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Archive for May, 2011

“And I did laugh sans intermission an hour by his dial. O noble fool, a worthy fool — motley’s the only wear.”

As You Like It by William Shakespeare

“I got attention by being funny at school, pretending to be retarded, and jumping around with a deformed hand.”

– Leonardo DiCaprio

In my working life, I tend to view myself as two separate entities. The first is the physical creation that listlessly shuffles between office, kitchen and bathroom for a prescribed number of hours of the working day, while the second is the conscious voice – the real me, as it were. He is a detached observer, curiously interested in the minutiae of the daily routine: how the physical me changes the pace of his morning pleasantries depending on the climate; whether the woman with the superman tattoo is aware that I have no idea who she is; and what would happen if I elected on Fridays only to speak in the voice of Masterchef hero Greg Wallace (“I tell you wot, [insert name of client], I’ve just faaarkan completed your sale”), South African cricket commentator Tony Greig (“Oh ma lord, the buyer reeeeeelly needs to cum to da partee”) or maybe even Big Momma (“Child, why don’t yo give big momma yo bank details for a CHAPS transfer?”).

This notion of separating mind from body is an essential tool when it comes to dealing with life’s trials and tribulations, a mechanism which we all utilise to minimise the stresses, either through conscious effort or on a subliminal level. I anticipate that it’s not too dissimilar from the technique police officers employ when dealing with the degenerates of society, skipping into a form of auto-pilot while they laugh internally at the youth’s Roman numeral tattoo, simultaneously noting down his alcohol-muddled observations on the latest street-knuckle fight.

These thoughts were prompted during my viewing of the latest instalment in the Big Momma’s House trilogy: Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son, a cinematic aberration to many that makes one ponder whether Lawrence was consciously committing career suicide with his blinkered faith in fat-suit comedy, or if he could calmly detach himself from the critical mauling to gently massage his swelling bank account. The more I replay in my mind the flimsy plot and insipid dialogue of Like Father, Like Son (let’s call it Big Momma 3 for ease of reference), the more I find in favour of the latter verdict, prompting the question of whether Lawrence is playing a crafty long-game by luring us into complacency before delivering a celebratory remake of Citizen Kane in front of a packed house of fawning critics.

Oh child

Big Momma first shook the box office in 2000 under the perfunctory title ‘Big Momma’s House’. While houses did occupy some of the running time, the movie was essentially a vehicle for Lawrence to fat-up and delve into his dubious comedy locker. The plot can be broken down as follows: Lawrence and Paul Giammatti are FBI undercover agents sent to stake out the house of Hattie Mae (affectionately known as ‘Big Momma’), who is housing the ex-girlfriend (Sherry) of a wanted crim. The stakeout meanders along with little to maintain the interest until Mae leaves the house for a few weeks, prompting Lawrence to have the masterstroke of dressing up as Big Momma; cue cutting-edge jokes such as the semi-naked Sherry asking Big Momma whether she is hiding a flashlight beneath her pyjamas. As is de rigeur for such undercover capers, Lawrence is almost rumbled when out of his fat suit, swiftly recovering his poise by pretending to be Big Momma’s handyman. Slowly but surely and without a hint of stereotyping, the plain-clothed Lawrence finds himself falling for Sherry and her wayward son, Trent, and does crazy shit like take them fishing. To the shock of the educated viewer, the clueless Sherry is unable to smell a rat, even when looking into Lawrence’s expressionless rubber face.

That’s my jam

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Big Momma failed to receive a single Oscar nomination, not even best make-up. Rather than appreciate its pioneering attempts to revolutionise the portrayal of southern african-american woman in modern cinema, ill-informed critics sought to destroy the franchise:

“Big Momma’s House…involves a gloatingly unpleasant, jeering view of old woman’s bodies which is intensified by [Lawrence’s] protective feelings for Sherry and her young son.”

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

“You may find yourself waiting for a commercial break but sadly, it never comes.”

CNN

“The feeble plot is forgotten for vast stretches of the movie, which is an excuse for tedious slapstick, jokes against fat people, flatulence gags and sexist leering. Three of the best comedies – Some Like It Hot, Tootsie and Mrs Doubtfire – had actors dressed up as women. This is one of the worst.”

The Daily Mail

Unperturbed by the critical roasting, Big Momma romped through the box office to collect a staggering $174 million worldwide, which is surely the very least that a film containing the following dialogue should deserve:

“Sherry: Oh, it’s so good to see you, Big Momma. I thought you may have  forgotten all about me.

Lawrence/Big Momma: Shut your mouth, child. Oh, Big Momma could never forget that ass…

Sherry: What?

Lawrence/Big Momma: …ma. Asthma. Do you remember you had asthma?”

Don’t let anyone tell you that Jesus’ sacrifice was in vain.

Guuuuuuuuurl, please

For Big Momma’s second offering, Lawrence and Co decided to ratchet the series up a notch, an approach hinted at by the dazzling film title: Big Momma’s House 2. In addition to the usual family-plus-Big-Momma set-up, BMH2 benefits from a hyper-active pooch called Poncho. In one playful scene, Big Momma – feeling sorry for the designer mutt – slips some booze into his doggy bowel and urges him ‘to get [his] tilt on’. BMH2 also saw an early cinematic outing for Chloe Morritz (the young daughter ‘Karrie’), who rightly garnered rave reviews for her performance as Hit Girl in Kick-Ass, and put in a decent turn as a vampire in the American remake of Let The Right One In. When she looks back on what promises to be an illustrious career, I hope she has the good grace to dedicate every single award to Lawrence.

As for the man himself, Lawrence throws the kitchen sink of fat-woman-clichés at BMH2 including crazy dancing, bare-fleshed spa treatment, jet skiing and swimsuit exposure with complimentary braids (think Bo Derek in 10 but with a little more junk in the trunk). However the film’s high watermark is Big Momma’s celebratory dance routine (see below) where she dons a skimpy cheerleading outfit to help Karrie’s dance troupe to a standing ovation. While Lawrence’s ability to act through eyes alone is undoubtedly worth the entrance fee, check out the diva pout of Karrie’s fellow cheerleader at 1:55.

She raiiiiiiised a Heffer!!!

Like the first Big Momma, BM2 defied expectations to take an imposing $140 million worldwide; to put that in perspective, Clear and Present Danger took approximately $200 million. Clearly, the people were hungry for more momma and just like Arnie with the Terminator franchise, Lawrence delivered what the crowd wanted: Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son aka BM3.

Where BM2 brought an animal into proceedings, BM3 introduces another fan of the fat suit, none other than Trent, Lawrence’s step son, perhaps better known as ‘Alpa Chino’ from Tropic Thunder. Perhaps his most memorable moment in Stiller’s blacked-up masterpiece occurs when Robert Downey Junior (he of the painted face) interrogates Chino over his choice of supposed girlfriend, ‘Lance’: “When you wrote ‘I Love Tha’ Pussy’, was you thinking about danglin’ yo’ dice on Lance’s forehead?”

Where some may be embarrassed to admit, I revel in the fact that my erstwhile Big Momma enthusiast and I braved a bleak Exeter evening to attend a screening of BM3, shamelessly paying the full fare and then taking out seats amongst the needy and depraved of society. The calibre of the Big Momma fan base was perhaps best summarised by the old man wearing a Hawaiian shirt two rows in front of us who kept jumping up and whooping at impromptu moments. My friend gesticulated towards the loon as a source of amusement, but I quickly realised he was genuinely ill, or it was at least a borderline case.

Amidst the horror of the crowd was the imposing spectre of BM3, not to mention the weight of expectation: after jet skiing, dancing and spa treatment, what further humiliations could be inflicted upon this poor stereotype? Never one to disappoint, Lawrence went full retard and laid on a banquet of depravity including life model classes, twister and yet more truffle-shuffling. Rightly or wrongly, I openly cried with rapture when Big Momma fell through the table (see 1:10 of the trailer below) while my companion beat his knees profusely, the tears similarly reigning down onto the floor, like the blows of a high school bully on an acne-ridden weed.

…but you can call me big momma

Despite BM devotees flocking to their local multiplex, the critics finally got their wish as Big Momma tanked to a worldwide box office of $61 million, with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of just 6% (come on, people!). In fact according to Wiki, the film’s backers decided to shield it from critical abuse with the film ‘not screened in advance for critics’, perhaps unsurprising when it’s likely to be as warmly received as a limited edition copy of The Story of Little Black Sambo at a Martin Luther King remembrance rally. Having never been a fan of Mark Kermode, my faith in the good doctor took a further nose dive after his following one-line verdict on BM3: “comedy blokes in fat suits doing nothing funny for a long time while all you can hear is [silence].” The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, who despaired at the first BM instalment but is otherwise a bastion for the infantile as well as the serious, finally turned his back on Lawrence:

“Like Alan Dershowitz, the lawyer famous for defending some of the most questionable clients, I have in the past made a case for the comedian Martin Lawrence. I have giggled guiltily at his medieval romp Black Knight. I have chortled at Blue Streak. And the sheer, confrontational crassness of his Big Momma movies – in which he plays an FBI agent who repeatedly finds it expedient to disguise himself as a very fat woman – occasionally gets a jaded laugh. But there must have been moments when Dershowitz, having made an impassioned plea to the judge, turned round to find his client loudly planning his next robbery or murder on the phone. That is kind of how I feel now.”

Upon reading this review, I reflected on my experiences at the cinema at BM3 and came to a sad acceptance that, save for Big Momma falling through the table and playing twister, there had been little to capture the imagination. However I then recalled the name of Trent’s female alter-ego – Charmaine – and realised that there was something far cleverer at work: irony. Aware that the film was shit, Lawrence – in a flight of inspired fancy – had decided to name one of the characters after a brand of household toilet roll, a move which makes one wonder whether Oscars beckon in the future.

In terms of his future, I – like Peter Bradshaw deep-down – hope that Lawrence recaptures his mojo. However, it’s clear that he has become indistinguishable from Big Momma, a statement backed-up with the following Wiki fact: “during August 1999, Lawrence slipped into a three-day coma after collapsing from heat exhaustion while jogging in 100-degree heat while wearing several layers of heavy clothing. He recovered in the hospital after nearly dying from a body temperature of 107 °F (41.7 °C).” When a man dresses like Big Momma in his spare time, you know things have gone wrong. However, let’s not dwell on the bad. Check out the below link for some classic Momma and go forth and get yo’ tilt on.

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