Film Review – Your Highness
Once upon a time, in a land not too far away, there existed a comedy fantasy film known as Your Highness (2011). ‘Twas a film that strived heartily to be a send up of other fantasy/adventure/comedy films. Once a person gazes their eyes upon it, an air of memory will fall upon them…Ok, I’m going to have to stop with medieval-style talk here, but it’s true that this is a film that runs in line with others that have been made before. One will reminded of films such as Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), maybe even a little bit of Labyrinth (1986) and The Princess Bride (1987) thrown in as well, but mixed with the crudeness of a juvenile. While this adventure is nowhere near as memorable as the ones I just mentioned, I still found myself surprisingly entertained by it, despite its blatant immaturity.
The film stars Danny McBride as Thadeous, the selfish and spoiled son to the rich King Tallious (Charles Dance). Thadeous is a self-centered man-child, thinking only about himself and how events that happen around him affect his overall life of luxury. He lives in constant jealousy and bitterness toward his brother, the brave Prince Fabious (James Franco). Fabious is the light of the entire kingdom’s eye; he lives to do good and vanquish evil from the land. In the beginning of the film we find Fabious returning home after slaying a terrible Cyclops and rescuing the damsel in distress, the fair maiden Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel). Fabious, while rescuing Belladonna, fell deeply in love with her, and plans to marry very soon after arriving home. This irks Thadeous to no end, hating the fact that his brother shoulders all of the attention of the kingdom and of their father, to the point that he skips out on the wedding, despite being asked to be the best man by Fabious himself.
But things get complicated when the evil wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux), from whom Fabious took Belladonna away, crashes the wedding and uses his dark magic to steal Belladonna back. It is revealed that Leezar plans to use Belladonna to fulfill an evil prophecy: when the two moons of the sky join together, Leezar will “join” with Belladonna (yes, like that) and through their consummation will unleash a dark and powerful force that Leezar will use to take over and control the entire world. Well, Fabious will not stand for this, and quickly gathers his men to venture out to Leezar’s dark tower to save Belladonna and rid the world of the wizard once and for all. However, there is just one catch: under the insistence of King Tallious, Thadeous and his loyal servant Courtney (Rasmus Hardiker) will venture with the other soldiers to finally prove that Thadeous is a worthy man to the entire kingdom. Thadeous, not surprisingly, protests, but relents when King Tallious threatens to banish him if he doesn’t agree—at some point every prince needs to grow up. Along the way, they join forces with the deadly fierce and beautiful warrior Isabel (Natalie Portman), who also wishes to conquer Leezar, for her own reasons. Thadeous, to no surprise, spends much of the journey trying to conquer Isabel’s defenses…and get into her undergarments.
The film was written by Ben Best and Danny McBride, and was directed by David Gordon Green. Green, who directed Pineapple Express (2008), and also made George Washington (2000), All The Real Girls (2003), Undertow (2004), and Snow Angels (2007). Needless to say, the man has a wide range of directorial tastes. All three men must have grown up loving the fantasy/adventure films of their youth—while this movie certainly plays with some of the common tropes of the genre, it does it with affection instead of with detest. At times, the film is very funny. I loved the fact that none of the actors put any kind of effort into pulling off an accurate English accent, but went around talking in a mish mash of language. It’s clear that the film is self aware, and has a lot of fun playing with its own stereotypes. You have princesses, princes, swordplay, mysterious beasts roaming the land, magic, and all the rest. The filmmakers pull out all the stops with what they put into their story.
McBride has good comedic timing here, and his improv with the other actors brought out a number of laughs from the audience I sat with. James Franco, fresh from his zombie-like performance hosting the Oscars, reminds us that he still a very talented actor, and he brings such an over the top amount of sincerity and good will to Fabious that we laugh with how seriously silly he is. Theroux is good as the slimy Leezar, looking and sounding like an actual fantasy villain, and Natalie Portman brings a combination of toughness and sensuality to her role, although her character is fairly one-dimensional. The action was surprisingly thrilling; when the film drops its comedy and goes for excitement, it actually accomplishes it well. There is a scene where the brothers get into a chase with a group of soldiers on horseback, and for a moment I thought this was a scene from a serious action movie. The climax was especially good, particularly in how it involves the dynamic between Thadeous and Fabious, and how they finally come know their place and what they need to do to defeat Leezar. The special effects had a kind of old-school feel, as if directly descended from the fantasy films of the eighties, and I felt of kind of nostalgia about it, which I appreciated.
There is an issue about the movie though, and it is a big one. The big issue I had was with its vulgarity. This is a very vulgar film; it earns its hard R rating. Nearly every joke or scene involves sex and nudity in some sort of fashion. I don’t mind a comedy being dirty, not at all, but I could have done with at least a few scenes that didn’t involve the manipulation of human genitalia. The raunchiness was pushed up and overloaded, as if the filmmakers couldn’t think of a joke that didn’t involve that aspect—it was almost off-putting. For example, there is a scene where Thadeous and Fabious visit an old “friend” to help guide them through their adventure. This “person” gladly helps them, but in return asks for certain “services,” if you know what I mean. This act was uncalled for and really unnecessary, and ultimately wasn’t that funny. Another example is when Fabious is bitten by a poisonous creature and pleads for someone to suck out the poison. Guess where the bite was located? There are these and a number of other scenes that involve sex that border on near-offensive, all for a cheap joke. I did find myself laughing at some of these bits, but at others thought they may have taken it too far off the edge.
When Your Highness moves away from the dirty jokes and focuses more on the adventure at hand, it’s actually pretty entertaining. I thought McBride and Franco had good chemistry, and the times where they were clicking together worked very well. The production values were impressive, and the special effects were convincing without being distracting. The storyline is fairly straight forward, a basic good vs. evil kind of tale, and for a film like this, that’s satisfactory enough. The action was good, with motivations and stakes clearly laid out. I just wish it were more ambitious with what it wanted to do. It’s too bad that it didn’t want to be involved with more than just lowbrow, immature humor, because I think everyone involved is better than that. But still, in the end, I liked it for what it was, and I think those that this film was intended for will probably end up feeling the same way also.
Final Grade: B-