'Death to Smoochy' Is Still Hilarious More Than a Decade Later
Death to Smoochy is a 2002 black comedy film directed by Danny DeVito that -- despite being an initial flop -- is remembered fondly to this day. It's the sort of film you wouldn't go to the movies to see, but you'll watch it over and over on Blu-ray, and if there's a t-shirt, you'll buy it.
I first saw Death to Smoochy when it was airing on cable, and since then, I've been hooked. I must've seen it thirty times. One of the greatest things about it is probably its all-star cast.
After all, who could forget Robin Williams as Rainbow Randolph, the kid's show host whose underhanded dealings paved the way for Smoochy the Rhino?
What's hilarious about Rainbow is that he wasn't even that bad by Hollywood standards. Most people in Hollywood are pedophiles and sex offenders. All Rainbow Randolph did was let fame go to his head. He got greedy, took bribes, and became the scum of the Earth overnight.
But I suppose it largely has to do with the fact that kid's show hosts are all expected to be these pure, childlike people. We hold them to a higher standard and basically expect them to be saints.
So Pee Wee Herman getting busted at a porn show was a pretty big deal back in the day.
And I guess I don't blame people. Could you imagine if Mr. Rogers had been caught taking bribes? The outrage would have been perpetual and unending.
Thankfully, Mr. Rogers died a sweet, gentle old man with his pure reputation intact.
There was also Nora (Catherine Keener) who I've always loved because she wasn't written as some sexist man's idea of a woman. In other words, she wasn't an ignorant stereotype. Nor was she a caricature or a Strong Female Character trope.
Nora was an actual strong female character, meaning she was written well. She had an arc that was all her own, and she had goals that did not revolve around the male lead.
Nora is a jaded, hardened producer who went into the business wide-eyed and naive and became cold and cynical over the years as she watched host after host prove himself to be a fake, selfish, and in it for the cash.
Nora desires a man with a childlike heart of gold, which is why she jumps from kid's show host to kid's show host. When she first meets Sheldon, it's pretty obvious it is love at first sight: she stands there smiling absently at him and is touched by the fact that he's trying so desperately to help drug addicts. When she first speaks to him, she calls him sweet.
At the same time, however, she is still cynical and hardened from all the dirty show hosts she has witnessed over the years. To protect her heart, she refuses to believe that Sheldon is the real deal and is initially pretty cold toward him.
You could almost say Nora was a stereotype ice queen with a secret soft heart. So in a way, I guess she was a trope. But honestly? It could have been worse. Sadly, we live in a world where we have to take what good female representation we can get in film.
What's more, Nora was depicted as a human being, allowed to have a full range of emotions, from angry to sad to vulnerable to confident. And the best part? If anyone tried to be a sexist ass and put her down for expressing the same anger men express without criticism -- she would punch them.
There's a scene where Nora and Sheldon (aka Smoochy the Rhino aka Edward Norton) are arguing. Sheldon almost calls Nora a bitch, and she looks as if she's going to leap up and deck him out flat. Later, Rainbow Randolph actually calls her a bitch and she punches him out (hilarious!).
Another great thing about Nora? She isn't the only important female character in the plot!
Most of the time, a movie will have only one token woman (because we women are so rare!) while focusing mostly on a bunch of men. It's pretty sad to say, but this film was actually kind of groundbreaking for being a male focused comedy that still managed to include not one but two women.
Think about this.
Most comedy films with male leads only feature one woman, who solely exists to be the romantic interest -- because that's all women are, right? We're mothers and sisters and and daughters and love interests and we can't be anything more!
Wrong. Tommy Cotter craps all over that concept by being depicted as the badass leader of a scary mob, the owner of a restaurant (so an entrepreneur), and the flaunter of some seriously awesome hair.
The supporting cast was also pretty great. Danny DeVito, Danny Woodburn, Jon Stewart, and Harvey Fierstein were all equally hilarious and pretty great in their roles.
Harvey Fierstein was the villain of the story, but because he didn't know how to be scary or intimidating (I mean, I just don't think he had it in him), he came off as just a bad guy who made you tee hee.
Of course, this was a comedy, so that didn't matter at all, really.
And of course, there was Edward Norton as Sheldon Mopes/Smoochy the Rhino.
I thought Edward Norton was perfect. I only had one issue with his portrayal.
Sheldon is supposed to be this super pure-hearted guy, so the end scene where he almost shoots Burke is supposed to be shocking, something that surprises the audience.
We are given little hints throughout the film that Sheldon has anger management issues, but when it comes time to show them . . . Norton doesn't deliver.
Norton didn't really shock me or frighten me. He was supposed to go psycho and be enraged, but even in what was supposed to be his big scene, he was just . . . so soft and adorkable.
The peaceful Buddha guy was supposed to totally flip out, but the rage is not believable. It isn't even there.
Much like Harvey Fierstein, I don't think Edward Norton had that sort of rage in him. Kinda ironic, then, that they would cast him as the Hulk.
Norton's inability to play a soft guy who can flip into a terrifying rage is probably a part of the reason why Ang Lee's Hulk was so bad.
I'm not holding it against Norton, though. He's a pretty great actor otherwise.
Another thing I really loved was the story and its happy ending.
When the credits roll and everything is said and done, Angelo gets to wear a suit (instead of another humiliating costume) and is the announcer during the post-movie show.
This is significant because so many little people are reduced to ridiculous roles in show business, and it's pretty rare that they are allowed serious ones (Peter Dinklage's career is something of an anomaly regarding little people). So Angelo getting to wear a suit with dignity instead of traipsing around in a clown costume was a subtle but noteworthy nod to his own happy ending.
Rainbow Randolph, meanwhile, not only saved Sheldon's life but also got his time slot back, returning to daytime television as a friend of Smoochy. The scene at the end where they dance together is so cute and uplifting, especially when Nora comes out and "flies" with them.
Yeah. This is a film I could just watch over and over. It's funny, uplifting, warmhearted, and -- as Sheldon Mopes would say -- there's no negative, offensive energy about it that would bring down my chi.
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