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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Your Highness and your Lowness: A Medievalist's Review

Described in the Your Highness trailer blog, the source of this photo, as a "new medieval comedy," Your Highness is a tribute to stoner culture featuring stoner poster boys James Franco and Danny McBride. Being appreciative, but not a participant of the culture, it took me much longer than I would like to admit to get the Your Highness reference. The actors, all extremely talented individuals, manage to have good comedic timing and the acting was overall, surprisingly good considering the content of the movie.

But everybody who has seen the trailers knows exactly what they are going to see, written at least in part by Danny McBride, the movie has the stupidest, most obvious jokes anyone has ever written, including the 'booby' trap, the sucking of one's 'own venom' and any other crude reference ever concocted. In this context, given the aim of the movie, stupid, obvious, obnoxious, crude and rude are not exactly bad things. One of the stupidest, weirdest, grossest things was that (spoiler alert) after defeating the minotaur Danny McBride's character wears the Minotaur's penis around his neck for the rest of the show as a trophy. It is the kind of running gag that starts off kind of funny, becomes less funny, and is really funny by the end of the movie.

It was a movie by men, for men. Natalie Portman and Zooey DesChannels, talented actresses, hold their own, but they kick butt and are dim damsels respectively, and don't have as much character as the male leads.

I enjoy stupid humour, and was glad to see the movie, but it wasn't good enough to watch a second time. What was really well done, however, were the set designs and the art direction. The world of Your Highness was more stunning than the content of the movie warranted. Castles, caves, huts, vast valleys, trees and woodlands, dungeons, labyrinths, cliffs and a climactic scene in a tower made this movie worth watching. Specifically, what was really breathtaking was the fantasy world, based on quasi medieval worlds, that the director and art supervisor created.

What was really interesting, however, is that the 'medieval' world created by the film had a distinctly eighties feel to it. To understand the appeal of Your Highness, look back to fantasy and medieval worlds of the 1980s and early nineties to see director David Gordon Green and Danny McBride's influences. Watching Your Highness I felt nostalgia for the tolkie-esque and medieval-esque films from that period. The influence was also really seen in the aspects of medieval culture that were highlighted. The movie made jokes about chastity belts, like Robin Hood Men in Tights. They also used puppets as opposed to CGI for their wise pervert who started them on their quest, reminding us of films like Labyrinth or the Dark Crystal. The costumes and the settings reminded us of the Princess Bride or other fantasy films like Legend. The final scene before the denouement reminded us of a similar scene in Prince of Thieves, where Robin must rescue Marian before the Sheriff of Nottingham assaults her. The bad guys hair kind of reminded me of flock of seagulls, but that is in a slightly different vein. The use of evil wizards and witches, however, reminds us of so many different things, particularly the early video games from that age. There is clearly a debt here to the medievalism of the eighties, and the movie has gone through that filter and acknowledged its debt to those sources in its 'medievalism.'

It was a beautiful film though. It made me wish for a film that used those kinds of, what I might call 'medieval faire', aesthetics to tell a perhaps slightly more serious fairy tale story. Medievalists should watch it, and be nostalgic for the eighties, and for the movies that we watched that led many of us to medieval studies even though they were a far cry from most things medieval. Just, don't expect the film to be more than it is.