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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Year One (review)

The Book of Bad

Thanks so much, everyone involved in Year One, for setting back the noble causes of blasphemy, rational thinking, and humanism about a century. Now everyone who publicly states that the Old Testament is nothing more than the nonsensical, contradictory, vicious, and wildly archaic ramblings of itinerant goatherders will be lumped in with you guys, who appear to consider jokes about rape, incest, bestiality, farts, boobies, and vomit the height of Biblical criticism, not to mention the height of wit.
If Mel Brooks got a lobotomy and then remade The Passion of the Christ… but no, even that would be more intriguing than this sub-juvenile shitpile that time-travels through the highlights of the Old Testament so that Jack Black can quirk his eyebrow and thrust his rotund belly at them. Because someone thought that would be funny, apparently. If you’re five years old and have not yet encountered the fact that women have hair in their armpits, this may in fact be funny. For most of us, though, the worst crime a comedy can commit is to not be funny, and this one is asking for some serious smiting.

So it’s only the second worst of Year One’s cinematic crimes that it doesn’t even have the nerve to be profane. The closest it comes is one character wondering, “Why all the genital mutilation?” after Abraham comes out in favor of circumcision. If you’re hoping for a movie like Monty Python’s Life of Brian, for a movie that dares to suggest that religion is a crock, forget it. (I might lose my faith in movies after this one, though.) Not that Hollywood would go near such daring today, even if Brian was a hit, comparatively speaking, 30 years ago.

If pointless crudity is your game, though, well, here you go. You can watch Black (Tropic Thunder, Kung Fu Panda) as lazy, stupid hunter-gather Zed, who plucks a glowing fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, eats it, and gets not one IQ point smarter. For this forbidden act — there’s no hint as to why it might be forbidden — his tribe kicks him out of a village that looks nothing like even a caricature of the Garden of Eden. (Remarkably, or perhaps not, Yahweh is entirely absent as a character here, which is akin to telling the story of, say, The Lord of the Rings and pretending that Sauron isn’t a factor.) And so begins his journey through a sort of theme park version of the Old Testament — look, there’s Cain killing Abel! there’s Abraham about to sacrifice his son! oooo, Sodom! — with only sweet-faced gatherer Oh (Michael Cera: Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Juno) for company.

Screenwriters Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, both writers for TV’s The Office, and Harold Ramis (Ramis directed) haven’t bothered with any actual jokes: they just lob in a bit of poo or homophobia when things start to lag — which is basically constant — and skip directly over moments that appear to demand a punchline, as in two instances of mortal peril for Oh that he inexplicably has escaped from after a jarring edit. After all the disgusting and meaningless grossout humor, that kind of idiocy is just plain insulting to the audience.

Black and Cera deserve better than this, and I refuse to believe that Ramis — the man who wrote such genuinely hilarious and subversive classics as Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters, and Groundhog Day — really believes this crap is funny. Unless he’s been lobotomized. And I refuse to believe that Ramis couldn’t have made the smart, irreverent version of this movie that he surely wanted to make, even if that meant financing it without studio assistance and even if that meant facing the ire of religionists who think their beliefs are immune from criticism.

Actually, maybe that’s Year One’s worst crime: it’s spineless, pandering to a mainstream audience that finds cheap corporal vulgarity acceptable but won’t brook any challenge to its accepted wisdom. I wish I could even merely suspect that someone here was sneakily trying to highlight how vile the Old Testament is in its violence, tribalism, and misogyny, but I don’t think that’s the case at all.


MPAA: rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout, brief strong language and comic violence

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • JoshDM

    You are always out to get these Apatow style guys and their great movies. STOP DOING THAT.

    I kid, I kid. This movie looks terrible.

  • Billy

    Wow..I don’t know why people think Year One is such a bad movie. It’s a great comedy movie. People aren’t into the whole “romance-comedy” thing anymore! Obviously people want to see Michael Cera and Jack Black, otherwise they wouldn’t have been cast! If people really wanted to see how things were back then, they would watch something boring, like, Passion of the Christ. This movie isn’t for an old couple to see. It was purposely made for teenagers and young adults. We are the future! What we think of a movie is how the sales end up, not the way some old idiot thinks of it.

  • anonymous

    Mel… Gibson?

  • marshall

    “Wow..I don’t know why people think Year One is such a bad movie. It’s a great comedy movie. People aren’t into the whole “romance-comedy” thing anymore! Obviously people want to see Michael Cera and Jack Black, otherwise they wouldn’t have been cast! If people really wanted to see how things were back then, they would watch something boring, like, Passion of the Christ. This movie isn’t for an old couple to see. It was purposely made for teenagers and young adults. We are the future! What we think of a movie is how the sales end up, not the way some old idiot thinks of it.”

    If this is what ‘young’ people think then we’re truly and royally *&#$ed. Check please!

  • Ken

    Billy: This movie isn’t for an old couple to see. It was purposely made for teenagers and young adults. We are the future! What we think of a movie is how the sales end up, not the way some old idiot thinks of it.

    Why, in my day we could tell the trolls apart from the real clueless people.

  • What we think of a movie is how the sales end up, not the way some old idiot thinks of it.

    Exactly. Now STOP IT!!

  • willy

    “Wow..I don’t know why people think Year One is such a bad movie. It’s a great comedy movie. People aren’t into the whole “romance-comedy” thing anymore! Obviously people want to see Michael Cera and Jack Black, otherwise they wouldn’t have been cast! If people really wanted to see how things were back then, they would watch something boring, like, Passion of the Christ. This movie isn’t for an old couple to see. It was purposely made for teenagers and young adults. We are the future! What we think of a movie is how the sales end up, not the way some old idiot thinks of it.”

    how about young idiots? like you

  • Ryan

    I’m fairly certain ‘Billy’ is just trolling…nobody could be THAT stupid. Or maybe the American education system is plummeting downhill faster than I feared.

    Anyway, this movie must be the result of studio interference. It has good writers, a good director, AND good actors…it’s hard to see how they could all come together to produce…this.

  • amanohyo

    I agree, Billy the kid is clearly a poser. His grammar and spelling are at a much higher level than the quality of his thoughts, and the last sentence is a ridiculously over the top stereotype. When you build your straw boy next time Bill, be sure to include more run-on sentences and some spelling errors.

    Read MA’s Twilight review to see how it’s properly done.

    This movie seems like the desperate attempt of an aging director to capture his lost relevance by aping younger, hipper (dumber) movies. Years ago, I accepted that Groundhog Day was an accidental masterpiece. I’ve never been impressed with Ramis’ contributions to any other movie (including Animal House, Ghostbusters, and Caddyshack). Sure, I think Ghostbusters is a fun movie, but the script and direction don’t blow me away.

  • Anonymous

    I am a young person that went to see this movie with a few of my friends. We all found it horrible. There were only a few, and when i say a few i mean less than a dozen, parts where I mustered up even a chuckle. Absolutely awful movie. If you want to see a funny movie that pokes fun at religion, rent Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Much better movie. Please, don’t go see Year One. Lighting ten dollars on fire is a better use of your money, at least then you won’t have wasted two hours of your time.

  • Roseberry

    I just saw this today with my friend and it just was horrible. I love jack black and michael cera but idk the movie just wasn’t good. We actually ended up leaving 30 minutes before it ended.. It was that awful. Don’t see it

  • Wooster182

    Couldn’t it be possible that Ramis wasn’t trying to say that the Old Testament is ridiculous? Couldn’t he be saying that it’s okay to believe in God. Or Gods, or whatever you choose to believe or not believe in.

    It’s a popcorn movie. They shouldn’t have a political/religious agenda, hidden or otherwise.

    The movie is meant to be entertaining. And while I, a 23 year old Midwestern woman, didn’t find all of the jokes funny, I was left entertained. Sure, it didn’t reinvent the wheel (no pun intended). Sure, it wasn’t intelligent or even witty. But watching Paul Rudd dancing around, taunting David Cross was worth the price of admission.

    Ask any average man from 5-50 from the Midwest to watch this movie, and I’d bet a dollar that they’d find this movie hilarious. Why? Because it does have crude humor. Because guys still laugh at women with questionable armpit hair. And because more often than not, most average guys are much more like Jack Black than Brad Pitt and it makes them feel better. I thought it was pretty obvious that this movie was made for this type of movie-goer.

    Look, this wasn’t Tropical Thunder, but it was a decent way to spend 2 hours out of the summer heat and that’s all I was really asking for.

    I also think Ramis realized that fans would go to see this movie for the actors’ personalities rather than for being “in-character.” I expected Paul Rudd to be Paul Rudd and I enjoyed it. Same goes for Hank Azaria, Oliver Platt, Jack Black, and Michael Cera. It’s comforting. Like you’re hanging out with old friends at a family picnic.

    I also found the abrupt editing as a mistake at first, but when you realized that they were going to do it, I thought it was actually pretty gutsy and hilarious. It was like Ramis was sticking his tongue out at us, saying, “I know you want to see it, but screw you.” I wasn’t expecting it, which made it funny.

  • bats :[

    Oh, man…Paul Rudd? And Oliver Platt? Oh, geez, guys, what were you thinking?!

  • mortadella

    Cera’s career has just begun and strangely, I’m already sick of this kid. The non-threatening,sensitive milquetoast bit is already stale.
    Jack Black…I like the dude (it’s hard not to with Tropic Thunder on his resume), but he has to be getting bored of the overconfident buffoon routine.

    Uh, if we assume these comedies are specifically aimed at a younger male demographic, what should we also assume about the blithering idiot/nerveous wimp as hero cliché?
    Is this just about dumbing down comedy? Or do studio executives perceive young male egos to be so fragile, they think these idiot/wimps are the only characters dudes can possibly get behind? I dunno, I guess the hyper-masculine James Bond type characters still work for this demo, but what, there’s a risk they may walk away from the film with feelings of inadequacy?
    More than once, I’ve been watching a movie with friends, and a handsome leading man will walk into the scene, causing a woman in the group to say something like, “God, he’s really cute.” At least one jealous dude always snarks, “Pffft, he’s gay.”

    Errr, are the buffoony characters populating all the comedies these days suppose to be an antidote for this insecurity or what? The token handsome guy in all these films seems to be Paul Rudd, who I guess is forgiven for his good looks because he actually possesses comedic timing.

  • MaSch

    I don’t think it is advisable to make speculations about members of a target audience (young males) by looking at bad movies aimed at that audience.

    Because no one would want speculations to be made about women on the basis of rom-coms, would one?

  • mortadella

    Absolutely not, MaSch, one shouldn’t make assumptions about women based on Rom-Coms…unfortunately, they do. The fact that studios repeatedly make films like Bride Wars is frightening.

    I questioned the motive of studio executives in the post above.I gotta wonder, because the loser/hero character drops more and more IQ points with every film, it seems like. Do they think they’re appeasing an insecure audience? Or is it another case of Hollywood underestimating movie-goers?

    Is this attitude the same reason why male frontal nudity is rare in American movies and sex scenes are
    staged so they don’t seem too real(in a earthy, European kind of way)?
    When I referenced the jealous guy mocking the handsome lead, I was wondering if this kind of scenario formed the opinions of movie makers who keep spinning out the same kind of films, over and over again.
    It’s an assumption that these movie makers are catering to a certain mindset, but not a baseless one. How do you explain the couplings in movies like “Hitch?” And while these films may not bare any reflection on you, someone in Hollywood thinks it does.
    Trust me, as a women, I know what it means to be misrepresented in film. I don’t recall ever beating up another chick up over a dude, obsessing over marriage or thinking a career is just something you do until you become someone’s wife. The fact that some women do or think these things isn’t lost on me, but what I want to know is why Hollywood, which is suppose to be the land of cool, caters to herd morality so often.

  • MaryAnn

    Because guys still laugh at women with questionable armpit hair.

    It’s true. Women’s bodies do tend to be somewhat suspicious…

  • So apparently this movie is part of Judd Apatow’s continuing campaign of vengeance against all the people who didn’t bother to watch Freaks and Geeks when it was on live TV…

  • wooster182

    I don’t think it necessarily means that all comedies aim at mindless men with low self esteems. It also doesn’t mean that this movie did either. I just think the movie is a *vehicle* for mindless escapism. Smart confident men and women could find this film funny. As a woman, I did. But I didn’t have to think while watching it. It just represents a *portion* of people’s psyche, as all movies do.

  • wooster182

    I don’t think it necessarily means that all comedies aim at mindless men with low self esteems. It also doesn’t mean that this movie did either. I just think the movie is a *vehicle* for mindless escapism. Smart confident men and women could find this film funny. As a woman, I did. But I didn’t have to think while watching it. It just represents a *portion* of people’s psyche, as all movies do.

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