Film Review: Year One

27/06/09 | Posted by MattPage

With his beard and his stout figure Jack Black has often seemed a littel prehistoric compared to his liposuctionned, bodywaxed, Hollywood cohorts. So it was perhaps only a matter of time until someone offered him a role playing a caveman. Black plays the role of Zed alongside Michael Cerra's Oh in Year One, the latest film from producer Judd Apatow (Superbad, Knocked Up, Anchorman) and writer / director Harold Ramis (Analyze This, Groundhog Day).

image
 © Sony Pictures Digital Inc.

Yes, this is gross-out comedy version of ancient history set largely in the Old Testament. There are characters eating poo, strange things happening at orgies and jokes about sex aplenty. The Carry On team never did the Bible, but if they had have done, it would probably look something like this. (And those films do appear to have been somewhat influential on Year One). Certainly Ramis’ loose approach to history has more in common with those films and Mel Brookes’ History of the World Part 1 than the relatively meticulous Life of Brian.

Yet in other ways, the film has much in common with Life of Brian - the benchmark for any historical/religious comedy. Both films feature a leading man who may or may not be the chosen one (in fact Messiah simply means anointed or chosen one). Both films use the Bible, but in neither is it the primary focus of the story, and both films are keen to put across the idea that religious figures are unnecessary because we can make our own destiny. Yet whereas Life of Brian managed to make that point fairly effectively whilst still being funny, Year One puts the comedy on hold and brings in the crescendoing orchestra.

That said, as a comedy, Year One does manage to be reasonably amusing, and manages to find a good deal of original material from a subject that has been done many times before. Perhaps part of that is due to its structure. After Zed and Oh are thrown out of their tribe for eating the forbidden fruit, the first half of the film turns into a historical road movie, with the pair meeting a number of Jesus’ ancestors  (Cain and Abel, Adam and then Abraham and Isaac). But as they wander they discover their tribe has become enslaved and taken to Sodom. The second half of the movie is set in Sodom itself. It’s the quest to free the women they love, Maya and Eema, in the hope that such heroics will make the girls love them back.

Zed and Oh reject Adam’s family, with their murderous brother and their bizarre sleeping arrangements, and the tribe of the circumcision-obsessed Abraham, as well as the God that both families follow, but when they reach Sodom things become a bit more inconsistent. The idea of there being gods who require human sacrifice is rightly rejected, and at times any idea of god also seems to be disregarded. Yet eventually Zed prays and ultimately what he prays for does come to pass, in a way that at least suggests God’s approval of Zed’s new message. Some would call it providential timing, others pure coincidence, but at the very least, Zed’s “make your own destiny” message seems to rely on that coincidence in order to gain wider acceptance.

Jesus only mentioned Sodom a couple of times, but interestingly, he also suggests that had miracles occurred there, the city would have seen the errors of its ways. “If the miracles that were performed in you (Capernaum) had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.” (Matthew’s Gospel, 11:23). It’s perhaps not the message Black and co. were seeking to send, but it’s interesting that they can’t quite get away from the fact that there’s more to life to sex and fart jokes.

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Yes, the title “Carry On Sodom” does occur to one watching this.

David Cross stands out as Cain, who seems to be inventing villainy as he goes along, as Black’s Zed appears to be onventing swashbuckling and not doing that great a job at it.

As for Jesus’ assertion, perhaps he did mean it to be taken literally, but I took it for a bit of chiding hyperbole: ‘The worst people in the world would have believed at this point, so what’ s holding you lot up?’

#1. By Gerald Fnord on November 15, 2014

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