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http://simplecommunion.com/2010/11/brighthaven-intro/ Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008) and Role Models (2008)

rolemodels.jpgYou know what? I’m going to come out and say it: I’m not a fan of the gag-based comedy movie. 90 minutes of formulaic wackiness is at least 60 minutes too much. Leave that for TV. 30 Rock may well be the funniest gag comedy on TV since the Conan years of The Simpsons, but a 30 Rock movie is about as necessary as a Simpsons movie. If you’re going to make me sit still that long, you have to make me care about the characters. I don’t have to like them, but you have to give me something to hang on to.

Happy times, indeed, that we live in that this opinion seems to be catching on. Judd Apatow didn’t invent the raunchy, sentimental, character-driven comedy, but he drove it straight into the mainstream like a crazy fat man in a garbage truck, and the results have been just as awesome.

Kevin Smith actually can claim to invent the raunchy, sentimental, character-driven comedy, but in Zack and Miri, he gets a big boost from the Apatow crowd in the form (finally) of actors who can make his dialogue sound like they come from actual people, rather than a series of Kevin Smith mouthpieces (Smith regulars show up in supporting roles, which they mostly nail, especially Jason Mewes). Seth Rogan and Elizabeth Banks bring their underachieving, cheerfully foul-mouthed characters to life, and make their relationship sweet and touching, even when it becomes obvious where it’s going to go (i.e. around the time the opening credits end). It doesn’t hurt that Smith manages to achieve a much higher hit-to-miss ratio than usual on the laughs, and that he obviously has a lot of affection for the world of no-budget filmmaking. In Smith’s world, there’s not a lot of difference between making an indie comedy in a convenience store and making a porno in a coffee shop.

Role Models, meanwhile, manages to inject a little mainstream into the David Wain-led group behind Wet Hot American Summer. Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks (again), Jane Lynch and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (McLovin from Superbad) are among the Apatow players who show up here. Paul Rudd is a miserable, sarcastic energy-drink salesman who ends a particularly bad day by impaling his ad-truck on a statue. (My kind of guy, in other words.) As punishment, he and co-worker Seann William Scott are court-ordered to mentor dorky Christopher Mintz-Plasse and hilariously vicious Bobb’e J Thompson. Paul Rudd is co-writer and while it’s really an ensemble movie, it’s also really about his character, who is awesome when he’s walking around delivering snark like a UPSnark deliveryman, but less awesome when he’s learning life lessons. Unfortunately, he spends a lot of time learning life lessons. I don’t know what it says about me that bitter sarcasm brings a smile to my face and personal growth leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but it does. Fortunately, even when that stuff’s going on, the movie brings on the funny on a pretty regular basis, so I can almost forgive it. Actually, I can forgive it — for Jane Lynch’s line delivery alone. “I’m not here to service you, I’m here to service these young boys.”