MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

Myers v. Carrell

This weekend we have a very interesting box office match-up, one that we don’t see that often these days where release dates have been picked out years in advance so that nobody else deigns to put a similar film in that spot. This weekend we have two big-budgeted comedies being released widely, starring two of the bigger draws in the comedy world: Mike Myers in The Love Guru and Steve Carell in Get Smart.

Having not yet seen either film, I’d like to look at both Myers and Carell individually and see how they stack up against one another. Hopefully by analyzing both of them as actors and their various shticks, it will help both me and you to decide which of the two movies has a better chance of being worth our ten bucks. (Although, it’s probably safe to say that I will wind up seeing both of them because as we’ve established time and again, I am a movie slut.)

As of right now, both Mike Myers and Steve Carell are the same age (45) but the former is a veteran of both television and a star of feature films while the latter is an ascending star who has been on a hit TV show and in several successful films but is still a relative neophyte. What’s important to remember is that comedy is never stagnant, it is ever-changing and what was funny yesterday isn’t always funny tomorrow (of course, the Marx Brothers are eternally hilarious).

So the mere fact that Carell is someone who is starting to catch fire tells us that what he is doing in his comedy is speaking to audiences today, – he is a relevant performer; he has made a career out of playing geeks, losers, outcasts and virgins. Mike Myers hasn’t starred in a live-action film in five years, which could mean that he was honing his craft and trying to perfect Pitka, his character in The Love Guru; it could also mean that he might have grown out of touch with what people want in their comedies today. While Carell excels at playing losers, Myers has always been more comfortable playing people who are sexier, younger, wilier and frankly more interesting than he is (Austin Powers, Steve Rubell, Wayne Campbell). With the proliferation of comedy stars like Jonah Hill and Seth Rogen, it seems that what people want more of these days is comedy that they can relate to, that they can see themselves being a part of. If this were a political race Carell would be Obama, the upstart who seems different and exciting and new while Myers would be Hillary, the veteran who we appreciate but who we have been with longer and therefore have seen them stumble more. Perhaps we just haven’t seen Carell stumble yet (except Evan Almighty) and that’s what makes him attractive.

For myself, I find myself in a bind as to whose brand of comedy I prefer. I find the Judd Apatow style of comedy to be incredibly effective at both making me laugh out loud as well as endearing me to the characters who I find both pitiable and sweet. However, I can’t forget the fact that I’ve watched the Wayne’s World movies more times as a kid than I could possibly count and that the first Austin Powers film made me laugh harder than anything else I’d ever seen in a theater. But, like I said, comedy is always changing and the truth is, so are we; I’m no longer the fourteen year old kid who guffawed when Austin went to the bathroom next toTom Arnold.

One of the more interesting ways to compare the two is to take their best movies and look at them side by side. The ‘best’ is subjective of course, but my favoriteSteve Carell film so far is definitely The 40 Year Old Virgin while my favorite Mike Myers film might surprise people but it’s So I Married an Axe Murderer. What I love about that Myers film is that it is essentially a straightforward drama in which the mere fact of having Myers in it makes it a comedy. It’s a film that could have easily not been played for laughs, but because it is, we are treated to all sorts of wacky moments like Myers playing his own Scottish father and Anthony LaPaglia as his policeman best friend who wishes being a cop was more like the movies. In a lot of ways, So I Married an Axe Murderer is kind of a precursor to a film like 40 Year Old Virgin which also takes an interesting, bold premise and then populates the film with funny character actors to bring it to life. You could easily see how the pitches went for both of these films: “What if Mike Myers thinks he’s dating a serial killer?” and “What if Steve Carell was a forty year old virgin?”

In both of the films, Myers and Carell play essentially the straight men parts while character actors as varied as Amanda Plummer, Alan Arkin, Romany Malco and Paul Rudd get a lot of the funnier, wackier lines. While neither of them are traditionally handsome, Carell and Myers play the romantic leads in both of their films, and in the end they get the girl and we feel by the end of the movie that they deserve their fates. For me, ultimately, I prefer The 40 Year Old Virgin. I’ve seen both of the films numerous times and for me, Carell’s film holds up better on multiple viewings and even improves. Pratfalls and one-liners get old quickly, but when you can re-watch a film and get absorbed in the drama over and over again, that’s a sign of something special and that’s what The 40 Year Old Virgin is for me.

But what I loved about So I Married an Axe Murderer was that we didn’t get overloaded on Myers’ shtick. Sometimes he can have that Robin Williams syndrome where he just vamps too long and too hard and it gets to be a little tiresome. In each of his Austin Powers sequels, he repeats jokes from the last film rather than coming up with something newer and fresher; instead, he seems content to just keep building on what worked the last time. It’s hard to compare Carell because he doesn’t generate his own material as often as Myers does and perhaps soon we’ll all get tired of Carell’s variations on stammering and pausing (the trailers for Get Smart almost take me there already) but he’s still at the stage of his career where we’re still getting a feel for what Carell can do; whereas with Myers, we know what he can do and we can almost predict what he will do.

Steve Carell has a bit more of a history of doing supporting roles while Mike Myers jumped right into the leading man gig with Wayne‘s World. But Myers has done a couple of supporting spots in films like Mystery, Alaska and A View From the Top which as comedic support don’t come close to the levels that Carell reaches in films like Anchorman or evenBruce Almighty. But I’d like to take a look at the two dramatic supporting roles that the actors took and how much they differ, 54 for Myers and Little Miss Sunshine for Carell.

It is often said that comedians often make the best actors and when you witness some of the great turns by Bill Murray or Jim Carrey, it’s hard not to believe it. But when Mike Myersplayed club guru Steve Rubell in 54 it made me never want to see another comedian in a dramatic role. Actually, it might even by Myers’ funniest performance (unintentionally, of course) and I remember laughing out loud in the theater when Myers was rolling around on the bed in dollar bills and telling Breckin Meyer, “I want to suck your cock.” This was a scene that was supposed to be gritty and harrowing and was supposed to expose the ugly side of being the bartender at Studio 54 and it’s a scene worth showing and a story worth telling, but it just doesn’t work with Mike Myers in it. His portrayal of Steve Rubell is too much like one of his “characters” that we never buy him as a real person and when he says that line, it sounds like a joke rather than a veiled threat. The movie is terrible for reasons that have nothing to do with Mike Myers and I want to see him in another dramatic role before passing judgment, but that was not pretty.

Meanwhile, Steve Carell played the suicidal, gay Proust scholar in Little Miss Sunshine and while the roles are incredibly different, it’s amazing to watch Carell continue to downplay each scene and yet still take command. I don’t think the film is a masterpiece, but the acting is stellar across the board and Carell is one of the brightest spots. He takes a character that could very well be a cliché, but he makes him into a genuinely tortured soul; it’s a study in subtlety and while Steve Rubell might have been a very out-there figure, Myers overplays him. Carell, on the other hand, makes the most of this dramatic opportunity and I think it’s interesting to note his body language which is made up of slow, measured movements. In contrast, Myers is often frantic and the movements of his body are animated; even when Myers was sitting on the couch as Wayne Campbell, he’s always moving his hands and brushing the hair out of his eyes and behind his ears. Carell, on the other hand, is comfortable as an actor to simply stand still, not working too hard for that extra laugh.

This all brings us to the original point: Love Guru or Get Smart. The truth of the matter is that both of them don’t seem too appealing based on the trailers or the intent of the films; Carell is rehashing an old TV character while Myers tries out a ‘new’ character that is remarkably similar in style to some old ones. I think that Carell might be the fresh, new face on the block and might be more relevant right now but Mike Myers is in the comedy hall of fame for his work on SNL, Wayne’s World and Austin Powers. I’ll see them both, but which one will I see first? I think it’ll be The Love Guru.

I know most of what I’ve said has been more in praise of Carell than Myers, but ultimately I’d rather see something that is trying to be original rather than a retread of a TV show. All things being equal, I always pick something that is trying to be different than something that has already been done because the ceiling is way higher on an original idea. I feel like I know what I’ll get with both, but I know less about The Love Guru Pitka than I do about Maxwell Smart and his shoe phone.

Or maybe I should just go see You Don’t Mess With the Zohan again…

– Noah Forrest
June 17, 2008

Noah Forrest is a 25 year old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon