Ben Stiller is one of the more popular comedic actors of my generation. Whether he’s in the lead role of a movie or just does a cameo or bit part, people tend to rave about his performance. When he shows up on an awards show, people talk about it for weeks. He’s got uber-famous parents (for their day, anyway) and there’s no doubt that he’s got a lot of talent.
The thing is, I don’t always like his movies.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say I dislike most of his movies, especially lately.
I know it’s an unpopular view to have, but I’d like to expound on it.
I first remember seeing Ben Stiller in a hip comedy that my older sister introduced me to called Reality Bites. He and Ethan Hawke and Winona Ryder and Janeane Garofolo and Steven Zahn (totally under-rated and under-appreciated, by the way) made this a great flick, and when I saw it at the age of 14, I probably wasn’t even old enough to fully appreciate it. Someone should remind me to see it again. Even without a re-watch, I still consider it one of Ben Stiller’s best roles.
Somewhere before Reality Bites, there was The Ben Stiller Show. Although one of my best friends loved it, I think I only caught an episode or two. That was back before TiVo and I didn’t ever set the VCR for any of the 13 episodes. I wasn’t a fan of Andy Dick, nor am I now, and that’s probably part of the reason I didn’t watch it. Judd Apatow is involved in at least 5 episodes, though, so I might check it out on DVD if I can find it.
I’m not going to mention his role in Happy Gilmore because I don’t consider it a Ben Stiller Movie. Nor “If Lucy Fell”, because I don’t remember anything about it. “The Cable Guy”? Nope, that was Matthew Broderick and Jim Carrey… any Ben Stiller appearance was of secondary (or tertiary) importance. I know a few people who saw Permanent Midnight and Zero Effect, but I wasn’t one of them and while I’ve heard that both were decent films, they both stray from comedy and that’s really what this list is all about.
Then you have “There’s Something About Mary“, and this is where it starts to unravel a bit for me. Sure, some people consider it one of their favorite comedies, but if I never have to watch it again, I’ll count that as one of my blessings. I don’t typically enjoy laughing at the huge misfortunes of others or the awkward members of society. This movie had its decent points – a great cameo at the end by Brett Favre among them, but all in all, OVER-RATED. The hair gel scene? Cringe-worthy. Franks and Beans? I didn’t laugh at all, and it frustrated me that everyone else in the theater thought it was hilarious. I could probably talk about the other reasons why I hated this movie if I did a bit of research to help jog my memory about the portions of it which I haven’t spent any time thinking about for the past decade, but I’d prefer to just move along with the list.
Oh yeah, I just remembered the scenes with the dog and the Grama Breasts. Ugh.
Another ensemble flick of Stiller’s came next with Mystery Men, the story about a bunch of amateur “superheroes” (term used loosely) who try to help save the world when a true superhero gets taken captive. It was a great flick with Hank Azaria, Janeane Garofalo, William H Macy, Greg Kinnear and Paul Reubens all doing a great job of blending together with Ben Stiller to make it a very enjoyable flick.
Keeping The Faith with Ed Norton and Jenna Elfman was another good film choice by Ben Stiller, and likely the only tri-faith love triangle comedy which most people will ever see – and by all accounts the only one you need.
Then there was Meet the Parents, another film that – like There’s Something About Mary – most people loved and I wish I could forget. Seriously, what’s so funny about a guy going through a week of hell when he first meets his fiance’s parents? Stuff with the cat? Not funny. Stuff with the younger brother and the confusion over whose drugs it is? Not funny. Stuff with the parents prefering Owen Wilson to Ben Stiller? Not funny. Anything involved with the pool / water volleyball / breaking the bride’s nose? Not funny. The part where Ben Stiller accidentally sets the backyard on fire and basically ruins the wedding? Not funny. My parents loved Meet The Fockers, but I still won’t see it because I’ve got literally 0 interest.
Don’t even get me started on the absurd Zoolander. I’ve seen parts, I didn’t laugh, and I’m not giving it another try. I don’t blame other people for enjoying it, but I just didn’t.
The Wes Anderson ensemble flick Royal Tenenbaums will always be one of my favorite movies, and Ben Stiller does a great job as the paranoid member of the family, expressing his grief through his need for control.
It seems like for every good film, there’s a bad one, and in this case the bad one is Along Came Polly, which is yet another film where we’re supposed to laugh when he has a tough time with everyday life, including his irritable bowel syndrome, awkwardness on the dance-floor and Jennifer Aniston’s inability to keep her bathroom stocked with toilet paper and her pet ferret’s penchant for wandering under closed bathroom doors. It was funny to see Phillip Seymour Hoffman act as Ben Stiller’s best friend, especially during the scene where he explained the ass-slap theory.
I didn’t see Duplex. Starsky & Hutch was above average at best. Envy was forgettable despite having Jack Black in it (another actor who deserves “An Unpopular View” list written about him).
Ben Stiller was good as the overly aggressive opposition in Dodgeball, but that was more of a Vince Vaughn movie (and he’s an under-rated actor who almost always does a great job).
As I mentioned before, I haven’t (and likely won’t) see Meet the Fockers.
My disdain for a lot of Stiller’s work has kept me from seeing Night At The Museum until recently, as explained in my blog about it for 2010’s Quest for 75. Certainly a good film, and (as explained in my article about it) it’s because he’s made the hero of the movie, not the comedic scapegoat for things which aren’t his fault.
I didn’t see Heartbreak Kid, nor did I have any interest in it. It looks terrible and the fact that it didn’t even score a 6 (out of 10) at IMDB.com says that I’m probably right. Not even Jerry Stiller, Rob Cordry and Carlos Mencia saved this one.
Another hugely popular Ben Stiller movie that I’m lukewarm (at best) about is Tropic Thunder. I laughed a few times during this movie, and sure, I’d watch it again, but I can guarantee you that my wife won’t sit through it again. It got huge praise from people, raked in tons of cash at the box office, but all in all it was just a “decent” spoof of movies like Predator, Platoon and Three Amigos. Robert Downey Jr is the best part of this film, followed in no particular order by Jay Baruchel, Jack Black, Danny McBride and (to some extent, though not as rave-worthy as some think) Tom Cruise.
Here we are at the end of the article, and if you like laughing at people’s misfortunes, then good for you, you probably enjoyed some of the movies I disliked. Want to tell me how I forgot to mention Madagascar? Don’t bother, I don’t really take into account animated films (if I did, I’d really enjoy Eddie Murphy). If you saw some of the films I didn’t and want to tell me why I should see them, that’d be hugely appreciated. Disagree with me? Feel free to comment. Agree with me? Let me know, maybe we’ll start a movement to get him to stop picking the terrible roles (most of which he didn’t write).