Seth Rogen specializes in comedies where sex comes before love, a practicality that happens far more often on earth than in shiny, starry meet-cute romances. His everyman looks are part of the key—he’s no Lothario, just a one-night stand who knows he got lucky. His latest, written and directed by Kevin Smith, is his sweetest and most credible with no sacrifice to hilarity. (One can mix tenderness with a gross out anal-sex gag—though during either, different halves of the audience will squirm.)
Zack (Rogen) and best friend and roommate Miri (Elizabeth Banks) are broke. Embarrassingly so: The lights are off, the rent is late, and their crap mall and barista jobs in Pittsburgh aren’t going to make up their cash deficit. At their ten-year high school reunion, which they’re trying to survive based solely on snark and alcohol, a stranger named Brandon St. Randy (a droll Justin Long) tells Zack that he makes his living in California. “Fucking movies!?” gushes Zack. “Fucking. Movies.” Brandon clarifies. As Miri has just unwittingly ascended to Internet fame via a cell phone video called Granny Panties, if they were ever in need of a moment to take their clothes off and make a mint of cash, the time is now. (Plus, as Zack explains, unlike most everyone else they know, they don’t have options, dignity, or even families to embarrass.) And as for their two-decade asexual friendship, only their bodies would be doing it, argues Zack, their “brains would be acting.”
Banks has been kicking around for the last decade playing minor roles in everything from Spiderman to Seabiscuit with a calm clarity that deserves a better career. She just made Laura Bush warm and strong in Oliver Stone’s W., and with the release of Role Models in two weeks, she’ll own Fall 2008—at least enough that we’ll finally be able to tell her apart from Rachel McAdams. Banks doesn’t steal the picture from Rogen like James Franco did in Pineapple Express, but she holds her own as a comedienne—a welcome change from the drudgery that bridled Knocked Up’s Katherine Heigl.
But on to the sex: It’s there, it’s frequent, it’s raunchy and when needed, it’s rote. It’s most often done by the cast Zack signs up for Star Whores, which includes Katie Morgan, Ricky Mabe, Jason Mewes, and Traci Lords, who sadly has tampered with her gorgeous face. And Zack and Miri get blusteringly confident about doing it, then tense, then competitive over who does it more. Rogen and Banks have a credible chemistry, which helps when Smith has to push the film towards a resolution that’s sticky sweet in both possible ways. Parodying old, bad film stock is the new hip thing to do for directors saluting the history of cinema and Smith has a blast making Zack and Miri’s porno look as terrible as possible. It will be a minor tragedy when ageless digital smoothes out the visual landscape with footage that neither scratches nor fades. But as Zack, Miri, and their producer Delaney (Craig Robinson) discover, ambitious amateurs will always strive for the spotlight.