Not the stoner comedy the title suggests, but still an irreverent fantasy
Your Highness is a film that shouldn’t have been made. The concept is ridiculous. A medieval stoner comedy – what is this Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure all over again? The fact that a studio was okay with the idea is even more ridiculous. Honestly, how it made it all the way through the pre-production process and not be overturned at any point is a miracle. This is pretty bold on the part of Universal, since the studio has had its fair share of near-bombs, to be behind such a hard-R comedy that takes aim at the sword-and-sorcery movies that were produced in abundance during the 1980s.
Truthfully, anybody who still has a fondness for Krull or The Beastmaster or even He-Man cartoons, Your Highness might be the fantasy-comedy for you.
While the advertisements make it look awful, it is hard to ignore its attitude and spirit, both of which carry the comedy when the jokes miss their mark. What should have been an inconceivable mess – all the dialogue was improvised – becomes a winning genre riff that is way beyond crude. Take out the crudeness and you have a fantasy that’s on par with some of those mentioned above but with a slightly better production design.
Prior to Pineapple Express the very thought of David Gordon Green making a movie like this wouldn’t even register. Yet after that first stoner comedy all bets are off. Green, along with Danny McBride, Ben Best, and Jody Hill, have traveled from Tobacco Road (all attended North Carolina School of the Arts) and are carving their own special brand of crude comedy that carries a darker, sinister tone (see The Foot Fist Way, Observe & Report).
When we first meet Prince Thadeous (McBride), he and his manservant Courtney (the relatively quiet and scene-stealing Rasmus Hardiker) are in the clutches of a dwarf clan. Thadeous faces death by hanging after having sexual relations with the Dwarf King’s wife, whose bosom is about half the size of her husband. The hanging culminates in a great visual gag once the trap door opens up and Thadeous drops through.
From the get go, Green and company let you know what the rest of the movie has in store. The near-hanging is but one of several wacky situations that Thadeous finds himself in. McBride, who also wrote with script with Best, does a lot of physical comedy, usually in the form of having his ass handed to him by someone who is a better fighter/warrior. This would include his older brother, Prince Fabious (James Franco) and Isabel (Natalie Portman), a bad-ass warrior chick.
But that’s been McBride’s M.O. in most comedies. He plays characters that talk a big game, but can never walk the walk. So when he does show vulnerability it makes his characters that much funnier. Your Highness is more of the same.
Every character plays their roles straight and not just for laughs. And the rapport McBride and Franco have with one another allows for an easy chemistry. There is a small sibling rivalry between two – their father, the King (Charles Dance), favors son Fabious much more than Thadeous – which rears its ugly head near the climax where the two are on a quest to rescue Fabious’s beloved, Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel), from the clutches of an evil wizard (Justin Theroux).
The biggest wild card would probably be Natalie Portman’s character. Seeing her name attached to the project one can’t help but wonder why. Well, any fears of having her play a vengeful warrior are dashed once she makes her introduction in a special effects heavy sequence involving a Hydra-like monster with five heads. The way she wields a sword and takes down her enemies, she makes the girls of Sucker Punch look tame.
Though it may have been marketed as a medieval stoner comedy, Your Highness looks and feels like an authentic fantasy film that would be a worthy addition to the genre canon. Green and his cinematographer Tim Orr had a clear vision of how they wanted the comedy to look. The best parodies are those that can stand-alone and look every bit as good as the films they are riffing. From the production design to Steve Jablonsky’s rousing score, you can tell the crew had a deep affection for the genre. Spice it up with some visual effects that recall Ghostbusters and you’ll have a generation waxing nostalgia.
For those that care more about the punchline in comedies this might not be the comedy for you. It moves at a rhythm where it builds upon each absurd situation or behavioral trait. If anything, the addition of the coarse language is reminiscent of David Milch’s approach to his western Deadwood. Where that show used a word that rhymes with “socksucker” in liberal fashion, Your Highness incorporates modern profanity in medieval times. After a while you just accept it and move on.
Your Highness is an uneven comedy, but it is so ambitious in its recreation of a fantasy film, not to mention full of twisted laughs, that it’s hard not to ignore.
Director: David Gordon Green Notable Cast: Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Justin Theroux, Zooey Deschanel, Charles Dance Writer(s): Danny McBride and Ben Best
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!