"The Wicker Man" is proving what I originally wrote when I first saw the film--it's the funniest comedy of last year. So I'm returning to my original review of LaBute's re-make with some additional comments based on a fresh viewing...
Here's the deal with The Wicker Man-- if Neil LaBute intended the film to be a darkly comedic male nightmare, the kind of vision Norman Mailer wakes up to in a cold sweat, it's a smashing success. If not, I don't know what the hell to make of it. The picture sure didn't scare me (though it may scare men), but it remains weirdly entertaining and at times, hilarious. In fact, since my third viewing of the film, I find myself in the lonely position of defending the picture, albeit with many questions. Though most critics found the film laughably absurd, I think LaBute's Wicker Man might be a work of wickedly hilarious subversion. A cult classic in the making.
After all, LaBute is no stranger to pitch black comedy, particularly between the sexes. Check his Carnal Knowledge salvo's In the Company of Men, Your Friends and Neighbors, The Shape of Things and the softer, gentler Nurse Betty. All films propel the viewer into a world in which men and women say and do despicable things to one another. Because of this, LaBute's often been labeled a misogynist. I've always thought that unfair since his men are frequently worse than his women. If you remember Jason Patric's speech in Your Friends and Neighbors regarding the greatest sex of his life (it involves locker room and...rape), you'll know what I mean. And what about Nurse Betty? Greg Kinnear is the supreme ass in that scenario, not poor confused Renee Zellweger. And I tend to agree with HL Mencken when he said, "a misogynist is a man who hates women as much as women hate each other."
But The Wicker Man? Well...wow. The women making up the matriarchal community Nicolas Cage finds himself stuck in are bad. They are bad-bad. These women will break every man's spirit to the point of not allowing them to speak. Even the cute little blonde girl-children are pint sized bee-otches.
Which is why the picture is intriguing, bizarre and downright daring. Casting Cage was one weird move. Try as he might, there's nothing regular about Nicolas Cage (especially when, in one of the film's now more infamous scenes, he's donning a bear suit) and I think that's the point. When we first see his cop, he's checking out a self-help book in a diner. He's not drinking a cup of Joe or flirting with the waitress, he's thinking of ways to improve his beaten down life. After he witnesses a car accident, he's traumatized, eating psychiatric medication and sitting around his house in a daze.
Soon he's searching for the lost daughter of an ex girlfriend on a remote PNW island inhabited by a bunch of severe, hippie dippy/Amish-looking women (led by Queen Bee Ellen Burstyn) who aren't friendly and treat their few men folk like slaves. At times their community reminded me of certain gals (sorry, womyn) who taught Women's Studies at my old college, The University of Oregon (sorry, that was so easy but so true). It also recalls all those ladies who run goddess shops, wear lots of purple and glare at anyone not shopping with a cotton sack.
Or is this community of bee-keeping, white-wearing lasses an exaggerated portrait of what all women secretly desire? To tame and control their men? Is this LaBute's wickedly funny point?
Again, I don't know. Or rather, maybe I'm choosing to believe that, instead of a bad horror re-make of a cult classic (the original I won't get into but you should see), he's crafted a subversive comic polemic concerning militant feminism. I'd like to think the latter because, well, that's just a lot more interesting.
And again, a lot more amusing. Truly. Because, are we not supposed to laugh when, near the end of the film, Cage delivers a near-roundhouse kick to Leelee Sobieski's face? This nice man (and Cage gives us no reason to think he's anything but) is reduced to his most primal instinct by first punching a woman in the face (shades of Steve McQueen socking Sally Struthers in The Getaway) and in the film's second moment of shock (and humor), pulling out the karate on Sobieski. Please don't misunderstand, I'm not for smacking the ladies, but in this instance, I laughed. I laughed a lot. I also laughed heartily when a tormented Cage screams at his oppressors, "Killing me won't bring back your goddamn honey!" Or when he yammers on and on and with increased vocal volume and speed about the doll. And then there's that bear suit I was talking about....
So please, Mr. LaBute. You meant for me to laugh. Right? Because I strangely enjoyed your movie and I'm not sure if I want to discover even more flaws within myself.
But hey, I am a woman after all.
*Note: Another amusing bit of weirdness. The film is dedicated to Johnny Ramone.
O.K. It's official: I fucking love this movie.