Ass Backwardsrecommended viewing

That time we morphed our faces to see what our babies would look like
★★★★
☆
Released: 
2013
Director: 
Chris Nelson
Starring: 
June Diane Raphael, Casey Wilson, Jon Cryer, Vincent D'Onofrio
The Setup: 
Two vapid women return to the child beauty pageant they lost years ago.
Discussion: 

A smart comedy about dumb people, this movie [written by its two stars] is sort of a mix of Romy & Michelle and Absolutely Fabulous, and had me laughing throughout, and chortling loudly a few times. Two child pageant winners, obviously scarred by their experience, return to a reunion in order to win it this time. Wackiness and hilarity ensure, grounded by a grim dark side the film doesn't run from.

I do enjoy a good comedy about stupid people, and this one looked fun from the trailer. Then it was released, and passed in a blip, but always seemed like the kind of thing that might show up on Netflix--and here it is. This is a well-written, smart comedy about dumb people, written by its two stars, that had me belly-laughing so hard in parts I was worried what my neighbors might think. I learned with dismay that they had also written the dismal Bride Wars, but this is good enough to make me believe that something must have gotten lost between script and production there.

We open with bouncy, inspirational music as we watch water flowing gently along a sidewalk. We tilt up and it turns out to be our two heroines urinating on the sidewalk. We flash back five days earlier, to find them, brunette Kate and blonde Chloe, in Manhattan. They approach a homeless man and Kate gives him a punch card to "Just buy one more macchiato and the next one's free" and Chloe gives him a small bottle 5-hour energy shot. We learn that Kate makes her living selling eggs to infertile couples on Craigslist, and Chloe dances in a glass box in a nightclub. They get their mail, including an eviction notice, which they ignore, and an invitation to compete in an anniversary reunion of a beauty pageant they lost as children. At first, they're all "We are so not going," but keep talking about it, Chloe saying "I can't remember the last time I even thought about our pageant days," in a way that makes it obvious she thinks about it constantly. We have flashbacks to the contest, when they were both around eight, seeing Kate give a wrong answer that everyone laughs at [and the look on the face of the young actress makes it look as though her mind is snapping--get that kid in a Giallo quick], and Chloe sang a song so horribly she was booed. Bob Odenkirk appears as the meanest pageant host ever. This horribly smarmy girl Laurel won. Anyway, the pageant looks truly horrible and Kate and Chloe's fates were bad enough we can see that there's an extremely dark story behind how their lives have turned out, and why they would be still obsessed with it now.

They go see Laurel at a book signing, still insufferably smug and precious. There's a bit of stunt casting in Alicia Silverstone--good idea--but she unfortunately brings along her less-than-one-note acting. Laurel has made herself somewhat of a brand, and has a new charitable foundation giving makeovers to indigent women. She says "It's so great you aren't embarassed about where you are in life" and offers them her card to apply for free makeovers: "You certainly quality." They decide that they're going to the pageant, and they're going to win.

Next we see a convertible driving on a bridge heading out of Manhattan to bouncy music... but Kate and Chloe aren't in it, they're actually in the Bombay House Indian Restaurant delivery van alongside it. They sing along to a skipping disc of "Take On Me," having memorized, and singing along to, every skip. Chloe talks about Stephen, the guy who broke up with her--nine and a half years ago--making it obvious she's still obsessed with him [she also carries years-old scrapbooks with her]. Kate enables her by saying "You know, I've just had a feeling he'll be circling back any day now." They decide that they have to make time and so absolutely cannot stop for anything... then a second later decide that they thought they saw a coffee place next exit. They load up on a bunch of worthless bullshit at a gas station store, and find all of their credit cards failing. Now, I kind of realize that a lot of this is not coming across as funny in print, but so much of it depends on the leads' expert timing and delivery, and how absolutely committed they are to their clueless but arrogant [in an Absolutely Fabulous-esque way] personas. So this sequence is kind of a bravaura showstopper as they rattle through maxed-out credit card numbers with throwaway lines such as "No, we burned out that one when we morphed our faces at the lab to see what our babies would look like."

So it goes on... they pick up a wild bunny ["We're just going to leave him out here in this wilderness?!"], which unfortunately doesn't really go anywhere. They call Chloe's dad... who we see in a yachting jacket with a boat's wheel behind him, thus we assume he's rich... and he hangs up on them. There's a good bit of physical comedy where they can't figure out how to get out of a phone booth, and say "You know, I really see why people don't use these anymore." Turns out that, because of Kate's nails, they put the wrong destination into the GPS and have been headed in the wrong direction. For how long? "Oh," Kate waves her hand dismissively, "Just like... all of today." Another piece of clever misdirection is revealed as we see that Chloe's dad is actually poor--that boat we saw is actually a rusted-out hulk sitting next to his trailer--and he decides to help Chloe out... and takes his credit cards out of the freezer, where they are frozen into blocks of ice, and starts smashing at them with a hammer!

Well, I could just sit here and repeat everything funny, but I have to leave you something to discover for yourself... and luckily, there are a lot of hilarious parts coming up. Throughout it found ways to remain new and surprising, and even some of the stuff you can see from a mile away still struck me as funny. And again, there were a few lines here and there that made me chortle uncontrollably, which is a rarity. You get the two women spending the night at a lesbian sepratist retreat called "Sister Solstice," which has three separate outrageous parts, a meth-fueled sex escapade with a reality TV star, the inevitable fight, breakup and rapprochment, and finally--the pageant itself, which thankfully doesn't resolve itself the way you might expect.

Can I tell you one of the moments that made me crack up? After they've been through everything, days and days of misadventures, they wave down a bus and ask him WHERE in the WORLD they are, and he says "Why, you're only four hours outside of Manhatttan!"

So look, I'm not saying it's the best film ever made, and in fact, lots of people on IMDb thought it was terrible. You have to have a fondness for stupid-person comedies, but if you do, this a good one, smartly written with lots of clever jokes, an understanding of the psychology of people like this, intelligent direction that includes lots of visual humor as well as simply including enough in the visuals to float the jokes, and underlying it all, a very dark side. The last moment of the film, which obviously I can't spoil for you, is almost unbelievably dark, grim and unforgiving about where these two are headed--and kind of cemented my love for the movie. It's a movie about deluded people that respects your intelligence and stays clear of any icky sentiment that might let everyone off the hook. And it's hilarious.

Should you watch it: 

I say so, for sure.

Comments

I do like to think of myself as an educated and considered critic, such as yourself, Scott. But I've noticed that I actually rarely deviate from the IMDb consensus by more than a 'star'. However, the 4.1 this movie is at right now is fucking shocking.

I've seen literally hundreds of movies that aren't as good as this. Perhaps part of my unusual enjoyment of this movie is based on my familiarity of June Diane Raphael from the 'bad movie' podcast How Did This Get Made?. Mind you, her persona on that show in no way prepared me for her performance here. She's often pleasingly obtuse or even 'ditzy' there, but her performance in this movie is so acute it makes wonder how genuine she's really being on the podcast.

Yeah, somehow this movie got lumped in with all the other "bimbo" comedies, although and I think people gloss over and don't engage with how well-written, smart and funny it really is. It's easy to confuse playing stupid [very cannily] and actually being stupid.