Your best friends' nose
Howard Deutch's My Best Friend's Girl (2008) starts out interestingly enough; Dane Cook is Tank, the go-to guy for when one's relationship or engagement is in the toilet, and drastic measures are required. As in: the girl would rather marry you than go out with Tank again, so hideous a rectum Tank has been to her (upon delivering one offended date to her apartment, for example, he demands on-the-spot oral sex before he will agree to go to bed with her). "What did I do?" Tank asks, and director Deutch promptly gives us a David Letterman-style countdown of the Top Ten Things Tank Did to Make Her Evening a Living Nightmare.
Tank is paid handsomely for his extracurricular services of course (his regular job is amusingly complementary: training customer-service employees of a corporation manufacturing air purifiers (that don’t work) how to refuse refunds to customers). Of course, the punchline to this setup is Alexis (Kate Hudson), a girl who isn't fazed by Tank's gross antics so much as she's turned on.
In the hands of say the Farrelly brothers this might have gone somewhere, but it doesn't: Tank's sulfuric personality dissipates when he encounters Alexis. What should have been a memorably spiky war of the sexes (with the air constantly blistering with profanity) becomes a wan, standard-issue rom-com (what a disgusting word--as if the genre of Jean Arthur, Katherine Hepburn, Claudette Colbert, Cary Grant, James Stewart, and Gary Cooper had been trash-compacted into a desktop computer hard drive component) complete with a Redemption Scene, a Revelation Scene and a Reunion Scene. Rom-com fans will know--shame on them--what I'm talking about; the rest should run not walk for the exits.
That's all I pretty much have to say on this comedy; of director Howard Deutch, the best I can say of him is that he knows enough about his job not to walk in front of the camera while it's running.
Dane Cook's impact on the viewer may vary, but I do think he makes a convincing and reasonably funny Prince of Darkness. If the movie didn't go softheaded--if, for example, it had followed up the scene of Tank crying while watching Patrick Swayze in Ghost with a scene that punished him for his tears (instead of suggesting that sobbing to Jerry Zucker's mostly unintentionally funny movie actually reveals a sensitive side to Tank's persona)--Cook could have been revealed once and for all as the astringent antidote to Seth Rogen (Knocked Up, The Forty Year Old Virgin). An alternative, in effect, to the man-baby with all the funny lines who wins the hot chick by movie's end that every middle-aged Caucasian apparently wants to be in their most secret of secret hearts.
I like my laughs pitched at a more adult level, thanks. And while we're on the subject of comedies that involve love and hate and the opposite sex, why oh why do we have a surplus of vehicles and leading comic parts for reasonably talented actors, an apparent drought of vehicles and leading comic parts for talented actresses? Hudson is pretty enough, her comic high point I suppose drunkenly singing to a misogynistic rap song (that, or grooving in a strip club), but beyond that she's a pretty face in a blonde wig, nothing more. Cook not only has the meatier, spicier role, he gets the long tracking shot where the camera backs away in mounting fear as the man shifts in slow motion to full Tank mode (Dr. Jekyll never had a simpler, more unsettling transformation into Hyde (well--there's James Nesbitt), and for maybe a second we glimpse a hint of the edge Cook is capable of delivering in a properly honed comedy).
And as if to confirm the fact that the filmmakers are writing strictly for boys, they give some of the best lines and single funniest bit to Jason Biggs as Dustin, Alexis' neurotically creepy fiancé. Biggs basically ages his adolescent persona from American Pie a few years--instead of sexually assaulting an apple pastry, he's sexually assaulting the notion that a sensitive, caring man is the ideal candidate for marriage, or at least a long-term relationship. Biggs throws himself into the role--you can't imagine a more tactile, more hyperaware lover, nor can you imagine anything more annoying; his body seems to contort into all kinds of painful postures at the prospect, the terrifyingly mortal fear that he's going to screw things up for the woman he loves (a self-fulfilling fear, of course). Tell you the truth, the picture isn't so much a romantic comedy (okay, rom-com) as it is a buddy movie--two men who never in a thousand years would admit it, but are deeply involved with each other. Oh, there's this cute blonde wig between them, but really, it's the men that count.
On the title, it's an old joke: "You can pick your friends, you can pick your nose, but you can't pick your friend's nose." Watching this movie is a lot like spending Friday evening with your best bud: you start by drinking beer, eating nuts, cracking jokes, whatever; some time during the night, however, you find your middle finger buried up to the third knuckle in your companion's left nostril, and you'll have no idea how it got there.
(First published in Businessworld, 9.26.08)