Monday, June 7, 2010
Get Him to the Greek
Yes, it’s a remake of My Favorite Year. And no, that classic vehicle for Peter O’Toole’s bottomless charm and chivalry doesn’t need a tune-up. But Get Him to the Greek is more of an homage than a slavish imitation, and it gets the tone right for the most part, with plenty of comic charisma of its own.
My Favorite Year spoofed early TV variety shows and our worship of swashbuckling celebrities with loving precision, landing its satiric blows as lightly as O’Toole’s Alan Swann wielded his trademark sword. Get Him to the Greek updates the setting to the druggy world of stadium rock and the sycophantic media, gullible fans, and increasingly desperate record companies that feed on it. This time the young innocent appointed to rein in a dissolute performer is Aaron Green (Jonah Hill), a lowly employee of a big music company. Aaron’s boss, Sergio (a fiercely funny Sean Combs) gives him “your one big chance,” tasking him to see that rock star Aldous Snow (Russell Brand, reprising the character he played in Forgetting Sarah Marshall) makes it to a concert in LA’s Greek Theatre. The sold-out concert just might be big enough to save the company and Snow’s reputation, which is starting to slip – but first Aaron has to get the star, who’s more interested in partying than performing, to show up.
That sets up what amounts to a three-day bender, punctuated by moments of self-pitying sobriety, as Aaron follows Aldous from London to Vegas to New York to L.A., as helpless to direct him as a balloon caught in a jet’s slipstream. And that's just fine with him, for a while, since he’s just broken up with his live-in girlfriend and primed for a walk on the wild side.
These stories aren’t just about the vicarious thrill we get from seeing a little guy living large for a moment. They’re also mini morality tales about how those little guys learn to appreciate their own quiet lives after glimpsing the emotional void at the center of all that perpetual motion. Get Him to the Greek leans on that part of the narrative a little too hard, making Aldous too pathetic and handling Aaron’s growing disillusionment with his world a tad too literally (do we really need to see him puke that much?)
But the relationship between the unlikely mates gives the humor enough heart to carry me through the rough patches. Brand imbues Aldous with the vulnerability and charm he needs to earn Aaron’s forgiveness – and ours – when he acts like a jerk. That’s essentially the same trick Judd Apatow, who produced Greek, pulled off in last year’s Funny People, except that Aldous is less selfish and more sympathetic than Funny People’s hopelessly narcissistic George.
Get Him to the Greek is also a lot lighter than Funny People. You never have to wait long for a laugh, starting with the dreadful music video that plays over the opening credits, in which, as he explains in the fatuous interview snippet that follows, Aldous invokes the suffering that he recently learned is occurring in Darfur—or maybe Zimbabwe. Or was it Rwanda? That particular brand of celebrity cluelessness has been spoofed before, of course, but never any better. There’s plenty more where that came from, including montages packed with sight gags, some nice physical comedy, and even some entertainingly goofy work with wide-angle lenses and primitive special effects to approximate the disorientation Aaron feels when he gets high.
Hill and Brand have a nice Mutt and Jeff chemistry, and some excellent actors have fun with minor roles. Colm Means is deliciously toxic as Aldous’ dad, Carla Gallo sparkles as an aggressive Vegas party girl, and Aziz Ansari, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, and Princeton’s own Paul Krugman make brief but entertaining appearances.
The ending may falter, getting downright icky before it goes sappy on us. But, like its star, Get Him to the Greek gives us too much pleasure not to be forgiven for its sins.