Zack and Miri Make a Porno
United States, 2008
U.S. Release Date:
R (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio:
Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Jason Mewes, Katie Morgan, Traci Lords, Brandon Routh, Justin Long
James L. Venable
The Weinstein Company
An interesting synergy exists between Judd Apatow and Kevin Smith. With films like Clerks, Mallrats, and Chasing Amy, Smith opened a door that, about 10 years later, Apatow walked through. Now, with Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Smith has fully and unabashedly followed Apatow back into this territory that he once owned, completing the circle. In fact, so many Apatow signatures can be found in this film that it makes one appreciate how much these two have in common. There's the full-frontal male nudity, the romantic comedy subtext, and (perhaps most tellingly) the participation of Elizabeth Banks (who played the vixen in The 40-Year-Old Virgin) and Seth Rogen, one of Apatow's best pals.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno transpires in western Pennsylvania instead of New Jersey, where many of Smith's other films have been set. The title characters, platonic best friends since first grade, are facing a financial crisis. They are in danger of losing the apartment they share because they can't pay the rent. The electricity and water have already been disconnected. Zack (Rogen) has a brainstorm: he and Miri (Banks) can make an amateur porn film that, if reasonably successful, would allow them to clear their debts. Of course, this will force them to cross a line they have never traversed during their relationship but, after all, sex is just sex - isn't it? Joining the porn party to provide some variety are Lester (Jason Mewes, who has cleaned up his act), Stacey (real-life porn star Katie Morgan, who has nearly 200 adult titles on her resume), Bubbles (ex-real-life porn star Traci Lords), and Barry (Ricky Mabe).
For two-thirds of its running length, Zack and Miri is vintage Smith - profane humor that knows no boundaries and obeys no rules. What's most amazing about Smith's barrage of hard-R jokes isn't the range of subjects he covers, but how few of them "miss." If 50% of the material in any comedy generates laughter, that movie is an unqualified success. Smith is well over the 50% mark here, provided this is your kind of comedy. There is a portion of the audience that might be shocked and appalled (especially by one gag that takes the traditional "fart joke" to another level), although it's hard to imagine members of that demographic attending a movie with the title Zack and Miri Make a Porno. As far as truth in advertising goes, viewers pretty much know going in that this isn't going to be a sweet family values-oriented motion picture.
In fact, the word "porno" has generated a firestorm of controversy, with some papers refusing to print ads for the film and some theaters refusing to project it. Never mind that this is a tamer movie than many of the R-rated features that have come along in the past two years, but the inclusion of that one little word in the title has gotten some pro-censorship groups hot and bothered. There is no "porn" in this "porno." The sex scenes are filmed in such a way that nothing graphic is in evidence and the nudity (all of which is provided by Katie Morgan and Jason Mewes) is used for comedic effect and is not presented in a sexual context. Nevertheless, one wonders whether Smith welcomes this controversy since it provides plenty of free advertising and is unlikely to discourage one potential viewer from seeing the film. Audiences know what to expect from Smith, and he does not disappoint.
The "romantic" aspect of the "romantic comedy" doesn't work as well as the "comedy" portion. Most of the movie's final third is devoted to Zack's recognition that his feelings for Miri go beyond friendship and the inevitable complications that delay the happily-ever-after moment we know will eventually arrive. There's chemistry, but not much sexual tension, between Rogen and Banks, and the romance is too heavily backloaded. By the time it shows up in full force, it has a tacked-on feel and some of its elements represent standard genre clichés. In fact - and Kevin Smith probably doesn't want to hear this comparison - there's a lot of When Harry Met Sally in the final act of Zack and Miri (although things seem more rushed). In his romantic comedies, Judd Apatow has managed to strum the viewers' heartstrings. Smith isn't as adept in that arena but, while the romance may not be the most magical to reach the screen, most viewers will be laughing so hard they won't care.