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Blades of Glory

Director: Will Speck, Josh Gordon (II)
Cast: Will Ferrell, Jon Heder, Will Arnett, Amy Poehler, Jenna Fischer

(Paramount; US theatrical: 30 Mar 2007 (General release); UK theatrical: 6 Apr 2007 (General release); 2007)

Review [9.Sep.2007]

Sex Qualms

Is this about my muscular thick thigh?
—Chazz Michael Michaels (Will Ferrell)


As pleased with itself as any other Will Ferrell comedy, Blades of Glory targets buddy and sports movie conventions, and—oh yes—ponders the profound gayness of figure skating. The Ferrell Formula has by now got most of its kinks worked out: the film takes aim at a particular career choice, the protagonist exposes his body and utterly unrockable worldview, and the costar(s) surrender to Ferrellworld, wherein conventional masculinity is undone, again and again. 


As ice skating phenom Chazz Michael Michaels (a.k.a., the “Tsunami of Swagger”), Ferrell this time is loudly ridiculous and oversized, figuratively and literally: he’s gained weight for the part, such that his eyes recede into his fleshy face and belly stretches his spandex costumes. It all goes to show Chazz’s prodigious ego and appetites: a clinically diagnosed “sex addict” (“My personal philosophy,” he boasts, “Clothing optional”) and no-holds-barred competitor, he’s Ricky Bobby times 10. In a word, Chazz loves himself too much.


And so, per formula, he will learn to love someone else. The fact that this someone is a man is Blades’ great gimmick. Not to worry: he and Jimmy (Jon Heder) are not going to be lovers, and in fact they will spend most of the film sniping at one another, for Jimmy is Chazz’s rival on ice, another acclaimed men’s singles champion, introduced as he’s skating a stunning program—with feathers on his butt. But as they come together, the movie suggests that on-screen man-on-man love needn’t be only homophobic, but can be quite homoerotic too.


Of course it sounds familiar, as any buddy movie worth its clichés has been down this road already (usually with guns, as in the cases of Riggs and Murtaugh, Jack Cates and Reggie Hammond or the Bad Boys). Even Talladega Nights, with the peerless John C. Reilly opposite Ferrell, plumbed homo-jokey depths, with inspiration from the been-there-done-that antics of Sacha Baron Cohen. Blades highlights the gay gags by going through figure skating and by emphasizing Jimmy’s pretty girliness. An orphan adopted by self-aggrandizing billionaire Darren MacElroy (William Fichtner), Jimmy is trained to win, his pert blond coif, affection for glitter makeup, and lithe form combining to make him the inverse of Chazz, all manly slobber (he first appears booming through a routine that includes pausing to lick a lady fan on the cheek, his “Up Close and Personal” background spot noting his previous life as an adult film star).


Chazz Michael Michaels (WILL FERRELL, left) and Jimmy MacElroy (JON HEDER)

Chazz Michael Michaels (WILL FERRELL, left) and Jimmy MacElroy (JON HEDER)


Jimmy MacElroy (JON HEDER)

Jimmy MacElroy (JON HEDER)


Chazz and Jimmy’s fierce rivalry leads to a brawl (including a head butt by Chazz) during an awards ceremony: their lips bloodied and their spandex torn, the men are called up before a board that includes the real-life Nancy Kerrigan, Dorothy Hamill, Brian Boitano, and Peggy Fleming. When Chazz informs Kerrigan, “You have officially given me a boner!,” their fate is pretty much sealed. They’re stripped of their medals and banned banned banned from men’s figure skating for life. “That sucks,” snarls Chazz.


Indeed it does. Stuck doing grunt work (Jimmy sells skates to children and Chazz drinks himself into an obstreperous, puky lather before his matinee performances as a wizard in “Griblets on Ice”), they’re inclined to take up the suggestion of Jimmy’s most dedicated stalker-fan Hector (Nick Swardson), that they reenter the circuit skating as a pair. The idea is so preposterous and yet so obvious—figure skating is so “gay!,” after all—that it makes everyone nervous, including fellow skaters who reaffirm to TV interviewers their own hetero-masculine reps (“As if skating isn’t gay enough already!”). The boys’ coach (TV’s Coach, Craig T. Nelson) assures them that the work is het, no matter how many grabbed or smacked crotches they suffer or tutus they must wear during practice with their doubting choreographer Jesse (Romany Malco). Soon they’re performing lifts and leaps no mixed-sex pair can manage (including a doubled faces-in-crotches pose, their discomfited reaction shots providing standard homophobic/-erotic gags).


Their success on ice is conventionally sports-commentated by real-life commentators/former skaters Scott Hamilton and Jim Lampley (“So many moves I’ve never heard of before!”). At once unusual and unsurprising, the boys attract attention of all kinds. “What do you have that no other team has?” demands Coach. “Twin dongs!” yelps Chazz. They also win competitions, which ignites the ire of siblings/reigning champs Stranz and Fairchild Van Waldenberg (Will Arnett and Amy Poehler). Desperate to prevail at all costs (“I would like to hold them down and skate over their throats,” she grumbles), their schemes to ruin their rivals include emotional sabotage, physical assault, and outright kidnapping. Arnett and Poehler’s status as real-life marrieds expands and complicates the movie’s use of well-known actual skating stars to send up the sport, as Stranz and Fairchild’s relationship is overtly exciting them in ways that, in some minds, anyway, might be more disturbing than a gay pair.


The inclusion of the requisite heterosexualizing girlfriend (Jenna Fischer as Jimmy’s squeeze-to-be, Kate) is at once another send-up of skating’s sex uneasiness and the insta-rehabilitation offered by most every buddy movie. Naïve and exotic at the same time (during one of several irrelevant plot diversions, she dons a corset and stance that suggest she’ll crush sweet Jimmy if they get too close). The movie’s funniest bits—and there are a couple—are less specifically about the too obvious gay anxiety than about the sheer strangeness of skating, part sport, part art form, part displacement for any number of broadly cultural sex qualms.


So, in a James-Bondy chase scene on ice, Chazz and Stranz zip down a river in Montreal, trying to reach the World Championships arena and displaying impressive stunts and speed. And then they reach shore, their rage and fierceness suddenly stymied, as they must walk on their glorious blades across pavement and linoleum, their rigid toughness turned all bendy and wobbly. It’s a clever business and it makes a point too, that skating, like so many forms of expression that have been refined into self-referential insularity, is as odd as it is beautiful, as absurd as it is serious. Sex is only the tip of it.

Rating:

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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