Warning: The Happytime Murders is a film for adult audiences. This review contains curse words and descriptions of sexual activity.
Second Warning: This review contains spoilers for The Happytime Murders.
Jarrod Fairclough – On Friday I posted my spoiler free review of the The Happytime Murders, explaining that I would be going in to more detail and what I didn’t love about the film when I could drop spoilers. So, be warned, this review is full of them!
The Happytime Murders centers around Private Investigator Phil Phillips, performed by Muppet legend and our pal Bill Barretta, as he and his partner Connie Edwards, played by Melissa McCarthy, investigate the murders of The Happytime Gang, the cast of an old hit TV show whose stars have all but faded. It was directed by Brian Henson, son of Jim.
A couple of months back I wrote an article predicting that Henson had put all the shocking stuff in to the trailer. And the response was divisive. Someone on Reddit accused me of ‘clutching my pearls’ and unable to take a joke, which is wildly inaccurate. I say this not with pride, but so that you understand my views going forward – on more than one occassion I have made some truly inappropriate jokes, and both my family and friends have told me on numerous occassions I need to curb my swearing, which can sometimes border on gratuitous. So, basically, I’m anything but a pearl clutcher. But I do have a good sense of humour, and a well honed perception of comedy. And it was this perception that made me think a couple of things in The Happytime Murders seemed crass for the sake of crass.
Take the silly string scene, for example. Sure, it’s fine. But in both screenings I attended, this joke just didn’t get a reception. I asked a couple of people at the press screening what they thought of it, assuming that they had already seen it in the trailer. But no, none of them had, they all just said it seemed a little immature. And that was reiterated for me just yesterday when I attended another screening and a group of 14 year old boys seated near me were howling with laughter. Now, that’s fine, I have no issues with jokes targeted towards that audience. The problem was the rest of the film was trying not to skew that way, and didn’t always succeed. Take the scene at the beginning where Phil walks in on an octopus “milking” a cow. A funny enough joke, yes. But again, it just felt a little crass for the sake of crass.
That said, I did appreciate that the film seemed to know it was going too far at times, and perhaps my concerns are my cross to bare. I enjoyed that Phil seemed grossed out at the octopus and cow, or the dominatrix dalmation. I appreciated that Joel McHale’s character was horrified during the silly string scene. I will say, I thought the tag to that scene was funnier than the scene itself, when Maya Rudolph’s Bubbles wipes clean the silly string that has fallen on McHale’s suit. I truly do think Rudolph was the best part of this entire film. Bubbles was such a great character, stealing every scene she was in. I could have done without the weird Bubbles/Phil love story at the end, but upon a rewatch it’s not as jarring as it first was.
I could have also done without all the swearing. I honestly don’t think there was a scene where the word ‘fuck’ wasn’t uttered at least twice, sometimes in scenes where it otherwise just wasn’t needed. I love cursing as much as the next guy – hell, just listen to me on the various podcasts over on Muppet Hub – but every single scene? The joke of “Haha, look! A puppet said fuck!” isn’t enough to sustain a 90 minute film. If you want to be taken seriously, it’s best to use it sparingly, otherwise it comes across as crass and immature, which isn’t what this film was going for.
I do need to stress though how much I enjoyed a lot of this film, though. The storyline was great, with the history of Phil and Connie’s partnership a great central point. That the film would end almost mirroring Phil’s horrible mistake from their past was a nice way to bookend things, and Sandra made for a compelling antagonist. I truly didn’t see her being the bad guy coming, instead just assuming she was a plot device to get to the more graphic scenes. I wrote in my notes that her ‘Basic Instinct’ scene was another example of crass for the sake of it, but I ended up appreciating the fact that it actually lead to the defining moment of her unmasking.
As I stated Friday, the one thing that is flawless in this entire film is the puppetry. Whether it was Phil running in to the married cousins’ house with his gun ready, or his brother Larry sitting in a hot tub, every single bit of puppetry was outstanding. There’s some great jokes at the expense of puppets, like Goofer’s dead body being wrung like a towel or an incarcerated Phil claiming that punching him is like fluffing a pillow. Even a lot of the violence, like Connie’s fight scene with a whole team of puppets, works because of the performers and McCarthy’s commitment to the bit, because in reality it’s literally just McCarthy throwing some pillows around the room. Surprisingly, the violence in this film doesn’t ever feel like it becomes ‘too much’, even when you’re seeing characters get their heads blown to bits because it’s just stuffing. Bill Barretta is also responsible for possibly the best performance of his career so far.
It’s also well worth staying for the credits, because during ‘I Want Candy’ we’re shown all the Behind the Scenes work, with puppeteers in green screen outfits. There’s also a few bloopers, and all this footage makes me hopeful for a lot of featurettes on the BluRay. I’m also hoping for an extended cut, because according to someone connected to the film, a lot of story was cut, and I’m curious to see what it would add to the film, and if it would drastically change the tone.
So, unlike some others, I don’t think The Happytime Murders was a waste of felt, nor do I think it was a boring dud. Instead, I think it was a film that had trouble trying to figure out what it wanted to be, and maybe leaned on the crass jokes a little too hard a little too often. But when you take out those jokes, there’s a genuinely interesting story at the center of it. The Happytime Murders isn’t going to win Best Picture. Hell, it may even get nominated for a Razzie. But I can see this film in 20 years being a cult favorite, and I’m thankful that I understand it’s appeal more than others, because it saved me from having to write two reviews of a flaming pile of horse shit.
- Cameos include puppeteers Colleen Smith and Drew Massey as Connie’s detective colleagues.
- Brian Henson made a cameo in an old photograph at Connie’s house. Very Hitchcock.
- Though everything he said was horrifying, I have a soft spot for Goofer. Drew Massey did a fantastic job, and I’d almost say Goofer’s 1 minute on screen is worth the price of admission alone.
- According to puppeteer Paul McGinnis, Phil’s right handing was done by Alice Dinnean, and is flawless.
- It was nice to see Kevin Clash again.