.  A baby in a carriage is transformed into an evil midget that attacks its mother.  “You look like my first wife – only she had more hair,” Dangerfield tells the gorilla.  “I’m cheating on my husband with the weather man,” says a reporter.

2. Relativist.  At stake in the story is the balance of power between good and evil, with one no better than the other.  “Why don’t we all just have fun and do whatever we want?”  Most demons are basically decent folks.

1. Racist! – and specifically anti-Semitic, in spite of the thin pretenses of no. 7 above.  Hell is conspicuously inhabited and lorded over by Jews, with Rodney Dangerfield, Harvey Keitel, and Sandler playing three successive Princes of Darkness.  Jon Lovitz also winds up in Hell.  An Asian stereotypically resorts to kung fu against Nicky.  John Witherspoon plays a jive-talking black thief.

Part II of

The Filthy Films of Adam Sandler in Ideological Content Analysis:

A Cranko-Politico-Critical Retrospective

of the Institute for Advanced Sandler Studies

AdamSandler

1995’s Billy Madison finds Sandler expanding his retard schtick from Saturday Night Live into the feature-length characterization of a bizarre, hyperactive American Oblomov, an irresponsible man-child of means who lives off the family fortune and spends his days in epic slacking: partying, drinking, hallucinating, and generally wasting his life.  Unfortunately, his lifetime of pampering means that spoiled Billy never learned to do anything for himself; and only the influence of his Fortune 500 hotel tycoon father (Darren McGavin) prevented him from flunking out of school and allowed him to undeservedly graduate.

Learning this for the first time, Billy is distraught; and to prove to the skeptical Mr. Madison that he, Billy, and not the scheming and evil Eric (Bradley Whitford) should take over direction of the family hotel chain, Billy hits upon the idea of demonstrating his ability to achieve on his own by tearing through all the public school grades again, from kindergarten to high school, in just a matter of wild and wacky weeks.  Along the way he makes a number of friends in grade school and falls in love with one of his teachers, the cute but tough Miss Vaughn (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras) – but will it be enough to counter Eric’s unscrupulous effort to undermine the project and sabotage Billy’s righteous birthright?

Billy Madison revels in the absurd, celebrates the obscene, and wallows in the scatalogical like the world is ending.  What might on paper sound like a total cinematic disaster is, however, turned into a surprisingly and defiantly funny character creation in the hands of Adam Sandler.  Viewers are challenged not to laugh when Billy, his crush on Miss Vaughn in full bloom, whimpers pitiably in an aside that he, “Want[s] to touch the hiney”.  The laughs thin out somewhat during the film’s obligatory inspirational third act, but Sandler’s inimitable mojo keeps the ball of snot rolling, and smile-sparking supporting turns from Chris Farley, Norm MacDonald, and Steve Buscemi certainly do no harm.

Viewed with an open heart, Billy Madison is, in all honesty, a stupid but also a pretty funny comedy of the gleefully gross, gutter-snorkeling variety and earns 3.5 of 5 possible stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Billy Madison is:

7. Anti-feminist.  Miss Vaughn, though she can be stern and in one scene bests Billy in a physical altercation, appears to become interested in him after she lets him get away with an “assault” in which he pretends to fall on a school bus and exploits the opportunity to grope her breasts.  How incorrigibly sexist!

6. State-skeptical.  Public schools’ employee screening practices are called into question by the revelation that Billy’s grade school principal, Mr. Anderson (Josh Mostel) is actually a former professional wrestler with no teaching degree.  One of the teachers (Dina Platias) is a slightly spacy hippie who engages in some kind of ritual freakout when the kids are out at recess.  A bus driver (Chris Farley) is clearly full of rage and a man who could snap at any moment.  He also steals the children’s lunches.  Public grade school education appears to consist of coloring exercises, crafts, and spelling bees.  See also no. 1.

5. Anti-family/anti-marriage.  Children can be brats.  A trivia host offers the category “My Wife the Tramp”.  The mother of one of Billy’s classmates indicates that she is sexually available while her husband is serving a prison sentence.

4. Pro-drug.  Billy drinks heavily, the only consequences being laziness and humorous, Harvey-style hallucinations of a giant penguin.  He eats paste with gusto and offers some to a classmate.  His slacker buddies joke about getting a donkey drunk.

3. Pro-miscegenation.  Billy’s fat black maid (Theresa Merritt) repeatedly flirts with him and offers to take her top off to cheer him up.  Bestiality receives an endorsement when the bus driver meets and finds ecstasy with the penguin of Billy’s hallucinations.  Madison, despite his all-American name and Anglo-Saxon father, is unmistakably a Jew and so cannot resist the blonde temptation of Teutonic “hiney”.

2. Pro-gay.  Among Billy’s dirty magazine subscriptions is one called She-Male Fiesta.  Mr. Anderson gives Billy an obscene Valentine’s Day card informing him that he is horny and later shamelessly grinds against him in public.  The bus driver, taking over from Miss Vaughn, does an educational striptease for Billy to induce him to learn his lessons.  Lesbians engage in a three-way kiss.

1. Capital-ambivalent.  Billy’s untamed lifestyle and various eccentricities suggest that a privileged upbringing results in a spoiled, abnormal personality, and the story of Billy’s first fraudulent experience in the public schools indicates that the rich simply disregard the pesky rules that everybody else has to follow in life.  That the wealthy Mr. Madison puts his son through the public schools at all may point to a humble adherence to his Main Street roots and everyman origins – or it might be that Mr. Madison sees deficient and academically undemanding public schools as offering the easiest path to graduation for his son. Meritocracy receives a nod in the acknowledgement that Mr. Madison is a self-made man, and his company eventually winds up in the hands of his most qualified and deserving subordinate (Larry Hankin).  However, had Billy chosen to accept the direction of the company, this impression would have been instantly dissipated by the picture of a barely functional simpleton jumping to first place in the corporate world just because of whose son he happens to be.  He instead opts to go the populist route and become a teacher himself.

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