Film Review: Your Highness
2011– 102mn – 15
Directed by David Gordon Green. Starring Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel. Review by Walter Nichols.
Three years ago, indie film darling David Gordon Green shocked many of his fans by teaming up with Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow to make the studio stoner comedy Pineapple Express. He chose as his star the then much-maligned James Franco, who had just been roundly mocked for his performance in Spider-Man 3. Their collaboration, experts prophesised, was sure to be a disaster.
Pineapple Express, of course, was a well-reviewed hit, and the beginning of James Franco’s new dawn as a sort of post-modernist figure. In the following couple of years he became a hip comedy figure, attended New York University, put together art installations, joined a daytime soap-opera as “performance art”, and this year topped it off by hosting the Oscars.
So this time round, with their follow-up of sorts Your Highness, audiences were warned and expectations were high. The film, described as a foul-mouthed Princess Bride, is properly star-studded: Danny McBride co-wrote it and co-stars, along with new Oscar-winner Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel, Justin Theroux, Toby Jones and Damian Lewis. But trust David Gordon Green and James Franco to confound expectations. What people had originally predicted of Pineapple Express has come true a little late: Your Highness is the dreadful car crash they’d prophesized.
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Smug, lazy, dumb – there are many words that could describe Your Highness. “Funny” is hardly one of them. The film is a parody of valiant knight tales. Brave prince Fabious (Franco) and his lazy, cowardly brother (McBride) go on a quest to rescue Fabious’s bride-to-be (Deschanel) from an evil warlock (Theroux). On the way they meet and team up with fearsome warrior Isabel (Portman), who has her own grudge with the warlock. They occasionally fight monsters and barbarians, but mostly they make fart-and-genitals jokes and lamely attempt to bed their gorgeous co-stars.
The film is, for the most part, improvised; and its only, if any, use is as a warning for budding improvisers. This is what not to do. Free-wheeling (in the worst way), unstructured, and pleased with itself, it’s a collection of idiotic penis and breast puns badly delivered, badly directed, and badly put together. It’s baffling to see so many good people (not just indie darling Gordon Green) go so wrong. Danny McBride is one of America’s most promising out-there comics. He popped up in Up In The Air and fronts the HBO comedy Eastbound & Down. Both his writing and acting here are woeful. Franco’s new persona, it has to be said, has gone round the spectrum and fallen off. He’s been in five films in the past year, and in all but 127 Hours played an increasingly grating parody of himself. Your Highness sees him at his annoying worst. And Natalie Portman – as stunning as she is to look at, and Your Highness perversely showcases her womanhood better than perhaps any other film – seems hell-bent on shattering any post-Oscar pressure by finishing 2011 off with clonker after clonker (No Strings Attached was her opener, let’s hope Thor isn’t her way of topping off her trilogy of awfulness). Her acting is predictably good but her English accent is all over the place. It’s painful and embarrassing to watch her, a talented and by all indicators intelligent young woman, sit through endless scenes of sexual puns and “jokes” objectifying her (in more than one scene McBride rants on to her about doing things to her breasts; and she also appears in a gratuitous moment in a thong).
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The one star is for baddie Justin Theroux, cousin of our Louis Theroux, writer of Tropic Thunder, and actor of David Lynch movies. He excels as the pubescent warlock: even though he looks in his 40s, in warlock years he’s only 19; he lives with his three nagging witch mothers, and his kidnapping of Zooey Deschanel’s character is just an elaborate way for him to lose his virginity. He’s deliciously vile, and puts every one of his co-stars to shame.
Star rating: 1 out of 5 stars