Bad Taste 101

The Producers and 101 Reykjavik are textbook cases of repugnance redeemed

Stories of bad taste have been with us at least since the one about the tree snake, the naked gardeners, and the sinful Granny Smith. In most of them, men are the ones being bad: tempted by the fruit of a woman, or consumed by their unconscious envy that she sampled it first. And most bad-taste tales turn sweet by the end, with Mr. Wrong apologizing profusely to God, promising once and for all to change his evil ways and start driving the kids to school or whatever.

Indeed, for a set of stories that traffic in shock and repulsion, the bad-taste genre can be disgustingly moralistic--another reason we simply have to give it up for John Waters, the self-described Pope of Trash, whose Pink Flamingos has Divine acting like "the filthiest person alive" all the way to the fecal finale. Though the Farrelly Brothers learned the hard way this year that cleaning up your act doesn't always pay (their health-conscious Osmosis Jones sank like a kidney stone), the conceit of repugnance redeemed is generally a shrewd means of covering all the demographic bases. Even Mel Brooks's prototypically vulgar Broadway parody The Producers belatedly earned points for its tale of rehabilitated greed by...becoming a hit on Broadway!

Similarly, the Icelandic bad-taste farce 101 Reykjavik has proven a massive crowd-pleaser at each of the dozen festivals where it has played--which likely has something to do with its hero's progression from juvenile slackerdom to adult responsibility. As the film begins, Hlynur (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason) is a 28-year-old Reykjavik layabout who proudly practices "the nothing kind of nothing": living with his mom (Hanna Maria Karlsdottir) on unemployment checks, holding his breath under the water of a dirty bathtub, jerking off to workout tapes, and lamenting that there's no porn on cable before dark--which comes soon enough in Iceland. Most nights, Hlynur gets slobbering drunk at the local bar and strains to pick up women, including his sometime girlfriend Hofi (Thrudur Vilhjalmdottir), whose view of the slacker pounding away on top of her is the film's first shot (and its last instance of female subjectivity--talk about getting screwed).

But this wouldn't be a redemptive sex comedy without redemption. Enter Lola, so to speak, who comes to stay with Hlynur and his mom, sleeps with them both, and leads our hero to recognize that "my mother and I have our fingers in the same pie." That Lola is a Spanish flamenco instructor (played by Almodóvar habituée Victoria Abril) adds some much-needed heat to this arctic export, not to mention an international flavor befitting first-time director Baltasar Kormakur's bid to serve his bad taste worldwide. But nothing is perceived as more universally palatable than breeding. So when Hlynur learns that the cherry pie has a bun in the oven, and that, if Mom marries Lola, he'll be the baby's father and brother, the expectant filmmaker stands poised to turn 101 Reykjavik into Family Values 101. Think the new dad might find a more wholesome use for that dirty tub?

At least The Producers (1968) retains its brazenly crass sensibility almost to the end. As you must know, it's the story of a cardboard belt-wearing schlockmeister (Zero Mostel) who coerces a hypersensitive accountant (Gene Wilder) into helping him sell 25,000 percent of the profits from "a surefire flop" called Springtime for Hitler--"a gay romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden." Like the movie itself, the musical--with its Busby Berkeley-meets-Leni Riefenstahl choreography and creatively crude lyrics ("We're marching to a faster pace/Look out, here comes the master race!")--ends up proving that bad taste can be irresistible. Still, critic Andrew Sarris expressed his skepticism in 1968 that "any Jewish producers would involve themselves in such a project." Seems Sarris failed to note that one such producer, Mel Brooks, had taken it to the bank.

 
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