With the casting of Seth Rogen as his lead, I’ve heard people dismiss Zack and Miri Make a Porno as writer/director Kevin Smith’s attempt to be Judd Apatow. I can’t think of anything more spectacularly unfair. Kevin Smith was pulling off raunchy humor with a heart of gold long before we’d even heard the name Apatow, he’s just never gotten the same kind credit for it. If anything, that’s probably because Kevin is often less interested in the heavy dramatic elements Apatow uses to win critics and audiences over. Smith is, self-admittedly, into dick jokes. Usually there’s a touch of dramatic sweetness mixed in, especially in some of his more poignant, focused movies like Clerks II and Chasing Amy, but more often than not he’s there for a laugh, the dirtier the better.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno is the ultimate embodiment of Kevin Smith's cock = comedy philosophy. It's pure comedy. In the age of internet voyeurism, the story of two average nobodies making pornography happens all across America on a daily basis, but unless they’re shooting a sequel to two girls one cup, it’s almost certainly never this dirty and definitely never this funny.
Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) have been best friends since high school. They share a crummy apartment, work lousy jobs, and instinctively avoid becoming romantically entangled with one another (though it’s obvious to us that they’re soul mates) while living lives that are clearly going nowhere. Financially speaking, they’re utterly destitute and after an encounter at their high school reunion Zack and Miri decide that the only way they’ll ever make it big (or pay their rent) is to do their own porno movie. After all, everybody wants to see everybody else naked, even if it’s two nobodies from the mid-west. Couple of problems though. They don’t have any money for food let alone movie making, they know nothing about shooting porno, and despite their bravado, neither of them is very comfortable with the idea of getting naked on film, much less having sex with each other.
To make the movie happen they recruit a group of misfits including Smith regulars like Jeff Anderson and Jason Mewes, a couple of porn stars to provide nudity in Traci Lords and Katie Morgan, and Office alum Craig Robinson to bring the funny. Actually, if there’s a problem with Zack and Miri it’s that the supporting cast is so good you may find yourself more interested in watching them than the movie’s two leads. Anderson delivers some of the funniest lines of the film, Mewes finally whips his cock out, and Craig Robinson literally steals every single scene he’s in. Extended cameos from people like Superman Brandon Routh and Mac guy Justin Long really kill too, and they’re so good you’ll likely leave the theater wondering if there’s some way to convince Smith to make Routh and Long’s characters the subject of his next film.
For better or worse though, Zack and Miri’s relationship remains the center of Zack and Miri. For me, the film lags a little when it spends time exploring their softer sides and it soars when we stop worrying about how Zack and Miri are feeling, instead getting down to the business of letting their friends attempt to shoot porno. Whenever they’re working on putting their sex flick together, the movie is filled with big, big, raunchy laughs. The story needs their relationship of course, lest it turn into pornography itself. The sweetness of their awkward, mutually unrequited love is what keeps the audience, even you puritanical types, on their side. When Smith does get around to the business of making his two leads have sex they’ve been avoiding, that moment between them is touching, a sharp bit of directing, and one of the most memorable sequences in the film. It’s just that Zack and Miri Make a Porno is at its most consistent when it’s more “Make a Porno” and less “Zack and Miri”.
Kevin Smith is known for his smart, edgy dialogue and there’s plenty of his brilliant, wordy style on display in Zack and Miri. He’s combined that with a great cast, maybe the most talented he’s ever worked with, and the result is one of Smith’s funniest, dirtiest, most gleefully offensive movies to date.
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