Reviewed by: Kenneth R. Morefield
|Featuring:||Dan Castellaneta (Homer), Julie Kavner (Marge), Nancy Cartwright (Bart), Yeardley Smith (Lisa), Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer, Albert Brooks, Minnie Driver, Kelsey Grammer (Sideshow Bob), Pamela Hayden, Tress MacNeille, Maggie Roswell, Russi Taylor, Marcia Wallace, Karl Wiedergott|
|Producer:||David Mirkin, James L. Brooks, Al Jean|
|Distributor:||20th Century Fox Pictures|
“See our family. And feel better about yours.”
In case anyone needs to know, I am an unabashed fan of “The Simpsons” television program. I own the first nine seasons on DVD. I periodically recite lines from favorite episodes (the most commonly cited quote involves Walt Whitman). At one point I owned not one but two Homer Simpson talking alarm clocks. I am, in other words, qualified in this instance to practice what André Bazin called “appreciative criticism.”
I recall, years ago, sponsoring a social activity at the church I was attending that included watching several episodes of the show (including “Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment”). I also recall another member sharing with me some of the e-mails he received from people expressing their contempt and scorn at us for thinking there was anything of worth to be gleaned from (or enjoyed by) sampling the newest nadir in the cultural wasteland.
It is ten years later and the creators of “The Simpsons” are still cranking out episodes and, now, a feature film. Obviously, I’ve never quite bought into the argument that “The Simpsons” was the next worst thing (nor even an access portal to the slippery slope that led us to “Married… With Children” and “Drawn Together”), but neither have I ever been truly sold on the argument that “The Simpsons” is subversively religious, conservative, or pro-family. Sure, Marge and Homer have been married longer than most couples I know, and, yes, Ned Flanders is exasperatingly sincere in his zealous beliefs. Take a stroll through any random selection of a half-dozen or so of creator Matt Groening’s seminal “Life in Hell” comic strips, though, and you will recognize not only the seeds of the series’ arch satire but also those of its spiritually nihilistic sheen.
What has always redeemed “The Simpsons”, though, is that it is funny, and the film is no exception. The loose plot of the film revolves around the family’s attempts to escape from Springfield and then rescue the town from the cumulative effects of Homer’s stupidity, which push the city past an ecological tipping point and prompt the wrath of the federal government.
Over and around this frame we get to see Bart’s genitalia, Disney-styled animals helping to strip Marge and Homer for intimacy, Grandpa having a stroke (or delivering a prophetic vision), Ned Flanders assuring his boys that the Buddha won’t be around when they meet Jesus (who he advises they address as “Mr. Christ”), and a slew of references to how the American government manages to be simultaneously totalitarian and inept.
In other words, I seriously doubt anyone who finds the show even mildly offensive (either directly or via the spiritual grapevine) will fail to find the film every bit as crass at “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” or nearly as spiritually damaging as any random Harry Potter film. Then again, I doubt those who would feel that way need me to confirm their opinions.
I think there may also be some who will profess to be fans of the show (particularly in its softer moments) but claim the film goes out of its way to make gratuitous jabs at Christianity and thus offends even their sensibilities. I don’t agree—I think the film and TV show mock pretty much everything, and organized religions get more or less their fair share of abuse—but I will understand where those reactions are coming from. The film rises (or sinks) to the Juvenalian level of satire often enough that those who want to call it out for being too fixated on one or two targets will find ample ammunition within the film to make that argument; I’m just not sure who they might make it to.
Is the film funny? Yes, though not as much as I hoped, and not in all the ways that I hoped. The best episodes of “The Simpsons” are the ones that have strong story lines and earn laughs from insight into the human condition rather than from mere caricature or generic zaniness. The humor in the film tends a bit towards the slapstick, while the pacing resembles that of later seasons of the television show where the viewer can at times feel bombarded with jokes rather than peppered with them. There are titters and giggles aplenty, but few moments of transcendent, timeless humor. In some ways, the film this most reminds me of is “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” The funny parts are very, very funny, and they are what one tends to remember more than the misfires. Like the Monty Python films, people may also remember “The Simpsons Movie” as being funnier than it is, simply because they will enjoy reliving and retelling the funniest parts. It will be enjoyed by many, perhaps repeatedly, but I don’t know that it will (or should) be treasured any.
My Grade: B+
Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Moderate