There comes a point in everyone’s life when they must put away childish things and they realize that some things are just intended for them anymore. 14 years ago, if you had asked my 14 year old self if a film starring Danny McBride, James Franco and Natalie Portman, directed by the guy who did Pineapple Express and is a spoof on fantasy films would be funny, I would first ask ‘who’ and then realizing there’s been some temporal displacement and go ‘of course it would be!’ The humor is crude, there are ample bosoms on display, there’s blood and violence and monsters. My 14 year old self would declare it the best film ever made before it had even seen a single frame.
But the time for such things is long past. I am outside of the 14-25 year old demographic that Hollywood so covets. It is time to face facts: I am getting old. (Relatively speaking, of course.) And as such, a lot of the humor that I associate with youth I can look back on and go ‘Well, that’s just stupid.’ Maybe it’s a result of an undeveloped mind or my entire lack of real world experience, but things change, people change andmore importantly, tastes change. On paper, the 28 year old version of myself writing this review, is/was excited about Your Highness. Franco and McBride are two great actors, Franco in particular is adept at both comedy and drama, McBride is rude, crude and hilarious and David Gordon Green, I eagerly anticipated his next film after being blown away by Pineapple Express. The elements are all there for a great stew of humor and satire, but what we end up with is a gooey mush that doesn’t quite work at anything: the comedy bits don’t often hit, the fantasy is undermined by the comedy, the characters are bland and the usually charismatic leads are dull and lifeless, coasting on past glories. There are moments, of course, but every time the film is about to become something memorable, bam, time for a dick joke.
I am not some fantasy purist who believes all medieval adventures must be some serious, Lord of the Rings epic devoid of humor and fun, I in fact applaud Your Highness for making a funny, light fantasy film, though I feel the timing is either too late to lampoon the genre or too early (The Hobbit hits theaters next year). The problem is that it’s not balanced, sometimes it’s all humor, sometimes it’s all about the quest and very rarely do the two meet in the middle. David Gordon Green demonstrated an able hand for balancing action and comedy in Pineapple Express but fails to find his footing here. I suspect the boorish stylings of Danny McBride may account for it; I love McBride but unless it’s Kenny Powers he is best used as an ensemble player or support, his rude, apathetic shitck grows old quickly and never recovers.
To overcome this, Green should have gone all out one way or the other. Ridiculous comedy or more somber adventure. He just can’t get a handle on, as if the costumes are thinking he should be filming something else. James Franco gets the tone of the film, playing the good-hearted warrior Fabious, he rarely has a laugh out loud funny line but he has this look on his face that just speaks comedy. Portman, though not the biggest comedienne in the film world, has excellent timing as the even straighter Isabel, who delivers hard hitting lines with the subtlest of a wink & smile.
The jokes are overwritten at times. If brevity is the soul of wit, then Your Highness is a run on sentence. Many of the jokes come from a funny place but when finally spoken, they’re beaten to death. Justin Theroux as Lazar the evil wizard says a funny thing, then repeats himself until we become bored. Zooey Deschanel finally puts those doe eyes to good use as the naive girl Belladonna locked in a tower.
Your Highness is a mess, a bundle of great ideas that never amount to anything worthwhile. It runs long and feels longer and is wildly unfocused. It is not, however, the worst thing in the world as other reviews will have you believe. There are moments of fun but the rest is just misguided and not inherently terrible, simply poorly executed. The teenagers behind me (who were without accompaniment) ate it up entirely and I thought that was fair, this film is not for me. Maybe once upon a time, but that ship has passed at last.