What the Fuck Happened to David Gordon Green?
Most people watching The Sitter will be struck solely by the difference in size between the Jonah Hill they now know by name and the one on the screen before them; “He’s really let himself go,” they’ll say. For me though it was the difference in the direction that I found most disconcerting; the leap from the David Gordon Green that I first discovered with All the Real Girls to this current iterating is one on a scale that can’t be measured by simple size alone. Green entered the scene a Sundance style indie kid, making those terrific, tiny and often terrifying anti-romantic comedy relationship dramas that the budget range is now known for. And sure, these are a dime a dozen but his had some real value; I’m as quick as the next guy to gripe with the self-involvement, depressive nature and over-authenticity of these tales but I did enjoy his take. So it is something of a shock to see him standing at the helm of a gross-out comedy, one that all bar the censorship standards belongs in the eighties studio system. He’s really let himself go.
For those unaware The Sitter tells the story of a shut-out, selfish (though not when it comes to oral sex) ex-student slacker who is slyly roped by his mother into babysitting a bunch of three brats for a family friend, before all of the usual wacky hijinks ensue and the heart wrenching life lessons are learnt. What then is the single thing that separates this film from all of the other similar efforts? It’s rated a hard R. The Sitter then is exactly what one would expect from such a premise; formulaic frustration comedy only with the higher stakes and a greater sense of the ridiculous that such a rating provides. It is thus the vulgarity that defines The Sitter – the kids don’t just keep saying that they need to go to the bathroom, they “shart” in the car, etc. – and this is fast becoming the trademark of David Gordon Green’s projects, though it was once unvarnished emotion rather than unvarnished humour that held that title. When one looks at how babysitting was treated both in his two thousand and seven effort Snow Angels and then here it starts to seem almost incomprehensible that they were made by the same person, especially given the fact that they are separated by such a short amount of time. So what happened?
This all started with Pineapple Express, the film that David made directly after Snow Angels and his first collaboration with the likes of Judd Apatow. Now Pineapple certainly wasn’t a bad film – being sober it’s not exactly my style of humour but it was a fun enough experience – but in a way it is to blame for all that came after. Apatow gave Green his biggest budget yet and allowed him to spend it working with two of this generations most likeable actors on what was surely a spectacularly funny set, it’s hard to not let that get to your head. There’s also no doubt that filming Express was extremely enjoyable and that when faced with choosing a follow up laughing with the funny guys won out easily over wringing out another cheap, un-cathartic crier but I have to wonder for whom this was the best choice; while it certainly seems that David is having more fun, his work would no doubt have been better had he taken the other path. Just thinking about yourself is so selfish David, you should have been thinking about me! Not only did Green choose to continue down the path of comedy after coming out of Pinapple though, he actually doubled down and set out to shape both a second feature and a series in the same mould as that which he started here.
Your Highness? The less said about that film and the faster it is forgotten the better.
Eastbound and Down on the other hand, his television series, is something that I find myself mediating on quite frequently. It shouldn’t work and in many ways it doesn’t, but I’m still there week in, week out to watch it. On the page the program is schlocky, over-eager and underwritten; yet Green treats every episode that he directs –which is a decent amount – with the utmost respect and his care in the craftsmanship elevates them far beyond the expected. Again most would look at the show and see only its protagonist, though while McBride has certainly had a critical part in shaping the show’s sense of humour it is Green that has made it watchable. For while some may adore Danny McBride’s singular schtick, I for one fail to find anything funny about it in all but the rarest of cases but the way in which it is delivered has me constantly coming back for more: the shots, sequences and soundtrack are singularly responsible for the show’s success to my mind. While this would seem a positive I tend to think about it the other way, while Green is elevating this material from worst to watchable he could be taking something good and making it great; comedy or drama.
The real shame of The Sitter though is that although his style is still recognizable Green’s greatness has been even further relegated to the background than has become regular; where once it made montages magic it is now only allowed a cameo appearance, a hidden gem for the hawkeyed viewers. Throughout the film every television set is showing something from the eighties, be it a bad soap, sitcom or schlocky actioner and this is never once addressed in the action; it’s simply a nod from Green to say that he is aware of the anachronistic nature of the film he is making. There isn’t a joke in the entire script that comes close to matching the wit of that little sight gag.
While I have been making a big deal out of this transformation do far I don’t know that it’s actually over and it is the thought of where he could be going from here that has me worried about Gordon Green. His short work with Clint Eastwood on the Chrysler Superbowl half-time spot seemed like the Green of old, but his next film – a straight to TV affair – doesn’t get my hopes up for a second coming. I really like the guy but god, at this rate who knows how low he will go before he stops? Given the talent that he has shown I would say that anywhere but up is something of a tragedy. And no, for the record I don’t consider comedy as a whole to be slumming it; most of my favourite films fall into the confines of the genre, it’s just that this particular place of perversion and pungent puns seems beneath such a prodigious guy as David Gordon Green.