Directed by David Gordon Green
Starring Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Zoey Deschanel, Charles Dance, Toby Jones, Damian Lewis, Justin Theroux, Rasmus Hardiker
Written by Danny McBride, Ben Best
Your Highness didn’t seem to have anything going for it, beyond what one might expect from the movies of Cheech and Chong and Bob and Doug McKenzie. Acting like an ass is timeless; it doesn’t matter the century. That said, from the opening scenes, which jump in and out of comic book to a comic reality, it has an even keel. Is Danny McBride’s Thadeous a pothead? Yeah, sort of. If that was all, it would have been a disappointment. That’s not all.
James Franco, so effective in a straight on performance in 127 Hours, is the straight man, Fabious, as far as that goes. He has many lines that seem just weird. Anyone familiar with the writing style of McBride and co-writer Best (The Foot Fist Way, Eastbound & Down) know that there are no particularly straight characters. Fabiousis the hero of the royal family, and every thing is hunky dory for him. He loves his brother, even if he gets that jealous vibe every once in a while.
Thadeous is harmless enough, for a pothead who is more than a little fixated on the womanly parts. His role as the younger brother pretty much is low expectations…yielding even lower results. His assistant, Courtney (a clever and relatively new to American audiences Rasmus Hardiker), is smarter than his boss. Smart enough, it is clear, than to disagree with Thadeous’ habit of blaming every failure on him.
Back at the kingdom, their father, played by the wonderful Charles Dance, laments the younger son’s misdeeds while glorying in those of Fabious, who has just arrived from saving the virgin Belladonna (an intriguingly wacky Deschanel), whom he intends to marry. After Thaddeous agrees and then reneges on being best man, Fabious’ wedding is ruined when the evil sorcerer Leezar (Thoreaux) arrives with his mothers, a trio of witches, and reclaims Belladonna. From here, we have the quest to reclaim Belladonna. This time Thadeous is ordered to come along. Along the way, they meet with Isabel, a mysterious woman on a quest of her own. Thadeous does as little as possible to accomplish the mission, until he is forced, of course, to rise to the occasion.
The acting in this film is slightly better than I would expect from something so obviously derivative. All the principals appear to be having fun, but not at the expense of
the threadbare story. What makes it better are the performances of Hardiker and Dance. Their appeal is diverse. Dance, an accomplished screen actor who has made very few missteps on screen, gives the feeling of royalty without feeling stuffy in the slightest. On the contrary, Hardiker’s performance is delightfully brilliant in its simplicity. He is mistreated, but he is way too smart to ever speak up over it. His reactions are at once acquiescent and hilariously on cue. His performance, in particular, is key to enjoying this film.
The rest of the picture is pretty tepid, but moves along fast enough with little time for sentimental hogwash. Portman gives her best performance in years, and I am counting her overrated performance in Black Swan. If it sounds like an insult, well, there is always Broadway. Deschanel is toned down a bit as well, which is a welcome relief. I was beginning to believe that every role was going to be 500 Days of Summer. Damian Lewis and Toby Jones, as two turncoats, are effective and somewhat humorous, in a contrast to their normal performances.
Director David Gordon Green has made a film different from Pineapple Express. Neither one of them are particularly brilliant, but they allow the talent to breathe a bit, and to rise and fall on its own merits or faults. Among my favorites is the ludicrous look of Jones’ character and the word they use for what is to be performed on Belladonna. As a hint, it rhymes with “The Quickening.” I have not seen any of Green’s dramas, but if he truly is as heavily influenced by Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life, The Thin Red Line and Days of Heaven), I have yet to see it. This film is worth a Saturday night at home, especially if you want to see some potential comic genius in Hardiker, or some one everyone should see more of in Dance.
As for McBride; the guy is a true talent. He makes some strange choices here and there, but his original approach brings more to the game. That he is willing to play the fool is a decent trait, so long as you don’t wander into Randy Quaid territory. Something tells me that won’t happen. Thank Your Highness.
(*** out of *****)