Zack and Miri (an effective Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks) are two childhood friends who share an apartment and a friendship that they both insist is utterly platonic. Never amounting to anything after leaving high school ten years ago the two slackers spend their days wallowing about their dire financial situation, and working dead-end jobs at the local mall. When the pair attends their 10 year high school reunion Zack runs across a porn actor named Brandon (a hilarious Justin Long), who speaks to the lucrative nature of his business. This meeting, taken together with a video of Miri in her “granny panties” going viral, convinces the duo that making a porn movie together is their ticket out of the poor house.

What transpires next is an often funny and often lewd collection of scenes. Zack and Miri assemble a motley crew of actors and crew for the porn shoot, composed with several of Smith’s players, such as Jason Mewes and Jeff Anderson and members of the unofficial Apatow brethren, such as a terrific Craig Robinson. Several of the supporting roles are given a surprising amount of depth. Craig Robinson in particular is really funny, evoking emasculated frustration that is eventually and gleefully shed. The assembling of the supporting cast is well handled, although the pre-production scenes push the audience’s suspension of disbelief to the breaking point. For example in Zack and Miri’s house where they are holding auditions the power and water have been turned off due to lack of payment. There are literally fires burning in trash cans like on the streets of Philadelphia in the opening scenes of Rocky. This goofy vibe is played amazingly straight, and somehow becomes acceptable due to the strange farcical universe the film is set in.

Smith has always been a filmmaker highly interested in sex, and has in the past evoked some interesting observations on the subject. This trend is not repeated here. Zack and Miri is a sexually charged romp which acts as a facade for a rather conventional romantic comedy, and one that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  At least the two leads help the film transcend the wearisome, blighting effect of its enslavement to the three-act structure. Rogen and Banks have a great deal of charisma and even a surprising amount of physical chemistry.

However the film doesn’t know what to do with them. What transpires between Zack and Miri during the filming of their adult movie is the obligatory onset of romantic feelings. This storytelling development is meant to imbue the silliness with some sort of thematic structure, but nothing coherent emerges. In order to understand exactly what this means one must know a little more about the friendship between Bank’s Miri and Rogen’s Zack. These two people allegedly have been friends since the first grade and are brutally open with each other about their sexual lives and habits. Because of this dynamic the central conflict of the story, where each character battles misgivings over the prospect of having to watch the other fuck on film, refuses to make a lick of sense. It doesn’t wash that these two people would have been able to have a friendship of such longevity and transparency if the idea of one another as sexual beings is this traumatic to think about.

It’s unfortunate that the interactions between Miri and Zack play out so strangely during the porn shoot. Working with Smith the two actors successfully film what is probably one of the most intimate sex scenes in recent history. Set to the song Hold Me Up this scene changes the visual aesthetic of the film quite powerfully. It utilizes a highly personal close up of the each actor’s face and upper body. The explosion of music and intimate framing of the scene is humorously contrasted when Smith switches to a shot of the other participants of the shoot, who are watching Zack and Miri in incredulous amazement. The shot of the observers is framed in a much more objective fashion, and the music is absent. This provides a good laugh but even more importantly suggests the dichotomy between the two states of being. While certainly incongruent, this scene is probably the film’s most accomplished and communicative.

What this scene says is that sex ineluctably alters the framework of a given relationship. This is probably accurate. Yet, this idea does not work regarding the particular circumstances of these characters’ relationship. The film’s fatalistic drive towards formula requires a rift between the central characters, despite the fact that it conflicts with the reality of their relationship. The suspension of disbelief, which the film manages to create regarding the world it’s set in, cannot be extended to the main circumstances of Zack and Miri’s dynamic. It wants us to believe that they have been  harboring romantic feelings for each other for 20 years and that one act of sexual intimacy brings these issues to the surface. This shows little to no insight by Smith or anyone else involved with the production about how attraction, love or normal sexual longing works. If the feelings were there all the time why was it the atmosphere of a porn shoot that prompted the pair to confront them?

The idea that these two people had always been desiring each other is nice but also implausible. It really only happens in the movies and not really in Kevin Smith movies. It’s the stuff of a far more conventional mind. This is unfortunate because the film is funny. But by the time the main players are at their lowest point (due to some petty misunderstanding) all you can do is roll your eyes while waiting for the inevitable triumph and reconciliation. All it makes you wonder: Who was Smith trying to please?

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