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Get Him to the Greek (2010)

WARNING: SPOILERS, INIT?

The sadness that permeates the comedy “Get Him to the Greek” has less to do with the polite desperation of record flak Aaron Green (Jonah Hill), who has 72 hours to get notorious rocker Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) from England to the eponymous theater in Los Angeles, nor with the ultimate emptiness of Snow’s dissolute, rock n’ roll life; it has to do with the state of rock n’ roll itself.

In each of the cities we visit in the movie, we get a quick spin through the musical landmarks—Whiskey A Go Go in L.A., Abbey Road in London, Roseland in N.Y.—and each feels less homage than memorial. Ah yes, I remember a time when music was central to our culture instead of whatever it is now: a sometimey, YouTube-y thing where real musicians fight for attention with your Mileys and Jonases, your “Britain’s Got Talent” and your “David After Dentist.” And lose. I remember when we listened, really listened to music, lying on the living room floor and reading the liner notes while the entire album played, instead of whatever it is we do now: downloading an MP3 file and playing it on shuffle in the background while we do busy work in the foreground. Oh, this is a good song. Love this song. Who is it by again?

At least “Greek” doesn’t pretend, the way “Be Cool” pretended, that the current music industry isn’t dying. It knows it’s dying. That’s why the president of Pinnacle Records in L.A., Sergio Roma (Sean 'P. Diddy' Combs), gathers his troops to hear their ideas. It’s also why they don’t have any. Some dude mentions a new discovery, the Next Big Thing, but this is a guy who always sees the Next Big Thing and his idea is dimissed with a flick of the wrist. That’s when Aaron Green pipes up about Aldous Snow. It’s the 10th anniversary of his show at the Greek Theater in L.A. Why not bring him back for an anniversary show—which can have all of these ancillary ways of making dough: PPVs and marketing tie-ins and what have you? Wouldn’t it be cool? It would. But Green, too, is dismissed. His idea is looking backward rather than forward.

Snow, whose character first appeared in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” is one of those thin-hipped, bad-boy, British rockers, and the movie opens in the late ’90s with him at his peak: shooting a video called “African Child,” with his girlfriend, model Jackie Q (Rose Byrne). But he’s an idiot and this is his moment of excess. He wants to be political, he wants to be relevant, and even mumbles something about the war in Darfour, and how “That isn’t right, is it?,” before singing an insane song about a white African Christ from space. Played by him. It’s “We are the World” meets David Bowie meets ick. The song bombs, his career is in shambles, while Jackie Q’s new music career takes off. She’s sexy and sings absurd, hilarious songs about sex (“Supertight”; “Ring ‘Round (My Rosie)”). She’s her own Pussycat Doll. She is what we have now instead of musicians: canned voices flouting sex.

Of course Roma comes around to the 10th anniversary concert and sends Green to England to bring back Snow. No small task. Green is polite, provincial, and in awe of the rock star. He’s a non-celebrity who has no leverage against a celebrity other than his honesty, which, initially, he refuses to use. Snow sizes him up and immediately finds him wanting.

Jonah Hill made his name as the street-smart half of duos—to Michael Cera’s fumbling geek in “Superbad” and Seth Rogen’s starstruck geek in “Funny People”—so this is really new ground for him. He’s drawing comedy not from telling us uncomfortable truths about ourselves but showing us an uncomfortable version of ourselves: the American abroad who doesn’t know foreign (even British) customs; the non-celebrity in the celebrity world. He’s good at it. His line-reading of “Europe,” after he kisses a Brit on both cheeks, French-style, still makes me smile.

Brand is in another orbit. He’s perfect. He plays Snow complex: both unaware and superaware; both dissolute and frightened. There’s something about Brit comedians, the lack of the wink, that’s almost scary, and Brand has that quality. Given all this, the movie should be funnier. It’s funny, I laughed many times, and along with “African Child” we get great parodies of punk (“The Clap”), soaring rock ballads (“Bangers, Beans and Mash”), and gangster rap (“F**k Your S**t Up”), but I expected more. Maybe the film’s need to get warm and fuzzy tempered the humor. Maybe it got bogged down in Snow’s troubles with his father (Colm Meany). Maybe P Diddy’s suddenly psychotic record executive comes out of left field, or the menage a trois between Snow, Green, and Green’s girlfriend, Daphne (Elisabeth Moss of “Mad Men”), a resident doctor, pushes the envelope without pulling along the humor, or maybe Snow finally performing the Greek concert with a bone sticking out of his forearm is more unnecessary envelope-pushing that distracted from the proceedings.

Or maybe the movie just can’t overcome the sadness of its premise. A rock legend has to rush to get on the freakin’ “Today Show”? To do a lame 10th anniversary concert? It’s all look back. The dying music world still belongs to the Jackie Qs:

Ride Me
Inside Me
Super tight
Boom Boom
Shake A Room
Like It's Dynamite

That’s funny and it isn’t.

—June 24, 2010

© 2010 Erik Lundegaard