So Tropic Thunder made $26 million over the weekend, finally putting a dent in The Dark Knight's iron-fisted rule of the box office. And this despite protests by disability advocacy groups--who not only picketed at the premiere, but threatened to protest at theaters this weekend. (Entertainment Weekly has a good story on the premiere's protest, while FilmDrunk has a great write-up about the, um, questionable tactics advocated by the protesters.)
I saw Tropic Thunder over the weekend, and I thought it was pretty great. Sure, it was muddled and confused and rambly, but that's kind of what I really liked about it (especially since, as a big budget studio flick about a big budget studio flick, all that overblown clusterfuckiness felt pretty appropriate). Plus! At one point there's a little kid who's clinging to the back of a terrified Ben Stiller and repeatedly and viciously stabbing him--and that's something I'll always, always approve of. But mostly the movie was just funny, and I like funny things.
Actually, I like funny things a lot, to the extent where if they're funny enough, I'll forgive them for being other things, like stupid or mean or bad. And maybe that's what's getting people so riled up about Tropic Thunder: They seem to think it's stupid or mean or bad, or that it uses the word "retard" for a cheap laugh--which it isn't, and it doesn't. The jokes in Tropic Thunder that these protesters seem to think are targeted at the developmentally disabled are, in fact, targeted at a whole different group of developmentally disabled people: movie stars.
In other words: Just like Robert Downey Jr.'s character in the film is funny not because he's in blackface but because Downey Jr.'s playing a white Australian in blackface, Stiller's character is funny not because he mimics someone who's developmentally disabled but because he's a dumbshit action star who's trying to get an Oscar by going "full retard"--in other words, using the I Am Sam tactic. Which is funny.
After the jump: Riding the Bus With My Sister!
My favorite quote about all of this, actually, is a quote from that Entertainment Weekly story. It's from one of the main guys behind Tropic Thunder.
Co-writer/executive producer Justin Theroux added that he was surprised by the ire--then humorously (we hope) pointed the finger at other, ostensibly more earnest projects that deal with mental disabilities. "[T]here's a part of me that's a little puzzled and disappointed, like, 'Where were you when Radio came out? Because that was pretty offensive," Theroux said. "Or where were they when they made that Rosie O'Donnell Riding the Bus With My Sister film? Because that was way worse in my eyes than our film."
Damn straight, co-writer/executive producer Justin Theroux! I mean, Jesus Christ. Compare and contrast.
Fact is--and despite what some petitions and letters are trying to simplistically claim--it's all about context, and anybody who approaches this (or any) film with an open mind is probably going to see that the situation isn't as cut and dry as some are making it out to be. (I was going to say "the situation isn't as black and white as some are making it out to be," but then I thought better of it.)
And while obviously I can't speak for those who're legitimately offended by scenes like the one above, I do find their reaction to Tropic Thunder bewildering, not to mention counter-productive: I mean, if a movie comes out in the future that's genuinely mean to, or exploitative of, the developmentally disabled, I can't imagine these protesters will be taken all that seriously at that point--by then, everyone will just remember them as the well-intentioned but hysterical dumbasses who didn't get a joke.
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