Thursday, August 21, 2008

Don't Watch with the Zohan

I'm a big Adam Sandler fan. Not a 'oh theres a new Adam Sandler film, I must see it now!' fan, more a 'Oh look, there's another repeat of 'Happy Gilmore' on Sky One ... thats a pleasant and assuredly pleasing way to pass an evening.' sort of fan. So, when Hellboy II was sold out this afternoon (!) we plumbed to watch 'Don't Mess With the Zohan' instead. It looked like it could be a good laugh. In some ways, it was, but in others it was a horribly painful awkward viewing experience.

The plot, if you haven't seen the trailer, is that Adam Sandler is 'The Zohan' - a legendary Israeli counter-terrorist who is tired of war and wants to move to the US and become a hair stylist. He does this, falls in love, has sex with lots of old women and then his past catches up with him and he is revealed! There are some other 'subplots' but really, thats not the point of the film - or indeed, this post.

As you would expect from most of these US Laugh Pack films, it is PACKED with cameo appearances - Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, Mariah Carey, John McEnroe, Kevin James, John Turturro, George Takei, Henry Winkler and (for the pro-wrestling geeks out there) Michael Buffer amongst others. Its quite funny seeing them pop up and wondering how the hell they got involved with this ... thing.

The problem is two fold. The first is that this film is a massive pisstake of the Arab-Israeli conflict wrapped up on some of the bluntest and least sensitive satire about the character of both sides of said conflict you could possibly get away with. Indeed, I think it is the almost absurd levels of satire (like Israeli's brushing their teeth with hummus, all jewish men working in electronics stores and the really near-the-knuckle 'Hezzbullah Hotline' segments) that allow it to carry on without being too much. That said, the fact that the incredibly hot woman in the salon where the Zohan finally gets work falls for him, despite the fact that he has shagging the octigenarian clientele in the back room (and she condones it) just beggars belief.

The second problem is that a LOT of the jokes are verbal ones spoken in what I assume is Yiddish (I'll be honest here, I have no idea!). You can sort of infer what is meant but half the time people were just laughing uncomfortably because they sort of assumed that what was said was supposed to be funny. It was like painful real life canned laughter.

And that was the real problem. As I had to explain to an American that stumbled onto my messageboards a couple of years ago and decided to brand every other person an Anti-Semite, in the UK we just do not make jokes about Jewish people. At all. Its just not done. Now I can recognise that a large number of the actors in this film are Jewish and they were being rather self-depricating. I can also see that this was a very blunt edged swipe at the Israeli man stereotypes but it was as if people felt that they weren't allowed to laugh. As if they would be told off if they laughed. It was exceptionally uncomfortable.

My laugh-out-loud hooting and wailing probably didn't help. No doubt I will be being visited by the police any time now...

'Don't Mess With the Zohan' is not a good film. It has to go to levels of intense absurdity to be able to frame the subject matter in a way that is even palatable. I would recommend seeing it when it comes out on SKY, just to experience it.

Oh, and it was a 12A apparently. *shakes head*

17 comments:

Mark McC said...

To pick up on your last sentence at the risk of turning into Mr Disgruntled of Tumbridge Wells who reads the Daily Mail (heaven forbid), I don't know what is up with the 12A rating. To me it seems a cop out on behalf of the BBFC to push it onto parents. Dark Knight recently has to be a questionable 12A. I went to see an afternoon performance recently and there were parents taking their 7 or 8 year olds along to see it with their older siblings.

Vodkashok said...

Personally, I thought that the antics in DMWTZ were far less appropriate for a 12A than Dark Knight. In the latter it was indeed tension and implied violence that caused the problems for people. In the former it was not only out-and-out gratuitous sex (implied, but obvious) but moreover the very strange twists on Jewish culture juxtapositioned with the culture of total disapproval of anti-semitism in the extreme. So a 12-year old kid sees this film and decides that he will go back to school and tease a jewish kid about brushing his teeth with hummus or a Syrian kid about his love for his goat. Whoops - in some authorities that could well involve a visit from some over-enthusiastic policemen! The issues in this film would need a parent to sit down and explain them and even then, I'm not sure it would help!

btw Mark - welcome to the blog! Do I know you or are you a random passer-by?

Anonymous said...

The 12A has almost certainly been created due to studio pressure, possibly under the guise of parent pressure at one particular point in time (I forget which film brought it about).

Now, it's great for the studios, push the 12A barrier as much as you can (and I believe you can push it quite a bit as long as you explain the content with the rating) and you have maximum viewer potential.

The kids can see it and no doubt want to see it if they push their parents into it (which doubles entry tickets). The teenagers above twelve can see it. If the parents want to see a film and can't get sitters they can drag their kids to it (thus not missing out on a ticket sale and again doubling up).

Ian

redben said...

You're all coming across like Mr Disgruntled of Tunbridge Wells. For anyone under the age of 12 to see this film they must be accompanied by an adult who has decided to give consent for the child.

The BBFC are essentially saying with the 12A rating that anyone can watch this film but parents be warned, this film may not be suitable for your younger children. The ball is in your court.

Rather than a license for film makers to push the envelope and still make a film everyone can see the 12A rating is actually reining things in. In the past the bulk of these films would have been PG's which the BBFC describe as a film which would not disturb anyone over the age of 8.

Cast your mind back to your youth and this would have included things like the end scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark and all of Jaws.

Did those things scare me as a child? Hell yes? Did they disturb and scar me for life? No they did not.

This 12A brouhaha is another sympton of the overprotective society that we've developed when it comes to our children.

Mark McC said...

Well I played the rogue Gumbert in Dungeoneers if that counts, and have lurked here for a fair while, but have made a few comments, probably attributed to the other Mark you know.

I haven't seen Zohan so can't compare them, but I don't doubt it pushes some different boundaries though. I'd personal say DK would have been fine as a standard 12 and didn't think it was appropriate for younger kids, I but I doubt it will do lasting harm to them as don't subscribe to the view films and video games turn them into serial killers.

I think the first 12A was Spiderman from memory, and agree with Ian that it's probably studio pressure to maximise revenue.

Mark McC said...

Well I played the rogue Gumbert in Dungeoneers if that counts, and have lurked here for a fair while, but have made a few comments, probably attributed to the other Mark you know.

I haven't seen Zohan so can't compare them, but I don't doubt it pushes some different boundaries though. I'd personal say DK would have been fine as a standard 12 and didn't think it was appropriate for younger kids, I but I doubt it will do lasting harm to them as don't subscribe to the view films and video games turn them into serial killers.

I think the first 12A was Spiderman from memory, and agree with Ian that it's probably studio pressure to maximise revenue.

mark mcc said...

sorry double post

Fandomlife said...

I don't disagree with you, that's what I'm saying - it's resulting in all films being similar in that they all fall into that 12A rating (or I suspect it's the most commercially sensible rating).

Vodkashok said...

Ah! THAT Mark - hiya!

Anyway, yes, this isn't a case of 'hey, this film will scar your children for life!'. It is more a case of 'hey, this film could well require some quite complicated explanation for children of 8-9 about subjects which they really have no concept of at that age.'

Have you seen the trailer for Tropic Thunder? Robert Downey Jnr is a white actor who has skin pigmentation surgery to look black for a role. During the trailer someone says "Now if you people could.." and he replies, indignantly "What do you mean? 'YOU PEOPLE!'" and then the genuine black guy in the background says "What do YOU mean? 'You people'?!"

That sort of race politics is quite a difficult concept to explain to an 8-year old. Now imagine a film where you have that sort of thing CONSTANTLY with reference to sex, judaism, arab-israeli politics and many other things?!?!

As a parent who has this morning had to answer the following questions:

" What's anorexia?"
" What's bulemia?"
" What's apartheid?"
" What's a corvid?"

I can only SHUDDER at the prospect of one of my kids seeing this film.

Neil

Vodkashok said...

Moreover, just to answer Ben's comment - the trailer for this film makes no suggestion of the highly sexualised nature of the film. In one scene, for example, The Zohan is taken in by a family in New York as a thank you for rescuing their son. He eats dinner and then fucks the mother in the back room as a thank you. The son (albeit an adult son) walks in on them. You see nothing and in true 'Carry On...' fashion you think that behind the handily positioned bedstead he is massaging her or rubbing her bunioned feet. No, he's fucking her. And he does that with every customer in the salon as well - all of them well over the age of 60. None of this is in the trailer.

As a parent, if it is a 12A, it would really be helpful to have some clue as to what is going on!!

Vodkashok said...

"frequent moderate sex references" doesn't quite cut the mustard!

(Wish I could edit my own comments..)

redben said...

Clearly DMWtZ didn't get its 12A because of violence or horror being that its an Adam Sandler comedy. Therefore its probably going to deal with sexual situations otherwise it would have gotten a PG.

This is what the BBFC guidelines say for what constitutes a 12A -

'Nudity
Nudity is allowed, but in a sexual context must be brief and discreet.

Sex
Sexual activity may be implied. Sex references may reflect what is likely to be familiar to most adolescents but should not go beyond what is suitable for them.'

With regards to the race elements you mention -

'Theme
Mature themes are acceptable, but their treatment must be suitable for young teenagers.'

By which I take to mean anyone 13+ (which begs the question why not a 13A?)

Again, doesn't seem as if DMWtZ exceeds this

We can extend this to the complaints some people have about the violence in The Dark Knight -

'Violence
Violence must not dwell on detail. There should be no emphasis on injuries or blood. Sexual violence may only be implied or briefly and discreetly indicated.'

Again, nothing in The Dark Knight which exceeds that.

I would suggest the problem comes more from ignorance as to what a 12A allows rather than the BBFC letting things slide that they shouldn't.

Vodkashok said...

It all depends on what 'implies' means doesn't it? If Zohan and his fellow hairdresser grinding their crotches into the shoulder of an old woman whilst she writhes in ecstasy is implied... well! Similarly, if the Zohan holding the shower head at his crotch whilst he sprays water across the face of another old woman as she runs her hands down her face and fondles her crotch is implied ...well!

I have no qualms with the 12A rating as it stands. I think that many many times (TDK being a prime example) people are far too gentile about it. However, I also expect the indicators for the film to be more explicit and helpful to a parent.

I KNOW how DMWtZ got away with a lot of the stuff - it was in Yiddish! I imagine that there were a number of words used in that film that were ... well, not allowed in English! Or that might just be me reading into it.

As for 'mature themes' - well, thats arguable. In a society where people can be called to question for disagreeing with a Jewish person and called an anti-semite, I wonder how intelligent it is to produce a film which 12 year olds can see unaccompanied, without context, that deals with Jewish stereotypes with such brutal broad brushstrokes? That was my real question over the 12A - but as you have pointed out, the BBFC doesn't really cover this in their guidelines.

redben said...

Which is largely my point. Irrespective of personal beliefs, the BBFC have guidelines as to how they rate films. Learn those guidelines and you'll have a good idea of what to expect from each certificate.

As a general rule I would suggest just not allowing an under 12 to see a 12A you either haven't seen yourself or have taken advice from someone you trust as to whether its suitable.

Matt said...

What *is* a corvid?

Vodkashok said...

*slap*

Its a bird type - a crow, raven or magpie, as I understand it.

Anonymous said...

I think its the latin designation for the crow family.

A