d. David Gordon Green / 2011 / USA / 102 mins
David Gordon Green’s earlier works George Washington, All the Real Girls and Snow Angels (among others) were critically favourable, his film-making style encouraging a comparison between him and Terrence Malick. But although Green impressed audiences with his versatility in the slacker comedy Pineapple Express, it seems surprising to some that he would choose to follow on with a similar film rather than return to the heady heights Malick is currently climbing with Tree of Life. It seems a more relevant comparison would be that of Michel Gondry who inexplicably chose to direct the Seth Rogen vehicle, The Green Hornet.
All signs for Your Highness were good, high-fantasy is ripe for mockery and parody and few have managed to do so memorably (Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men in Tights didn’t quite make the same impact that Blazing Saddles had made for westerns). An excellent director and surprisingly good cast (James Franco, Danny McBride, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel, Charles Dance and Damian Lewis head an impressive roster) would single out Your Highness as a film worth keeping an eye on. Whilst Green directs, McBride writes and stars as he does in the HBO sitcom, Eastbound and Down. Unfortunately, the film’s ambitions are slight and the humour never truly evolves past the liberal sprinkling of the word “fuck” in the ye olde English prose.
Franco plays Fabious, brother to McBride’s Thadeous, both on a mission to rescue Belladonna (Deschanel underused in the film’s most limiting role). Further misadventures and cameos feel little more than padding, the main villain of the piece is unremarkable and forgettable, none of the characters develop enough to merit any sense of intrigue. All in all it feels like a hugely wasted opportunity for satire considering the talent on offer, the single upside being that all involved appear content to quip their way through the whole affair with relative gusto.
Critics have almost universally panned the film but it does have its saving graces. Roger Ebert compared the film to a “juvenile excrescence” in a review in which he gave the film one of the five stars available. Whilst the phony British accents and gross-out inspired humour make the film appear as though it has been written by a group of thirteen year olds, the idiocy on display is at least consistent.
About half way through the film I found myself wondering how intentional the childish dialogue was and despite my best efforts I found myself laughing, not because I found the vulgarity amusing but because I couldn’t help feel affection for a fantasy epic that was intentionally dragging itself through the gutter. It truly does feel like more could have been achieved but the film’s single minded nature never allows for it. Even so, for what it does it does so adequately and it isn’t quite deserved of the derision it has attracted. There’s plenty of space out there for all manner of content, and if a film is to be a “juvenile excrescence”, the least it can do, is do so whole heartedly.