May 31, 2007

Lars Von Trying

I have been an intermittent fan of enfant terrible Lars Von Trier since Breaking the Waves, still his best movie. I also liked his weepie Dancer in the Dark. I wasn't thrilled with Dogville, although, as in every one of his movies, it had moments of raw, powerful beauty. The other two parts of the trilogy, however, I stayed away from. Dogville was no day in the country and I didn't want to sit through something like that again. It is tough going when some Dane tries to lecture Americans on their sins, as talented as he may be.
So reading the very good reviews of his new comedy The Boss of It All, I went.
I was quite disappointed.
I think Von Trier is far more suited to make grandiose, melodramatic gestures, than comedy.
This film is no better, and in fact, is actually far less grounded in reality than Ricky Gervais' The Office, or even the American version of it. The Boss of It All veers more towards the surreal, and makes no attempt at verisimilitude, even though it supposedly happens in the real world. The premise is hard to believe: the owner of a company invents a boss because he can't bear to be the boss (kind of like the Wizard of Oz; but that was Oz, this is Denmark). However, with the non-existent boss, he rules by proxy and manipulates his employees at will, always blaming the higher up. Then he hires a friend actor to pretend he is the boss because he wants to sell the company and someone has to sign the contracts. As I tell you this, I can almost hear someone typing the American remake with Will Ferrell/Steve Carell. (Hey, it's actually not a bad idea. Maybe I should do it). This is one remake that should be better than the original. Von Trier is too artsy and pretentious to deliver comedy. The humor is brittle and the laughs kind of die up inside. There is such a thing as too much deadpan, and when that happens it feels like the air has been sucked out of the room. The premise is quite promising, but somehow Von Trier tries to do way too many things with it and delivers none. He makes fun of Danish culture, and then he ends up offering a morality tale which then he subverts, as he always does, because he can. But it is a joyless endeavor and feels empty. It also underestimates the audience. When an entire gag is based on a simple misunderstanding and the audience knows one second into the joke what the characters are talking about yet it takes the hero half an hour more to figure it out, either the filmmaker thinks we're stupid or he has no business in comedy.
I am very partial to misanthropy in movies. To wit: Alfred Hitchcock or Stanley Kubrick. But people like them posit that man is evil, not just stupid. Von Trier condescends to his own characters and that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
For no good reason, he appears as some sort of mischievous Shakespearean sprite at the beginning and the end, telling the audience what they're about to see, and then telling us it is a trifle of no consecuence. Well, then why are we here? To humor your megalomania?
The movie has some fun in it. It must be a hilarious inside joke that the Icelanders think the Danes are horribly sentimental people. It's actually funny to those of us who wouldn't know the difference between the two (sorry Danes and Icelanders, but we don't). And the actors are game, although I wasn't crazy about the actor playing the Boss of it All. The movie seems like a collection of inside jokes, but the thing about inside jokes is they are never funny to those on the outside. I pined for an American comedy of the Will Ferrell or Judd Apatow kind. They may play dumb, but they are joyful and truly mischievous and they make you laugh.

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