Aug 27, 2018
Welcome back to Matinee Monday! Every now and again, sometimes you have to watch the movie you want to watch, not the one you should watch. This past weekend had a lot of interesting films to see, but only one that seemed crazy enough to be worthwhile. I’ll let you know in a minute if it was, but if you want to see another comedy in the same almost blasphemous vein, check out “The Little Hours” (Episode #100), “Mom and Dad” (Episode #126), and “Deadpool 2” (Episode #141). Today’s movie is definitely not for kids... unless you happen to be my daughter.
Today’s movie is “The Happytime Murders” (2018), the debut film from Henson Alternative, a new R-rated look at the beloved Muppet franchise. The film was directed by Brian Henson and written for the screen by Todd Berger, based on a story developed in collaboration with Dee Austin Robertson. The film follows Phil Philips (Bill Barretta), a puppet private investigator who teams up with his former human partner on the LAPD, Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) to investigate a series of murders linked to a 1980s human/puppet show called The Happytime Gang.
It was a Saturday afternoon when my family pulled up to theater. It was strangely empty. The parking was too good. I was nervous, waiting for the worst. I pulled out my phone and checked in using a movie application ticketing service that does not yet sponsor this podcast. Still asks for a ticket verification, but that’s okay, it’s still free. I think. The terms and conditions have been changing faster than the backstage at a burlesque.
The cashier looked at us, a seemingly happy family, buying three tickets using three red cards, for a film that has a giant warning banner reading in big, bold letters “NOT SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN”. As if the murder part wasn’t a big clue, but you know kids today, with their streaming services and their zombie shows and their fantasy shows. Hell, this film couldn’t be that bad, subject material wise, could it? My daughter wasn’t going to be scarred for life. Was she?
We walked into the theater, full of reclining seats, the first ones there. I posted a tweet to let folks know it was really happening, and we watched the crowd filter in, in twos and threes, and thank Henson, another family. A few previews, and we were dropped right into the middle of the shitstorm of human / puppet Los Angeles, the darkest, seediest possible version, where puppets are treated like all the marginalized groups thrown together, suffering from lack of opportunities and mean sugar addictions. It doesn’t seem too bad, maybe a tad risqué, but then we arrive at the porn shop / studio.
Remember that family that filtered in? The commentary we heard behind us was fierce, watching a puppet octopus milk a puppet cow, so disgusting that even our hero, Phil Philips, asks for the curtain to be closed. And that was the tip of a very large iceberg of jokes, everything from sexual deviancy involving three to four cans of silly string, to, I guess it would be puppetist humor. It’s a pre-production code noir film updated for the modern day and involving puppets, and I couldn’t have enjoyed it more.
Of course, the film had its flaws, the kind of flaws that only come from trying too hard to be another film. It felt like every seedy detective story ever written, becoming a vessel to deliver enough gags to make sure every occupied seat knew that these weren’t the puppets from your childhood. It secretly taunts the audience, letting us know that this is what happens when you don’t appreciate their nicer content. It’s what happens when you use and throw away puppets, as if they weren’t cultural members of our sick and twisted society, conveyors of manufactured memories.
Does that make me a monster? Does it make Henson Alternative a monster? Does it even matter anymore, now that this film has let the cat out of the bag? I was looking for an R-rated puppet movie and I got one, not the one I wanted, but the one I deserved, made as if they wouldn’t get another chance, throwing it all in the mix, no matter how raunchy or violent. And you know what? I liked it. Not loved it, but liked it, and I have a feeling that once the critics have had their bloody frenzy, and all the pearls have been clutched, and when it makes its early exit from the theaters for streaming services, will find its audience, me among them, enjoying a future cult classic, no matter its flaws, flaws like another simile I couldn’t think of before having to record this episode.
“The Happytime Murders” (2018) is a raunchy and outrageous film noir comedy, that definitively answers the question of what an R-rated Henson film would look like. It has its flaws, but it also has its strengths, and I sincerely hope it’s the first in a very long franchise, especially a prequel story. Fans of The Jim Henson Company who are not squeamish about adult humor and situations should definitely see this film, and appreciate it for what it is. Everyone else should watch the red-band trailers and decide for themselves, because they give you a pretty good idea what you are in for.
Rotten Tomatoes: 22%
One Movie Punch: 7.0/10
“The Happytime Murders” (2018) is rated R and is currently playing in theaters.