I had to ride six escalators to watch An American Carol yesterday afternoon, so it's entirely possible the altitude killed a few of the jokes. Keep that in mind.
As I sat down and wondered what I was doing, I also wondered how many of the other eight people watching this Monday matinee were people I shared a screening of Expelled with several months ago. Wait, that was in another city, another liberal oasis. Still. A few of these folks approached the film with the steadily declining enthusiasm of true believers, but I have a feeling the rest of us may have been living out a variant of Fight Club. I am Rob's morbid curiosity. I am Rob's counterproductive illusion of fairness.
'Cause most of the commentary I've stumbled across on political blogs about An American Carol begins and ends with the schadenfreude (there's that word again) of people reading its lackluster box office receipts like phrenologists massaging America's scalp. But divining truths from ticket sales is a fool's errand, and reading the zeitgeist by counting beans is easy only if you're wearing blinders. There are just too many variables for a simplistic conclusion. Sure, The Passion of the Christ cleaned up. And in the ranking of grosses for 2004 it falls between Spider-Man 2 and Meet the Fockers. Read them apples. An American Carol tanked, but so did War, Inc. People want comedies that are actually funny, you could say. But the financial reports in Variety often tell us otherwise.
So I had to see it. But I'm not fair. I remember telling my wife this time last year that I could live a happy life if I never had to see, read, or hear another adaptation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol again for as long as I live. Don't like Tiny Tim and the ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future nor the ghost of Jacob Marley appearing in Scrooge's brass knocker. Enough. Don't care if Scrooge is Bill Murray or Rich Little or a Michael Moore look-alike. Don't like being told I hate America, or that I'm not from "real America" because I live in a city instead of a suburb and because I don't listen to the right kind of music (which is arena-friendly, radio-ready pop-country). I have a couple of Ralph Stanley albums but, alas, no Trace Adkins. I'll put a boot in your bah humbug, it's the American way. Or a clog. Whatever. (Incidentally, I think this counts as breaking ranks.)
More importantly, don't like watching a comedy that can't deliver the goods. My post-screening tweet went like this:
AN AMERICAN CAROL lands not one joke. Michael Moore is fat! Smells bad! Hates America! NYC ain't real America. (Except ground zero.) Troops!
If Twitter had allowed me another four letters, I'd have finished with "Troops yay!" But I stand by the joke count. I don't remember a single chuckle, which makes this, by a wide margin, the least funny comedy I've seen all year. And remember, I saw War, Inc., and The Love Guru.
What's ironic is that An American Carol itself seems particularly focused on, but conflicted about, the importance of ticket sales. It ridicules Michael Moore for being a mere documentary filmmaker in a world where people "would rather watch features." The Moore character ("Michael Malone") wants to be George Clooney, who is mocked as a more glamorous and successful America hater when the two cross paths at the MooveAlong.org awards. The two O's are your cue to laugh.
Later, in seeming contradiction, Malone says that people flock to see his documentaries. But the ghost of Christmas past, General George Kelsey Grammar Patton, says, pshaw, people will flock to slasher movies.
To sum up: Lots of people have watched Michael Moore's movies. No they haven't! Or if they have it doesn't matter! And the film ends with an argument -- well a supposition, really -- that people want to see movies that show America in a good light. In truth, most of the films made in evil liberal Hollywood do. And despite all the grandstanding by its royalty, the town runs on money. If you have a formula for selling tickets, my guess is that no studio executive's ideology will stop you.
Rush Limbaugh tells us the people who made this film had to risk their careers to put it out. Given the confused script, the stale gags, the inept attempt at intellectual gotchas, the comically earnest idolatry of men in uniform, and the effort to step on liberal toes by stomping in clown shoes a good twenty yards away from those idle Birkenstocks, that sounds like an argument for fully functioning capitalism to me.