In "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," cuddly Kevin James at one point slaps a tiny hot-pink, cartoon-cat-festooned Band-Aid over a minor injury he incurs on the job. Tee hee. In new mall-cop "comedy" "Observe and Report," Seth Rogen violently bashes in some kids' skulls in with a skateboard.
You hearing crickets? That's the intention of director Jody Hill, who deliberately and vocally eschews the term "comedy" and was branded this week as the "auteur of awkward" by the New York Times. His movie is dark. It's gory, and twisted, and it views the world through the prism of deeply afflicting mental illness. In no uncertain terms, it is as damning a satire of small suburban life as its main character, mall cop Ronnie Barnhardt (Rogen), is obtuse and irritable. And he's very obtuse. And very irritable. He and Hello Kitty pharmaceutical products will never, ever share screentime.
But thankfully, there's some comedic relief amid all the allegory: Anna Faris hoards the belly laughs among the largely hilarious supporting cast (runner-up: Aziz Ansari as a mall-cart kiosk operator) with her role as Brandi, a busty salesgirl who hawks midgrade makeup products to suburbia. (As Brandi would say, she "polishes turds" all day). So fluent in Bitch Inflection is Faris, her gloopy-glossed lips curled back in an I'm-judging-your-muffin-top sneer, that the actress worries she might be too spot-on. She spoke to NEWSWEEK'S Sarah Ball about the film and her very controversial "love" scene. Excerpts:
Ball: How did you get involved in this—what the studio is calling "The 'Taxi Driver' of mall-cop movies"—after a sunny film like "House Bunny"?
Faris: I was a fan of Jody Hill's first movie, "The Fist Foot Way," and I'd met him, I guess, at like a club or something, and I was overly gushy to him about it. A couple of years later, this script came around, but they had sort of a different vision for it, and I had to fight to get in and audition. I read it and just felt like, "In what crazy world is the lead female this awful in a studio film?! This is soooo great." So for me, it was really so much fun. Jody wrote her so well.
Tell me how you get into Brandi.
It starts with putting on the nails—those press-on nails. And of course the push-up bra.
And what's America going to think of her?
Oh, God, I hope that they hate her. It's fun to sort of see it with an audience. That moment near the end where I say, "Good job, Ronnie!" and he's like, "Uh, f--k you"? At South by Southwest they were like cheering and screaming, "Yeaaaaah!" So that was cool. That they hated me. [Laughs.]
What else did they like?
Definitely everybody groaned after [Seth Rogen] kisses [Brandi] with the vomit in her mouth.
Eeek! So, this movie is very brash and dark—were you ever thinking to yourself, "Uh, are you sure about this?"
There were times where it was really hard, honestly, and there were moments when I was playing Brandi where I was more nervous than anything else. Especially that vomit scene and the love scene. It's hard to get a sense of the tone when you're not the director, and it was really scary. Seth was terrified, too. But we both just kept thinking to ourselves, "OK, this [love] scene is never, ever going to make it into the movie."
Was there anything you wouldn't do?
They said [for the love scene], "Hey, will you take your bra off?" I said no. I'm not going to show my boobs for the first time at that scene, I'll wait for my dramatic turn. OK, but I have to ask you—do you think people are going to get offended by that scene?
When I first saw that love scene, in which you're drugged and passed out, I definitely thought, "Wow. This goes there." But then you joke it off when we're least expecting it, and it's total tension-relief for the audience. The people around me just burst into laughter when you finally let on that you're, I guess, conscious? Plus, like it or not, I think everybody knows That Girl.
[Laughs.] Yeah. The interesting thing about the comedy in this movie is that it's so unapologetic—and it's so uncomfortable. The first time seeing it, I left the theater thinking, "This is the worst influence on America. It is so wrong." But that's the beauty of it. At one point, Jody said, "If we'd been forced to censor ourselves, the movie would have lost so much." And I think that's so true.
Do you think people will get up in arms?
I hope not, but at the same time, I can definitely see my mom not being the biggest fan. I even told her, "Um, maybe wait for this one to come out on DVD. So you can fast-forward all those scenes." It's actually fine, my parents are so supportive, but they were really strict with me growing up.
Well, I wasn't allowed to watch MTV or TV in general. I'm so out of the loop with pop-culture references. Sometimes we were allowed to watch "Masterpiece Theater." To an 8-year-old, that's really painful. And of course I didn't understand any of it. But I think they're proud, and my dad is so great—he's always telling my mom, "She's playing a character." They've come so far, I have to say.
Yeah, but my dad Googles me every day. Don't necessarily want my parents to be babysitting me on the Internet. But it's sweet.
Brandi is the ultimate makeup girl at the mall. I swear I've seen her clone a thousand times, sizing me up. How'd you find inspiration?
I was definitely a mall child; we went when I was a kid. And seeing those makeup girls, they were so cool and totally gorgeous—so I remembered that. But I got into the process [of "Observe and Report"] late; they cast me and then like a week later we were shooting. The little things, putting on those press-on nails, were really important, and Jody had such a specific vision. He had my car already picked out. And he really wanted me to wear lip gloss, which I hate wearing.
Was it pulled straight from his vision or did you improv at all?
We did a lot of improv in general, I love working that way. On the date scene, we did all these shots where I'm like eating all these cocktail shrimp, and I guess it was way too disgusting to make it in. The date scene was the first scene that we shot, that I shot in the movie, and I didn't know Seth that well at all. I didn't quite know where he was going with his character, and his outfit was so crazy. It was just interesting to gauge.
You're covered with vomit in this movie and smeared with blue toothpaste in a hilarious scene in "Just Friends." Are you used to everything goopy and liquid by now?
Yes, I've fully embraced bodily fluid issues. My first big movie was "Scary Movie," in which I get shot to the ceiling by a ton of semen, and I have a huge mound of pubic hair. So, yeah, I kind of dove into the deep end. And it was really good for me, to sort of grow up doing those "Scary Movies" because I'd never done comedy before. I got such a great education out of learning everything about physical comedy. I think they hired me because I was willing, and I didn't know any better. I was just like, "Please don't fire me!"
What's the secret of physical comedy, then?
It's fun to gross people out a little like that. And if you're going to go there, you've really got to commit.