January 5, 2006

The Ringer

Bull and I went to see “The Ringer.” It’s a movie directed by Barry W. Blaustein, but produced in part by the Farrelly brothers, and their influence shows.

Johnny Knoxville stars as Steve Barker - mild mannered regular good guy who is backed into a financial corner by his desire to be a nice guy. In order to get out of a hole, and help out a friend, he lets his uncle talk him into pretending he is mentally challenged and competing in the Special Olympics. Uncomfortable with the idea, he half-heartedly goes along with it until he sees the other competitors.

In the face of what he is about to do, his heart erodes away his nerve and he nearly backs out. But when he trips in front of Special Olympics volunteer Lynn (played endearingly by Katherine Heigl) he’s entranced and knocked into the character of “Jeffy.” “Hi, I’m Jeffy and I like apples!”

The Special Olympians are fully fleshed out characters, given at least as much respect as the main character. Just as the song “Respect” appears at one point in the movie, I think a healthy respect for the competitors is seen throughout.

The amazing thing this movie does is take what is, on the face of it, a despicable act and turn it into not (only) crude comedy, but sympathetic comedy. There are laughs at the expense of everyone in this film.

There’s not a whole lot of complexity to the plot. It pretty much is what you think it is, and it’s a frame for a ton of situational jokes. Not only must “Jeffy” compete in the events, he has to live with some of his opponents. Under that close scrutiny, it’s a challenge to pull off this ruse. These folks are challenged, but they’re not stupid. And they’re talented as well. Early on, Steve realizes that he may not find it so easy to beat “Jimmy” - the reigning champion. Not without some help.

I found the jokes to be pretty funny, and Bull and I were laughing quite a bit. And while laughing at differences is easy, I think people will find that there’s more to this film than the obvious jokes.

Posted by James at January 5, 2006 6:38 AM
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I'm avoiding this movie for a variety of reasons. First is that I rarely go to the movies any more. I just don't have the time. If I go, I'm going to see something I really WANT to see and something that the big screen and sound are going to make a difference for.

Second is my BIL who has Down's and is very into Special Olympics. I'm glad that they took a more human approach in the portrayal of the athletes, but it's not something I can support. I don't feel the urget to picket or anything... :)

Third is Johnny Knoxville. I generally find him annoying. :)

Posted by: briwei at January 5, 2006 12:36 PM

Yeah I don't see myself catching this one. I'm with Brian it's prety rare that I get out for movies now a days. I did manage to catch two (a record, I think) over the holidays. King Kong and the new Harry Potter. Both were entertaining. The Harry Potter was the better of the two though. I love Peter Jackson (alright I loved LOR) but Christ has the man ever filmed something that he's considered not worthy of being in the finished film. I mean really, 3 hours! It should and easily could have been cut down to no more than 2 and probably 90 minutes.

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at January 5, 2006 1:20 PM

Kong: I could have done without the second round of bugs. I'll take a pass on The Ringer. Knoxville, like Jim Carrey, David Arquette and Tom Green, is just putting another carnival geek out of work. I don't really expect much from that Farrelly/FamilyGuy/BeyondTheMat production crew, anyway. Boy, am I getting old.

Posted by: ThirdMate at January 5, 2006 1:47 PM

I was planning on giving "The Ringer" a wide berth, merely on the basis that I didn't care to know any more about Johnny Knoxville or his work. And when I heard the subject matter, I thought that it was not only unoriginal (South Park has covered the subject previously) it was offensive.

But after hearing some good things about it from a couple of people, I convinced Bull to go to Trinity and take the walk over to the mall afterwards.

I'm not concerned about highbrow vs. lowbrow comedy. Lately, I'll take the laughs where I can get them. It just has to be genuinely funny. And IMHO, it can't be funny if its too mean. Which is what I originally expected from this.

And it wasn't mean.

After some thought, I realized somehting else I liked abotu the film. Why should a film not employ mentally disabled people and give them a chance to make people laugh? Being involved with a comedy project is really rewarding. Why should these folks be further punished because they're members of a group people feel uncomfortable about, and a group that itself has been the butt of mean jokes? Why not be on the controlling end of those jokes for a change?

I'm not saying that this film is going to break social barriers or make a huge contribution. I'm not saying it's some wonderful socian statement to see this film. No, it's just funny. If people don't want to see it because they don't find the subject matter funny, or it's just not their thing, well that's that. If they avoid the film for deeper reasons, they're not seeing the film accurately. And I don't think it helps anyone, really.

I found it interesting that Ryan's description of the movie to me didn't really coincide with the impression I got from the advertising. Which is, I think, funny, since people who might be lookign for a more mean-spirited film are going to get a surprise.

Posted by: James at January 5, 2006 2:24 PM

The problem was every scene went on too long. The build up was too long, the dinosaur scenes were too long, the bug scene was too long, etc. I don't ever recall saying "when is this scene going to end" in the 12+ hours of LOR but I was doing it constantly in Kong.

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at January 5, 2006 2:29 PM

B.O.B., I agree. I heard an interview where Jackson was trying to explain that he left in what the older version had to remove. Clever rationalization, "honoring the original." James, I visit all the hi-, lo-, and no-brow arenas for laughs. Hell, I've played some pretty broad and low characters on stage. No doubt the movie is fair and not mean-sprited. I just have a personal antipathy for those I mentioned in my last post. I'll suspend my disbelief at the theater and the movies, but I refuse to suspend my sense of taste.

Posted by: ThirdMate at January 5, 2006 3:06 PM

I wonder if a person who's really into the Special Olympics would find the movie funny?

We saw an SNL episode one night which had a sketch in which the characters were some kind of drug users -- now I can't even remember what drug. It wasn't at all funny because I couldn't relate to it at all. I've seen people drunk, I've seen people who smoke too much pot, and that's something that could be parodied, and I'd relate to it. But whatever this was, it just wasn't funny because it wasn't familiar.

I wonder if somebody who's known a lot of mentally challenged people would find this movie very relatable and funny? As in, "Hey, there are finally people like me up there, and they're funny, and I like to see them because they're familiar?" I imagine it all depends on how well and accurately the characters were developed.

K has Asperger's, and she's just dying to meet other kids like her. The problem with A.S. is that socializing is not necessarily a priority!

I'm glad somebody was willing to take a chance with a subject matter like this, and it wasn't some sappy Hallmark movie-of-the-week. Laughter has healing qualities. We shouldn't live in terror of admitting that people who were born with a different set of chromosomes are going to have trouble living in a world built by the majority.

Posted by: Maggie at January 5, 2006 3:19 PM

"Laughter has healing qualities." Yes! Laughter is also a great uniter. I worked at a group home for high-function M-R adults, and I defy anyone to walk into the living room while we all were laughing at something on TV (usually 3 Stooges or Warner Bros. cartoons) and pick out which were the clients and which were the "residential assistants." (Of course, I had a different haircut then). Most of the guys liked sitcoms. Someone said the laughtrack made them feel comfortable about laughing, but the Airplane and Pink Panther movies were popular too.

Posted by: ThirdMate at January 5, 2006 3:40 PM

Could there be more typographical errors in my last comment on this entry?

I think I was going for a personal record there.

Posted by: James at January 5, 2006 3:50 PM

Oh, take laughter where you can get it. :-)

James is typographically challenged. It's not as bad as my father, though, whose emails are sometimes completely unreadable because he splits the letters of some words up among their neighbors. You can eard a rwod fi het ttleres rea ximed pu, but it's much harder if they're stuck to other words.

Like most of you folks, I hardly ever get to movies. Largely by choice, as over the holiday season James took the girls to a number of movies and I bowed out. But when I do see a movie, I often choose to see something that is going to be enhanced by the big screen, as I think Brian said.

Posted by: Maggie at January 5, 2006 4:16 PM

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