Sunday, 21 October 2012

The Good Stuff: Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs
Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller

"Steve, my best friend and trusted colleague!"
"Can I count on your help?"
"[Holds up sardine can he's been trying to open] Can."
"I knew I could."

Steve shares his wisdom.
Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs is no run-of-the-mill kids’ movie.  It’s deviously clever, seriously funny, and has so many ideas spewing out of every orifice that its 90 minutes feels a lot longer and more substantial than they should.  Even the slightly cumbersome title, lifted from the source book, makes no concession for the sake of simplicity.
Set in the miserable island town of Swallow Falls, which has built an industry entirely around sardines, it’s the story of Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader), a brilliant inventor who is, of course, also a moron.  You know how geniuses can have masses of intelligence in one area, but also have no common sense or understanding of the real world?  Flint is that, gone mad.  His inventions invariably work, but they’re either terrible ideas (ratbirds) or they work too well (spray-on shoes that don’t come off).  His latest is a device for turning water into food, and it winds up hovering in the clouds, raining food on Swallow Falls and inadvertently saving the town from a sardine-themed recession.  Trouble is, the machine will eventually overload...
Flint is a great character.  Brilliant but socially inept, he’s so swept up in his childhood dreams that he hasn’t got a clue how to talk to people, and wanders around his lab making science-fictioney noises to himself.  His only friend is Steve (Neil Patrick Harris), a lab monkey wired up to a thought-translator, who offers such useless snippets as “Can”, “Hungry” and invariably, “Steve!”  Take a moment to marvel at the genius and stupidity of a man who creates a working thought-translator, and straps it to a monkey.
When an intrepid weather reporter (Anna Faris) lucks out on a trip to Swallow Falls, she grows closer to Flint, and we learn much about her in the process; particularly, how she’s had to hide her brains in order to gain acceptance.  In a witty reversal of cliché, Sam (Faris) goes from a stereotypical beauty to a brainiac with glasses.  Another witty response to cliché comes in the form of Flint’s father, Tim (James Caan), who couldn’t be more different but wants his son to follow in his dismal footsteps.  Yeah, it’s the familiar old father/son dynamic, but Tim’s an utterly sympathetic and believable character, made more relatable by his son’s distinct absence of marbles.  The heroic genius is an unstable dimwit; his overbearing father is in fact deeply patient, concerned, and ultimately forgiving.  Everywhere I look in this film, there’s a character being written and handled in a fun, refreshing way.  It’s also worth mentioning that every character is animated with some beautifully simple detail that accentuates their foibles.  The Mayor is tiny; Flint has cockamamie hair; Tim has a huge, unrelenting eyebrow where most people have eyes.  It’s expert character design.
A lot of the humour comes from tackling little character clichés, but there’s plenty of thigh-slapping physical stuff too, and visual gags galore.  The voice cast (including cult heroes such as Bruce Campbell and Mr T, which from a 12-year old point of view is just about the greatest thing ever to happen in the history of the universe) are consistently excellent, and the story allows for a feast of dazzling sights, such as huge food items attacking the world’s landmarks.  (This is followed by a brilliant line about how unusual it is for this freak weather pattern to go after all the world’s landmarks first.)
Cloudy is seriously funny stuff, but it also has rich characters and a story that just keeps turning and gets the most out of its ideas.  I’ve heard critics describe it as being aimed squarely at hyperactive 9 year olds and well, they're wrong.  This movie works best if you’re a seasoned moviegoer who’s seen disaster movies, science-fiction movies and any film where a guy leans in to kiss a girl after a dramatic revelation.  It rewards an understanding of conventions and cliché, but sure, it’ll also make the kids in the audience hoot with laughter.  Why shouldn’t it?  I’m 27, and I was laughing all the same, whether at a genius piece of wordplay or the look of joy on Steve's face as he offers his latest inane statement.  CanMoustacheSteve!

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