Sunday, June 24, 2012

Observe & Report: A bipolar film review

I'm sort of a Seth Rogen fan. I wouldn't say that I consider him a top shelf actor like Bale, DeNiro, or DeCaprio, but he's good enough at being the slightly off kilter "every man" that he's interesting in his roles. He has the gift of making his lines seem like real conversation, rather than a heightened sense of what the world is like, set within the illusion of a film's reality. It suits him well in roles that he has played in "Knocked Up" and "Pineapple Express" as well as others. 

In the much maligned film "Observe & Report", he still has that going for him, but it's not abundant. There were a lot of Rogen fans and fans of the Apatow style that were unhappy with the film, Rogen, and director Jody Hill. I'm not one of those people. The first time I saw the film, I was admittedly underwhelmed. I purchased it, sight unseen, mostly because of Rogen, Anna Faris, and Ray Liotta. I let it set for a month or so and decided to watch it again. 

As soon as the film started turning dark, the light went on for me. This isn't a comedy at all in the sense of being a mindless knee slapper.  It's a case study, and a close up look at a mentally ill twenty-something that has had to learn how to be a man and find his way without the help of a stable home life and under the burden of bi-polar disorder. Rogen's character "Ronnie" seems harmless enough and over the top for most of the film. His misinterpretation and fundamental lack of understanding when he is being put on or put down leads to him believing that he should become a police officer. It's at that point, when he stops taking his meds, and is feeling the euphoric high that a person with bi-polar goes through, called "mania". He is on top of the world and everything makes sense to him through a heightened sense of his own subjective reality. 

We get hints that Ronnie has had a terrible upbringing. His mother is a black out drunk, who has no sense of what it means to protect the feelings of her son. His father left early and his mom makes it clear that it was because of Ronnie. It's not likely that Ronnie had any sort of home life that didn't involve imagination and learning how to be a man from television and movies. It's abundantly clear, when hearing his inner monologue that he sees movies and how to live life as being intertwined. Ronnie moves through the film seeing himself as the hero in an action movie and that everyone he encounters are actors in his film, playing their roles. Once the viewer can set aside a preconceived notion of what one believes the film should be doing (being another Superbad) and sees it from the outside as a functioning member of society watching a dysfunctional man fumble his way through the reality that only he knows, it makes it much easier to understand the point of the film, in my opinion. 

Ronnie never sees himself as out of touch or mean. He quickly steers any perceived critique of him as a misdiagnosis from someone who just doesn't "get" him. His mental illness shields him from reality. He can't accept that he is anything less than the movie character he is playing out from minute to minute. He can be forcibly kind and gentle (which in turn makes him NOT kind and gentle), or he can become a raving lunatic that has lost a sense of organized reality. He becomes a pseudo-vigilante, ala Travis Bickle in "Taxi Driver". I could pick around at some scenes to flesh this out a little more, but if someone happens to watch this on my recommendation, I don't want to force my ideals about particular scenes into anyone else's head. I will say this though, only a very few people have a feel for Ronnie and what he is about. Those characters, (his mother, the girl at the coffee stand, and even his boss) understand Ronnie isn't a bad human being, he is just off kilter. His reality isn't everyone else's and that's harmless....until he stops taking his medication because he feels so "right". Anyone who has suffered from or knows people who do suffer from depression and/or bipolar can understand that when you feel good and on top of the world, you REALLY feel good. As if nothing you do can go wrong. It's the crash that comes that drives those people into depressive states where they are the total opposite of where they were. Life becomes miserable and pointless, when you fall down that long flight of stairs from the top to the bottom. All that seemed right and worth being a part of before become wrong, void of meaning, and hopeless. 

If you decide to watch it again or for the first time, I simply ask you to watch it as its own vehicle and don't put expectations on it, based on what you have seen Rogen or Faris in before. Ray Liotta and Anna Faris shine. Ronnie looks up to Liotta as a father figure and Liotta, who doesn't have the first understanding that Ronnie is mentally ill, rejects him at every turn, even to the point where his co-workers feel ashamed. Faris' character is the object of Ronnie's infatuation, and she also has no use for his eccentric ways, mostly because she is so self-centered that she can't even see the obvious signs that Ronnie is mentally ill. Michael Pena, as Dennis, Ronnie's right hand man, is also very good, but underutilized. I hope if you  have seen this before and just didn't like it, that maybe you will give it another chance. It's not a film that everyone can like, nor is it easily understood by anyone who hasn't had to deal with bipolar disorder on some level. If nothing else, the movie should convey that there are people out in the world that we interact with daily that are constantly teetering between practical reality and an internal reality, which are starkly different. 

Thanks for reading, if you got this far. 

An interesting interview with directer Jody Hill from 

Here's the original trailer for the film. It is way too oriented towards the one liners and doesn't give much of a feel for what the movie is about. It's marketing that causes anticipation and expectation and the marketing of this film did nothing to help it, as far as I'm concerned. 


  1. I enjoyed it when I saw it but I think it suffered from being released so close to "Paul Blart: Mall Cop", which was a kids' movie despite having a similar premise. In fact, I described Rogen's character in "Observe & Report" as Paul Blart meets Travis Bickle.

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  3. Paul Blart meets Travis Bickle!!! That's about right Troy!!!