In 2008, David Gordon Green shocked his modest however devoted following by pivoting from Malickian post-industrial indie films to Pineapple Express, a stoner buddy image so indebted to cheeseball 80s motion comedies that it commissioned its personal Huey Lewis theme track. Far from a sellout, the movie nonetheless exhibited his sensibility, chasing humanist absurdities with surprising violence, recalibrated for mainstream delight. Three years later, delight turned to alienation together with his follow-up, Your Highness, a fantasy-spoof car for Green’s longtime good friend and collaborator Danny McBride. Critics cringed, audiences stayed away, and McBride’s profession as a big-screen star was short-lived.
It labored out for the perfect; McBride discovered a extra productive outlet for his antihero coarseness on a collection of HBO reveals, and Green had his largest hit ever together with his 2018 Halloween follow-up, which McBride co-wrote. But given how usually Hollywood tries and fails to make entertaining big-budget fantasy comedies, normally by ripping off Ghostbusters, the gnarly goofiness of Your Highness deserves one other look 10 years later.
McBride performs Thadeous, a foppish vulgarian of a prince consumed with petulant jealousy over his dashing older brother Fabious (James Franco). Fabious is engaged to marry Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel), and when an evil wizard (Justin Theroux) kidnaps her on their marriage ceremony day, Fabious and Thadeous set out on a standard-issue quest to avoid wasting her. Along the way in which, they cross paths with vengeful warrior Isabel (Natalie Portman), together with numerous nymphs, knights and creatures.
The greatest joke of Your Highness is that it’s a genuinely creative fantasy pastiche, paying homage to the way in which that the Jack Black/Kyle Gass rock band Tenacious D satirizes prog-metal bombast with well-crafted songs. Green’s films all the time have a sense of texture and this one is not any exception, with Green and frequent cinematographer Tim Orr capturing verdant tones earlier than unleashing neon lightning blasts within the grand finale. The fantasy particulars are sketched in with the passion of detailed ballpoint-pen drawings on an eighth-grader’s binder: an acid-spitting five-headed hydra managed by a deranged ruler sticking his hand into a cauldron of yellow goop; golden fairies floor up and snorted by the grotesque wizard; a maze of branches and eyeballs housing a pants-less minotaur.
It’s all foolish, sure, however in service of celebration. Green and McBride appear to search out these items sincerely cool and worthy of their full consideration, content material to let the anachronism-heavy jokes swap in for (and playfully josh) the ponderous dialogue of extra straight-faced fantasy epics. Even the extra blatantly irreverent parts are weirdly character-based. When Thadeous learns that the lifelong kinship Fabious shares with an previous soothsayer has a creepily sexualized aspect, it’s a assertion in regards to the traumas males practice themselves to suppress or ignore within the title of masculinity and a bad-taste sight gag the place McBride and Franco should make intimate contact with a lizard-y puppet character.
Opposite its caricatures of impossibly pure-hearted heroism and blowhard insecurity, the movie gives exaggerations of two well-liked forms of genre-movie feminine characters: Portman as an all-business badass who strikes swiftly between acts of violent revenge, and Deschanel as a naif so sheltered she’s flummoxed by a fork. (Little Mermaid homage? You be the choose.) They each go a good distance towards tempering McBride’s sometimes-overbearing comedian model. Even that coarseness, although, has a sure honesty in the way in which it rejects a then widespread comedian narrative of belated maturity, in favor of a easier reconciliation between siblings. Like Step Brothers, the movie acknowledges what number of male impulses aren’t simply immature however barely adolescent.
While I loved Your Highness from my first viewing in largely empty “premium large format” auditorium in Times Square, it appears much less inexplicable (and maybe much less offensive to those that didn’t vibe with it) following one other decade’s value of Green films, various in content material and magnificence whereas remaining recognizably his. The prolific film-maker appears to more and more make movies in teams of two or three: after the studio comedies Pineapple, Highness and the equally ill-regarded (and underrated!) The Sitter got here a triptych of smaller-scale character research toying with movie-star personas (Prince Avalanche; Joe; Manglehorn), then a pair of fact-based dramas (Our Brand Is Crisis; Stronger), and now an in-progress trilogy of Halloween sequels. Your Highness isn’t Green’s most important movie; it’s not even his most important broad comedy. (Yes, Pineapple Express is a lot better.) Yet it’s removed from the lazy Pineapple cash-in many noticed in 2011. Like it or not, Your Highness is a a part of David Gordon Green’s complete deal. Its very existence is a tribute to its creators’ weird need to make it.