The Passion of the Weiss

Sometimes I rhyme slow, sometimes I rhyme quick. But most of the time, I don't rhyme.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Thank You For Smoking

On "Temporary Like Achilles" from his Blonde on Blonde album, Bob Dylan delivered the line, "I'm Helpless like a rich man's son." And judging from many of the children of the wealthy that I grew up around, there seemed to be a corresponding increase in degeneracy with obscene quantities of wealth. However, if nothing else, "Thank You For Smoking," represents the culmination of the ambition of two rich kids made good.

Adapted from Christopher (son of William F. ) Buckley's 1994 novel of the same name by Jason Reitman (son of Ivan, who also directed the film), "Thank You For Smoking," is one of the most biting, sharp and well-made satires I've ever seen.

The film details the life of champion tobacco lobbysit, Nick Naylor, the self-titled "Sultan of spin." Essentially, the film is a vehicle to poke fun at a wide range of topics including Washington cronyism, phony Senators, sleazy lobbyists, Hollywood agents and the field of journalism. And it succeeds on every level.

Perhaps the toughest thing to do as a comedy writer is to make an audience emotionally relate to a character while putting him through a series of outrageous absurdities done for comic gain. Nick Naylor, played by Aaron Eckhart in an dead-on, Academy Award worthy role, not only makes you laugh for the duration of the film, but he actually makes you feel for him as he shills for the tobacco industry, while desperately trying to maintain a conscience and present himself in a positive light in front of his young son. Yet for all the emotion compressed into the scenes between Naylor and his child, this is by no means a sappy film, in fact almost every scene is hilarious. Just when you think the film is going to segue into some maudlin "everyone's learned a lesson," homily, it shifts back into complete satire, ultimately coming back to one point: everyone needs to be held accountable for their own actions and decisions. I'm so sick of films that try to shove some over-arching moral down your throats (see my point with Crash...obviously racism is bad, now what) but "Thank You" never does anything of the sort.

It would've been the easiest thing in the world to have made a polemic against smoking, prolly one of cheapest targets for criticism that one can imagine. Clearly, no thinking person thinks smoking cigarettes is an objectively good thing (though if one wanted to make the argument that smoking is and always will be "cool" I'll be the first one to agree with them). But instead of telling you smoking is bad, the film's message essentiually is: make your own decision whether or not you want to smoke. But take a look at all of these pricks around you that are trying to shape the argument and further their own agendas.

But this film could've been easily lost not just by a lessor director and writer but also in the hands of lesser actors and while I often malign actors, the actors in this film all turn in outstanding performances. Particularly worth noting are the aforementioned Eckhart who completely nails the character, as well as the always exceptional William H. Macy, who plays a grand-standing anti tobacco senator. Not to mention Rob Lowe, who plays a sleazy Hollywood agent prone to dressing up like a Geisha Girl. Needless to say, it is Lowe's best performance since he tried to exploit a feeble public access show for profit back in the early 90s. Disappointingly, he did not speak Mandarin in Thank You For Smoking to order Chinese Food.

Also worth noting was Adam Brody of the "OC" who turns in a scene-stealing performance as Lowe's assistant. Seriously, I know it sounds bizarre but I think Brody is one of the best comic actors out there. The guy was one of the principal reasons for Season 1 of the OC being incredible television (yeah don't hate on me for this, the first season was truly outstanding) and Brody single-handledly made the train-wreck second season of the OC watchable. Though by Season 3, nothing could've made that show worth anyone's time. At any rate, Brody also kills it in this flick.

I know that most of my blogging time is spent inveighing against something, be it a celebrity, a film or a lame musician, that's why I feel it's important to single out when something is done right, because it's all-too-rare in our feeble Simple Life generation. So definitely check out "Thank You For Smoking," I can almost guarantee you won't regret it. And if you do regret it, then you prolly are better off going to the multi-plex to check out the Larry the Cable Guy Film, because the world definitely also has a shortage of Jeff Foxworthy imposters.


At 8:53 PM, Anonymous jack loves asian %@#! said...

Definitely one of the funniest movies I have seen recently. And a solid, smart review by the Passion too.

(I'd write a longer comment, but I'm off for a pack of Camels just now.)

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At 6:31 PM, Anonymous dan said...

great review and great blog. I loved the movie as well and felt it was a great satire not only on the sin industry but on american consumers as a whole.

At 12:08 AM, Blogger Nate said...

Askari and I caught the flick today. Quite phenomenal, to say the least.


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