Have you ever watched a comedy and chuckled a few times, but weren't impressed enough to give the flick a second thought? Then you watch it another time, and you wonder what on earth kept you from falling in love with the movie on the first go? It's happened to me a couple of times, although it's usually easy to suss out a culprit. I really didn't like Mallrats all that much the first time I watched it, but I became a Brodie-quoting fiend once I gave it a second chance. In that case, I realized that watching it for the first time alone, in a dark room, just wasn't the right atmosphere for freeing my mind (as Ivannah requested).
Zoolander, however, is an entirely different story. I think I laughed a bit, but really, I have no memory from my first viewing other than an ultimate feel of shmeh. I saw it, I moved on. I'm not sure what prompted me to see it again, but I did, and I liked it a bit more. Then I saw it again with a good friend and ... I loved it. Soon, every visit to Blockbuster included us making loud proclamations like: "What is this? A center for ants?!" I'm sure they loved us.
The thing is -- that's only the beginning. Every time I watch it, I like the film more and find myself laughing more, and it's left me with the pressing question: Why?
Usually, you watch a comedy, you laugh, and then with each subsequent viewing, the laughter decreases just a little. Rarely can a movie elicit the same exuberance time and time again, even if you still love it the same. But rarely -- very rarely -- a film gets better and better with each revisit. For me, it's pretty much unheard of. Nevertheless, Zoolander keeps getting funnier. I keep laughing more -- often at what didn't make me laugh in the beginning. The first time I watched the search for Maury's files descend into ape-ish confusion, I chuckled. Now? I'm sucked into a fit of giggles.
The obvious answer would be the time of the release. Ben Stiller's comedy had the utter misfortune of hitting screens on September 28, 2001. There wasn't even a month of healing after 9/11 before Derek Zoolander was prancing around and being brainwashed into killing the Prime Minister of Malaysia. However, it certainly didn't outwardly offend me that first time -- I'd remember if it did -- but maybe it was too much too soon? A subtle injection of discontent? A few more months had to pass before I could appreciate it?
Where my initial response was nonchalant, Roger Ebert's was downright scathing. He gave the film one star, while ranting against the assassination plot and the last-minute digital removal of the World Trade Center from the New York skyline. Others, like Stephanie Zacharek, saw it as a comedy that barely stays funny: "Zoolander is just an excuse for Stiller to prance about in absurdly over-the-top clothes, showing off his various model looks... It's to Stiller's credit that he can sustain the joke for the length of the movie, but just barely. Ten more minutes of Zoolander would have been 10 minutes too many. He's just safely behind the line of being a fashion don't."
From there I dug further, and found a lot of reviews that give Zoolander the "it's kinda funny, but..." review -- probably what I would've written had I reviewed it after my first viewing. There are even some who make Ebert seem generous, like Kelly Palma at eFilmCritic, who wrote: "This movie was absolutely abombinable. I left the movie theatre after fifteen minutes. Let me just say I have NEVER, NEVER, NEVER in my entire life left a movie. Hell I even slogged my way through Josie and the Pussycats." [sic]
Reviews, of course, don't usually include revisits, so there's no word on whether any of these critics watched the film again, and what they thought. Personally, I'm curious. Could Palma manage maybe a half hour this time around? Would Ebert chuckle more? Would Zacharek find Derek's world growing on her? I don't have those answers, so I turn it over to you, movie club participants. Why does Zoolander have that ability to age like a fine wine?
- What do you think of the film? Is the Malaysian storyline too much? Were you sucked in or shackled out of the story?
- The Guardian recently shared a piece about Ben Stiller evoking undying fandom and disappointment in the same go. Do you feel similarly?
- We're getting a second installment, with evil DJ Justin Theroux writing and directing it. Does the story warrant more laughs? What would it take to make the sequel work?
- Finally, just because it's fun ... what's your favorite quote?
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Last Week's Film: The Virgin Suicides