Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Horrible Bosses (2011) – Review

Review: Horrible Bosses is a hilarious buddy-comedy. What works so well is that director Seth Gordon does not try to do too much with the narrative – he keeps it simple. This is a story about three friends that work for awful crazy strange bosses. Gordon allows for the bosses themselves to be played to an exaggerated level for comedic effect, but still within the realm of reality – thus making them relatable to the audience in terms of their own potentially terrible bosses (or idea of what would be a crap boss). The other thing Gordon understands about comedy is that often the best comedy comes from simply putting average characters on a path and having them make bad decisions that escalate to a somewhat embellished outcome. The characters of Nick, Dale and Kurt are played well and present as different spectrums of the average 30-40 something man. Their reactions to and decision-making as a result of the situations is what makes this film work so well, because everything is relatable (to a degree). Gordon allows them to be a little dumb, inappropriate and un-bashful, but generally nice guys, making them feel not only real and relatable but also like guys most of the audience would hang out with (an important touch for this sort of comedy). This film’s comedy works as well as it does because the viewer can see himself in the same situations probably having similar reactions, but also Gordon injects enough ridiculousness and inflated situations to also appeal to the part of the viewer that wants to be shocked (to an extent – and while I am sure many a comedy did this prior, we can call this the South Park, or for a more recent reference The Hangover or Old School, extreme comedy style where situations, use of langue or characters are heightened to a level that most viewers will never experience and thus are amused because they are to a degree shocked or surprised by what they are seeing or hearing the characters say and go through). Not every comedy needs to have this attribute to work, but this sort of frat-boy/buddy type of comedy comes with an expected amount of rude extreme behavior and situations. Most importantly, the characters must be done right, because if the audience is not with them then nothing else will work or be nearly as funny. Horrible Bosses is very funny because the audience can see themselves in the characters, and Gordon does a great job of escalating the situations and comedy just enough to engage the audience thoroughly without losing them because everything is overblown. He gets the characters and balance right, and thus the film works well and is quite hysterical. However, this is a straightforward comedy – there is not much, if any dramatic or emotional work, and so it is not fulfilling to the same extent that some other comedies (such as Forgetting Sarah Marshall) that are just as funny/crazy but dig deeper into the emotions of their characters.

Technical & acting achievements: Seth Gordon needed a hit comedy with Horrible Bosses, coming off the not too well received feature debut Four Christmases (though, I liked it) amidst all the anticipation following his breakout documentary (and comedy) The King of Kong: A Fistfull of Quarters. This film established Gordon as a comedy director to watch (and maybe competition for Todd Phillips for his demographic, as Horrible Bosses is much better than Phillips’s last two:  Due Date and The Hangover Part II). As stated above, this is a straightforward comedy and shot that way by Gordon, taking on the aesthetic of modern Hollywood films (not completely, but to some extent void of artistic experimentation, rather allowing the performances and comedy to play for the audience). The work thusly of composer Christopher Lennertz and cinematographer David Hennings is adequate for the film, but does not stand out. However, production designer Shepherd Frankel does fantastic work with the sets, especially having fun with Bobby Pellitt’s and Dave Harken’s house. These types of comedies owe a large portion of their success to the cast’s ability to be funny and have the right mix of chemistry. Here, the principal supporting characters are all outlandish and amusing. Jamie Foxx (whose character name is probably the funniest part about his character and performance) and Kevin Spacey (see Swimming with Sharks) do good work but sort of deliver performances and characters we have seen before. Colin Farrell and especially Jennifer Aniston (who practically steals the film from a bunch of great comedians) take their characters to another level, playing characters well outside what they have done before, which works incredibly well given the premise. Each of the leads plays their typical character, but the chemistry between Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day is great. Day is particular is really funny in the movie (and in everything he does). He just has an infectious energy and seems to constantly be on the edge of full on insanity.

Summary & score: Horrible Bosses works really well for what it is and aspires to be, just a straightforward really funny buddy comedy. 7/10

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