It’s always interesting to revisit films you liked a long time ago. So when I saw Bowfinger at the library today, I grabbed it. I wondered if I would find it as funny as I had back in 1999 when it was released. And I did. It is an extremely funny film. It has a solid script by Steve Martin. And Frank Oz directs it for its full comedic potential — matching his great comedy, Death at a Funeral. Eddie Murphy is truly brilliant. And the rest of the cast does a great job supporting him. (Steve Martin still annoys me as an actor, but I’ll admit that’s more about me than him.)
Bowfinger is one of the silliest films I’ve ever seen. In terms of the broad outline of the film, there isn’t much there. The Kit Ramsey stuff regarding the “Laker Girls” is not subtle. The Heather Graham character sleeping with everyone is tired. And the film they are making is inexplicably the kind of things people were making in the late 1950s. It’s on the edges where Bowfinger is at its best. The MindHead cult is probably a good rendering of how Scientology actually works. It’s take on both studio and independent film are about right. And I especially like the way it shows Hollywood to be effectively a class based system. And like all class based systems, power is distributed randomly.
But the best part of the film is the crew. Bowfinger needs to get a crew that will work cheap, so he goes to the Mexican border and picks up three guys who are crossing illegally. It is done in typical over-the-top fashion with bullets flying. At first, the trio are terrified and befuddled. But halfway through the film, they are having a Spanish language discussion of great films like Citizen Kane and Apocalypse Now. By the end, they are polished film technicians — speaking English and tied to their cell phones.
Thematically, it is hard to know which way to go with the film. On the one hand, the “losers” manage to make their film. And given that they were not given any help, they really are the betters of the establishment types who seem to spend more effort on their fancy cars than on any project they are working on. On the other hand, the film they produce is embarrassing. And the film they go on to make in Taiwan is ridiculous. No effort is expended to give them even the smallest amount of dignity.
What’s more, ultimately, the heroes of the film are so caught up in their effort to make this film that they don’t have any care for the fact that they are causing Kit Ramsey to have a nervous breakdown. But as I discussed in my article No Special Pleading From Hollywood, this behavior is the norm. No one seems to believe the Hollywood myth quite as much as the people in the industry itself. So we can forgive desperate people with big dreams for doing this, given that the studio executives would do it as a matter of course if they thought they could make a couple of bucks at it.
But as pure entertainment, it is hard not to like Bowfinger. It certainly isn’t great. But it is damned good comedy — especially by American standards.