Lynn’s Friday Double Feature: ‘Austin Powers: The Spy who Shagged Me’ and ‘Happiness’

This review contains spoilers (i.e. stuff you maybe shouldn’t know until you see the movie). The movies and this review contain adult themes that should not be read by children without an adult guardian in the room. Kids, get your folks and make an evening out of it!

If you don’t want to know what happens in “Austin Powers:TSWSM,” “Happiness,” “The House of Yes” and “The Ice Storm” before you see them for yourself, then bookmark this page and come back to it after you see them. S’alright? S’alright.

It was Friday morning (06/11/1999) and I called Dean to find out what time the first “Austin Powers: TSWSM” showing was. He told me that he’d read some about the movie and it didn’t sound like something he would like to see. Tease.

John tried to get Christy to come but they decided they’d go to Santa Cruz after, instead. Alex had to work, Abby had the day off but was thinking of going to Sacramento.

I called Jim. He had to finish up at a job but would be available for the 1:55 show. I bought three tickets for John, me, and Jim.

John was running late so I paged him and told him that I’d tape his ticket to our office door. There are few things I dislike worse than hanging out front of a movie theater waiting for someone.

I scored us a row of five seats in the hidden balcony I like. There was a father and his junior-high aged son sitting behind me. We talked about the first “Austin Powers,” about “The Phantom Menace” and the Quest junior-high youth group at Trinity Presbyterian.

I called Dean on my cute new cell phone and offered him a last chance to sit in our only available seat. Abby and Jim showed up with refreshments.

The movie was pretty funny. Thankfully, John showed up before the first Jerry Springer bit. John loves “The Jerry Springer Show.” We laughed as Dr. Evil called Jerry a mother**** and attacked.

“John, where are the lesbians?” I asked.

The answer is: Sitting on Frau Farbissina’s side of the table. The German commandant has “learned to embrace the love that dare not speak its name.” That leads to a pretty funny Dr. Evil line later on (well, if you go by the year, I guess it would be “earlier on”), one of the better set-ups of the film.

After 10 minutes I lost count at eight blatant product placements. Elizabeth Hurley offers her husband a post-shag Smint.

For the third in the series (you *know* there will be a third), Number Two should orchestrate world domination by merging the Evil-led Starbucks with the Gates-led Microsoft.

Oh behave!

I bet it’s exhausting to hang out with Mike Myers. Heather Graham is anatomically impossible — she really ought to think of having her body bronzed while she still can. And the size-conscious folks who threw such a fit about 24-Hour Nautilus’s “When Aliens Come, They’ll Eat the Fat Ones First” campaign will be absolutely livid about the Fat Bastard character.

The convertibles were amazing: Jaguars, ‘Vettes, even a convertible new-school VW bug, tripped-out and psychedelic. (I wonder if Volkswagen had something to do with that?)

The names were amusing (Ivana Humpalot is a personal favorite) and the acting was harmless.

So the movie was clever enough and I had a number of belly laughs, but it’s been only seven hours since I left the theater and I can really only remember two or three worthwhile quotes. That will probably improve after I see it again. My favorite was, “I put the ‘grr’ in ‘swinger,’ baby!” Rowrrr….

Lynn’s Rating: Great matinee, would even maybe pay full-price to see it again.

After we left the theater and I did some more work and Abby and Jim ate dinner, we went to Jim’s house to watch “Happiness,” the movie Abby had rented. It’s a 1998 film directed and written by Todd Solondz, who also wrote and directed “Welcome to the Dollhouse,” the saga of a picked-on girl and her hellride through junior-high school.

I tried watching that one once and couldn’t take it — turned it off after less than 15 minutes.

I brought along a book to Jim’s in case this movie was the same way. But the fact is, I can’t imagine *anyone* losing interest in this film. It’s a deep look into the intertwined lives of these horribly pathetic yet believable people, some of whom are related by birth, blood or marriage. The perfect family is anything but: the psychiatrist is a pedophile, the sisters are either self-involved or horribly destined to loserdom, and things are done and said that I don’t believe that have ever been committed to “respectable” celluloid.

It’s brilliant.

The way that the pedophile talks to his son, the way that the fat, hyper-alone character played by Camryn Manheim adoringly strokes the face of the passed-out drunken obscene phone caller, who’s providing the successful, selfish poet (“Everything I write is so shallow! ‘Rape at Twelve,’ ‘Rape at Eleven.’ I’ve never been raped. How can I write about it?”) her first alternative view of life, the way that Marla Maples consoles a woman facing divorce after 40 years of marriage (“Divorce was the best thing that ever happened to me”). Most of these people are rotten. Really rotten. The nicest person in the film also has the most depressing, pathetic life, which snowballs after Jon Lovitz cuts her to the core in a speech I wish I’d made at least *once* way-back-when while dating members of the lower links of the food chain…

This is a movie that gives us a sympathetic glimpse into the lives of monsters. Even Dr. Maplewood, the pedophile brilliantly portrayed by the unassuming-looking Dylan Baker, supports his family, holds down a job, teaches and reassures his son through his pre-pubescent anxieties, albeit sometimes in a borderline, “did-he-really-say-that?” fashion. It’s the callously rotten characters who are more unlikable than the monsterly rotten characters. I was most repelled by Helen, the pretentious poet, who whines, “It’s just I’m… I’m so tired of being admired all the time. All these men I mean… they’re all beautiful, artistic minds, great sex, the whole package, but hollow, you know what I mean? I feel nobody’s really honest with me. Nobody wants me for me.”

Yeah baby, I get you. Loud and clear. Bitch.

The Internet Movie Database lists “Happiness” as a comedy. I’d like to know which sick person is getting a laugh out of that one. It’s black comedy, sometimes ham-fisted to make sure you’re understanding that some of these scenes are unbelievably amusing.

Todd Solondz has a great interview at Nitrate Online that explains quite a bit. But the movie is visually clever, an easier sort of gag to laugh at. Toward the end of the film, Dr. Maplewood drives past a “Watch Children” street sign on his way to tend to his second young victim. It helped my comfort level that the only boy Dr. Maplewood has on-camera physical contact with was the child who played his son. I’d like to know how that kid was affected by playing that part.

But frankly, I was more physically repulsed by the language and visuals in “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” than I was by anything in “Happiness.” Were I back in the dorms at San Jose State and in charge of an all-night movie marathon, I’d kick-off (in order) with “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” for historical purposes, followed by “Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery,” ending with “The House of Yes,” “Happiness,” and “The Ice Storm” for its death-to-rebirth theme.
But I’d probably pour champagne throughout the night, just to keep things lively, baby.

The yin/yang of comedy and drama each offer valuable lessons: * Comedies: We can’t think too much and make life too serious, because thinking *too much* messes with your thinking. * Dramas: No matter how bad we might believe our lives to be, things are actually quite peachy, comparatively. I mean, but for the grace of God, we could be sleeping with our twin sister or molesting little boys or shoplifting in the corner drugstore or something. Yikes!