November 8, 2007

I give it a B(ee)

The expectations for Jerry Seinfeld's Bee Movie are understandably high. He's been hyping his project for what seems like forever, creating a spectacle at last year's Cannes film festival and spending a great deal of time on TV lately, from movie ads to McDonald's commercials, making sure that everyone on the planet (and anyone listening on nearby ones) knows that this movie is coming out, and by the way did we mention that Jerry wrote it? Stars in it? And he's in it? And he likes it? And don't you love Jerry? So don't you think you should run out and watch it? Like right now? I mean, it's Jerry! Go see Jerry! It kind of reminds me of that Beggin' Strips commercial: It's BACON!!! That seems to be the marketing philosophy behind this film: the movie? Oh, well, it's about some bees and stuff, but never mind that, IT'S JERRY SEINFELD.

One might be concerned that the commercials show more of Seinfeld in human form than in bee form, at least the one's I've seen: the producers appear to be more interested in selling the voice behind the movie than the movie itself. I mean, he wrote it, sure, I get that; but if he's as proud the project as he claims, don't you think he'd be more interested in showing it off than his face, especially since his face isn't in a single shot of the film? Maybe not: a $38 million box office performance speaks for itself, I guess.

But marketing plan (and box-office gross) aside, is it any good? The short answer: yes. It's good not great, consistently funny but not so much that your sides hurt.

The premise is quite literally one of Bee Meets World: the discontented dreamer strikes out on his own and ends up changing things for everyone, but most importantly himself. The movie hardly scores points for conceptual originality, but how many movies really can these days? The key is the execution, and this movie does a good-to-very-good job with what it has, and what it is: a kids' movie trying to entertain Mom and Dad, since they have to be there, too.

The plot? It's ridiculous, but it doesn't matter. If you're going to a CG animation movie looking for deep plot development, you have to stop going to the theater. In fact, just stop going outside, because you're creeping the rest of us out. The plot is enough to string together the jokes, and that's all that really matters. I'll leave the summary to others, but seriously, who cares?

The art/animation: excellent. The Dreamworks people decided to pull back on the photorealism on this picture, instead going for a more cartoonish look to the characters, and I for one appreciate it. Nobody will mistake the bees for real bees, the people for real people, but the backgrounds, textures, and effects are as good as you'd expect (the flying scenes with the kites are very good, for example). Frankly, if I want to see real people, I'll go outside. That's why it's there. But I digress.

Characters: fine. The characters are everything they need to be, but not a whole lot more; it's mostly archetypes, broadly-drawn characters who are, again, mostly there to keep things moving to the next line or the next step in the story. Jocks? Check. Overbearing Jewish-stereotype parents? Check (they even talk about being Bee-ish, so I'm not over-interpreting anything here). Dreamer's over-practical world-fearing best friend? Check. Sensitive stranger with a heart-o-gold? Check. Her (and of course it's her) overbearing insensitive boyfriend? Check. And on, and on. They're very simple, but remember: kids' movie. Simple is good. As long as it's funny.

The voice acting: Pretty good overall, with some definite bright spots. For better or worse, while his character's face bears no resemblance, you can almost see Jerry in his voice. His delivery is 100% Jerry, in the way that only he can really do it. One of the things I'm curious about is how funny this movie would be without his voice. I'd be interested to know how it does dubbed into other languages, where some of the subltelty of how you say something gets lost while what is said is preserved. As for the other characters, Jerry must have made a lot of phone calls, because this is a very large cast of names. Renee Zellweger is The Girl, and she does well enough as the sweet, sensitive florist who becomes Jerry's connection with the human world. Matthew Broderick is the best friend, and may give the best performance of the whole film. Naturally, a Seinfeldian or two is bound to show up: Putty, aka Patrick Warburton is The Girl's Jerky Boyfriend. There are more, but half the fun for me is guessing. So listen close, and check the credits. All in all, though, the casting was solid, and the performances were generally good. Again, some of the characterizations are a little over the top, but it's all in line with the rest of the movie (which, again, is totally absurd).

There were just a few things that I take issue with, but they aren't that serious. I think that the chemistry and rhythm between Jerry and Renee syncs up way too quickly for my sense; she gets over the talking-bee thing with far more aplomb than she should. I understand why they did it, but it struck me as a bit strange. And the ending is absurd, even by absurd standards. And it was kind of predictable; I remember thinking, "Oh, they're not going to... don't tell me... come on..." as I saw it coming. Some of the jokes are like that, too, a little on the predictable side. But you know what? Kids' movie, and it works on that basis. The kids in the theater where I was oohed and ahhed at exactly the right places.

You will appreciate this move if:
- You enjoy cartoons, the raft of Pixar movies, A Bug's Life, and their extended family
- You think puns, word-play, and anthropomorphic humor are funny
- You remember and enjoy Jerry's standup, if not necessarily the sitcom
- You are 7 years old (not required, but certainly helpful)

If you think puns are generally stupid or lacking in cleverness (no matter how clever they may be), or if the bee/people life parallels have little chance of amusing you, then you probably want to skip this movie, since the vast majority of the humor is exactly that. I can't disagree, for example, with a lot of what the WashPost reviewer says in that regard*, although I do think Desson is a bit stuffy and shortchanges the comedy a bit. But he's a critic, and that's his job. I just go to laugh. Which I did.

For what it is, though, it's done pretty well. Like I said, it's a funny movie: the jokes-per-minute rate is relatively high, and the laughs are good ones, if not tear-inducing side-splitters. This makes sense, though, for anyone familiar with the work of the writer and star. His comedy has always been illuminating, thoughtful, and insightful, but not that intense. We shouldn't expect this to be much different.

My final piece of advice: if you go, stay for the credits. There's a treat in there for you.

The bottom line, for me, is that it's worth seeing. I woudn't say you need to see it in the theater, but it's definitely worth renting/Netflixing/buying at a Shanghai pirated DVD kiosk, whatever (I kid, I kid; don't steal or download movies, kids. And stay in school. And say no to drugs. And stay off my lawn).

Actually, I disagree with his point about Chris Rock, but that's as much as I'll say about it here to avoid spoilage. And obviously, I like the movie more than he did.


The Ex said...

I didn't read the post - I feel that I should reference my comment with that.

I'm boycotting based on the fact that Seinfeld was such a dickface to Larry King. I don't care either way for Larry King but I can't STAND the thought of Jerry thinking he's hot shit.

WiB said...

Ex - Thanks for stopping by either way; I don't even read them myself half the time. Er, wait...

I haven't seen the LK interview, I just heard Jerry got huffy when King didn't know the show was off the air. I'll have to look it up before I say more about it. For the record, though, I'm pretty sure I saw it before the interview took place, so I didn't cross the picket line or anything.

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