Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"A Belated Birthday Present"


A few years ago, I informed my children that I no longer wished to receive birthday presents, but instead, in lieu of a gift, I wanted a selected “Birthday Treat”, wherein each of them would do something with me, just me and them, either the two of them together or individually.  Last year, the three of us attended a ten A.M. screening of Les Miserables, where we hummed along and cried in a near-empty theater.  It was one of my greatest birthday presents ever.

Before she became a Mom, Rachel and I would go for delightful Santa Monica “Birthday Hikes” after which Rachel would take me to breakfast at Patrick’s Roadhouse, an oceanside diner, frequented by our former Calleefonya governor and bodybuilder.  This year, working around the impending arrival of “Baby Brother”, at my request, Rachel will honor my birthday by providing me with an extensive and much needed Kindle tutorial.

Two months after my actual birthday, it hit me what I wanted Anna to do with me.  I wanted her to take me to see the latest Muppets movie, The Muppets Most Wanted.  I like Muppets movies.  Plus, I strategized, if I joined Anna at a movie she’d have liked when she was twenty years younger, it might make me twenty years younger by contact.  At my age, you try anything.

The “Birthday Treat” itinerary had us seeing the movie (Anna’s treat), having lunch, and then hanging together out at her new house.  Better than a new pair of socks?  Are you kidding me?

I have a peripheral “non-connection” with the Muppets.  In the late seventies, I was asked if I wanted to spend six months in London (where it was produced), writing The Muppets Show.  I said no, partly because at the time I had a job I enjoyed at the Mary Tyler Moore Company, partly because I did not want to trade employment certainty for “What if I couldn’t do it and they fired me?”, and partly because I was at the beginning of a situation that would ultimately become a marriage, and I did not think that a six-month separation would be beneficial to the relationship.  Who knows what would have happened if hadn’t stuck around to remind her what I catch I was!

Besides, I had some hard feelings against the Muppets.  In the mid-seventies, they beat me out for an Emmy for writing a Lily Tomlin Special.  I mean, I had rented a tuxedo and everything!  And I got aced out by some colorful pieces of felt! 

I always appreciated the Muppets, all the way back to “M’nah-m’nah” and “You Gotta Put Down The Ducky (If You Want To Play The Saxophone.)”  Their unique recipe of savvy, silly and anarchy resonated with my personal tastes in entertainment.  (And life.)

And so, I selected seeing The Muppets Most Wanted as my “Birthday Treat.”  Anna was free that Sunday morning, her husband Colby was away on a business trip in Korea (he’s a products engineer for Samsung) so I was not taking her away from anybody, Anna said okay, so off we went!

The following critique takes nothing away from that experience, which was sublime. Every Poppa-pampering second of it.

Three of four paragraphs ago, I mentioned “The Recipe”, although not in capital letters.   To me, “The Recipe” is everything.  (And thus deserving of capital letters. And quotation marks.) 

“The Recipe” involves the careful blending of specific ingredients in specific proportions.  The closeness to Perfection is the ultimate consequence of that recipe. 

The 2011 Jason Segal The Muppets got really close.  (Of course, Segal had practice, staging the puppet opera in Forgetting Sarah Marshall {2008}).  The Muppets offered a winning combination of exquisitely blended ingredients, delivering a Hensonian- worthy recreation of goofiness and heart. 

The Muppets writer-director team “got it” – meaning they successfully channeled “The Muppet Way” of doing things, and it worked magnificently.  (Also memorable in the Muppets ouevre is The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), if only for its universal observation that “Pipples is pipples.”  But, of course, Henson was still available for that one.) 

The current The Muppets Most Wanted includes all the ingredients, and is unquestionably entertaining.  But the people who put it together do not quite, in my view, have the “touch.”  (Which, it now occurs to me, is interesting, because the film’s plot is about a “counterfeit.”)

An insufficiency of blending can unsettle “The Recipe.”  Though the requisite elements may all be present and accounted for, in The Muppets Most Wanted you can almost taste each ingredient individually.  It’s like a Shepherd’s Pie where the peas are separate from the carrots are separate from the beef are separate from the potatoes.

“Okay, we have action.  Now let’s put in some comedy.  Now a “pinch” of anarchy.  Oh yeah, and some ‘heart.’” 

The result is a confection that is – although not deal-breakingly so – less than the sum of its previously successful parts.

One of my favorite kinds of jokes is a clever observation that you didn’t see coming.  I recall only one of those in The Muppets Most Wanted.  During a fight scene in a British cathedral, something gets tossed through an overhead stained-glass window, following which, the minister (played by Frank Langella), in regards to the shattered cathedral window, unhappily observes,

That’s only eight hundred years old.”

There needed to be more of that, and there wasn’t.

It also appeared to me that some of the performers in the movie “got it” and some of them didn’t.  Tiny Fey got it.  Ty Burrell (who I usually don’t care for in Modern Family) got it as well. 

Surprisingly, however, Ricky Gervais did not.  Gervais appears “inconvenienced” by having to participate in the movie, and even more annoyed by being required to play “Second Fiddle” to a notorious “Kermit” look-alike.  (Apparently he didn’t enjoy being upstaged by a piece of felt either.)

Overall…you know how you go to a concert of The Platters but it’s not the real Platters anymore?

That’s what this felt like.  The gold-lame jumpsuits are the same.  But nothing authentic inside them.

Fortunately, my companion sparklingly injected what The Muppets Most Wanted was missing.

And I departed my “Birthday Treat” beaming.

As I am at this very moment, recalling the experience.

2 comments:

Mickey B. said...

Sounds like a great way to spend your b-day, regardless of the movie. Wish my daughter lived close enough to go out w/me once a year.

Just saw The Book Thief - superb movie. The 13 yr old lead actress - the 'thief' - Sophie Nelisse, was excellent. She is a French-Canadian actress who won a Genie and Jutra awards as best supporting actress in the movie, "Monsieur Lazhar" - at the age of 10. Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson also star. Both are also excellent. Interestingly, the film is narrated by Death.

The film is based on a novel and is not based on a true story.

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