In a perfect world, MacGruber would’ve been Will Forte’s coming out party. In the real world, he is less popular at the box office than this woman:
I remember professor Timpson* at film school used to always say, “Big Hatt, my most promising of students (Timpson loved me), a true masterpiece has to make you laugh as well as cry.” MacGruber definitely meets those criteria. I was laughing the entire time I was in the theater. The tears? They came later, while considering society’s ambivalence to Will Forte. This guy made an awesome movie and it bombed. He may never get to make another, at least not on this scale and with this much control. Such is his reward for blazing new comedic trails. I find that incredibly sad.
*He was my favorite professor, Timpson. Way better than professor Shmerm. Man, I hated that guy. One time I saw him off campus and I was like, “Up yours, Shmerm!”
Lets not dwell on it. Not while there are laughs to discuss. And make no mistake, MacGruber will give you all the laughs you can handle. I sat in an empty theater (literally empty) and laughed to my heart’s content. Just laugh after laugh after laugh. Where to begin? Seriously, I have no idea. It’s hard to dissect what makes Forte so hilarious. I mean he’s got the pervert angle covered obviously, but it’s so much more than that. This is going to sound crazy to some of you, but I thought MacGruber was the smartest comedy I’ve seen in a long time.
Case in point: the 80s angle. It would’ve been so, so easy for this movie to trudge out all the standard, stale 80s jokes. Bad clothes! Big hair! The things that were popular in the 80s! LOL!!!!! On the surface, it might seem like that’s what MacGruber did. Yes, this character is based on MacGyver, and yes, he has a retro look. The reliance on the 80s ends there. He’s not making cheesy pop culture references or talking about how he doesn’t understand email. There are no giant cell phones or Flock of Seagulls haircuts.
Even the music choice showed remarkable restraint. Again, it would’ve been soooo easy to throw in a bunch of stupid hair band references. Instead, MacGruber immediately turns the dial to soft rock and stays there. At one point he pulls into a parking spot and you catch about three seconds of Baker Street. Not making a big show of it; creating a character. This is the type of music this guy listens to. Contrast that with the music they used in Hot Tub Time Machine. Which approach is smarter? I think the answer is fairly obvious.
Forte is, first and foremost, a comedy writer. That’s what he was before SNL, and that’s what he’ll probably be when his stint on SNL is over. So while its tempting to ascribe some of the more out-there parts of MacGruber (of which there are many) to shock humor, that would be a mistake. All of these scenes were meticulously planned, I can assure you. Yeah, he’s naked throughout, but it isn’t willy-nilly. Each time his bare ass is on-screen, a huge laugh is delivered. It’s not going to the well if you’ve got a new, unique bit lined up every time. And the celery scene was nothing if not unique. Holy shit was that funny. The thing is, it probably would’ve been pretty funny even without the celery. The dance alone was right up my alley. And then afterwards when he says “I just killed those three bad guys” and starts explaining how to do the trick? Man, comedy overload.
I feel like I could discuss almost every scene like that. MacGruber was constantly delivering huge laughs. Ballsy laughs, too. You can tell this crew didn’t hold anything back. They earned the R rating, that’s for sure. I was pleasantly surprised at how far they were willing to push it. And sometimes even within the big pushes there were smaller, equally impressive nuggets of genius. For instance, it’s obviously hilarious when Forte says, “I will suck your dick. I will let you fuck me.” And then he’s bending over the desk asking Phillipe to use printer toner as lubricant, and at that point we’re all laughing our asses off. I mean that joke is just out in the stratosphere. It’s easy to forget MaGruber’s line before he mentioned sucking his dick, but it was hilarious too. “Don’t make me beg……because I will do it.” Perfect intonation, perfect look, perfect everything. Even without the over-the-top hilarity, that part would’ve been totally legit.
Speaking of legit, you know I gots to heap some praise on my girl Wiig. She is deserving. No one else could’ve played Vicki St. Elmo. It’s that simple. This is undoubtedly Forte’s show, but Wiig alone has the chops to hang with him. She doesn’t even have to raise her voice to bring in those laughs. My lord, the subtlety! The tone is set in her first scene when Forte walks in on her singing and she ends the song (that she’s singing by herself) by whispering “I love you.” The whole “my music is my life now” angle was pure gold. I wish they’d have done more with that, although Wiig obviously had plenty of other tricks up her sleeve. Any time they put her in disguise was laugh-worthy whether or not she was saying anything. Her scene in Starbucks is the stuff of legends. Again, there were over-the-top laughs in there, but also some little things that to me were the mark of true genius. The cashier asks her name and she tries to appear casual while saying “MacGruber” in a slightly louder than normal voice. Easily missed, but just as impressive as the bigger laughs in its own way. These people really know their craft.
We all knew Wiig and Forte would kill it, but Ryan Phillipe was a pleasant surprise. Playing a straight-man can be a thankless task, and I thought he did an admirable job. It got to the point where he was actually delivering some laughs. Granted, Forte was lobbing him softballs, but still, Phillipe didn’t fuck it up. Forte using the mop to hit the van’s gas pedal and smash the bad guy was, in itself, hilarious. But then he says that would make a great commercial for the product and Phillipe gives a no-nonsense, “I’m not so sure it would.” Because, you know, they just used the product to kill someone. Small, but respectable. Forte served it up, and Phillipe hit a single. I’ll take that. There are several other examples, all of them essentially the same. Forte says or does something ridiculous and hilarious, Phillipe gives a short, simple response. I thought they had decent chemistry, as surprising as that is.
The whole cast was awesome, really. Powers Boothe was perfect as the general. Kilmer as the villain, Dieter Von Cunth, was another really smart choice. A lesser movie would’ve tried to jam someone more obviously funny into that role. Kilmer may not be a funnyman himself, but his presence in this movie is hilarious. It tells us he’s at least partially in on the joke he’s become. He doesn’t ham it up, either. He isn’t trying to show everyone the role is beneath him. He just plays the villain, straight up. And he’s fat and he looks bad and its awesome. I’d pay $100 for a video of the first conversation Kilmer had with Forte about being in this movie.
Pretty much everything about MacGruber was great, but Forte was on another level. He has done an unbelievably good job with this character. It started off as a 90-second MacGyver spoof and has become one of funniest characters SNL has ever spawned. The MacGyver thing is hardly even pertinent anymore. MacGruber has moved so far beyond that. This may sound overly simple, but what Forte has essentially done is what all the greats from Costanza to Gob Bluth have done: make his character a total loser. He’s cheap, he’s a liar, he’s conceited, he likes to kill people (by ripping out their throats a la Dalton), he cries, he desecrates dead bodies, he’s a coward, he’s disgusting, he’s incompetent, he’s classless, and he’s just smart enough to not feel sorry for. He just keeps getting worse and worse, culminating in the scene where he tells Ryan Phillipe about how he and Kilmer became enemies.
This, to me, was the best scene in the movie. Remember earlier, when I said the laughs were meticulously planned? This scene is the perfect example of that. Forte and Jorma Taccone (quite a directorial debut) probably took days perfecting it. The result is expertly crafted dialogue that keeps getting slightly funnier until eventually you’re cackling like a hyena without even realizing it. It happens automatically. No set up, no punch line. Just a conversation that gets gradually funnier the longer it goes. It’s like a comedy perpetual motion machine. This whole movie is like a comedy perpetual motion machine.
Big ups to everyone involved with MacGruber. My Hatt is off to them. The tragedy, of course, is that the movie bombed. I hope Forte, Wiig and Taccone aren’t discouraged. When you’re that funny, you need to just keep doing your thing and not let the public apathy get to you. People don’t want challenging, innovative laughs. Guys want their comedy to focus on cool dudes getting drunk and getting laid, and girls want it to focus on middle-aged women living in New York City. Sorry MacGruber, no room at the inn. Hopefully making a really, really funny movie was reward enough.