Film

Envy (2004)

Cynthia Fuchs

Scheduled to open a year ago, Envy is as dopey, uninventive, and smug as you'd expect from a movie that's 'all from shit'.


Envy

Director: Barry Levinson
Cast: Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Rachel Weisz, Amy Poehler, Christopher Walken
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: DreamWorks
First date: 2004
US Release Date: 2004-04-30

Tim Dingman (Ben Stiller) and Nick Vanderpark (Jack Black) are best friends and neighbors. Every morning in Envy, they don their uniforms (short-sleeved dress shirts and ties, off-the-rack slacks and jackets), eat breakfast with their families (pert stay-at-home wives and two kids each), and carpool to work (a sandpaper plant, where Tim has a plastic-wood-walled office and Nick toils just under him). On summer evenings, they have dinner outside in a bugs-away tent on Tim's property, as their young sons entertain with a sort of "music" -- noise made with harmonica and trash can lid.

They're not precisely content, but neither are they precisely restless. Tim does point out that Nick could "get ahead" (get an office like his), if only he would improve the ratings on his "focus" chart at work (which fall into the "red zone"). But Nick's a dreamer. His latest idea, inspired as they drive to work and spot a dog owner plastic-bagging a pile of poo, is a spray that will annihilate turds, so that such handling will become unnecessary. When Nick raises the possibility with his unimaginative buddy, even asks him to pitch in $2000 for the start-up, Tim dismisses him, encouraging him again to get some "focus." But Nick pursues his ambition, enlisting the help of a "chemist" at work, and before long, he's invented "Va-poo-rize," a product he takes to hawking on infomercials. Voila, he's a gajillionaire.

Rather than move off to Bel Air, however, Nick remains on his property in the Valley. When he erects a humongous mansion across the street from his favorite neighbor Tim, well, it's just too much. Not only does Tim feel bad for his own failures, but he's also encouraged to self-hate by wife Debbie (Rachel Weisz, who does her best to pretend she's got an actual role here), who reminds him daily of the chance he blew. Tim succumbs to jealousy ("It's all from shit!" he mutters repeatedly), his obvious simmering wholly missed by blissfully oblivious Nick. He and his wife, Natalie (Amy Poehler), consume conspicuously, crowding up their yard with gaudy stuff: yellow Lamborghini, carousel, pool, archery range and go-cart track, and a beautiful white horse named Corky, who lives in the backyard.

Tim is increasingly beset by the excess displayed each day: Nick tends to drop by, as of old, but now dressed up in the tackiest expensive garb imaginable: "Knockety knockety!" he yaps, puffed up with giddy excitement at the good fortune he likes to share with his friends. What he fails to notice (since he lacks "focus") is that his gifts (elaborate coffeemaker, new clothes, new toys for the kiddies) and his generosity (bringing Tim along to golf at the local country club) only make Tim more miserable, making him feel impotent and dumb and mad at the cosmic injustice of it all.

The plot -- such as it is -- sort of kicks in when Debbie wearies of Tim's increasing obsession with what he thinks he's missing, and leaves him ("for a few days"), taking the kids to stay with her New Agey sister, the mercifully unseen Windsong. At his wits' end, Tim blows up at his boss down at the sandpaper plant, and loses his job ("There he is," Tim grimaces, "with the wind in his hair on his big shiny horse!"). Enter J-Man (Christopher Walken, recycling the same character he's been working for 20 years), a caricature of a "bum" whom Tim meets at a seedy roadside bar.

After a few drinks, J-Man encourages his new buddy Tim to seek revenge against the "unfairness" he perceives (or, as J-Man puts it, to "shake things up"). In the scenario envisioned by J-Man, Tim is not the goat, but the hero of this script, the little guy who will eventually triumph. And so, Tim roars home, inebriated; when he acts out his underdog rage and weasely misery in the most unintelligible way possible, inadvertently wreaking havoc.

The fallout is exceedingly muddled and slow-moving, with occasional asides concerning the absurdities of political campaigns (Natalie runs for office, and is confronted with persistent questions concerning her husband's invention: "Where does the poo go?"), gizmos out of control, and penis size anxiety. Such disjointedness is only underlined by occasional time-outs for Black or Stiller to act out his signature silliness. Perhaps these scenes, usually comprised of rambling monologues, are improvised, and perhaps they're scripted (Steve Adams is assigned blame for the screenplay, though Larry David reportedly came up with the original story), but either way, they're monotonous. Black and Stiller have similarly lurchy histories (sometimes brilliant, sometimes idea-less, sometimes floating in between), as does their director, Barry Levinson (from Diner to Toys, Avalon to Bandits). Scheduled to open a year ago, Envy is as dopey, uninventive, and smug as you'd expect from a movie that's "all from shit."

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image