07 September 2009

First Impressions: Extract

If you've somehow managed to read this post a few hours ago, you already know some of my feelings on this movie. By and large I consider this Mike Judge's most disappointing feature film. It wasn't terrible by any means, much of it was very funny and relatively intelligent, however lacking in some cohesive storytelling and overall message. Let us begin, hopefully with oodles upon noodles of spoilers to come:

I really couldn't figure out the overall message of this movie. There's a lot of movies seemingly about nothing that really mean something. Clerks (1994) consists mostly of people talking for an hour and a half, but there's definitely character growth and other themes of maturity there. Napoleon Dynamite (2004) is a fantastic movie about nothing that really is more about being consistent and true to yourself in an insane environment. I couldn't really find solidly what Extract (2009) is about. Let's see what we got.

There's some obvious parallels to Office Space (1999) so let's start there. Both focus on a tightly wound, work-focused protagonist who is having difficulty dealing with a both a job and spouse. Both protagonists also have quasi-gruff or Blue Collar friends who represent a kind of freedom that the protagonist lacks. A major difference between the two is that in Office Space, Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) joins his friend, Lawrence (Diedrich Bader) in spiritual freedom while Joel (Jason Bateman) in Extract ultimately rejects his friend Dean (Ben Affleck).

This rejection perplexed me a tad, it was a strange character treatment in a comedy movie. All in all, Bateman's performance is actually pretty intense for a comedy movie. Both Dean and Cindy's (Mila Kunis) stories felt like they petered out without a satisfying resolution. Dean's more than Cindy in this regard. It is interesting that Joel's outlet into more emotional and spiritual freedom comes from drugs supplied (accidentally and purposefully) by Dean, and that even though this proves to be the catalyst for widening the available emotional spectrum for Joel's character, he very clearly regrets, rejects and abhors both the drugs and Dean. For a while I was thinking of this as either a pro-drug and enlightenment movie or an anti-drug and chaos movie, but it seems to never settle on a direct path.

Joel's wife, Suzie (Kristen Wiig) shares a similar arc through unknowing Brad the Male Prostitute (Dustin Milligan). Her experimentation in adultery proves the catalyst for her emotional rebirth and the reinvigoration of her marriage with Joel. While her character is bland and unsex-driven at the beginning, once she adds some passion and drama to her life, exactly as Joel does with drugs, she is also freer and more emotionally expressible. She, however, also ultimately rejects Brad and his dumb love. Thus, both sex and drugs in this movie prove to be unwanted but necessary means to an end which are frowned upon after they complete their goals. I still can't tell if this a pro-sex and drugs movie or not.

I want to watch this again to fully elucidate the meaning of one scene, towards the end of the film, and this could be total coincidence, Joel is talking on the phone about his wife in his apartment, and an advertisement for Joe Adler (Gene Simmons) appears on screen, with the giant headlines, "SUE! SUE! SUE!" I'm sure there is some depth here and no coincidence that his wife is also named "Sue," if not just tying all of his major problems into once place. Both sues are his greatest adversaries, and he conquers both by tempering his emotions, taking back pride and talking through his problems. This of course contrasts with Adler and Willie (Matt Schulze) who solve their problems with violence and threats. Thus in the end, Joel is able to bang Mila Kunis, while she only screws Adler and Willie. Hey oh!

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