Although this fact may surprise quite literally no-one, Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie is awful. Hoo, boy, is it awful.
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
The continuing mega-success of Mrs. Brown’s Boys bewilders me. It truly does. Hell, the fact that something like it was turned into a television show in 2011 alone bewilders me. The show feels ripped straight from the 80s, from its music to its sets to its raucous studio audience to its total lack of stakes and the like. I hesitate to label it a throwback because I don’t think that adequately conveys just how much like a rejected 80s sitcom it is. I also hesitate to label it a throwback because Only Fools And Horses existed in the 80s and to even so much as insinuate that the former is even close to Only Fools in quality is quite possibly the biggest insult one could throw at British comedy as a whole.
Mrs. Brown’s Boys the show, you see, is garbage. Total and utter garbage. For one, there are no jokes. There are no set-ups, no punch-lines, no semblance of pacing in their construction or delivery and no intelligence in their design. The fourth wall breaks are pointless and add nothing except a distraction, the inclusion of outtakes in the final cut of the episode only serve to kill the non-existent pacing and colour the entire enterprise as amateurish and slap-dash, and when it starts sermonising on star and writer Brendan O’Carroll’s thoughts on the world? It’s like those “I learned something today…” parts from South Park except played completely straight and even more unbearable. It’s aggressively unfunny and, yes before you jump in, I have seen several episodes (two full ones and snatches of other ones) so I do feel quite qualified to impart my opinion on the show. And the show is shite.
Yet, it is popular shite, seeing as something being shite has almost never stopped it from becoming famous. Popular enough to get a movie. A full movie. One that lasts 96 minutes which is just over the combined length of three episodes of the show. One that has a reported budget of $6 million. You know what the budget for In The Loop, the film version of The Thick Of It, was? Just under $1 million. So, not only did the BBC deem this worthy of a budget six times that of one of the century’s best comedy films, it’s also practically guaranteed to open with nearly twice the gross of In The Loop (£4 million). I felt like waiting at the entrance of the nearly sold-out cinema screen prior to the movie and shouting in the face of everybody who walked in “AND JUST WHERE THE F*CK WERE YOU WHEN IN THE LOOP CAME OUT?!” I mean, I shouldn’t be surprised, we live in a world where some enterprising young studio head deemed that the Great British public, and cinema-lovers across the world in general, were deserving of movies based around Keith Lemon and Harry Hill. What’s one more to add to the growing pile of evidence that we, as a collective nation, considered by the rest of the world to be the finest purveyors in comedy, have officially lost all taste in humour?
As you may be able to deduce from the tone of the prior three paragraphs, I was not approaching my assignment with much in the way of hopeful positive enthusiasm. You may, therefore, pre-emptively decide to dismiss this review outright, citing reviewer bias or baggage or some other such stuff. I would like to refute your claims, that going in with low expectations and a less-than-sunny attitude taints my critical opinion, by calling attention to my thoughts on The Fault In Our Stars, a film that I went into expecting to actively dislike and prove resistant to; my genuine reaction upon first viewing that film’s trailer was a succinct “nope!” Instead, it proved to be a legitimately heart-wrenching film with excellent lead performances, a film I very much liked. Just because I was expecting nothing, doesn’t mean I can’t admit the film in question is any good. I’m not that unprofessional.
So, with that cleared up, it is my professional and unbiased critical opinion that Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie is complete and total shit. I went in hopeful that the 96 minutes it ran for would make it less painful than similarly total crapfest comedies I’ve recently had to sit through that ran for two hours, and was proven to be wrong about the time that O’Carroll showed up playing the single most racist Asian stereotype I have been subjected to in a good long while. This film is appalling, a complete mess of conflicting tones, lack of jokes, regressive stereotypes, cheap production values, unearned drama and heart, and prolonged soapboxing. It is dire and the sustained laughter that greeted most every frame by the packed audience will prove to be one of life’s greatest mysteries to me, one that shall remain unanswered even as I wither and die unloved and unmourned.
The plot, then, what little there is, concerns Agnes Brown’s (Brendan O’Carroll in case you had yet to figure out the show’s central hook) family owned market stall coming under threat from unpaid debts, scheming politicians for some reason that is never explained, and Russian gangsters for reasons that are never explained but likely boil down to ‘it’s a movie so we need an overlong and painfully unfunny action/chase scene in the last third”. I would also accept “because foreigners are funny,’ what with all of the casual racism going about it. Do you find Russians saying “rip off their head and sheet down their neck” a thing that is automatically hilarious? How about that same ‘joke’ being repeated ad verbatim with no changes in set-up, delivery or design in the space of about 10 minutes? Well, today is your lucky day because Brendan O’Carroll has made the movie villains for you!
That’s it, by the way. That one sentence is the whole extent of the film’s plot. The politician is in league with the Russians but they’re relegated to “Third Act Chase Scene Fodder” as the real villains are tax collectors who are seeking €3.8 million in unpaid taxes because Mrs. Brown willingly refuses to pay taxes (in the words of Joel Hodgson, “Our hero, ladies and gentlemen”). The plot is flimsier than the ‘jokes’ that are strewn about the film; jokes so lazy that writers of Chuck Lorre sitcoms would throw them out for being so terrible (or, at least, had been edited out of their first drafts). Hey! Do you know The Pink Panther theme song? Well that plays as two characters plan to sneak their way into a building. That is the entire extent of the joke. Ditto the Chariots Of Fire theme for when the gay stereotype son gets ready to swim the channel in an ill-fitting swimsuit (the costume is also the entire extent of the joke). And The A-Team theme when it seems that help has arrived. And how about ‘She’s A Lady’ by Tom Jones during the opening which show’s Mrs. Brown getting ready for her day?
“Callum,” you may now be going, “You’ve only listed one joke four times. What others are there that suck?” Fair enough. Do you find a man in drag who is supposed to seem sweet suddenly swearing a giant rib-tickler? Everyone involved in this seems to think so and it’s the film’s main stock in trade, so you’d better too. Does a whole bunch of characters mistaking a man of Indian heritage for a Jamaican just bring you to your knees in hysterics at the mere concept? I hope so, cos that’s the entire extent of the joke. Do you think blind people being blind but attempting physical activities is a knee-slapper of epic proportions? How about if they’re part of a ninja group? In full not-at-all-racial-stereotyping ninja get-up? And what if they were led by a guy, also played by O’Carroll, who is the single most unpleasantly racist Asian stereotype I have come across since I can’t even remember? How racist? His entire character, his entire character for a guy who gets at least 15 minutes of screen-time (and is possibly going to be the subject of a spin-off movie in our very unpleasant future), is that he talks like the City Wok guy from South Park but with an even more played up accent.
The flagrantly casual racism that embeds itself throughout the film infuriates me because a) it’s racist and we really should be past this by now and b) the film has a near-five minute stretch during its climax where one of its characters (the daughter, played by Jennifer Gabney) stands up and proceeds to soapbox for an unbearably long time about… stuff. Honestly, I’m not sure what the overall point even was, which could be the most damning criticism against the whole segment, but there was one point where they specifically call out the progressive and inclusive nature of Ireland. How it is a wonderful country that is loving and accepting of all races and creeds and sexual orientations and that we should celebrate people being people. This, from a film that not 10 minutes prior had asked you to laugh at the return appearance of a man who speaks like Kim Jong-Il from Team America having a stroke, to laugh at a barrister who has Tourette’s and that’s funny because swearwords and nonsense, and to, during the speech no less, once again laugh at the fact that someone thought The Indian came from Jamaica. The joke is not on the characters for finding these things funny and being terrible people for thinking so, because the characters are wonderful human beings who you’re supposed to care for, it’s on the racist stereotypes. There is no subversive edge, no point, just “laugh at the people who dare to be born different!” Yet it still wants to preach a message of tolerance and progressiveness despite that.
In fact, Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie is perhaps one of the most regressive films that attempts to seem progressive that I can recall seeing. In addition to the previously mentioned casual racism, and the one-note jokes against Tourette’s sufferers and blind people, the film dares to paint a daughter’s decision to not follow in her mother’s footsteps (in this case, inheriting the running of a market stall that’s been in the Brown family for generations) as some inconceivable notion, with the inevitable wrapping up of said subplot being a heart-warming moment of true family values and bonds… despite said character never once showing a vested interest in going into the business and repeatedly stating that it’s not for her. Meanwhile, there’s a plot-twist about a character putting her kids into care temporarily because she can’t provide for them otherwise, and it’s painted as the absolute worst thing any mother could ever do… despite the fact that it is made quite clear that the kids were better off being in care for those few weeks because the mother really couldn’t care for them. I mean, after all, admitting that maybe you do need some help and can’t quite make it on your own is quite literally the worst thing you could ever do, right?
Anyways, back to the jokes, of which there are none and what ones there appear to be suffer from the same problems as the ones in the show: lack of set-ups, punchlines, intelligence, etc. There’s also a really mean-spirited streak of dark humour running throughout the film. An old person who has gone senile wanders into the street and gets hit by a bus, yet the film remains all jovial and light. Grandad attempts to blow up a pub full of Russians but the explosives expert he hires has Parkinson’s and so blows himself up, yet the film remains all jovial and light. A blind man in a ninja uniform accidentally runs into the street and gets hits by a vehicle, yet the film remains all you get the point. Much of the film’s humour runs off of relatively light things, like musical cues or dragged up men swearing despite supposedly being sweet old ladies, characters mistaking things for other things or sexual single-entendre (to say that they were double-entendres would be giving them way too much credit). To suddenly have casual racism or death brought up as light-hearted joke fodder, in a pathetic attempt to give the film edge, just feels needlessly cruel. This is not South Park, where anything goes and nothing is off-limits, yet it sometimes acts like it is.
The fourth wall leans and breakages are poor and lazy. In comparison to 22 Jump Street, where the fourth wall leans and lampshade hangings are worked into its DNA, it’s embarrassing. There’s a bit where the camera keeps dramatically zooming in on Mrs. Brown until it very noticeably fake-ly breaks in a gag I am sure you have never ever seen before in anything at all ever. Mrs. Brown’s friend Winnie, when they’re looking for ways to break into the tax organisation’s office, suggests that Agnes disguise herself as a man and the film stops dead for five seconds to make 100% certain that every single soul in the audience has gotten the joke “because Mrs. Brown is actually A MAN DRESSED AS A WOMAN!” The inclusion of outtakes, meanwhile, are even more out of place, here. There are three in the film and they only serve to disrupt the flow; a scene where Russians are threatening Mrs. Brown’s sons loses all of its potential threat or menace because they leave in a take where everyone starts corpsing for no apparent reason for a few seconds, whilst a scene with a receptionist has O’Carroll forget his line, improvise something stupid and then starts again so that we can do it for real. Their inclusion makes the whole thing seem like it was thrown together by rank amateurs, especially because THERE IS A GODDAMN OUTTAKES MONTAGE OVER THE END CREDITS ANYWAY!
Performances are dreadful. Everyone acts like there’s a studio audience just off-screen at all times, so half ham up their performance so much that Jim Carrey would think they’ve gone overboard, whilst the other half can’t act period and flatly deliver their lines with all of the interest of someone who’s been made to watch the World Paint-Drying Championships. The most egregious offender of the former is Simon Delaney as solicitor Tom Crews (yes, that is the whole joke, and it is explained too in case you didn’t get it) who cannot make it through a single line without actively straining to find a funny way to deliver his trite dialogue, whilst the latter goes to Jennifer Gabney whose work only serves to make the soapbox segment even more insufferable. Brendan O’Carroll at least seems to be having fun as both Mrs. Brown and Walking Racist Asian Stereotype, although I may be misinterpreting that as glee for swindling myself, and millions of other people who don’t know any better, out of their hard-earned cash. He’s not funny, but he’s at least committed, which must count for something, I guess.
Oh, look. I’m out of time and I didn’t get around to talking about the film’s half-assed attempt to inject some heart and drama despite giving us absolutely zero reason to give a shit about these terrible, unfunny, unentertaining characters. Fitting, really.
Look, the nicest thing I can say about Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie is that it is not The Worst Film I Have Seen So Far This Year like I had predicted it to be back in January. That, however, reflects more on the quality of 2014’s suckiest movies so far than it does Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie. This was utter tripe that was painful to sit through. Actively unfunny from start to finish, a film that went out of its way to ensure that my time was being thoroughly wasted, stuffed from head to toe with the laziest and cheapest ‘gags’ imaginable, all executed with total ineptitude. I know that humour is subjective and that one man’s Disaster Movie is another man’s Airplane!, but I am begging you to keep this from being a hit. Please, for all that is sacred, let this one bomb. Let it bomb and let it take the entirety of the Mrs. Brown’s Boys empire with it. Let it take Brendan O’Carroll’s box-office and creative clout with it, because, I swear to Alanis Morissette, I refuse, I REFUSE, to be subjected to a spin-off film about the racist Asian stereotype in my far-flung future.
We used to have standards with our comedies. Now a film where a man in drag gets his tights stuck in an escalator is going to print box office money. Where the fuck did we go wrong?
Callum Petch lived too fast in this fantasy. Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!