2oolander, Zoolander 2, Zoolander No.2. The latest outing of Derek Zoolander and Hansel has many names. I’m gonna call it 2oolander, because I think it’s funny.
I go and see comedy films so infrequently in the cinema, that I can’t even remember what the last one I saw was. Zoolander holds a special place in my heart, tied up as it is with in-jokes with childhood friends. It’s a hilarious parody of the fashion world and just so quotable. I mean, who could dislike a film that gave us “ have you ever wondered if there was more to life, other being really, really ridiculously good looking?” and “WHAT IS THIS? A CENTRE FOR ANTS?” Classic.
Anyway, on the back of that, I was really keen to see 2oolander in the cinema. Here’s my one sentence review; a bit of a let-down, but still fun to watch.
There’s a number of reasons the film felt a little flat, probably because like (almost) all sequels, it was standing in the shadow of a much better film. With nothing to add to the original story, you wonder why it was made in first place. But let’s examine it in a little more depth.
I’ll start with feminism, and the baseline Bechdel test.
Predictably, this film doesn’t pass it. Even though there are two named females in it, and even thought they physically get into a fight, they never actually exchange three lines of dialogue. Pretty messed up, but not anything less than what I was expecting. (It’s also important to note that a film can pass the Bechdel test and not necessarily be a particularly feminist film, but it’s a good starting point.) Rather predictably, the fact that both women in this film are on either camp of “good” or “bad” and as Derek’s wife has died, means that, yup, you guessed it, Derek and Valentina fall in love. What a thrilling plot twist. Yawn.
Speaking of Valentina, let’s talk about Valentina. Actually, as love plot characters go, she was pretty well developed. We discovered bits and pieces about her history throughout the course of the story, and she had risen to her job on her own merit. Even though it’s still a fairly new term and complicated subject, I want to talk about weaponised femininity. Basically, weaponised femininity is using feminine things (make-up, high heels etc) as a tool or weapon. Think female superheroes taking on 20 bad guys in 6 inch high heels. Any girl will tell you that that’s completely impractical. Yet Hollywood insists in using it in what I see as a way to maintain the status-quo of sexist ideals. “Look, this girl is kicking ass and still looks like she could walk at Milan, why can’t you?”
I’m not saying you can’t be an amazing fashion icon and also be able to break every bone in my body with your fists, but those things have very different dress codes.
Valentina does pretty much everything in this film in skin-tight clothes and runway height heels, not overly realistic. The one saving grace is that in a film where a certain look can stop objects mid-flight, and you can survive a helicopter flight sitting on the blades, it’s easy to believe that you can run through Rome’s streets in high heels without breaking an ankle.
This suspension of belief runs though the entire film, like Zoolander before it. It’s not supposed to be rooted in reality, so takes as many liberties as it can and honestly, without some of that, it would have been a dull film. I laughed out loud on many occasions which is good, as that’s what comedies are supposed to make you do. Plus, they didn’t use all the funny bits in the trailers, leaving some surprises for people who watch the whole film.
There were some problems with the pacing, particularly in the finale. There’s a lot of cameos in the big show-down but the banter could have been way sharper. At times, it felt like there was lifetime between a retort and comeback. Not the best thing for a film genre that relies on the perfect timing for a joke to work.
The last (and biggest) issue that just didn’t work in 2oolander was Don Atari. Don Atari was clearly supposed to be a hipster/millennial parody but honestly, it was just painful to watch. Perhaps that’s just because it was my generation that was so clearly being misrepresented on the silver screen. For me, all the character did was highlight the huge gap of understanding of current youth culture and baby boomers. When we first meet him, Don Atari has what seems like a 5 minute monologue constantly referring to things as “shit” and how he “hates that crap” before reversing and professing they’re “dope” and “awesome”. What the writers (Theroux, Stiller, Stoller and Hamburg) haven’t grasped is the subtle way of distinguishing between affectionate name calling and aggressive name calling. Trust me, my generation can tell when someone is actually calling them an asshole, or complimenting them by calling them an asshole. The lack of this understanding makes Don Atari’s character flat and quite frankly, annoying as a toddler who is crying for no good reason. Those scenes were embarrassing to watch and seriously needed a re-write.
Overall, 2oolander had all the elements to make it a really good film, but there was something missing. It’s not quite as classic as Zoolander, not quite as quotable, not quite as timeless. Nevertheless, it’s a fun goofy film that made me laugh, and honestly, isn’t that the point of a comedy?