Fourth Man Out is a new comedy about coming out in a middle-class environment to your group of mostly hetero friends. Adam (Evan Todd) has a group of three really good friends to whom he comes out on his 24th birthday. In the new milieu of 21st century acceptance, they feel weirded out by it at first, but come around to accepting his new status as gay while still getting over their own hangups of a dude loving the cock. Meanwhile, Adam finds himself on the dating scene again, only this time with dudes.
The purpose of Fourth Man Out is clear: what if you wrote a hetero sex comedy but replaced one guy with a gay dude. It’s a propagandist piece aimed at middle America to say that not all gays are of that type. Adam is a tall, hairy mechanic with a permanent five o’clock shadow. He has naturally curly hair, a great smile, and exudes naturalistic masculinity. At one point in the movie, Adam goes on a date with a bunch of “those” types of gays – effeminate, eccentric, arty, outcast – shunning them all as inappropriate. Which brings us to a similar point of Do I Sound Gay? in that Fourth Man Out is all about bringing homosexuality closer to heteronormativity.
Both Evan Todd (Adam) and director Andrew Nackman are gay (Edit: Andrew Nackman is not gay, as per the pubicist, which further exacerbates the problems found within the film. We apologize for the mistake), some of the producers are gay and others are women. But, the screenwriter Aaron Dancik and the remainder of the cast are hetero. At the following Q&A, Dancik stated he wrote the screenplay as a “what if” scenario of “what if one of my friends came out as gay?” Inadvertently, through many typical screenwriting cliches, Dancik and Nackman fell into a pile of issues dealing with the gay identity, a topic that has been brewing underneath the marriage debate for years. Are the artistic or flaming gay types less worthy of respect because they aren’t manly men? The ideal match for Adam is a dude with two kayaks permanently affixed to his car and a cheesy Save The Whales bumper sticker: the outdoorsy gay who goes camping and is sporty. I’ve no problem with Dancik exploring the idea of one of his friends coming out as gay, but the way he fell into the bramble of gay as identity feels short sighted at best, even if the movie is quite funny.
At the other end of the spectrum, Very Semi-Serious does absolutely nothing to dispel the idea that The New Yorker cartoons are written by mildly eccentric white people for effete white people. Very Semi-Serious is a new advertisement-as-documentary about The New Yorker and its cartoon editor Robert Mankoff. He has to work through thousands of cartoons every week to whittle down the selections to 15. At one point, Mankoff has to bring a bunch of selections to David Remnick for further editing, and an assistant comments, “I’ve been trying to get David to hire more women, to increase the diversity of voices.” As the camera following Mankoff follows, a black woman is seen in the doorway trying to hide from the camera. This is about the only person of color in the whole movie. Otherwise, Very Semi-Serious is a sea of white people talking about what is considered funny to other white people.
The main problem with Very Semi-Serious is that it never interrogates the status of The New Yorker as a stalwart defender of northern white intellectual elitism who see themselves in a semi-ironic light. Instead, it’s merely a commercial for Mankoff and The New Yorker to remind you that it still exists, and there are still cartoons (you like cartoons). Sure, it may be dominated by white people, but do you see how many white people submit? Just because you have two old white men as the gatekeepers of taste, it in no way reflects the cultural debate. Even Mankoff’s assistant is a young white dude, but look at the perfect caption he selected from a sea of hundreds of entries. *sigh* In other words, Very Semi-Serious is an insufferable work of bland propaganda. Unless you’re completely in the bag for The New Yorker and don’t mind that these questions aren’t asked, in which case it’s a wonderful and witty documentary about the cartoons.
Similarly full of white upper-middle class white people is Josh Lawson’s The Little Death, an Australian dark comedy about five couples with marital woes and a sex offender. Lawson’s comedy opens with a woman asking her long-term boyfriend to rape her, and he tells her that she’s five stars, a 10 out of 10, and totally amazing in his book. This breakdown of communication, confusing sex with love, is The Little Death in miniature. Each of Lawson’s five couples have to translate their thoughts and passions in order to liven up their sex life. But, nobody is listening to what the other is actually communicating.
One woman discovers she is turned on when her husband cries. Another couple are turned on by sexual role play, that is by being somebody they aren’t. Yet another is a deaf man calling in to a video relay chat to try to get the female translator to call a sex line. It’s all dealing with communication breakdown impeding their efforts for sex and love. Meanwhile, the sex offender brings homemade cookies in the shape of Golliwogs (yes, the racist caricature rag dolls) in order to tell his neighbors that he’s a sex offender.
Lawson isn’t here to berate a sex positive culture. His statement is that our current focus on sex as the cure-all for relationships may actually be impeding our ability to communicate with anything other than our private parts. His casting, and the use of golliwogs, seems also to be that this is largely the problem of upper-middle class white people who have little else to focus on so they put their own roadblocks between them and happiness. Fortunately for us, he also isn’t afraid to go full on pitch black with his humor to make his point.
Unfortunately, Next Time I’ll Aim For The Heart doesn’t have as strong a commitment to its own irony as it should. Next Time is a true crime French movie that proclaims it is about the strangest serial killer case in France. If this is the strangest serial killer in France, then they truly are lucky. Franck Neuhart is a serial killer who is also a gendarme (a county policeman) investigating his own case. This is not a spoiler, as the plot is established in the first reel. Unfortunately, Cedric Anger can’t figure out a tone for the movie, and leaves it a bland mushy rehash resembling any number of Zodiac killer movies.
There really isn’t much to say about Next Time I’ll Aim For The Heart. It’s almost offensively bland, minus a couple of laugh-worthy scenes. Could it be a pitch black comedy? Maybe. There are some scenes where the police think Neuhart might be a homosexual and investigate the local cruising grounds. Other scenes where they get humor out of the irony of investigating your own crimes. There is plenty of irony to go around lending credence that this might be as sneakily hilarious as Harold Ramis’ The Ice Harvest. Do I really want to give it a second chance?
Next Entry: Communism, race, and class.