Exploiting our Archives: Control Nathan and Clint: Waiting...(2006)
Welcome, friends, to the latest installment in Control Nathan and Clint, the column where we give the living saints who pledge to the Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place and Happy Cast Patreon pages a chance to choose between which impossibly dodgy-looking film Clint and I must watch, then talk about for the podcast.
With Ryan Reynolds quipping his way to box office glory as the wisecracking, fourth wall-disrespecting lead in Deadpool 2, I had ample variety to choose from when it came to selecting flaming cinematic garbage from the overflowing trash compactor that is his filmography, particularly in the early days of his career, when he was the Jerk with the Smirk instead of the Merc with the Mouth.
The choices were the 2011 docudrama The Change-Up, where Reynolds and Jason Bateman play friends who change bodies after their streams of urine cross while enthusiastically emptying their overflowing bladders into a fountain at the same time, and the inexplicably beloved workplace comedy Waiting, which has attracted quite a cult despite being, objectively speaking, the fucking worse. I mean, seriously, just the fucking worst.
As you’ve probably figured out by now, Waiting was the winner, and I use that phrase very, very loosely. I was kind of hoping The Change-Up would prevail, because my dumb animal brain is desperately searching for an excuse to revisit a movie where two dudes switch bodies after urinating in the same fountain but you guys keep depriving me of that opportunity.
I was cautiously optimistic about Waiting because it does have a cult following made up primarily of people who’ve worked in food, particularly in dispiriting chain restaurants and, like all of us, are attracted to art and entertainment that reflects their personal experiences, no matter how fucking dire.
On paper, there’s a lot to like about Waiting. It’s designed as an archetypal “Hang out movie” filled with characters and conversations so delightful we never tire of returning to them. It’s just a shame that the characters here are uniformly terrible and even 93 minutes in their contemptible company feels like an eternity.
Like American Graffiti or Dazed & Confused, only terrible and overflowing with homophobic slurs, Waiting… follows an eventful day and night in the life of the employees and customers of Shennaniganz, a Bennigan’s-like chain restaurant whose sassy waitstaff, cooks and dishwashers try to make an unbearable job bearable through an elaborate game where they trick each other into looking at their junk.
As Monty Cook (Ryan Reynolds), the film’s Chevy Chase/Bill Murray smartass accidental leader figure tells new employee Mitch (Freaks & Geeks’ John Francis Daley), “most of the guys that work here like to play this little game that involves flashing their genitalia to each other.”
If you succeed in tricking a colleague into looking at your junk, Monty patiently explains to his young, suggestible charge, “you ridicule them mercilessly for being a fag.”
If you enjoy the homophobic slur contained in the last paragraph oh boy do I have a movie for you! It’s called Waiting… and it is chockablock with characters we’re supposed to like and identify with throwing around the other F word, including, climactically Mitch.
When someone points out that it’s a little odd that Monty’s life, and the life of his good buddy and co-worker Dean (Justin Long) seem to revolve around getting other men to look at their genitals, Monty shuts that shit down with the charming defense, “Think we're all just a bunch of deviant lifestyle-living, same-sex having motherfuckers, am I right? Well, listen. You can put that faggoty baby to bed right now. None of the guys that work here are gay. I mean, I'll stick my finger in my ass every now and again when I'm feeling squirrelly, but that's about the extent of it.”
Waiting… doesn’t just have a level of gay panic humor on par with such previous nadirs as Boat Trip, Your Highness and Partners. It has a gay panic plot. It’s essentially a gay panic film whose humor is rooted in the intense horror and disgust heterosexual men are supposed to experience when faced with things they consider gay.
Ah, but there’s more to Monty than a cavalier way with a hateful slur. He’s also, and I should again point out that he’s one of our heroes, a dude who is really into having sex with underage girls. Like John Kricfalusi and Licensed to Ill-era Beastie Boys, the girlies Monty likes are underage. He wants to have sex with a coworker who will be legal in one week specifically because having sex with her will be illegal, taboo and consequently more exciting.
If someone were to make a docudrama about John Kricfalusi grooming underage girl his preference for women under the age of consent would undoubtedly be portrayed in a disturbing light, as a horrifying compulsion that played havoc with the fragile psyches of women too young to fully grasp what was happening to them.
But because Monty is handsome and the underaged girls he's hitting on and/or planning having sex with are buxom and look older than they are, his love of statutory rape is portrayed as sexy and fun and not a disturbing harmful pathology. That's disturbing but not quite as disturbing as movies like That's My Boy treating female-on-male statutory rape as a hilarious goof that, if anything, does good things for the development of the man being preyed upon.
Will Monty eventually mature to the point where he no longer bases most of his identity on his contempt and disregard for our nation’s age of sexual consent laws? Yes. Yes he will. It’s hard to imagine a movie setting a bar for redemption as low as Waiting… does for Monty.
Lest you imagine that Monty is completely unsympathetic, there’s a glaringly tone-deaf scene where he’s amused by the antics of a senile old man and expresses fondness for the old dude.
There’s more to Monty than gay panic jokes, constant F bombs and statutory rape, it seems. He’s also got a soft spot for lovable codgers. If that doesn’t win you over, I don’t know what possibly could. Maybe not being terrible all the time? I’ve similarly seldom seen a film be so lazy about trying to make a deeply unsympathetic character sympathetic.
Waiting… is an ensemble film with a preposterously over-qualified, under-utilized cast that includes Anna Faris, David Koechner, Chi McBride, Dane Cook (a young Ryan Reynolds and Dane Cook in the same movie? What did I do right in a past life to deserve such a magnificent bounty of laughs?), John Francis Daley, Andy Milonakis, Luis Guzman, Wendie Malick, Entourage’s Emmanuelle Chriqui and second generation starlet Jordan Ladd.
But the movie’s other lead is Justin Long as Dean, a smart but frustrated underachiever offered a promotion to assistant manager by boss Dan (David Koechner) that force him to make a preposterously easy choice: should he continue to do a job he despises with every fiber of his being or quit? As far as Faustian bargains go, the one Dan is offering his employee is pretty terrible.
The other characters in the film seldom rise even to the level of loathsome, lazy caricature. What lazy, dumb comedy can resist the low-hanging fruit of white dudes who—get this—talk and act like cartoonish caricatures of black gangsters? Accordingly, human novelty Andy Milonakis plays one of the film’s hopelessly deluded wannabe gangsta, a buffoon whose shtick prompts Monty to assure him, “You know I give you the mad, phat, super-fly, stupid-dope, dumb-ass, retarded, bomb-shit props.”
Was that character and trope ever funny? Even for a moment? I don’t think it ever was. It’s always been exhausted. Waiting…’s comedy comes from a place of exhaustion, of depletion, of empty nihilism wedded crudely to post-There’s Something About Mary shock.
Waiting… desperately wants to be Kevin Smith goes to Bennigan’s. That’s setting the bar adorably low but this laughless, joyless raunch-fest can’t even manage that.
It’s tempting to say that Waiting… is completely worthless but I’m a big believer in singling out moments of inspiration in steaming piles of horse shit like this. So I will dutifully dole out props to a character, performance and scene that brought me to the verge of mild amusement.
The great Chi McBride, of The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfieffer fame, plays the restaurant’s resident philosopher and unlicensed shrink, a thoughtful man in a thoughtless film. In the movie’s one moment of inspiration, he explains to Dean that the restaurant was in a bad place three years earlier, before the tricking coworkers into seeing your penis game breathed new life into the entire establishment and allowed both the restaurant and its employees to get through this tough spot and evolve.
McBride’s unlikely paragon of wisdom asks Dean to figure out what his personal version of the tricking-people-into-looking-at-your-penis game is and then pursue it so that he can get past the funk he’s personally mired in. McBride beautifully underplays the character and the moment. The idea of something as aggressively stupid and juvenile as a game where people try to trick coworkers into looking at their naked penis as a metaphor for personal growth and evolution is clever but even at its best, Waiting… isn't actually funny.
The sheer volume of people who’ve worked in food service at some point helps explain why a movie this dreadful could develop a sizable cult following. But I suspect the film’s cult status is also attributable to a scene where a cartoonishly nasty customer sends back her meal as unacceptable and seemingly the entire crew decides to “flavor” the nasty woman’s plate with something disgusting from their own bodies, from a giant gob of spit to a generous helping of dandruff.
The scene doesn’t really even try to be funny. It’s content to be gross in an unfortunately memorable way. That’s true of the film as a whole. For possibly the first time in my life, I actually rented the R-rated version of Waiting… instead of the unrated version. I’m glad I did. It’s not the profanity or the raunch or the slurs that I found offensive so much as the laziness and the stupidity.
Watching Waiting… made me realize that I didn’t hate Reynolds as the start of his career out of a knee jerk hostility towards handsome frat boy types. During the Van Wilder phase of his career, his movies generally were legitimately terrible, and his glib delivery of awful dialogue made everything worse.
Reynolds has subsequently evolved into a terrific comic performer and a dramatic actor of some depth. I’m particularly fond of his under-the-radar performances in The Voices and Mississippi Grind.
Reynolds was destined for bigger and better things so it is perhaps not surprising that he did not return to the Waiting… franchise for the movie’s 2009’s direct-to-DVD sequel Still Waiting…
He probably made a wise choice. In an excruciatingly awkward interview with Rolling Stone blurb artist Peter Travers, Long responds to a question about performances he’s embarrassed by with, “I did a cameo in a sequel to Waiting.... I’m truly embarrassed by that one.” He went on to specify that what he regretted was “being part of a movie that is offensive.”
The idea that a man who starred in a movie as offensive and indefensible as Waiting… could be embarrassed by its sequel fascinates me. I’m so morbidly fascinated by the prospect of a movie that’s like Waiting… but somehow worse and more offensive, to the point where even the actors in it are offended by it, that I’m strongly considering writing up the sequel for This Looks Terrible!
Could Still Waiting… possibly be as terrible as Long makes it out to be? I intend to find out because I am a masochist and a glutton for punishment. I’m warning you, however, that in my Still Waiting… This Looks Terrible! article I will try to trick you into looking at my penis.
So you have that to look forward to, and also to dread. That goes double for me.
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