Published at: June 12, 2008, 6:17 a.m. CST by Moriarty
Hey, everyone. “Moriarty” here.
When I spoke to Harry on the phone earlier tonight and told him I was working on my LOVE GURU review, he got very quiet.
“... and... was it... any good?”
He went on to explain that there’s pretty much no way he’ll end up seeing this film. Not now. Not ever. Even when I told him what I thought of it, he didn’t budge. Just wasn’t interested at all. He’s seen the trailers. He’s seen the clips. Nope.
Such is the state of much of fandom’s attitude towards Mike Myers on the eve of the release of this film, and that's a goddamn shame. It’s a big test for Myers as a movie star. He’s going head-to-head with GET SMART. Steve Carell has been making a ton of films lately, and he’s built a real head of steam for himself as a box-office force. Myers hasn’t created an original movie character like this since Austin Powers, and the last one of those, GOLDMEMBER, was six years ago. The comedy landscape has shifted since Myers made the first AUSTIN POWERS over a decade ago. Thanks to guys like Ricky Gervais and Judd Apatow and Matt and Trey and Larry David and Edgar Wright, the entire vocabulary of film comedy has become very different. It’s strange that ZOHAN and LOVE GURU would come out so close together, since both represent significant stylistic risks. ZOHAN has some funny spots, but on the whole, it didn’t work for me. THE LOVE GURU, on the other hand, finds its footing early and struck me as a very nice return to form for Myers, a confident vehicle for his particular comic sensibility. It’s sweet and very silly, and Guru Pitka is a really welcome grown-up twist on the underlying adolescence of much of what Myers does.
And I mean that in the best way. Comedy fascinates me because of what an involuntary thing laughter is. The idea of setting out to provoke that response, the determination it takes to think that you can reliably get this completely natural reaction to happen... and there’s a certain age where I think you discover that desire in yourself, where you start to figure out that you can get laughs, and that there’s something really addictive about it.
Myers is like that kid who just learned 12 really naughty jokes, and he can’t wait to tell them to you, and even as he does, you can see how delighted he is to be able to tell the jokes in the first place. When he’s on a roll during a scene, having a good time, I find it infectious. He makes me laugh like I’m sitting across from my best friend in church on a Sunday morning, getting death stares from my parents every time a snort or guffaw escapes.
At the start of the film, Guru Pitka is already a bit of a celebrity. In fact, he’s the number-two guru, which is no small thing. He’s got his own successful ashram in Los Angeles. He’s got celebrities coming to him for guidance. He’s living the dream. But he’s never been on Oprah, and he’s always second to Deepak Choprah, and those two things eat at him. He is consumed by those most American of desires... money and fame. Even so, his seminars we glimpse are filled with silly-yet-sincere messages, and this is one part of the character I found surprising. I don’t think Myers is trying to mock the self-help movement with this film. Not at all. Guru Pitka is pop psychology writ large, absolutely, but he’s not an idiot. He simplifies. He is dramatic with his method. But the underlying ideas he offers up are real ones, and there’s a gentle quality to the movie that I really liked. It’s sort of the polar opposite of ZOHAN, which was a filthy movie disguised as a sweet comedy, while this pretends to be dirty to cover up its marshmallow middle.
I like how Myers has to create an entire comic universe around these characters, like he did in AUSTIN POWERS. What made me love the Power series was more than just the main character... it was all the peripheral weirdos around him. Myers plays just one character in this film, so he’s cast such disparate oddballs as Justin Timberlake (outrageous as a horse-cocked hockey star with a Celine Dion fetish), Ben Kingsley (couldn’t be broader if he tried), John Oliver (another DAILY SHOW correspondent making the jump to big studio comedy), and Romany Malco, whose resume is looking really, really good these days. As is traditional with Myers films, his leading lady is gorgeous and sort of terrible (Heather Graham in SPY WHO SHAGGED ME, Beyonce in GOLDMEMBER, Jessica Alba in this one), but they always seem like they’re game for whatever Myers is up to, enjoying themselves even if they can’t quite keep up.
Malco plays Darren Roanoake, “the Tiger Woods of hockey,” who has suffered a debilitating drop in his gameplay after his wife Prudence (the ridiculously hot Meagan Good) leaves him for “Le Coq,” Timberlake’s character. Roanoake is the ultimate act of wish fulfillment for Myers, who is a lifelong Maple Leafs fan. In the world of the movie, Roanoake has gotten the Leafs within spitting distance of the Stanley Cup, and Pitka is hired to “fix” Roanoake so that he’s focused for the playoffs. It’s a premise that allows Myers to roast the fixation on celebrity romance, as well as our entire culture of the easy fix. Myers throws so many gags and jokes and visual flourishes at the viewer that the film becomes a game of percentages. For me, I’d say a majority of the jokes hit their target, and I was exhausted from laughing by the end of the movie. It’s that sort of film, where if you connect to the sense of humor, you’re going to find yourself pretty much carried along consistently throughout. There are certainly some familiar set-ups and rhythms to what Myers does here, but there are also many new quirks and eccentricities peppered all the way through. For me, the bottom line was that I liked the Guru Pitka. I am intrigued by the character, and so I was willing to follow him wherever he went in this crazed world Myers built around him. First-time director Marco Schnabel (an AD for Jay Roach on the Austin Powers films) seems to be working in full service of Myers and his vision here. Schnabel’s work is fine, but not particularly noteworthy. Basically, all he has to do is make sure he gives Myers the right room to work, and that’s what he does, with Myers taking full advantage of the playground that’s set up for him.
I hope audiences take a chance on THE LOVE GURU. And I hope Myers doesn’t wait so long before introducing us to more original characters in the future, since it feels to me like he’s still able to tap into a real love for what he does, and for these oddballs he gives such hilarious life to.