The trailers have been hilarious, we all loved Ted and Family Guy, and Seth MacFarlane is a modern day renaissance man, so it wasn’t hard to believe that this was going to be good. But I’ll admit, I had my reservations. This is MacFarlane’s first major turn in front of the camera as an actor, and not a cartoon or a teddy bear. Also, it’s a western/comedy–not an easy genre to tackle. That said, it was fucking hilarious and any doubts were quickly assuaged.
The actors are all awesome, but I’ll start with my fav: NPH (Neil Patrick Harris) as Foy stole the scene a couple of times – which is par for the course – as the gloriously mustachioed small-town rich guy, and even got to swing one of his well-known How I Met Your Mother lines, “Challenge accepted!” and made it work! Not sure if that was improvised or if the script was tweaked after NPH was confirmed, but either way, it landed.
Charlize Theron is really doing awesome with the comedic turn. She’s done mostly dramas, sci-fi and thrillers in her career, and this is nothing against them, but her turn in Young Adult and now this – a more in-your-face kind of comedy – have been, I think, even a little better. She can showdown with her character Anna’s hubby Clinch (Liam Neeson) one minute, and make even Albert (MacFarlane) laugh the next.
Liam Neeson may be billed toward the top, but his character was not that present in the storyline until the end. However, it was a lot of fun to see him do comedy and play outlaw for a while, and it was funniest when Anna covered up his ass-crack with a little yellow daisy. (You’ll see what I mean after you watch the film.)
The cameos were so much fun, and again, true to MacFarlane style: I have to mention the one with Christopher Lloyd as Doc (yes, from Back to the Future) because it’s so Seth MacFarlane to throw in a completely crazy-ridiculous pop culture/film buff reference into a movie and have us laugh our asses off and applaud him all the more for it.
Well, since the cat’s outta the bag… pic.twitter.com/z4KL6C0i6N
— Seth MacFarlane (@SethMacFarlane) May 22, 2014
Also, real-life friend of MacFarlane’s, Bill Maher, turns up as the emcee/stand-up host of a hoedown/hootenanny that Albert and Anna attend. Ryan Reynolds pops in just long enough for Clinch to shoot him to prove a point. Alex Borstein stops by to play the Madam at the whorehouse where Ruth (the always hilarious and irreverent Sarah Silverman) works. Gilbert Gottfried steps in to give a commencement speech as Abraham Lincoln. Ewan McGregor shows up at the fair for a quick moment, and I believe I saw Fred Armisen peeking out of one of the windows in town toward the end, but I can’t be sure.
I want to mention Giovanni Ribisi as Edward and Sarah Silverman as Ruth as well. While their characters weren’t really that crucial plot-wise, both of them were hilarious. For once, Silverman doesn’t have to play the uptight uber-feminist bitch (see School of Rock, The Bachelor) and she gets to be her off-color completely wonderfully funny self, only here as a Christian prostitute in the 1880s. And Ribisi, if you liked his little turn in Ted, you’ll love him here. A little bit sweet, a little shy, and the perfect blend of weird and silly.
Story, Humor, and Substance
The story is pretty basic, but it doesn’t feel simplistic. It feels like a western, believe it or not. Guy gets dumped by the pretty girl (Amanda Seyfried). Guy wants to leave town because the frontier is stupid and everything out there is basically trying to kill him. Guy meets new pretty girl pretending to be a new settler (Theron). Girl teaches guy how to shoot to win a contest against his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend (NPH). Guy and girl fall in love. Guy has to showdown with girl’s husband (Neeson) in order to prove himself and win girl back. But then there’s so much hilarious, ridiculous, incredibly fun stuff happens in the middle of all that, too, that it totally works.
I have to hand it to MacFarlane. As Albert, he went above and beyond expectations. And, behind the camera, the musical numbers were terrific, the photography was everything you could want from a western – which is to say it was gorgeous – and he really captured the sweetness as well as the humor in the performances from the actors. A+, sir. Well fucking done.
I think what I liked best about the comedy element was that it made fun of the setting, 1882 in Arizona, as much as it did the characters’ circumstances. Yes, Albert gets peed on while hiding in his flock of sheep and Louise (Seyfriend) sucks on the end of Foy’s mustache, but the absurdity of the setting–the mayor’s dead body getting dragged off by wolves and the camera blowing up at the fair – were even more fun, and to me, were much cleverer.
While there have been a few western comedies, Wild Wild West (don’t remind you, I know), Shanghai Noon, etc, the last iconic western comedy we had was Blazing Saddles, which was terrific, but I think this one takes the cake. On the other hand, I really don’t feel like they should be compared that closely. Blazing Saddles was more of a parody, dredging up every trick in the western film genre book, and A Million Ways felt more like a western that happens to be a comedy rather than a comedy making fun of westerns.
I am not a huge fan of westerns in general, but this is not some slow-moving, cookie-cutter drama with sweeping views, so if you don’t like westerns, that should be no reason to keep you away. Not sure what the consensus is as far as MacFarlane feature films go this early in the game, but you know what, I liked A Million Ways WAY better than Ted.
Last Little Sidenotes
My favorite scene: the CGI scene where Albert takes drugs with the Indians and trips BALLS. Dancing, mustachioed sheep, Alice in Wonderland-esque views of Louise and Anna, giant vultures with ridiculous, gargantuan testicles. Mere words cannot capture the hilarity of that sequence. However, there are many more quotable scenes to keep you yukking it up, believe me.
I want to mention the novelization as well, under the same title, penned by Seth MacFarlane. He is a true renaissance man as he not only co-wrote the screenplay but also converted it into novel-form. Writing a novel is not easy, even when you have substantial source material to work with. I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but having seen the film and now having read some of the book, I want to finish it. It has been laugh-out-loud funny so far, and it’s really interesting how much color and background he was able to add in the novelization without the visual substance he’s used to, while still making it entertaining.
One last thing: Props to Wellesley Wild and Alec Sulkin, MacFarlane’s co-writers on the screenplay, as well. I am certain that their lines and their humor pervade the film just as much as MacFarlane’s does, though I suspect their contributions are being a little underwritten since they are not in the spotlight to the same extent.
A Million Ways to Die in the West is uproarious, clever, irreverent, and iconic Seth MacFarlane. If you’ve liked any of his previous work, I feel confident in telling you to go see this movie! You’ll laugh, you’ll cringe, and walk out wanting to watch it all over again.
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