Observe and Report (2009)
Starring: Seth Rogen, Anna Farris, Ray Liotta
Writer/Director: Jody Hill
As a mainstream comedy, Observe and Report might appear disjointed, unsettling and perhaps even unpleasant, but as a twisted and violent character study, it is a criminally underrated gem. The film centers around Ronnie (Seth Rogen), a mall security guard who’s delusions of grandeur and seemingly severe bipolar disorder combine to make him an incredibly dangerous person. Opening on a tracking shot that follows a chubby disheveled looking miscreant as he runs through a parking lot exposing himself to people and yelling things like “I’m gonna fuck you!” and “Touch it slut!” This vaguely horrifying opening is just the beginning, and it acts as a pallet cleanser for the film’s coming parade of misguided and damaged people.
Seth Rogen owns the film, creating a protagonist that might win you over with his bright-eyed enthusiasm, only to horrify you when he tazes people for no reason or badly beats a group of teenagers for skateboarding in the parking lot. The flasher, to Ronnie, represents a chance to prove himself, and perhaps even an opportunity to become a real police officer. The police are represented here by Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta), and though in a more conventional comedy this character would eventually gain a begrudging respect for Ronnie’s passion and level of effort, in Observe and Report his annoyance turns into abject hatred by the midpoint of the film, and the relationship between these two becomes central to the narrative.
Ronnie’s conflict with Detective Harrison represents what I believe is the crux of writer/director Jody Hill’s (Eastbound and Down) entire comedic sensibility. Hill prefers to focus on those that cling to the underside of society. Ronnie’s mother (Celia Weston) is such an alcoholic that she has trouble stringing a sentence together, and the object of his affection Brandi (Anna Faris) is likewise a mess. On her and Ronnie’s one and only date, she downs shot after shot of tequila before taking his prescription psych meds and swallowing them one after another. This leads to a disturbing sex scene in which she appears to be unconscious laying on a vomit stained pillow (if you’re thinking date rape, she does say “don’t stop motherfucker” in the middle). The one character who seems to have it more-or-less together is Ronnie’s assistant Dennis (Michael Pena), who it turns out has been planning to rob the mall, which he does in spectacularly destructive fashion.
Where every character ends his or her story might be an indication that (writer/director) Hill has an affection for the scumbags and bottom feeders of society, but I don’t necessarily think that this is the case. I think Observe and Report is more of a funhouse mirror, a strange and heightened perversion of reality wherein people’s addictions and faults of character are their defining characteristics. In this perverted world, Ronnie (Seth Rogen) is the alpha, a character who’s devotion to the lies he builds around himself shield him from the judgement of the rest of the world. The distorted reality the film surrounds itself in, and its unwillingness to soften its message for the masses are sure to make it a future cult classic.