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April 10, 2009

TIME critic raves for the "Observe & Report" rape scene

TIME film critic Richard Corliss delivers a review of the new comedy Observe & Report that's as disturbing as the rape scene excerpted in the trailer.

Corliss's review is really more of a review of the rape scene than a review of the movie. In short, he loved it:

Here's a scene to frighten the horses. About an hour into Observe and Report, mall cop Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen) has finally achieved his dream and taken the blonde, egotistical, doltish perfume saleslady Brandi (Anna Faris) to bed, basically by getting her drunk. Problem is, she's pretty much passed out, her puke staining the pillow, as Ronnie happily, obliviously churns away. He pauses for a moment to notice her comatose state, and without opening her eyes, Brandi mutters, "Why'd you stop, malefactor?" Or a 12-letter word to that effect.

Now that's character comedy, I mean tragedy, I mean tromedy, of the highest, I mean lowest, I mean high-lowest order. Beyond the weirdness, if you can get there, is a quick portrait of trailer-park America pursuing its urges by any means necessary. It's clear that Ronnie, no babe magnet, will take what he can get on this night of nights, even if it's not quite the exalted ecstasy he had hoped for; and that Brandi, who's been in this position once or twice before, wants the sexual exercise, even if she's not awake to take an active role in it — somewhere in her stupor, she's feeling a rote rumble of pleasure. The scene achieves what few American movies even attempt: to pinpoint the grim compromise, the desperation, that can attend the sex act. Don't call it love; don't call it grand; but whatever it is, don't stop

That minute or so is the finest thing in Observe and Report, and if it doesn't strike you as funny-peculiar, you may as well stop reading now. (Emphasis added.) [TIME]

Some have defended the scene on the grounds that Observe & Report is a dark comedy and Ronnie the bipolar mall cop is a cartoonishly unsympathetic character. They argue that he's funny because almost everything he does is so obviously wrong. We laugh when he physically assaults people for no good reason. So, why not laugh at the rape scene?

But Seth Rogen's understanding of the joke is entirely different:

When we're having sex and she's unconscious like you can literally feel the audience thinking, like, how the fuck are they going to make this okay? Like, what can possibly be said or done that I'm not going to walk out of the movie theater in the next thirty seconds? . . . And then she says, like, the one thing that makes it all okay:"Why are you stopping, motherfucker?"

Rogen is saying that the scene is a bait and switch: We're led to think Ronnie's a date rapist, but at the last possible minute we realize that Brandi consented after all. Psych!

That she's drunk, drugged out, covered with her own vomit, and unconscious is never in doubt. 

Rogen excels at a brand of awkwardness-based humor where much of the laughter is tension release. Which means that the scene fails on its own terms, unless you believe that an unconscious person can consent. Without the unexpected "evidence" of consent, it's just a rape scene. If you see the encounter as rape, Brandi's slurred semi-conscious interjection just seems piteous. It doesn't make anything "okay."

Corliss apparently relishes the sexual violence in the spirit Rogen intended.

Corliss also reaffirms the patriarchal nostrum that slutty women consent to sex by default. He writes: "Brandi, who's been in this position once or twice before, wants the sexual exercise, even if she's not awake to take an active role in it — somewhere in her stupor, she's feeling a rote rumble of pleasure." So, even when she's unconscious, she's asking for it. 

Don't even get me started on the "trailer park America" line--as if substance abuse and sexual assault are just for working class people. Tell that to the frat boys.

I haven't seen the movie, so I'm not going to judge its merits as a film. It's possible that Corliss and Rogen are misinterpreting what writer-director Jody Hill is trying to do. Maybe the scene is funny in context, despite being apparently morally reprehensible. I mean, anything's possible.

Regardless, Corliss's review and Rogen's commentary are chilling because they so casually reaffirm the stereotypes that perpetuate date rape. Makes you wonder how many other people are in on the joke.


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How many times must a brilliant, visionary iconoclast like the great Jody Hill find himself nailed to the cross of staid convention by philistinic expectation-mongers like Ms. Beyerstein? Presumably, she is confused and believes that the actor in the film was actually raping the actress. This is a common but repugnant misconception born of ignorance of the filmic craft.

Mr. Hill's unflinching portrayal of this quintessential twenty-first century coupling was, of course, fiction -- but also much more. It was a stirring, cutting, biting, cunning, skewering, lilting, mind-rending piece of satire that exposed nothing less than the rotten bargain at the core not only of every human interaction, but also every human soul, and also America, and also the Obama administration. One could expect nothing less from the auteur responsible for The Foot Fist Way.

Aeroman, that's dark comedy I can believe in.

The scene in question is at the end of this trailer:

It seems rather hilarious.

Okay, the first time I thought my post just didn't work, but now it seems you're censoring my comment?

My boyfriend told me about this post after he posted here (9:35) to get my opinion.

I looked at the trailer that contains the scene in question:

I find it to be funny. Why is the site monitor censoring that link? Are they afraid people might watch and agree with me?

Second, since alcohol affects different people in different ways, what's the standard? A breathalyzer before going to bed with someone one? No drinking on dates? Absurd.

How many movies has Faris done that portray women poorly? And why not take her to task rather than single out the men?

Censorship sucks, Lindsay.

Katie, I'm not censoring you. You're more than welcome to participate. Sometimes it just takes a minute for posts to show up, especially if you post more than once in quick succession. That's a TypePad issue. You submitted this comment twice, so I deleted the duplicate.

Apology: When I first posted my comment appeared on the front page right beneath your last one, Lindsay, so my bad. I'm sorry.

Another thought: A friend of mine recently dissed Faris because she didn't like the way she "made stoners look" in the movie 'Smiley Face.' I had to say to her, "Um, it's a character. It's not a blanket indictment of people who use pot." She was adamant that it was hyper-stereotypical and part of an overall conspiracy to only portray pot users as losers.

While I agree with her that Hollywood does do that (even in so-called 'pot-friendly' movies), it was too simplistic of a criticism of Faris and the filmmaker (Gregg Araki).

In this movie, Brandi sees Ronnie with a pill-bottle (his bi-polar Rx) and begs for some because she just loves taking pills for fun, chasing them with multiple shots of tequila. Is she being date-raped? Depends on if you think women must avoid alcohol on dates. Does she ask Ronnie to keep going? Yes.

If anything, the movie is a PSA to young women: Act like this and you might wake up with Seth Rogen on top of you! Though he is looking more trim & fit these days. Is that sexist of me to say?

Delia, oh, Delia Delia all my life
If I hadn't have shot poor
Delia I'd have had her for my wife
Delia's gone, one more round Delia's gone

I went up to Memphis
And I met Delia there Found her in her parlor
And I tied to her chair
Delia's gone, one more round Delia's gone

Maybe you should consider changing the pic now?

She was low down and trifling
And she was cold and mean
Kind of evil make me want to Grab my sub machine
Delia's gone, one more round Delia's gone

First time I shot her I shot her in the side
Hard to watch her suffer
But with the second shot she died
Delia's gone, one more round Delia's gone

But jailer, oh, jailer Jailer,
I can't sleep 'Cause all around my bedside
I hear the patter of Delia's feet
Delia's gone, one more round Delia's gone

So if you woman's devilish
You can let her run
Or you can bring her down and do her
Like Delia got done

Sorry, I typed the comment in the middle of the C&P.
Doesn't change the point. If you don't recognize the words, the song's by Johnny Cash.

The purpose of the movie is to let the audience safely and vicariously experience morally unacceptable bahavior. In a way it's like Dollhouse, only instead of exploring how this behavior destroys and corrupts people, it goes out of its way to let them enjoy it, the way video games let one enjoy killing. It's just another Grand Theft Auto.

It's what many American want. They wanted our wars. They want to hunt illegal immigrants. They want to rape. They want to steal. The nation came together in a frenzy of hate and fear on 9/11, and has been trying to recapture that glorious moment ever since.

Most of these posts seems to place the blame sorely on Seth's character. Ana's character gets blitzfaced drunk on booze and anti-depressants, yet she's completely free of any responsibility. Seth's character has all the responsibility. It seems that Ana's character is another example of PC victimhood, and that she should not take any responsibility for her actions. It seems that many believe that Ana's character has no responsiblity for getting completely annihiliated and going back to someone's home.

For the record, a woman did this to me. She got drunk at a party, telling me before hand she was going to drink and that she was testing me. I didn't have sex with her. She said that I scored big points with her because I didn't take advantage of her.

2 weeks later, she dumped me for an old boyfriend. She said I was too nice.

Think about it.

I'm sure that DJA's reference Hamlet is just a way to get Tyro to clarify his argument on when sympathy or affection for "unsympathetic protagonists" may in fact be warranted. Please say I am correct in this assumption.

Mostly just pointing out that the pull of audience identification towards the protagonist, however unsympathetic, is not some recent Hollywood thing. Some playwrights/authors/directors figure out how to exploit this tension in a creative and sophisticated way, and some just use it for cheap laughs, shock value, or to give the audience carte blanche to vicariously enjoy it all.

Jody Hill's comparison of his movie to Taxi Driver is both hilarious and telling.

I don't want to hijack this thread with a discussion of whether sympathy for Hamlet is warranted, but I wouldn't be the first to point out that practically everything he actually does in the play is horrible.

to bigforkgirl:

By your logic:

A) A drunk woman cannot consent to sex

B) All sex with a drunk woman is rape

C) Woman X aggressively hitting on me is drunk


D) Woman X is asking to be raped.

All generalizations are wrong, including the one I just made

seth edenbaum -

"Delia's Gone" is written by Karl Silbersdorf and Dick Toops.


What does Hamlet do which is horrible?

I do believe that movies do allow us to explore certain fears, or deep dark turn-ons vicariously, and work out the consequences in our heads. One of the most popular examples was "Fatal Attraction", which started a cultural dialog on stalking and cheating. But more on stalking.

I don't think this movie is meant to start a dialog on date rape. I don't think date rape is something to be flippantly approached, just as I don't think black lynching is something to be flippantly approached.

But it is supposed to be comedy. I think of the scene in Vacation where one girl tells the other she's French kissing. When greeted with a shrud, she says "But Dad says I'm the best." I don't believe they were advocating incest, just thowing a situation out there for a punch-line, but also a cringe-inducing moment, as we all thought of how wrong it would be for Randy Quaid to be making out with his 12 year old daughter.

One would hope Rogan meant for this to be a cringe-inducing scene, knowing that date rape is seen as wrong, culturally.

What does Hamlet do which is horrible?

Aside from murdering Polonius, abusing (and contributing to the death of) Ophelia, then wondering, aloud, what beef their surviving son/brother could possibly have with him, not much.

Well, you know, nothing really, it's just that he emotionally abuses his girlfriend and accidentally kills her father, for which he feels no remorse (in fact he snidely jokes about it -- "Where's Polonious?" "At supper." etc.). Then his girlfriend, understandably distraught at all of this, kills herself. Then Hamlet crashes her funeral, jumps into her grave and accuses her brother of not really loving her anyway.

xposted with Cass. Keep in mind that Hamlet's line to Laertes: "Hear you, sir; What is the reason that you use me thus? I loved you ever" comes after he has ruined Ophelia's funeral and mocked Laertes' grief. Because killing his dad and driving his sister to suicide wasn't quite enough.

Without seeming rude, I would like to ask how many people on this thread have seen the film, seeing the scene in its entirety, and in context.

Because if one had, I doubt one would say Rogen, Faris and director Jody Hill were playing date rape for laughs. The scene is absolutely disturbing, and Faris's punchline at the end is not a weak attempt to inject vague consent, it's implying (like everything leading up to it, from her social behaviors to her demanding to take Rogen's meds) that this is sad, bad, grotesque business as usual for her. Not nice, but not a joke.

I commented on this on Isaac's blog as well; it's not a joke, it's a queasy moment structured like one.

So you're saying that the movie is a series of disturbing grotesqueries that is not played for laughs? That it's a character study about American lowlifes? I'd be more inclined to agree if it were not for this.

It's a little strange that you take comedy and flights of fancy as mutually exclusive, Lindsay. Also, because a movie deals with a fantasy vision of the world, that doesn't mean that it lacks social commentary. How about Chungking Express, for example? also, on your comment:

"Jody Hill is using a lot of really ugly stereotypes to illustrate his thesis about the yuckiness of modern life."

First, he could hardly use positive people and images to achieve what you assume is his aim, second, all art deals in sterotype to some extent, if you want to dig deep enough. One can argue that stereotypes exist because they have some truth in them, not because they lack reality. One question that comes to mind: how would you do things differently, if you were making this movie? And would it change the effect that the movie has?

Ah, more of this bullshit. I'm glad I mostly got away from having to read this crap on certain message boards I used to frequent. Note to everyone: this blog post isn't feminism, it's blind stupidity. From what I've read about the film it's quite clear the character would have consented regardless of alcohol...but this type of supposedly feminist (again I call bullshit) crap says that we should all have to sign contracts and should never EVER be intoxicated when having sex! What if the guy was hopped up and pursuing the girl? Does that mean he didn't consent either? How many times in films have we seen a drunk guy going after and having sex with a female without ANY blog of this nature popping up about it? It's the type of blind double standard that throws equality out of the window in an attempt at female superiority. In short, grow up and realize that the world isn't black and white.

No, Susan, I'm saying that it's a black comedy. A disturbing series of grotesqueries, some of which are played for laughs, some of which are played for horror. Some are played for both. I don't know if you're familiar with the films of Park Chan Wook or Takashi Miike, but they play by many of the same rules (though Park is a considerably more sophisticated filmmaker than Miike or Jody Hill). And it IS a character study, sneaking in more commentary on the brain-dead adolescence that passes for Americana these days than a thousand essays on the matter.

I apologise if my comment on this one single scene made you think the whole film played the exact same way. But perspective is key, and I'm glad you asked. comment. Okay, one comment. Wow, you're creepy.

Wow, I'm amazed! It's like the people who wrote that scene could see right into our bedrooms! Gripping yet warm and humorous.

But I don't think me and my wife will be going to see the picture. Neither of us are too hot on depictions of rape-sex or violence. And depictions of sex with love feels like a terrible intrusion of privacy.
Just can't get used to the new dramatic conventions. They sure give you a clue to what the filmaker thinks of his audience.

I'm actually relatively interested in seeing the movie because I'm a fan of Jody Hill's previous work, primarily because I love "Eastbound and Down" and adored "The Foot Fist Way" when it came out. Danny McBride, Jody Hill's partner, is one of my new favorite people to watch, but only in his own projects (I'll gladly pass on crap like "Tropic Thunder", thank you). Their whole schtick, the thing they most often explore, which I think is executed rather well in the two projects I just mentioned, is the grandiose loser and how the delusional ideas he (and it's always a he) holds onto are ultimately destructive, gross, wrong, and at odds with the subject's own happiness and self-interest. There is humor there, mostly because the delusions of grandeur are so apart from the character's reality.

I see some of this in the trailer, and I'm curious to see how much or if it departs from their previous projects. The only drawback IMO is that I think Seth Rogan, the actor and person, is a douche.

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