Monday, September 28, 2009

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

I saw Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs twice over the weekend.

The first time was on Thursday with my brother-in-law. We picked it out of a group of potential movies because it was the only one that would get us home at a decent hour on a school night. Neither of us was particularly excited to see it, but we figured that if nothing else we’d get to see a lot of hamburgers fall on people and that might be fun. Turns out it’s hilarious and we laughed harder than we had at a movie in a very long time.

So Saturday I took my wife and son and enjoyed it all over again. I didn’t laugh quite as hard the second time – the gags being the same as the first time around and all – but it was still a lot of fun. At my son’s request, we spent the entire ride home going over our favorite scenes and jokes.

Obviously, a great deal of the enjoyment the first time was the result of surprise after not being sure I was going to like it at all. If I’d known Mr. T was one of the voices, I’d forgotten about it. I’m pretty sure I had no idea that Bruce Campbell was going to be another. I’m glad of that too, because had I known/remembered that, my expectations would’ve been way up. Recognizing their voices let me know right away though that I was in good hands with this thing.

Mr. T is Earl Devereaux, the family-minded police officer in charge of keeping the peace in the little, island community of Swallow Falls. He has his hands full with Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader), a would-be inventor whose concoctions and contraptions are a constant source of amusement (like the time he tested spray-on shoes on himself and couldn’t get them to come off) and frustration (he created the ratbirds that now infest Swallow Falls) for the town’s inhabitants. Earl has plenty of opportunity to lecture Flint as only Mr. T can lecture a young ne’er-do-well and those are my favorite parts of the movie.

Bruce Campbell is – appropriately – the town’s sleazy, conniving mayor. His main goal is to turn sleepy, boring Swallow Falls into a tourist destination, so when Flint actually comes up with a working invention that converts air moisture into food, the mayor sees it as the opportunity he’s been looking for.

Some other great casting include James Caan as Flint’s awkward dad, Neil Patrick Harris as the electronic voice of Flint’s pet monkey Steve (he has a Monkey Thought Translator, but the thoughts mostly come out as “Steve!” and “Hungry!”), Andy Samburg as a local celebrity coasting on the fame he received as an infant in an advertising campaign, and Lauren Graham as Flint’s mom.

Though it’s revealed very early in the movie, the rest of this paragraph is sort of a spoiler, so skip ahead if you don’t want to know anything. I mention Lauren Graham partly because she’s Lauren Graham, but also because she does so much with a tiny role. The movie opens with Flint as a kid and he’s distraught over the failure of his spray-on shoes. As his mom comforts and supports him, you can’t help but fall in love with her a little bit and that’s all due to Graham’s voice. Later, when Flint’s an adult and he’s having a hard time communicating with his dad, you can feel Mom’s absence. It’s not just, “Why isn’t she in this scene?” It’s, “Uh oh. Where’s Flint’s Mom?” Then, a couple of seconds later, Flint and his dad reveal that Mom died several years ago and you’re as heartbroken about it as they seem to be.

I also liked Flint’s relationship with his dad, though it was sometimes painful to watch. Both of these guys clearly love each other; they just have nothing in common and neither is able to communicate adequately his feeling for the other. What I love is that neither is portrayed as the bad guy. They both fail at their relationship and – though it’s a frustrating situation for them to be in – as an audience member, it’s refreshing to see.

On top of the great acting and character work, the movie’s plot is awesome. It starts off ludicrous enough with food falling from the sky and just gets wilder as it progresses. The food starts getting bigger and dangerous and ultimately Flint and his friends have to figure out a way to stop it. By the end of the movie the heroes are battling flying pizza slices, evil Gummi bears, and man-eating roasted chickens.

I haven’t said anything yet about Anna Faris as weather reporter Sam Sparks. That’s not because she does a bad job or anything; she’s actually very charming. It’s just that the character doesn’t have much going for her outside of being Flint’s love interest. She’s in Swallow Falls because the mayor’s related to someone at her network and wanted some free publicity for his efforts to revitalize the town. When the food starts raining, she stays on to cover the story and eventually to fall in love with Flint. Outside of him, her story arc consists entirely of learning to put aside her conventionally attractive appearance and embrace the inner nerd she once knew as a child.

By “embrace her inner nerd” I mean that she quits acting dumber than she really is and starts wearing her glasses and a hair scrunchie again. Because apparently, conventionally attractive people can’t be smart, nor can girls in pony-tails and glasses be attractive. At least, they can’t to the general public. They can to other nerds like Flint though.

Still, as obnoxious a message as that is, Sam’s story is presented with a lot of cuteness and charm. I liked her quite a bit; I just wish that there was more to her. Fortunately, there was enough of everything else that I wasn’t thinking about the underlying social message in Sam’s character development. It’s worth mentioning, but I only really thought about it when I sat down to write this. During the movie, I was too busy laughing and enjoying myself.

Four out of five flying cars.

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