16 July, 2015

Uphill Climb to the Bottom

A Review of Minions (2015)
by James Kislingbury

I think this requires some kind of explanation.

As a piece of design, the minions are wonderful. They're simple, cute little guys. It's easy to see why they're so popular and it's easy to see why you can't turn a corner in this city without seeing them pasted on a bus and on McDonald's and on very large domes. I have a soft spot for cute things. Hamsters. Puppies. The odd kitty cat. Minions. It's all there. For that reason, I was willing to see Minions. When I heard that Mark Kermode liked the film, I became a little more interested. When I heard that it was also set in 1968, I was sold.

"Well, alright," I said to myself. If I'm a sucker for anything besides cute critters, I'm a sucker for fake 1960's spy-fi mod designs. You ask anyone and they'll tell you that those are basically my two main things. With Minions, I was guaranteed at least one of these things. So, you understand, it was with a sense of completeness that I set out to see this movie, yes?

And, so I figured one of two things would happen: It would be a good movie and I would use that as an excuse to go see more movies or it would be a terrible movie and I would use that as an excuse to go see more movies. It was win-win, as far as I was concerned.

For better or for worse, Minions is a silly film. On that level, it succeeds. Personally, I don't think it needs to be much more than that. Minions aims for a very particular target and it succeeds. To ask it to be anything more than a silly, funny movie about cute, little whatsits, is madness. And it's kind of depressing, because if you don't find joy in seeing these dumb, little critters dressed up in Napoleonic garb, running around, then what do you enjoy? Pulling the wings off of flies? Setting fire to derelict buildings? Collecting the tears of children for your own craft cocktails?

You sicken me.

As far as comedies go, I think you're allowed a certain amount of leeway as to the substance of your film. I know that's not something I've ever said before, but it's true. I don't think there's a lot of political subtext keeping The General afloat, but it has a guy doing stupid stuff on a train and sometimes that's enough. The story is also primarily told through its visuals and it quotes Modern Times. It's very clear that Minions knows what it's doing as a film. It knows where it comes from. In the background, it also has at least one joke about group sex with inanimate objects and one joke about BDSM (which I cannot recall as I write this.I was very intoxicated while watching this movie. I will admit as much). So, I don't know. At least it's a film that's willing to get weird.

Admittedly, though, it would have been nice to see the film be about more than. . . I don't actually know what it's about. It's not like the minions have story arcs.. There's nothing for a kid to take away from this, except that butts are funny. And butts are very funny, but that's nothing new. The film makes one or two references to the villain Scarlet Overkill's rise in the man's world of super villainy, but it doesn't go anywhere with it. To me, teaching kids about something like feminism, showing them that a woman can be just as evil as a man is kind of important. When kids are five, six, seven, that's the time to pound that sort of thing into their heard. It doesn't go anywhere with anything except for the gags. I suppose that's something. You can at least admire its purity of vision, if nothing else.

I also wonder what John Hamm is doing in this film, Obviously, he's there to fill out the big names on the poster, but why him? What does he bring to this movie besides being another name on the poster? As a character he's underused and as a voice actor, he's underplayed. He seems to be there for the sole purpose of showing us that between the knit ties and the Vidal Sassoon haircuts, the 1960's had some real dumb fashion trends. Pinstripes? Sideburns? Disgusting. Terrible. People like this should be in jail. Time jail. Only the Beatles should be allowed to look that bad.
Minions gets art.

What holds Minions aloft is that it is very smart about its stupidity. It has to be. Otherwise it's just, well, stupid. The movie strikes a balance between the two things in the way that all great comedies do (not to say that Minions is a great movie, but it at least knows what makes Chaplain and Keaton work). Minions backs up its dumb ass with its animation. It's a meticulously animated world. Had Minions been handed to worse directors or slapped together by a low rent studio, I'd be slagging it off right there with you. But it looks great. Somebody put time and care and effort into these really silly jokes about butts and bananas. Apparently people expect more from a movie than that. I say: Fuck those people. The visuals in Minions are as much of a storytelling asset as the acting or cinematography or music in a "real" movie. Hell, I've seen a lot of shitty serious movies lately and none of them are half as well done as Minions.

I've been nipping at the edges of an argument for this entire argument, so I guess now is the time to tackle it head on: A lot of people hate the minions. I am sure that like the people who supported Pol Pot or the kind folks that rationalize the actions of Stalin or William F. Buckley, these people have their reasons. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. It's America and until Jade Helm runs its course, they're all entitled to it. It's just that hating the Minions makes these people into tremendous bummers.

Personally, I suggest that, like communists and young Republicans, you cut these people out of your life until they recover. Your energy is better spent cussing at the sun for being too bright or trying to get a gopher drunk. It's madness. These people are better off being shot into space because I simply do not see the function of hating something as harmless as the minions. Or Minions. It's a movie about a bunch of yellow guys having a silly adventure. Sometimes they're Eskimos. Sometimes they play corgi polo. It's that kind of a movie. It is exactly what it is meant to be. You don't like that? Well, then, I just feel sorry for you.

Also, fuck you.

I just finished watching A Field in England this week. It's. . . uh, quite the film. It's 90 minutes long and it took me two weeks to watch. It's not exactly a corker. Still, I really liked it. Or, parts of it, anyways. It reminded me why I love films. It reminded me why films are worth loving. As much as I need movies like A Field in England, I also sometimes need to laugh. Sometimes I just want to have fun. And, sometimes a movie doesn't have to be about men slowly losing their minds to be good.

I complain a lot about movies.

Sometimes I drop my guard. Sometimes a bunch of cute little monsters come into my life and they make a movie about the most pivotal year in Western history since the end of WWII. Sometimes I want to laugh. And sometimes all of those things come together at once. The Minions is silly and I liked it. Sometimes that's all a comedy has to be.

Plus, you know, butts.

James Kislingbury is a writer. He does a podcast about movies called A Quality Interruption. He thinks a lot about dumb stuff. A lot.