Let's Go To Prisonrecommended viewing

The course of true love never did run smooth
★★★★
☆☆
Released: 
2006
Director: 
Bob Odenkirk
Starring: 
Will Arnett, Dax Shepard, Chi McBride
The Setup: 
Guy send other guy to prison for revenge, then goes in himself to further torment him.
Discussion: 

I wanted to see this in the theater, because it seemed to consist entirely of gay panic jokes and material on the hetero male horror of [receiving] anal sex, but never made it. Most of the reviews at the time said "it's better and more subtle than one would have thought." So when I saw it was finally on DVD it shot to the top of my list. Then I was glad I didn't see it in the theater, because now I got to see the unrated version, with 6 minutes of additional footage, although I cannot offer you any insight into which material was new.

Even before the Universal logo there is a note from this sheriff dude saying that this movie is really intense and not for everyone. Who are these pussies that can't take any kind of raw subject matter? Like all the reviews of Zoo [about bestiality with horses] that were just grateful that a film could tackle such a 'difficult topic' at all. What, are we 12? Just HEARING out things like this will forever shatter our sense of values and humanity? This website is intended for people who have gotten over the fact that things like prison butt-sex and sex with horses goes on out there in the world. Thanks for joining us.

Anyway, this movie is based on the book You Are Going To Prison by Jim Hogshire, which apparently gives you the unvarnished truth about life in prison and tells the uninitiated how to survive. It sounds fairly interesting, but it seems that it is now out of print and hardcovers go for $75, paperbacks for $35. So Dax Shepard [also of Idiocracy] plays Johnny Lyshitski who has been in jail or detention since the age of 8, and always sentenced by the same judge. He gets out again and is determined to exact revenge on the judge, but unfortunately he died three days earlier. This frustrates Lyshitski, but he decides to take his revenge out on Nelson, the judge's son. Nelson [whose license plate reads Nelly 1] is played by Will Arnett, from a million things including Arrested Development and recently of Blades of Glory. Johnny does a bunch of spitefully mean things to Nelson, one of which escalates until he's sent to prison for robbing a pharmacy, all of which is caught on video and shown to the jury. I got a huge belly laugh out of the fact that Nelson's lawyer's defense is essentially to say: "We've all seen Jurassic Park on TV, and we know it's not true. This is on TV. I rest my case." But then Johnny finds his life is somewhat meaningless without having Nelson to torment, so he gets himself sent to prison and arranges to room with Nelson.

The homo content starts early. As this website has a Freudian bent, of course I consider the vow of hatred and torment that Johnny sets against Nelson to be a sign of devoted affection, and it comes out in a scene on the prison bus where Johnny sits down next to Nelson and starts talking to him, saying they should room together. Nelson smiles and bats his eyes like a bashful girl. Nelson has been in a daze since his sentencing, but fully freaks out once the two of them are alone in the cell. "What do we do now?" he asks. "You're doin' it," Johnny says, then says something to the effect of "You know how people describe a small, confining place where you're trapped as being like a prison?" In the shower a huge hairy bald black man named Barry and played by Chi McBride of Roll Bounce and Undercover Brother comes on to Nelson, but Johnny comes up behind him, smacks his ass and says that Nelson is his bitch. "Did you have to stick your finger up my ass?" Nelson asks, after Barry backs off.

But it's not long before Johnny sells Nelson's ass to Barry for a half ounce of grass and four cartons of cigarettes. Barry has Nelson abducted one night and brought to his cell, which is all draped in veils with candles and with quiet R&B music playing. In fact, there are almost always romantic R&B music cues on the soundtrack whenever Barry is onscreen, and I'm sure he's named Barry as a reference to Barry White. A lot of the humor is that Barry is quite romantic, rather than just throwing Nelson down and raping him. He offers Nelson some Merlot that he made in the toilet, which looks an awful lot like straight-up urine. Arnett does a great job in this scene of looking shell-shocked to the point of immobility, as he prepared to be "woo-ed by the master." Barry forces Nelson to give him an Eskimo kiss, and that's all we see. Next thing we know, Barry is shampooing Nelson in the shower. I believe that all of this is meant to stand in for the actual ass-fucking, since they can't show that and it might be distasteful to the straight male mainstream comedy they're seeking, so you have all this indirection meant to stand in for the actual event.

SPOILERS > > >
Along the way one notices that this movie is actually quite informative about life in prison. Anyway, through a circumstance I can't even go into, Nelson becomes the big bad ruler of the prison. At a certain point he rejects Barry and Barry is genuinely hurt. There is a scene in which we are told that they haven't butt-fucked yet [yeah, right] and they are about to when Nelson is once again "saved." So they never show or directly imply anything, but it's not too much later when Nelson is thanking Johnny for his support during the first days of prison, and he casually says "You gave me my self-esteem back… I have the love of a good man…"

Barry gets released, but comes in to visit Nelson, and declares his true love and devotion, saying he's "the Ashford to my Simpson." There's this whole deal where Nelson and Johnny escape together—they hate each other [Nelson figured out what Johnny was up to], but are intimately tied and need each other—and Nelson, now if a full gay relationship with Barry, says "Things worked out pretty well for me." Oh, and have I mentioned that Nelson legally adopted Barry?

There are two alternate endings. In one, Nelson and Barry have opened a winery where they sell their Merlot urine. Johnny shows up for a scene implying that they're all going to be a friendly trio in the future. In the alternate ending, Johnny calls Nelson from Mexico, implying that the three of them are not friendly, but Nelson speaks to him next to a huge bed, and Barry is in a towel in the bathroom, asking "Who's on the phone, baby?"

So the big surprise was that rather than this whole movie being about the absolute unimaginable nightmare it would be if anything was ever inserted into your ass, it's ends up being that Nelson and Barry have a full-on devoted and happy gay relationship! …And that presumably, in this case, anal sex is part of that. And while I know that this was done in the interests of comedy and how funny it is that Nelson should end up with "the love of a good man," it's still kind of sweet because the film never wavers that Nelson is fully happy and fulfilled in this relationship and that Barry truly loves him. So this was all a pleasant surprise.
< < < SPOILERS END

The other surprise is just how very good Shepard and Arnett were. Shepard has a very good laid-back slacker cool that he is able to hold with consistency, making for a very solid characterization and an overall quite good performance. But the real surprise for me was Will Arnett, who I didn't know could actually act quite so well. His slow descent into near-catatonia as it sinks in further and further that he is actually going to have to go to jail is good, and I was actually quite moved by his mortified, helpless expression as he faces the reality that Barry is going to fuck him. He's also quite striking and beautiful, with his clear face and green eyes. I would like to see him branch out and try to move into some dramatic roles.

That's about it. There's no real need to see this movie, but if you do you might be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the acting, the interesting directions the script takes—including how informative it is—and the way things work out for these characters. I'm really glad I watched it, and I suspect this may be one of those that sticks in my mind for a while.

Should you watch it: 

If it interests you, you might find it is better than expected.