I’m pretty sure I’m not breaking embargo simply by saying that I love “Your Highness.” Not in any halfway, almost, make apologies sort of way, either. It is a case of a movie that feels like it was made for me. It got me laughing about two seconds into it, and kept me laughing until the closing credits finally rolled.
I have no doubt that a big part of my reaction to “Your Highness” is based on growing up when I did and ingesting all the astoundingly awful fantasy films of the ’80s. There were a few good ones, certainly. I think the original “Conan The Barbarian” by John Milius is a legitimately great film. I think “Sword and the Sorcerer” is crazy low-budget trash that delivers every pulpy thrill you’d want from the material. I think there are moments in some of them that are fun. But by and large, the genre is made up of hyper-serious movies about very silly things.
When you see “Your Highness,” it’s impressive how they manage to make a comedy genre film without directly referencing other movies. That seems to be a dying art, and for someone like me, who gets tired of the “nudge, nudge, hey, did you see that movie, too?” school of comedy, it’s depressing to live in the era of “Family Guy”. “Your Highness” will certainly make you think of those crazy ’80s fantasy films, but in a broad sense. If you have a fondness for those movies, you’ll be laughing at things that non-genre-savvy audiences might not pick up, but for me, it’s not because I was laughing at a reference, but rather because I recognized just how sincere Danny McBride and co-writer Ben Best and director David Gordon Green really are about all of this.
We’ve got seven clips for you today, but I’ll just say this: if you go to the theater and you make it to the scene with the Wise Wizard and you’re not having a good time, then just get up at that point and leave. You’re not onboard for what they’re doing. If, on the other hand, that scene leaves you dumbfounded and laughing, then you’re in good hands. These clips may give you a sense of what you’re in for, but you have no idea, even after seeing all of them, just how far Universal let these guys go in this movie.
The basic premise is simple enough. Fabious (James Franco) is the first-born royal brother. He’s a classic fantasy movie hero, good and strong and beloved by all. Thadeous (Danny McBride) knows he’s not going to be the king, so he’s enjoying a life of lowered expectations. He’s got a taste for wizard’s weed, a weakness for Dwarf Princesses, and no moral compass at all. When Fabious returns from a quest, he brings a woman named Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) who he rescued from the evil sorcerer Leezar (Justin Theroux). She’s a virgin who was abducted as a baby by Leezar and his three creepy witch mothers as part of an ancient prophecy. Fabious decides to marry her, and he asks Thadeous to be his best man:
Leezar shows up on the wedding day, though, and eventually leaves with Belladonna again, forcing Fabious to mount a new quest. This time, though, the king (Charles Dance) tells Thadeous that he has to join his brother and prove himself. And so they set out, along with Thadeous’s trusty manservant Courtney (Rasmus Hardiker) and a collection of the kingdom’s biggest badasses like Boremont (Damian Lewis), determined to find Leezar, rescue Belladonna, and put an end to the prophecy completely.
The story itself isn’t inherently any wackier than most fantasy films, but it’s the one, the way they play everything so straightfaced and sincere no matter how deranged the details of the world are, that gives the film its comic juice. Take this simple conversation between the brothers about what happens if they don’t rescue Belladonna in time:
Eventually, they meet up with Isobel (Natalie Portman) on the road, a fierce warrior who is on her own quest for revenge, and she’s a perfect distillation of just how exhausting the business of revenge seems like it must be in these films. They decide to join forces with her on the road…
… and attempt to get past that bloodthirsty exterior…
… while Leezar continues to torment Belladonna the whole time:
Loyalties are tested, and eventually, Thadeous gets separated from his brother and has to decide what kind of man he really is. Can he trust Isobel?
See what I mean about her being Red Sonja turned up past the point of ridiculous? She’s got a list of like 10,000 people she has to get revenge on, it seems. The two of them are like oil and water in the movie…
… which of course means they’ll probably fall in love. As long as they don’t both die. There’s so much more going on in the film, and like I said, these clips just hint at it. I’ll have a review of the movie up soon, and we’ve got some good interviews coming next week with David Gordon Green and the cast. For now though, remember one thing, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart….
The Wise Wizard is not your friend. Believe me. You’ll see.
“Your Highness” opens everywhere April 8, 2011.