Review: Zack And Miri Make A Porno

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Zack And Miri Make A Porno is an interesting, if dubious title. It tells you what the film is about as succinctly as Snakes On A Plane, but it also instils a worrying sense of: “uh oh, how well are they going to handle this idea?” You can safely assume that in this film two characters – one called Zack and the other named Miri – are going to create a pornographic movie. It sounds about as classy and subtle as film about a 40 year old man who has never had sex. But back in 2005 there was film like that – it was called 40 Year Old Virgin. That film was so much more than just its initial concept: it was funny, the characters felt real, there so many elements you could identify with and above all it was sincere. Now Zack And Miri Make A Porno is not as brilliant as 40 Year Old Virigin – but it is funny, it is honest and it is more than its premise.

That said, the film gets off to an unpromising start as it introduces us to the two title characters, Zack and Miri (played by Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks respectively). The first ten minutes depicts them as a lazy slobs and the first gag of Zack burning his balls on a heat pack stuffed down his pants falls flat. Thankfully, it’s not long before we wind up at Bean ‘N’ Gone, the coffee shop where Zack works. It’s here the film really starts with wonderful back and forth dialogue as Zack and co-worker Delany (Craig Robinson) are berated by their amusingly angry Indian boss played by Gerry Bednob (who played a similarly awesome role in 40 Year Old Virgin.) From here on the film becomes genuinely entertaining, thriving on the interplay between the characters. After the dud opening, Zack and Mirri turn out to an endearing pair – even if they truly are lazy slobs, freely talking about vibrators versus Flesh Lights (Google it!) and generally spewing forth insight into the obscene. Zack and Miri’s back story is that they’ve known each other since high school and despite living together for many years, their relationship is simply a firm friendship. As the film progresses their already rickety financial situation becomes dire and so Zack proposes a solution: that the two of them make a pornographic movie together.

The film was written and directed by Kevin Smith, who also wrote such wickedly enjoyable films as Clerks and Dogma. Fans of Kevin may already have picked up on numerous traits of Kevin’s films in the previous paragraph: including the flawed and distasteful characters, back and forth dialogue that makes the inane funny and a juggling act of character relationships and the obscene. Granted, Kevin hasn’t always been able to turn these traits into strengths in his films, but Zack And Miri Make A Porno is an example of Kevin doing what he does best. Even if he is yet to better Clerks, his first feature film. Actually, Kevin’s experience in making Clerks was used as a basis for Zack And Miri Make A Porno. Once the plan to make a porno starts swinging into action there’s much joy to be had in all the guerrilla filmmaking techniques used: the microphone is attached to a hockey stick in place of a boom pole, brown fuzzy ear warmers create Princess Leia’s iconic hairdo and it’s all shot on a single handheld camera. It’s just like the joy you got in seeing all those films being recreated in the most economical fashion in Be Kind, Rewind…but with more sex.

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This film is really about different types of relationships: friendships, plutonic relationships, sexual relationships and loving relationships. There are two main challenges for Zack and Miri: to create a porno movie that will get themselves out of debt and to maintain their friendship in the face of the added complications of having sex with each other in a porno. Unfortunately, it’s pretty obvious how Zack and Miri’s relationship is going to end up – and the inevitability of the two falling in love threatens to cheapen the experience. Early in the film Zack and Miri meet a very funny and amible gay couple at their high school reunion. But after some very funny moments with Zack casually discussing gay porn with one partner and Miri drunkenly hitting on the other, the couple end up in heated argument. In a short space of time we learn a great deal about this couple (played very well by Justin Long and Brandon Routh) both as friendly social people and the strains and stresses behind their relationship. It actually feels quite real and believable. As Zack murmurs to himself in amazement: “they fight just like real people.” Then there’s Delaney, who unhappy marriage is exploited for comedy. It’s hilariously tragic, shows that relationships can persist in unhappiness and goes completely unresolved.

In comparison, it’s hard not to find the changing relationship between Zack and Miri too cliché to be taken seriously. That not to say that it’s terrible – and the first time the couple have sex is wonderfully handled. While their film crew looks on the soundscape is natural and you can hear their comments – but when it cuts to a tightly framed shot of Zack and Miri having sex the audio is dominated by a loud and passionate rock song. It’s the perfect way to illustrate how these characters feel versus how mundane the two having sex appears to onlookers. And there’s enough of these moments to let you shrug off your cynicism and just enjoy the progression of their relationship as it happens. Sometimes it’s the simplest thing that sells the scene to you – such as when Miri and Zack holding hands lingers for just a moment, before Miri turns the gesture into an awkward swinging of their arms together and then letting go.

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But the film isn’t just about what happens to the title characters – but also their friends who become crew members and crew members who become friends. It starts with two aimless losers getting an idea – and this drive and enthusiasm affects the whole group. In the end they get this burst of creativity and passion from – of all things – a porno. It’s at this point that Zack And Miri Make A Porno proves that this film is more than about just making a porno.

That said, they make a porno – so be warned that this film is rated R18+ so there’s lot of crude sexual references, a bit of nudity and a ridiculous amount of swearing. But if you enjoy Kevin Smith’s sense of humour, there are a lot laughs to be had here – thanks both to the writing and casting. The casting is impeccable and the film presents a world of interesting people. But as awesome as the supporting cast is, sometimes it feel that we don’t get to know who these people really are. We barely get to know Barry and Bubbles (played by Ricky Mabe and Traci Lords respectively) and their characters just fade into the background. That said, Jason Mewes is to be commended for his part as Lester. Jason is most often seen in Kevin Smith films as recurring character Jay. While Lester and Jay share some personality traits, somehow Jason manages to make Lester feel like a separate, unique character. There are also some really nice touches in the set dressing that reveals more about the characters without even saying anything. Some of the many things you’ll find in the background of Zack and Miri’s apartment include a signed jersey, an acoustic guitar and a bong.

Also the colour grading is gorgeous and full of wonderful warm hues. I couldn’t fit that into the review anyway – but I have a newfound appreciation for good colour grading.

The most successful aspect of this film is that it’s funny. Bare with it past the first few minutes and the rest of film is quite enjoyable. But the main problem with this film is that you’re all too aware that there’s a structure leading to an obvious ending resolution; that is, deciding the relationship status of Zack and Miri. But they do at least try to compensate for this. There’s a nice meta moment when Delaney is talking about their porno: “the movie doesn’t have an ending.” This moment drives the plot to its conclusion while recognising the constructed nature of movies. The inevitability of love and romance in movies is a problem that even 40 Year Old Virgin also suffered from. Still, the film does create a sense that this world and these characters persist after the credits. (Also, stay after the credits.) Despite all that Zack And Miri Make A Porno does right, it does wind up being somewhat forgettable and I doubt I’ll reflect much on it a few years later.

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  • Brady

    Jason Mews is a goddamn legend! But no Jay or Silent Bob in a Kevin Smith movie? No Snoochy Boochys?

  • There was a cameo by a drunk fat guy but it wasn’t Kevin Smith. He must have considered himself for that role but the actor he chose is also funny.

  • I enjoyed this, and plus points for mc chris!