Monday, September 7, 2009

DVD Review: The Ten

David Wain may be one of the most polarizing comedic directors working today. His troupe of comedy friends make up the equally polarizing tandem known to Wain enthusiasts like me as The State. This troupe is definitely an acquired taste. That being said, The State was a way-ahead-of-its-time sketch comedy show that aired on MTV and starred Wain and Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter (all three of Stella fame) and countless others who appeared on Stella, Reno 911!; and in the films Wet Hot American Summer (an underrated comedy from 2001) and Role Models. In his 2007 film The Ten, Wain and longtime writer/collaborator/friend Ken Marino cook up the most absurd comedic tale I’ve seen in a long time. The Ten is like a “goof” (if you’ve seen this movie then you know why I use that word) of The Decalogue. It’s an absurd, irreverent, and sometimes-hilarious comedy. It’s also at times a complete and utter failure.

The premise is set up by Jeff (played by Paul Rudd) who introduces us to his martial problems and then to the plot behind the movie: ten stories each based on one of the Ten Commandments. The film is broken up into ten short films, all loosely sharing characters and themes from previous segments to create one cohesive parable about love (the ending concert explaining all of this is one of those moments were Wain and co. comedic audacity really fails them). Throughout the vignettes we watch Jeff try to reconcile with his wife Gretchen (Famke Janssen) all while having an affair with a young college student named Liz (Jessica Alba). These scenes seem odd and uncomfortable, and not even Rudd’s awkward delivery can help save them (although the pay off to this storyline, which involves the mention of Dianne Wiest, is inspired).

Throughout this interpolated comedic tale there are varying degrees of success when it comes to the vignettes. The film opens with probably its best bit as Adam Brody and Winona Ryder hit it out of the park in their roles. Brody plays Stephen, recently engaged and sky diving for fun. The only problem is he forgets his parachute (“is this a goof” Ryder’s character asks…and in a brief appearance by Jon Hamm he simply states “I don’t goof”) and the result is that Stephen is stuck in the ground, buried from the neck down with one leg sticking out. He’s alive, but if he moves he’ll die. Eventually Stephen’s story catches fire and people want to come visit him. He becomes somewhat of a celebrity, even managing to get his own sitcom called “I’m Goin’ Nowhere” (“I’m like the Marlon Brando of heads” he states in one interview), but it all goes down hill as his fiancĂ©e leaves him and he is left to wallow in his own excess of becoming a god.

In the second story Wain stalwart A.D. Miles pops up trying to hit on librarian Gretchen Moll. She is off to Mexico to search for a passionate romance – and ends up finding a long haired carpenter named Jesus. And yes, it does end up being Jesus Christ (played by Justin Theroux). The story is told through narration mostly supplying a funny take on the clichĂ© How Stella Got Her Groove Back type stories. Miles is always a bright spot in Wain’s films and is hilarious as always, here (you might remember him as the over-achieving big brother that has an affinity for Jane Lynch in Role Models). The third segment feels like the State-iest of them all, and that’s probably due to the presence of Ken Marino who plays a doctor who likes to “goof” his patients. I dare not give away this vignette because it produces the biggest laughs, especially a pitch perfect parody of the CSI/Law and Order shows where Liev Schreiber makes an appearance as mustached detective interrogating Marino’s doctor. Just perfect.

And then…well then it just kind of stops being funny. Instead of laughing out loud like I did through the first three vignettes, I started to merely just chuckle or smile throughout the rest of the movie. The only other moments to elicit a laugh out of me where a bizarre vignette involving Schreiber and his neighbor who covet each others possessions…the possessions being lots and lots of CAT Scan machines.

There’s one last vignette I have to talk about. If you’ve seen the film you know where I’m going. There is a vignette (thou shalt not steal) involving Winona Ryder (who has left Stephen in the ground) falls in love with a ventriloquist dummy. I have to say that the sheer audacity of this bit (and they do take it all the way) is the funniest thing about it. There’s also some great acting by all involved as they do some great music video acting as a song blares over the action. It’s one of the weirdest things I’ve ever experienced because it was simultaneously hilarious and painfully bad.

By the end we’ve endured some hilarious, off-beat comedy, and some real stinkers like an animated vignette about STD’s and a prison rape bit that probably seemed funnier on paper than it came across in execution. And then the whole things end with a musical number that is bizarre in how it hammers the point home. I especially don’t get the point of that last shot.

I will gladly admit that I am an unabashed fan David Wain and his friends. I loved The Sate when it first aired and I have always had an affinity for Wet Hot American Summer. His Role Models last year (also written by Marino and Rudd) was one of the best surprises of the year, and I think funnier than Superbad or Knocked Up. Wain, Marino, Rudd, Showalter, Ian Black, and all the others are an acquired taste, that’s for sure…but I find their irreverence to be some of the most refreshing and atypical humor being offered today. It’s a welcome change from all the normal comedies that hedge their bets, and in spite of its very obvious failings and unfunny moments, The Ten is still worth seeking out for its opening 30 minutes.


  1. I'm also a big fan of Wain and co., loved THE STATE, etc. but your assessment of THE TEN is pretty much how I felt about it too. Some funny bits but some really uneven, clunky bits too. And yes, the Winona Ryder /ventriloquist dummy segment was the highlight for me. Very odd but also funny as hell.

    Have you picked up the box set of THE STATE episodes? It has TONS of extras and it is great to see all of these episodes again, even if most of the music has been replaced.

  2. Kevin,

    Though you specialize in the Italian Horror, I did notice that you patrticipate, or at least advertise, in discourses and 'Thons, hence I wanted to let you know about the James Bond-O-Thon I'm planning for the second week of November. Until then, I'll be reviewing all Bond films in chronological order. Enjoy, and please visit from time to time to see how the Old boy is doing over at
    And of course, you're invited to the November 'Thon.

  3. J.D.:

    I haven't gotten my hands on that box set yet. I can't wait, though. It's next on my list for DVD's to purchase. Sounds like we're pretty much on the same page as this Wain film. What did you think of Role Models? And did you ever watch Cheap Seats on ESPN Classic with Sklar Brothers? A TON of State people do bits on that show. Great stuff.

  4. Squish:

    I will check out your blog-a-thon and see if I can think of any Bond movie I can review for your project. Perhaps a Timothy Dalton one? No one seemed to like those, hehe.

  5. Kevin:

    I have not seen ROLE MODELS yet but I see it is debuting on CineMax soon and I am definitely curious to check it out. Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott look like they make a good team.

    Have not seen CHEAP SEATS either but am familiar with the Sklar Bros. They pop up on all those VH1 shows about pop culture. Pretty funny guys.

    You will LOVE the new STATE DVD set. Awesomeness.

  6. I can't wait to get my hands on that State set. As for Role it as soon as you can. Even though I love Wain and co. it surprised the hell out of me with how good it was.

    A lot of the Cheap Seats best bits are available on Youtube. There's one with Paul Rudd where he collects the white polo shirts of past Spelling Bee champions. It's wonderful. A very State-ish show with an obvious nod to Mystery Science Theater 3000 since the premise of the show is that they watch odd sport shows that ESPN aired back in the day and make fun of them.