Control Nathan Rabin 4.0 #56 Still Waiting... (2009)
Welcome, friends, to the latest entry in Control Nathan Rabin 4.0. It’s the site and career sustaining feature where I give you, the big-hearted, devastatingly sexy, unmistakably heaven-bound Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place patron an opportunity to choose a film that I must watch and then write about in exchange for a one time, one hundred dollar pledge to the site’s Patreon account. The price goes down to seventy five dollars for each additional choice.
Today’s patron, Sue Trowbridge, is a longtime and much appreciated supporter who challenged me to feast on the singularly unpalatable three course meal of seedy grossness that is Still Waiting…, the direct to video 2009 sequel to the unfortunately and disproportionately loved 2005 cult comedy Waiting…
I’ve been morbidly fascinated by the screamingly unnecessary existence of Still Waiting… since I wrote about Waiting… for Control Nathan and Clint and was fascinated and mortified that Justin Long found the sequel so bad, and his role in it so unforgivable, that he singled it out as one of his biggest professional regrets in an interview with Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers where he said he is "truly embarrassed" to be associated with Still Waiting…, which he considers “offensive.”
From the way Long spoke of Still Waiting… you could be mistaken for imagining that he stays awake all night, coated in sweat, his brain afire with regret as he begs the Gods of Comedy and Art to forgive him for his crimes and transgressions, for playing a direct-to-video Judas betraying Waiting… for his 30 pieces of silver.
I can only assume that Long’s new podcast, and, let me just start off by saying how wonderful it is that Justin Long has a podcast, he’s truly what the art form has been desperately missing and crying out for all these long years, explores the mistakes and life lessons that led him to take a brief, one-day uncredited cameo in a direct-to-video sequel to Waiting and how he can begin the process of forgiving himself for appearing in the movie.
Long has stated publicly, and often, that only the sweet release of death can obliterate the soul-consuming, nightmare-inducing shame of having made an unbilled cameo in Still Waiting…, which, honestly, I find a tad bit hyperbolic. This got me all kinds of curious. If an actor who is ostensibly proud to have appeared in Waiting…, which I found pretty much unwatchable, found its sequel, and his role in it a source of deep source of embarrassment and humiliation, then how bad must that sequel be?
The answer: pretty fucking bad! Abysmal, even. Is it as bad as Waiting…? I dunno. They’re both terrible in their own, and extremely overlapping, ways. Should Justin Long be embarrassed by his association with this film? Perhaps, but he should be more embarrassed to play such a central role in Waiting…
Star Ryan Reynolds was predictably AWOL from Still Waiting…, thereby liberating him from the kind of shame that grips Justin Long every moment of his misbegotten existence, as was Reynolds’ Just Friends costar Anna Faris on account of having a career. So the film became an unlikely but welcome starring vehicle for John Michael Higgins, a performer best known for his work in the films of Christopher Guest.
You would recognize John Michael Higgins if you saw him, although I must confess I have gotten him confused with Michael Hitchcock an awful lot in the past as well. Higgins has one of those great character actor faces, at once poignantly average and full of sadness and yearning. One of Higgins’ first big roles was as David Letterman in Betty Thomas’ TV movie version of Late Night but that took an awful lot of make-up and latex, and Higgins still looked like a cross between the iconic talk show host and some form of primate, as Letterman himself grouchily observed of the performance.
Higgins’ hapless restaurant manager Dennis is introduced obliviously urinating in the sink of the home he shares with his hectoring mother, then brushing his teeth in the same sink so that he’s drinking his own piss and brushing his teeth with his own fetid urine. It’s a gag that’s more sad and horrifying than funny though as a back-handed Waterworld homage opening with your protagonist guzzling their own fetid waste is inspired.
This establishes a baseline of humiliation for Dennis from which the film seldom wavers. Dennis was clearly written as a Christopher Guest type, a small-time loser with touchingly modest dreams—in this case getting a promotion to district manager that he desperately hopes will finally get him laid—but they overshoot the creepy sadness to the point where he begins to reek of the no-hope miserablist cinema of Todd Solondz.
When Dennis asks an only slightly less pathetic boss played by David Koechner if he knows what it’s like to let an entire fraternity shit on your chest, and then not get into the fraternity anyway, it sure paints a picture but it’s not funny. It’s just sad. Dennis’ fascination with the techniques of pick-up artists similarly feels like it could be a cut subplot from Storytelling or Happiness.
We’re supposed to laugh at Dennis and all the other losers here but Higgins invests the character with such squirmy vulnerability and humanity that we just end up feeling sorry for him. That’s more than can be said of any of the film’s other no-hopers.
Instead of Ryan Reynolds, we have Steve Howey as Agnew, a racist scamp whose curdled persona suggests what might happen if they unsuccessfully tried to clone Reynolds using the DNA of ShamWow pitchman and inAPPropriate Comedy and Underground Comedy Movie writer-director-star Vince Offer and the experiment was a horrible failure that pleased no one.
Then again, Howey is cursed with dialogue like, “Life’s not just about nailin’ poon, Bro” and “Paging Doctor Faggot. Your cock seems to be parked in another man’s asshole.” Reynolds, Marvel’s madcap Merc with the Mouth, would have made those rancid lines sing with vulgar purple poetry. He would have breathed life and fire and feral intensity into them, transforming them into low art the process. Howey, in sharp contrast, just comes off like an asshole.
It does not help that Still Waiting… doesn’t seem to know how it feels about Agnew at any given moment. Is he supposed to be like Ryan Reynolds’ wisecracking, statutory rape-happy alpha male jackass from Waiting…, a raging asshole we’re supposed to find oddly charming despite his intense lack of charm? Or are we supposed to see him for the asshole, racist and misogynist he clearly is?
The threadbare premise for Still Waiting… is that the tacky chain restaurant Dennis manages must make a daunting, if not impossible nine thousand dollars over the course of a single day or he will be denied the promotion to district manager that represents his fiercest, and also only hope and dream.
Dennis tells his employees that the restaurant will be forced to close if they don’t hit the nine thousand dollar target but this ghastly band of one-dimensional caricatures has other, more pressing matters on their mind. Even Dennis’ attention is divided something fierce between trying to raise the money that will win him the all-important promotion and trying out the Pick Up Artist philosophy taught by Adam Corolla in an X-rated cameo. If the idea of Adam Corolla getting sexually explicit and raunchy delights you, then Still Waiting… is for you, and pretty much only you.
The misanthropic, women-hating techniques preached by Carolla’s guru have worked wonders for Calvin (Robert Patrick Benedict). In Waiting…, Calvin was plagued by a terrified bladder that made it impossible for him to urinate alongside other men. In Still Waiting…, however, he overcomes that fear and by using the patented Pick Up Artist method of treating women like shit in order to trick them into wanting to prove their desirability by having sex with you he goes from zero to hero, from schmuck to over-sexed womanizer with a veritable harem on hand for his sexual needs.
Calvin works at Tatas, a franchise that’s like Hooter’s, only with a different name. He’s sleeping his way through pretty much his entire gorgeous, buxom female staff, which the movie somewhat creepily does not have a problem with. I kept waiting for Calvin’s comeuppance for treating women so deplorably but the best the film can muster is a closing scene where he temps fate by going to urinate in a public bathroom and a man standing next to him gazes at Calvin’s penis with a look of such naked, wanton, unashamed sexual desire that Calvin instantly loses his heterosexual mojo. The strange magic that made sex bombs all want to jump his bones disappears as mysteriously and completely as it appeared.
Waiting… at least had a germ of a good idea: the grubby, profane and irritatingly sexual comedy and drama of a day and night in the life of one shitty franchise restaurant. At its slice-of-life best, which was still pretty fucking bad, Waiting… chronicled the stupid, pointless, vulgar yet weirdly cathartic hijinks wage slaves engage in to pass the time and make their soul-crushing jobs seem a little less unbearable.
Still Waiting… largely abandons the cultural specificity that occasionally made Waiting… something slightly better than worthless. The presence of a T&A restaurant next door underlines the Waiting… franchise’s roots in the scuzzy yet oddly irresistible world of 1970s, 1980s and 1990s sex comedies, which I’ve been thinking a lot about since I read Michael McPadden’s terrific, exhaustive history of the genre, Teen Movie Hell.
It’s no coincidence that shitty food figures prominently in teen sex comedies. It’s no surprise that Fast Food and Hamburger: The Movie are all naughty sex romps and not Merchant-Ivory productions. Teen sex comedies are full of can’t miss premises that miss by a shocking amount. That holds true of both Waiting movies; there’s tremendous potential in satirizing and dramatizing the day to day lives and sexual yearning of the crew of a shitty chain restaurant yet both Waiting and Still Waiting… are borderline worthless despite boasting conceits overflowing with potential and wildly overqualified casts.
Still Waiting… deludes itself into thinking that it exaggerates the shameless titillation and voyeurism at the heart of places like Hooter’s, which the film impishly suggests is popular because of the large breasts and skimpy outfits of the servers and not the quality of its food or the ambiance, to comic effect but it would be more accurate to say that it amps up the raunch for masturbatory rather than comedic purposes. The sequences at Tatas are light on jokes because the filmmakers apparently don’t want anything to get in the way of the audience’s furious masturbation. Like so many sex comedies, Still Waiting… combines sex and comedy in a manner that does a terrible disservice to both.
At the risk of damning Still Waiting… with the faintest of faint praise, it was not as terrible as I had anticipated. So Justin Long, if you’re reading this, you need to learn to be able to forgive yourself for Still Waiting… There are worse crimes than appearing in a shitty movie, or two. Besides, your cameo as a porn and Oxycontin-addicted Shenaniganz big shot is one of the film’s highlights, as is returning repertory player Chi McBride’s flashy turn as a paragon of down-home wisdom who doles out life lessons along with tips.
Still Waiting… seems to have ended off a low-stakes, low-budget franchise for the time being but you can’t kill a hacky but weirdly successful idea like Waiting… that easily so I would not be surprised if there’s a screenplay out there for a reboot or sequel, possibly to be crowd-funded, or even a Netflix television series.
This would actually make much more sense as a raunchy sitcom than a major motion picture but if you’re thinking about bringing this tacky little beast back to life, don’t even think about asking Justin Long to participate. That poor man has been through enough without you throwing traumatic memories of Still Waiting… at his still very delicate, still very guilt-stricken and shame-addled mind.
Choose a film for this column or just support independent media over at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace