‘Year One’ Is a Fun Ride (Frat Pack Tribute Review)
There’s a great deal of comedic talent behind Year One. Start with the director, Harold Ramis, who began his career thirty years ago and in the 1980’s grew to be a comedic legend as an actor, writer, and eventually a director. Though best known in the last decade as Seth Rogen’s dad in Knocked Up, Ramis does seem to be working to regain his form by partnering with the latest generation of comedic writers and actors. In Year One, Ramis parters with The Office writers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky and though the script varies between clever biblical references all the way to fart jokes, the story presented here is unusual but big enough in scope to warrant a summer release.
Year One’s main characters are Zed (Jack Black), an outcast in a tribe of hunter gatherers, and Oh (Michael Cera) who is young and inexperienced. The two leave their tribe and set off to explore the world. They soon encounter Cain (David Cross) and Abel (Paul Rudd) in the film’s funniest segment. The two next meet Abraham (Hank Azaria) and his rebellious son Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who takes the pair to Sodom where the story settles for most of the second half of the film. While in Sodom the pair try to free members of their tribe who have been captured and enslaved, including a pair a comely tribeswomen named Eema (Juno Temple) and Maya (June Diane Raphael) who are the love interest of Oh and Zed respectively.
It’s unfortunate that Year One’s script isn’t a bit tighter than it is, relying mostly on Black’s manic energy and Cera’s signature halting commentary for most of the laughs. There’s no pretense for historically accurate dialogue, which is hardly a sin in a movie that uses modern vernacular and catch-phrases (”Yes We Can”) for laughs. The two leads are well cast and do an effective job playing ignorant of the social settings they are placed in. You won’t see much new from Black or Cera but you like their schtick, like we do, then Year One will be a pleasant although not constantly hilarious experience.
Several supporting characters turn up in Sodom and are worth mentioning. Olivia Wilde is gorgeous and engaging as a Princess who takes a shine to Zed and Xander Berkeley brings sufficient weight to his portrayal as the King. Oliver Platt plays Sodom’s effeminite priest with gusto and is often hilarious. Platt’s scenes with Cera (playing a virgin) are another awkward highlight of the film. David Cross’s Cain appears throughout the film and is quite effective as the nominal “bad guy.”
The film is produced by Judd Apatow, which explains the cameos from Team Apatow regulars Mintz-Plasse, Rudd, and an unrecognizable (until the end-credit outtakes) Bill Hader. Not unlike Drillbit Taylor or Walk Hard, this isn’t your typical Apatow-style comedy but it’s clear he’s able to get funny people sign-up for the film. The film’s production design, makeup, and costuming are simple but effective.
Year One won’t go into the pantheon from any of it’s creative principals, but if you’re looking for an different kind of story and setting then the film may well be worth your while.