In the Kevin Smith film Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) are platonic roommates who have known each other since 1st grade. They are broke, hopelessly behind on the rent, and early in the film their utilities are turned off one by one. (They are both employed and share a decrepit apartment; you’d think two even modest incomes would be easily enough to keep that roof over their heads, but if you get caught up in grading Zack and Miri Make a Porno on plausibility, it’ll flunk for bigger reasons than that.)
Clearly they are good friends, but in the kind of razzing each other way of a couple of guy buddies. Neither has a very successful love life; both seem to have a respectable amount of experience at one-night-stand type sex, but little success at anything more serious.
While talking over their dire financial situation, Zack has one of those “Hey, it’s just crazy enough to work!” ideas: they should make a porno film.
At first I assumed he meant the kind of “amateur” film where couples put video of their having sex online, though as far as I know that’s not the kind of thing that’s typically promising to monetize. But in fact they decide to put together the old style porn movie, with a bigger cast, at least some semblance of a plot (so the sex occurs in a movie rather than being the movie), and with one of those titles that’s an obvious play on the title of a real movie (like Edward Penishands or Assablanca).
I guess that kind of porno still exists, but it strikes me as very pre-internet.
They are quite nervous about having sex in the film, especially having sex with each other. (There’s no reason they have to, of course; they could strictly do the behind the camera stuff. But it’s necessary to the plot of the movie—the plot of Zack and Miri Make a Porno, that is, not the plot of the porno movie—so that’s another thing we’re not supposed to notice.) They are concerned it will adversely affect the totally non-sexual friendship they’ve had for decades, though it’s safe to assume that one or both of them has long had a desire, or at least a curiosity, about taking that risk, albeit not while being filmed.
They recruit a motley cast of characters to act in the film and work on the film, and manage to beg enough for a shoestring budget (mostly from a co-worker of Zack’s), and soon they’re on their way.
There are comedic obstacles and mishaps aplenty, but they and their goofy team doggedly keep at it. (And no, nothing they shoot looks even slightly like a real porno, even a bad one.) The biggest complication is the more serious—and predictable—one of their sex scene stirring up all kinds of welcome and unwelcome emotions, jealousies, etc.
To me, Zack and Miri Make a Porno was worth the hour or two I spent watching it, though barely. It’s not riotously funny, but it has at least as many modest laughs as the average comedy, enough to keep me reasonably interested the whole way, though after the first hour or so I did feel myself fading a bit.
As far as the more serious bit—Zack and Miri discovering that they have certain feelings for each other that they hadn’t previously realized, or at least admitted—it’s nothing great, but it’s a sweet touch, and it adds a small amount of value to the film.
Mostly, though, it’s straight comedy. Smith can be especially good with raunchy dialogue, with the cynical, wise-cracking Rogen getting a lot of the better lines here. Smith is OK but less good with raunchy situations, because he tends to try too hard to be outrageous, which as often as not seems forced and falls flat.
But again, it’s not a movie that had me laughing out loud, but there were plenty of moments in the film that I appreciated as at least somewhat funny. (A couple of examples: The black employee who interprets it as a racial slur when he is asked to work on “Black Friday.” The stripper being recruited for the porno who isn’t entirely clear on “oral” versus “anal.” “I won’t do anal! Oh wait. I think that’s oral. Yeah, I won’t do oral. I love anal!” I also liked the gay guys at the high school reunion.)
As I note every time I write about a Kevin Smith movie, he still has never made another movie as funny and genuinely endearing as Clerks. Chasing Amy is probably the second best of his films that I’ve seen, and it’s not a real close second. I’d rank Zack and Miri Make a Porno around the middle of his films or slightly above, which is not exactly high praise since I’ve found his post-Clerks stuff consistently disappointing to varying degrees. But it’s OK.