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The West Wing
Directed by Mike Judge
Starring: Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Ben Affleck
Review by Jen Frankel
The owner of a flower-extract plant (Bateman), tries to contend with myriad personal and professional problems, such as his potentially unfaithful wife (Wiig), a hot new temp (Kunis), and employees who want to take advantage of him.
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First things first -- this is the first time ever I didn't hate Kristen Wiig in something. In fact, I kind of liked her. Her decision to move into more scripted roles is obviously going to suit her better than the lameness of most of the SNL skits of the last few years, and I'm looking forward to seeing what comes next for her.
Extract is the Coen Brothers comedy the Coen Brothers no longer seem able to make. It's chock full of losers who, despite their flaws and their obliviousness are utterly lovable and handled with great respect.
It's not surprising that it was Mike Judge who pulled off this coup. He himself progressed from the crudity of Beavis and Butthead (which nonetheless hid a deep understanding of human nature and a pretty sophisticated humor) to the long-running King of the Hill.
Hank and Peggy Hill are difficult to like but easy to love, hard to admire, but easy to respect. Judge makes the same magic here with the story of a man whose buried himself so much in his flavor additive business that he's lost the spark in his marriage, his friendships, and his life itself.
There are too many great character performances here to mention even a smattering of them, from Mila Kunis as the streetwise, play-it-dumb drifting grifter who arrives hoping to cash in on a workplace accident to Ben Affleck perfectly cast as the bartender at a cheesy hotel bar.
It's so sad and seedy that the idea that Bateman as Joel the factory owner could get stoned on Ketamine and be persuaded into hiring a local gigolo to seduce his wife just so he'll feel okay about potentially cheating on her seems perfectly reasonable. So is his remorse the next day when he realizes it wasn't just a dream but instead a symptom of the fact that his life is quickly falling entirely apart.
Most films have become so tiredly predictable it's lovely to realize you are in the middle of one where you have no idea at all what's going to happen.
Judge manages to keep the laughs coming all the way through, and the surprises too. I'm not spoiling too much if I say one of them is getting to see what Judge himself actually looks like.