TROUBLE CITY

Rock Me Sexy Jesus: Hamlet 2 and Steve Coogan

BlogsBrad WitzelComment

The comedic formula used in the last couple of years within Hollywood has been rather repetitive.  It's not that Will Ferrel's man-child routine, Seth Rogan's average-guy-pseudo-slacker, or Steve Carell's screaming exclamatory exaggeration isn't funny.  Most of those movies are rather enjoyable; bring forth a solid amount of laughter, and I'm a fan of all three of those actor's works.  Yet, after a while it starts to feel like smiling for the sake of smiling as one views the same joke over and over again in slight variation.  It all feels eerily similar to Adam Sandler or Jim Carrey in the late 90's when most of the comedic routine centered around wide-eyed expressions and nonsensical gibberish.  While funny, the whole kitsch gets weary after awhile.

Perhaps that's why Hamlet 2 felt so refreshing.  It was nearly impossible to not feel excited by the comedy trappings occurring on the screen.  Few times does a comedy arrive that captures the whole audience, creating a constant and genuine laugh track within the theater.  To put it succinctly; anyone who misses seeing Hamlet 2 is depriving themselves of one of the best laughs they'll get in a long time.  The film's a definite must-see.



I caught the screening of this film in downtown Chicago, courtesy of Capone at AintItCoolNews.  The theater had a lot of seats reserved for press, because the star of the film, Steve Coogan, would be doing a short Q&A session afterward (more on that in a bit).  The vibe around the room was palpable excitement.  The trailer for the film had caught everyone's attention and created some hardcore anticipation.  I remember surveying the packed theater, catching sight of a mix of reviewers, college film students, and cinephiles all waiting to see if the buzz surrounding this movie was grounded in fact.  My mind couldn't help but imagine that this might be what I would be doing full-time if I had only chose to stick with journalism at school.  But I digress. 

The film started, sans previews, and right off the bat the tone was established.  Quirkiness, with a dash of slapstick and a heap of witty dialogue disguised as fatuous ineptitude were all rolled up in a video resume for Dana Marshz (Coogan).  Also established quickly was the notion that this comedy wouldn't be afraid to touch on subjects that some would deem inappropriate, but what else could we expect from South Park and Team America co-scribe Pam Brady?

I'm going to try to refrain from giving away any jokes, as I wouldn't be able to do them justice.  Coogan's delivery of the gags, though, are expertly done.  Not only does the popular British actor clear up his accent enough to fool anyone not familiar with him, but he plays the emotional, childish, and naive Dana to perfection.  The audience easily falls in love with the character the second comedy gives way to vulnerability which gives birth to more comedy.  The supporting performances given by David Arquette, Catherine Keener, and Elisabeth Shue work well to heighten the central focus on Coogan, but the true supporting cast rested in the hands of some relative newcomers playing various students in Dana's class.  The most notable performances are with Skylar Astin (portraying Rand Posin, a sexually insecure thespian) and Phoebe Strole (as the sometimes racist Epiphany Sellers).  I hope both those actors end up with more roles in the future, they'll do well.

The most surprising aspect of Hamlet 2 is that the message behind the whole endeavor remains intact throughout; the purity of art and the revelations/reconciliations it can bring can overcome bigotry, censorship, and closed minds.  There's a little scene in the film which depicts some quick-to-judge religious folk realizing that there's merit and a message they can agree with in the play they're viewing.  I wouldn't be surprised if the same kind of people start to campaign against the film (without having seen it, of course) shortly before the theatrical release

One final note on the film itself; the music (especially the epic "Rock Me Sexy Jesus") is incredibly hilarious and will stay lodged within the confines of the brain for a long time.  It's just another reason I recommend this movie.

The film ended to thunderous applause.  Everyone in the theater had enjoyed the experience immensely.  Yet, the night wasn't over.  It was time for Steve Coogan, Sexy Jesus himself, to take a seat in front of the screen and field questions.  Unfortunately, I'm rather too poor to afford a decent recorder so I was left with an old-fashioned steno notebook and pen.  I managed to jot down the basic questions and answers given, but only have a few exact quotes and have far from an accurate transcription of the Q&A.  So, the following will be more of a highlights reel, with no direct quotes (rather paraphrasing) that aren't within quotation marks.

Whose idea was it to make the character American?  Were you the original choice?
It was in the script that he's American, and I was still the first choice.  The character is raw and wears his heart on his sleeve.  The British are too emotionally repressed (laughter).  So, he had to be American.

How important is it for you to be famous in America as well as England?
It's not very important to be famous for its own sake.  That being said, becoming famous in America is important because it'll get you more interesting work.  I'm rather famous in Britain, and get interesting work there.  So now I just need everyone here to catch on.

Did you make changes to the character of Dana?
I stuck to the page, mostly.  I played around with the looks and behavior, and we [Coogan and director Andrew "Andy" Fleming] talked about it.  We also had a debate on whether Dana was straight or gay.  But then, we couldn't have two flamboyantly gay people on the set, because Andy is a flamboyantly gay person [said with laughter].  Although, Andy did make sure I committed to emotions.  Went all out with them.  Because, if I was trying to be just funny all the time, instead of experiencing those other emotions as well, then it would get old and everything would be less funny as a result.  "If its just a string of gags and he's just an idiot, people would leave in a half hour."

Who are your influences?
"I love a variety of comedy".  I used to record television as a kid, just the sound, and then play it back to friends and make up what they were doing.  But...I always liked The Goons, Monty Python, Beyond the Fringe.  Vaudeville-type stuff.  Bob Newhart, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner.

When creating a character what do you look for to play?
Flawed, damaged, but not sociopathic.  Human.  Dislikeable, someone that challenges the audience to like him.  It's easier to play someone who's fucked up.  And either way, I don't put expectations on my films.  "Expect the worst and then I'm never disappointed."

Then I got to ask my question, SWEET!
You were great in Hot Fuzz, and I know that Edgar Wright likes working with the same people.  So, do you have any plans to work with him again soon, perhaps on Ant-Man or Scott Pilgrim vs. the World?
He hasn't approached me about anything yet.  I've known him for a long time, though.  Simon [Pegg] and I go back a long time.  Actually, I used to do a variety show type tour, and Simon was my back-up act when I had to change or something.  He screwed that up by becoming a movie star.  So now I have to catch up [laughter].  But Edgar and Simon do comedy I like, and I'm sure I'll be offered a small part in whatever it is Edgar's doing next.

On Tropic Thunder:
I play the British film director who's feeling way out of his depth.  Because, its about this ambitious Vietnam film with a huge budget and the director's just never done that kind of scale before.  Ben Stiller was experiencing almost the same thing with making the actual movie, with such a larger budget that anything he's worked on.  But..."I've seen it [the movie].  I think its going to be a huge, huge hit."

How much of the dialogue in Hamlet 2 was improvised?
About 10%.  It seems that the better crafted something is the better it'll look.  Everyone thinks that there's a lot of improv in this movie because it was so smooth.  As far as my character, I had a lot of input.  I'd be working over what I should do or shouldn't do, and Andy would laugh or not.  If he didn't laugh, I didn't do it.

What was your favorite scene in the movie?
That's hard.  [pause].  It sounds weird, but probably the dinner scene when Catherine Keener was drunk.  That was just...it flowed well and was natural and funny.  Painfully funny.  I like painful scenes more than funny scenes.  It's all good.

And with that last question, the night was called to a close.  He gave some good information, and seemed very genuine and nice.  Gotta love those British actors!

The final verdict; see this film as soon as it comes out or you'll be missing something wonderfully unique.

Anyhow, that's all for now.  Stay tuned for the next installment of my B-movies reviews, I should get to some more this week-end.