Come, my friends, gather ye ‘round as I share my story. It is a sad tale, of a film with so much lost potential, of powerful actors and directors sacrificing themselves for the sake of a few cheap laughs, of an audience that might have cared once… But do not fear, for the ending is a happy one: I escaped this treacherous labyrinth with only a flesh wound.
Oh so long ago (last weekend) in a land far, far away (everywhere in the United States), the magical director David Gordon Green’s YOUR HIGHNESS (2011) opened after much anticipation in the kingdom. Starring Danny McBride as the slovenly, worthless Prince Thadeous and James Franco as his heroic brother Fabious, Green’s film looked to pick up where this trio’s previous collaboration, 2008’s PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, left off. But it was not to be. Instead, working from a script by McBride and Ben Best, YOUR HIGHNESS abandons laconic brilliance and inspired improvisation for consistently dull frat-boy humor and a lot of gratuitous nudity.
When Fabious’s virgin fiancé Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel, disastrously wasted) is kidnapped by the evil warlock Leezar (Justin Theroux), the two royal brothers set off on a quest to rescue her. In an adventure that is part Don Quixote and part Lord of The Rings, the duo come to encounter a few obstacles that make me blush just to mention them, and not in a good way. I will not divulge too many of YOUR HIGHNESS’s laughs, because there are precious few, but suffice it to say that such creatures as a jellyfish-like gay Sorcerer and a well-hung minotaur are among them.
The fantasy aspects are not well conceived (many characters’ names end in “-ious” and the only evidence we have for this land being someplace other than Camelot are the two moons in the sky), and no, playing these plot devices for laughs does not create high comedy.
On the other hand, the production aspects are too expertly orchestrated: Tim Orr’s cinematography is nothing if not majestic, costume design is detailed and strong, and even the sets lend the story a feeling of whimsy much ignored by the script. I was particularly impressed with certain visual effects, such as when a courtly slave named Julie speaks into a fire or when bolts of green light shoot down from the moon.
But here is where this review must get a bit more serious. Some of Green’s earlier films have been poetry in motion, enchanting blends of surrealist spectacle and jaded wisdom. Even PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, which took a very different route than his prior dramatic films, was impressive – not only was James Franco’s performance hysterical and precise, but the film was simply clever. Not so with YOUR HIGHNESS, which squanders not only the wide talents of the Oscar-nominated Franco and the crass McBride, but also performances from such respectable actors as Deschanel, Charles Dance, Toby Jones, and worst of all, Natalie Portman.
Portman just won a well-deserved Oscar, and while this film was deep into post-production before she was even nominated, the question must be posed: Why this film? Portman’s character Isabel (clever, I know) is one of the smallest roles in terms of screen time, and she spends much of it diving half-nude into pools, walking in on Thadeous masturbating, or posing very still for the camera. The role is effectively chauvinistic, and while that’s not an uncommon occurrence in movies, it seems nearly criminal to have cast such a respected and talented actress for it.
YOUR HIGHNESS is highly disappointing. I trusted David Gordon Green to make good films. I trusted Franco, Portman, McBride, and Deschanel to choose their projects a bit more carefully, or at least to go down on different, isolated ships. Although this film does not come straight from “Apatown”, it bears many qualities of a script tossed into Judd Apatow’s trash bin, then pulled out by a janitor and leaked to McBride & Best. Was this perhaps intended to smack big producers who demanded something more high concept in the face? Were the filmmakers and cast possibly working under the delusion I admit to sharing: that they had the Midas touch? What a letdown.
- Directed by: David Gordon Green
- Written by: Danny McBride & Ben Best
- Thadeous – Danny McBride
- Fabious – James Franco
- Isabel – Natalie Portman
- Leezar – Justin Theroux
- Belladonna – Zooey Deschanel
- Julie – Toby Jones
- Courtney – Rasmus Hardiker
- King Tallious – Charles Dance
- Original Music by: Steve Jablonsky
- Cinematography by: Tim Orr