Zack and Miri Make a Porno is the latest film by Kevin Smith
and, for better or for worse, it's the same movie the 38-year-old New Jersey native has been making for the last 14 years. That isn't to say there aren't changes. The setting is no longer his beloved hometown and the characters, though certainly of the same mindset, are not members of the director's View Askew universe. There is also the matter of Seth Rogen
who constitutes, with the lone exception of Ben Affleck
, the only bona fide movie star Smith has cast in a leading role to date. That being said, I'm sure Rogen would let out a chuckle at the thought of himself as any sort of star.
As with most of the filmmaker's oeuvre, all you need to know is in the title. Zack (Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) are best friends, living together and working crap jobs in Pittsburgh. They barely make rent and often substitute frivolous pleasures like sex toys and hockey skates in lieu of water and heat. It's at a high school reunion that they reconnect with Miri's high-school crush Bobby Long (Brandon Routh
of Superman Returns
) and his lover (Justin Long
), both gay porn stars earning triple-digit incomes in Los Angeles. At a bar afterwards, Zack realizes that a similar career path would solve Miri's and his financial troubles. Article continues below
Employing his co-worker Delaney (the great Craig Robinson
) as a producer and his hockey teammate Deacon (Jeff Anderson
) as DP, Zack begins casting his film with the likes of stripper Stacey (real life porn starlet Katie Morgan
), a theater actor (Ricky Mabe
), a woman who can blow bubbles out of her nether regions (Traci Lords
), and Lester (Jason Mewes
), a man who can reach full erection in three seconds. Trouble lurks its head, though, when Zack and Miri do a scene together and things get all warm and gooey. For clarification, I'm talking about emotions.
Smith has said many times that a recurring theme in his films is the difference between having sex and making love. Zack and Miri boldfaces that thesis, but it's also a scrappy fable about independent filmmaking, both in perception and production. Making movies has always been a dirty business, but it looks clean in the end. Independent features aren't afforded the luxury of the buff and shine. By equating it with the lowest and cheapest (not to mention most profitable) form of filmmaking, Smith debases the self-importance of independent filmmaking while simultaneously creating a very entertaining indie rom-com.
As a filmmaker, Smith can be earnest and hectic, but he's an extremely talented screenwriter and he's always picked able comic talent to smooth out his heart-on-sleeve mannerisms. Rogen, who came to Hollywood as a Smith fanboy, brings along many of the tropes of his Apatow clan, but he fits with Smith's crew beautifully; his sharp, chummy sarcasm fits just as well with Mewes and Anderson as it has with Peter Segal and Jonah Hill. But, with the exception of chronic scene-stealer Robinson, this is Banks' show. The soon-to-be Laura Bush (in W
.) has a lush, fickle voice that accents her sharp timing and emotional range. She matches Rogen's sailor's mouth, note for note, but she also possesses a graceful subtlety that is vital to Miri's growing feelings for Zack. Though she tends towards flighty characters, Banks's talents reach beyond levity.
Though it tends towards the inconsequential, Zack and Miri finds Smith more consistent than many of his contemporaries, especially in terms of focus. There are some minor problems: his wont to crank '90s alt-rock at every given moment often dismantles his tone, and the film's penultimate gross-out (you'll know it when you see it) seems oddly out-of-place. These are things that trouble his craft but Smith's greatest asset has always been his sincerity, and underneath all the bodily fluid, Zack and Miri are the porn-loving, alcoholic lovebirds we all hope still exist. Just, ya know, without the stains.