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09 Oct 12

The Watch: Cute Textbook of American Sexual Depravities

Black humour and sensitive tackling of America's social issues and intimacy problems join hands in this smart comedy.

Andrej Klemencic
BIRN Belgrade

In The Watch the story focuses on Evan (Ben Stiller), a senior manager at Costco in a small Ohio town of comfortable middle class houses and Korean-made SUV's.

The Pulitzer Prize winning American poet of Serbian origin Charles Simic said during his recent visit to Belgrade that poetry is so popular in America because it tackles the great internal alienation in American people and in their relation to others and the world around them.

It took a while from the times of Jack Kerouac and Simic for that notion to reach Hollywood. The previous decade of American comedy was marked by Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller who got famous by testing how far they could go without offending the politically correct blockbuster audience.

The films they were in were sometimes hilarious, sometimes tasteless, but underneath the storyline there was always strong criticism of all that is phoney in America.

With time, these comedians got more serious and so did their humour.

In The Watch the story focuses on Evan (Ben Stiller), a senior manager at Costco in a small Ohio town of comfortable middle class houses and Korean-made SUV's.

After his employee is killed and the police seem incompetent to solve the murder, Evan takes justice into his own hands and starts a neighbourhood watch.

He is joined by three men who prefer drinking bear and generally spending some guy time together in the comfort of their living room to chasing murderers.

Yet, the body count increases and soon enough the Watch men discover that they have to defend not only their hometown, but all of humanity – from aliens.

The amount of American issues – stereotypes most Americans are cast in – is extensive and impressively well intertwined with the plot.

Evan compensates for his inability to have a child by ordering people around, while the other members consist of a police candidate who failed all the tests and now wants to get even, an almost single father who is trying to protect his daughter's virginity, and an unusual Englishman.

Despite some flaws in direction, with scenes left to hang for a long time, this film is one of rare examples of American filmmakers dealing with the essential issues of American society in a comedy.

One of the key achievements of this film is to have made a story of three men behaving like children into a highly sophisticated movie.

In no way is our fear and misunderstanding about the perspective which the American rural society has of the world altered by this film. Quite the contrary. The Watch simply does a very good job of putting these things into the context of modern-day America, which is made to look so real that it is almost surreal.

Senior citizens practicing yoga in parks, a wife scheduling sex with her husband, and a 20 something with only primary school education living with his mother, while holding some 20 weapons under his bed are just some of the stereotypes The Watch addresses.

However, at no point does this film critically tackle any of these issues. The key characters are heroes, despite the fact that they are, by normal standards, antiheroes.

The notions of soft racism and homoeroticism which drive small-town male companies are expressed subtly but very clearly. Despite these lines not triggering instant laughter, they make the film complex without losing the simplicity of small town thinking and perspectives which the heroes of the film strive to meet.

The Watch is not an easy film in terms of the heavy topics it speaks of, but it does so in a comic way, otherwise it could have been just another TV drama.

With actors smart enough to know how to deliver sophisticated humour, The Watch is one of the best recent films of the genre. Despite its slow start, it is full of worthwhile moments and deserves nothing but a recommendation.




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