Let’s get biblical – Year One review

Year One – Starring Jack Black, Michael Cera and David Cross. Directed by Harold Ramis. Rated M.

In the beginning there was light, which was closely followed by the fart joke. The legendary Harold Ramis attempts to clarify that last omission from Genesis by re-writing the Old Testament in his latest comedy Year One. He restructures the tales of the Bible by placing a greater emphasis on bodily fluids, and less emphasis on all that wrath-of-God nonsense. That’s not to say his film is blasphemous. Like I said, the flick is more concerned with making poop jokes than eviscerating Christian ideologies. But it’s still an entertaining romp from one of the genre’s master directors, packed with entertaining comic performances.

So, in the beginning (and we’re talking about the film now) we meet Zed (Jack Black) a rowdy, untalented hunter who dreams of greater things; primarily laying with his dream girl Maya (June Diane Raphael). His best and only friend Oh (Michael Cera) is a gatherer who just wants to stay out of everyone’s way and awkwardly fawn over the over-sexed Eema (Juno Temple) from a distance. Basically, we have Jack Black in standard-Jack Black mode, and Michael Cera in standard Michael-Cera mode. I warn you now: if you’re sick of Cera’s shtick, or tired of watching Black do his “rim-im-ba-bim-ba-dim-ba-dum” vocal-guitar solos, you are not going to have much fun with Year One. Thankfully, I’m not sick of either, although I can’t imagine giving them too many more free passes in the future.

When Zed eats an apple from the Tree of Knowledge, he begins to question his place in the universe. Banished from the village for eating the forbidden fruit (“I thought forbidden implied there would be a little wriggle room?”), Zed and Oh take the opportunity to travel the land and see if there really is more to life. They run into some familiar Biblical figures, including feuding brothers Cain (David Cross) and Abel (Paul Rudd), as well as the God-fearing Abraham (Hank Azaria) and his son Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). There’s no real point explaining how Zed and Oh happen upon these characters, as the picture’s episodic structure never really provides good enough reasons to introduce them. Apart from the fact that these episodes are really quite funny. Maybe that’s reason enough.

Of course, this film could never escape the inevitable comparisons with Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Is Year One better? You already know the answer to that, and frankly I’m surprised you even asked. Life of Brian and Year One share the same episodic narrative, the same penchant for poop jokes, and the same basic comic premise. But Life of Brian had more of that anarchic edge that made it a classic. While Monty Python had the grit to make commentary on the conflict between Israel and Palestine, Year One concentrates primarily on jokes about circumcision.

But perhaps I’m being too harsh on Ramis’ flick, which is an enjoyably goofy comedy that doesn’t need to rely on shocks to entertain. The film does provide a hefty dose of belly laughs, primarily from nervy teen-heartthrob Michael Cera, who is the most inspired casting choice of the entire picture (although Cross’ back-stabbing Cain comes a close second). Sticking this generation’s most post-modern comic actor in this era is genius (particularly considering the unliklihood someone like Cera could even survive one day in this harsh environment). Nothing he does is typically funny, but the audience (myself included) found every moment of his stilted, mumbled deadpan delivery hilarious.

Ramis is most famous for co-writing Ghostbusters, and directing the modern-classic Groundhog Day. However, his last film was Analyze That, which is the kind of comic misfire you don’t wish upon your worst enemies. In that respect, Year One is a welcome return-to-form from one of Hollywood’s great comedy icons. At times, the film settles for the lowest common denominator, which is unfortunate considering the insanely talented cast and the writing talents of Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky (scribes for The U.S. Office and upcoming Ghostbusters film). But you cannot argue with the laughs, which are frequent, and hearty. If God were one of us, I’m sure even He would find something to chuckle at in Year One. After all, He invented farts in the first place.


Check out my other reviews here.

2 Responses to “Let’s get biblical – Year One review”

  1. If it was anyone other than Judd Apatow and Michael Cera involved in this film, I think you would have torn it to shreds 😉

  2. Cheeky! Well its a good thing they were involved, because if Michael Cera wasn't, there would be few laughs to be had.

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