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Giving "Observe and Report" its fair due (10 April 2009)


De Line Pictures

The movie largely presents drunk women as grotesque and offensive, and pedestals ideal sex as that between couples who give a damn about one another (and where everything is comparatively low-key and tame). The sex with Brandi is presented as him still living the schmoe's life - -a life without any dignity: it is no score, but a collective embarrassment. All this said, the movie is to some extent moved out of a hatred of the rejecting woman. But the revenge is nowhere in the sex, but rather in how the film terminates -- with her being targeted for special attention by the mall flasher. This is displaced, angry rape, and our sense of her at the end of the film is indeed of her having been despoiled (“Talladega Nights” was actually born out of a kinder impulse to women).

Film tells a familiar message as far as understanding men's needs: they need to be listened to and loved. It's what they deserve, and, as a plus, it's also the way to tame the "beast."

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Rogen's character is not meant to be seen primarily as an asshole. He is meant to showcase more quintessentially American qualities, of resilience and spirit, which can carry the day, and of over-all good heartedness. This said, though it's all about date-rape and gross exploitation HERE (i.e., the discussion this excerpt was taken from), more notable in the movie is perhaps his propriety -- witness his reluctance to follow his security cop partner "all the way," and perhaps, even, delicateness -- witness his tending to of his mother. For anyone who wonders why Rogen appeals, it is because he seems someone who can play along, be a good sport, but who has a conscience -- he always seems to be drawn to tend to those who really, really are fucked up, to prevent them from going completely overboard and really hurting someone.

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Whoever is starring comments is not doing Stephanie a favor here: they kind of cooperate with her piece to make her seem extra-shorthanded when confronted by displays of male anger.

I remember Stephanie looking somewhat incredulously at Andrew O'Hehir when he had good things to say about Watchmen (Salon posted a video of them discussing the movie) and it's brutal rape scene. She clearly wanted to respect O'Hehir, but you could tell she was actually verging on asking herself, "who the hell are you that you could like that?, that you are not repelled by that?," but couldn't and didn't owing to the chaos that question would bring to surface. Too bad -- you could tell there was something suspect in his tolerance of the scene, and his preference not to explore it too inquisitively. But it was graphic literature, and Andrew O'Hehir, so it was an easy one for the psychic pass.

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Re: “He is not a hero but rather an ANTI-HERO. You would not want to be like him or do what he is doing.” (Josef Gancz, Response to post, "Observe and Report," Stephanie Zachareck, Salon, April 10, 2009)

***Spoiler Warning***

Appreciated your response to the movie, but personally I think this is a mis-read. Hard to not think that quite possibly ANYONE who currently feels somewhat circumscribed, bullied, a victim of circumstances (recession related?), won’t at some level be cheering him along as in face of brazen intimidation and potential brutal defeat, he single-handedly takes on a gang of street thugs and (at another time) a gang of police offers, and handles himself more ably than the barbarian chief managed in similarly unfair circumstances at the beginning of “Gladiator.” The movie just doesn’t make him someone with DELUSIONS of grandeur: it gives him juice to display a considerable amount of it, and not too far into the film.

And we must be fair to the movie and not suggest that “what he is doing” amounts to non-stop thuggery or fratboy boarishness. Stephanie notes his gentleness, which is on display when he tends to his mother. But also of note is his receptivity: he listens with consideration to what his mother says, and hopes the best for her. Stephanie Z. suggests that his relationship with Nell, the young lady he visits every morning for coffee, is one-sided, with her offering much and him, little. But personally, even if perhaps it’s only because Rogen is playing the part, I sensed receptivity, reciprocity, fair consideration (though yes, he could also be ignorant of how she was responding to what he had to say, which did lead to hurt feelings) in how he interacted with her. Unconscious of it, for sure, but his manner of attending to her overall communicated that he thought her someone of value -- she was PRIMARILY a person to him, not a coffee-girl. This might be made to seem of little consequence, but perhaps especially in a movie set in a shopping mall, we should be alert to consider this as something of real value -- something perhaps too rarely encountered (if at all) by those society tends to think of as somewhat disposable.

In fact, while we all wonder whether this will lead to more date-rapes, I think that if we are to be fair to the proportions of what this movie communicates, we should spend more time wondering if this movie might help validate men enough to move them to treat women with some of the respect and fair consideration, they themselves have been lacking.

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“but Seth Rogen's character is not a frat type of man”

Well, the frat boy may sense the BMW and the career job on the road ahead, but he’s known a life of indefinite masculinity and Ritalin-shame, requiring something more than Xbox compensation.

“She is far more of a woman than Ronnie can handle and she is totally in control of the relationship.”

I agree with you that she is presented as being in charge. Of note, though, that this changes in the end, where he puts her “in her place” (as Rogen’s character finally managed to the empowered female Other, in Knocked Up).

“Thus, the comedy here is that Seth Rogen takes the obligatory Hollywood conventions and twists them in a weird way. That is what makes it funny.”

I don't think I principally found it funny. I experienced it to some extent akin to how that closet-hiding police officer, anticipating culmination and hilarity, actually experienced overhearing Ronnie being told he didn’t make the force: that is, as a bit sad. Ronnie was not a character, some vehicle for social commentary: I experienced him as a real person involved in something just so unequal to his lengthy and deep anticipation/trepidation. The touching but also ridiculous scene where he gets clothing advice from his mother, makes sure that there is pathos as well as the laugh, in our reaction to the sex-scene.


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