Do you know what the definition of disappointment is? Disappointment is a feeling of sadness one encounters when their expectations aren’t met. It doesn’t matter whether those expectations are said or unsaid, rational or irrational, right or wrong. If those expectations go unmet, you experience disappointment. And that’s exactly what I felt after only fifteen minutes of Year One.
By all accounts, this movie should have been incredible. It was written by Harold Ramis, Gene Stupnitsky, and Lee Eisenberg. Those last two names? They’re two of the writers for a little comedy show on NBC you might have heard of. It’s called The Office. Of course you’ve heard of Harold Ramis. He’s the brilliant mind responsible for some of the best comedies of the past 25 years. Maybe you’ve seen of them? Caddyshack? Stripes? Ghostbusters one and two? Groundhog Day? Right. Then there’s the cast. Jack Black: love him. Michael Cera: any Arrested Development alum is awesome. David Cross, Hank Azaria, Bill Hader: all of these guys are comedic all-stars. So with all of these elements in place, there’s almost no way you could walk into this movie without having the highest of hopes. Sigh…
Here’s the story: Zed (Black) and Oh (Cera) are a hunter and gatherer in biblical times. After Zed eats from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he’s kicked out of the tribe and, along with Oh, wanders through two other Old Testament scenes: Cain’s murder of Abel, and Abraham’s almost-sacrifice of Isaac. All of this leads them to Sodom, where they spend the majority of the movie.
There are two lenses that I’d like to look at this movie through: the first is on its own as a film. The second is as something that presents information about biblical history. Spoiler alert: It fails in both regards.
As a comedic film, Year One really only has one job: be funny. As long as a comedy is funny, its audience can excuse almost all of its flaws. Holes in logic? No problem. Crazy premise? No worries. Eddie Murphy as your star? Not an issue. As long as it’s funny, the audience will be along for the ride. And that’s a big reason Year One fails. It’s just not funny. It has its moments, mostly provided by Cera’s dry, stuttering, awkwardly delivery of his lines. But overall, it feels like a failure in improvisation. As if the director thought that having funny people in his movie would equal a funny movie. But unfortunately nothing ever seems to gel together.
As something that presents biblical history… let’s just say that a lot of artistic liberties are taken. There’s nothing here that I think could be offensive (biblical-history-wise). I mean, it is a comedy with Jack black after all. But I think it could raise some questions in teenagers’ minds. “Wait, didn’t Adam and Eve eat the fruit?” “Did Cain really get a mark on his forehead for killing his brother?” “Did Abraham really want to kill his own son?” So even if Year One isn’t great as a comedy, it might actually lead to some cool opportunities to talk about Old Testament history with teenagers.
If you’re trying to figure out what movie to go see on your day off, pass on Year One. But don’t be afraid if your students come to you asking questions afterwards. Instead, use the opportunity to point them toward truth. It’s certainly more entertaining than this movie was…
Josh Treece is very glad that his local movie theater offers movies for four dollars on the weekend. When he’s not saving money on movies, he’s ministering to teenagers.