The Offender: Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
The Crime: Asking us to care about a “common man” who just happens to be uncommonly intolerable; showcasing all the nuance of an earthworm; making the already wooden Gary Cooper even less sympathetic than usual.
The Facts: Allegedly good natured and innocent because of his rural leanings, Deeds spends the entire movie looking down his nose at people more educated, more sophisticated, and especially those less prone to using violence as a means of solving problems. When cornered or, hell, even challenged, Deeds threatens to use his fists to get his own way. Paranoid, self-righteous, and possessing all the mental acuity of a brain-rattled lummox, Deeds proves conclusively that Capra’s idea of populism was simply stiff-necked elitism in reverse.
The Sentence: Two hours in a library, a year at college, and a night at the opera.
The Offender: Guido Orefice (Roberto Benigni), Life is Beautiful
The Crime: Trivializing mass slaughter; assuming that laughter and escape are the best weapons in the face of a military juggernaut; getting us to actually sympathize with the 20th century’s most vile madman.
The Facts: Guido spares us the only real reason to endure this claptrap by dying off-screen, which is about the greatest crime imaginable given the circumstances. Still, Guido is a fortunate man indeed, having found the one meat grinder in all of
Europe that just happens to let its prisoners walk around freely as if away at summer camp. The guards are about as menacing as Keystone Cops, the showers and ovens conveniently hidden beneath green grass and gumdrops, and Guido’s tale so fanciful and sugar-coated that I half expected Hitler himself to burst from the shadows in clown feet and a rubber nose.
The Sentence: Not only must Guido watch his son shipped down Zyklon way, he is to face the zombified remains of the 6 million, who are at liberty to tear him to ribbons.
The Offender: Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts), Erin Brockovich
The Crime: Using her tits to cover her obscene lack of wit, intelligence, ability, or competence; bullying co-workers and clients alike with shrill shrewness; having three kids by three different fathers and blaming others for her own rotten choices; sucking off anyone with a checking account.
The Facts: No single female character has ever made two hours so intolerably long quite like old Erin, a woman who applies for an office job as if auditioning for Cocks and Cunts III, then expresses moral indignation when she’s judged for it. She works on her terms and her own schedule, while steadfastly refusing to check in, update the man paying her salary, or even give him the courtesy of deference. Worst of all, her martyr complex, combined with an unparalleled sense of entitlement, reduces the suffering of others to how it makes her feel. That, and she has the brass balls to hold in contempt those who actually attended law school and made something of their lives.
The Sentence: As the real-life Brockovich blew her entire fortune on plastic surgery, hair bleaching, and homes later found to be infested with bacteria, no further punishment is necessary. Just to be mean, though, I might force her to sit through her own movie.
The Offender: Christine Jesperson (Miranda July), Me and You and Everyone We Know
The Crime: Severe solipsism masked as quirky self-awareness; turning each and every moment of her day into a piece of performance art; insisting on good cheer in the face of crippling sadness; perpetuating the tired notion that there’s beauty in the everyday.
The Facts: From her shoes, to her hairstyle, to her job (she drives old people around), she’s the dark side of non-conformity, where the very world deemed evil keeps her afloat by paying her bills, cleaning her apartment, and flattering her for having the courage to buck civilization. At the very least, she’s made it that much harder to classify and punish retardation, as her ticks and trembles lead to dates and respect, not dank rubber rooms lacking sharp edges and sunlight. If confused, check out the scene where she portrays both a man and a woman in love. Rewind it, and watch it again. The prosecution rests.
The Sentence: An actual job, and stiff probation whereby all recording equipment, paint, makeup, and writing utensils are forbidden for no less than five years. I’d also insist on raping and mutilating her parents in front of her eyes, but instead of racking sobs and suicidal depression, she’d be more likely to turn such a tragedy into a book-length monologue about chirping like a bird and flapping her arms while walking to the cemetery every Sunday morning.
The Offender: Sam (Natalie Portman),
The Crime: Substituting twee mannerisms and unbearable cuteness for “character”; using epilepsy as a convenient cover for her forays into the ridiculous; having the uniquely annoying ability to find companions even more infuriating than herself so as to distract us from her damage to civilization.
The Facts: She buries hamsters, the Tribble of the animal kingdom, in a mammoth pet cemetery as if presiding over Arlington, and assumes a position of self-righteousness when others hint that she might out of her fucking mind. Without a trace of irony, she sits fully clothed in a bathtub and asks a grown man if she can collect his tears in a
Dixie cup. As if to push pain to a truly unexplored realm, she tops it all off with an impromptu tap dance in front of a fireplace, but only after she says that her faux seizure, resembling the death throes of a retard having been denied a piece of pie, is her way of feeling original. By performing an activity never before tried in all of human history, she can erase the sins of cliché and predictability. Alas, she never realized that putting on a silly hat and mumbling non-sequiturs would be just as revolutionary even while plunging a dagger into her carotid artery.
The Sentence: Complete and utter solitude. Without an audience, she’d shrivel up and die in the space of an hour.