Pop culture essays, criticism, fistfights

The Instant Movie Club: Nature Calls

Every week, your friends at Culture Blues get together to watch a movie from their Netflix Instant queue. Then, answer a series of discussion questions while chugging all the milkshakes they can handle. This is The Instant Movie Club.

This week we’re watching Nature Calls. Patton Oswalt stars as a depressed scoutmaster leading an extreme camping trip in the funniest 79 minutes ever created.

Next week:  The Imposter. This documentary (snore!) centers on a young Frenchman who claims to be the missing son of a grieving Texas family.

We're not smiling.

We're not smiling.

What is writer/director Todd Rohal saying about the state of masculine identity in suburban America?

Jeff Hart:  Nature Calls is a scathing indictment of how soft and weak-minded American males are; from lunk-head middle-aged fathers whose fragile egos are buttressed by insatiable material accumulation (Johnny Knoxville) to the fat, coddled children raised by legions of overbearing mothers. A nation of blowhards and imbeciles have been born thanks to a sissified society that cuts itself off from nature. For instance, these pathetic kids can’t even skin a deer unless they happen to be from Africa, where real men are still made. Rohal casts his incisive gaze across the Y-chromosome half of the population and finds us woefully lowercase.

Jeremiah White:  Man, Nature Calls really got under someone’s skin! I think you’re giving it too much credit for actually having a point of view, regardless of how dumb it is. There’s definitely some “when men were Men” nonsense, with halfhearted anti-urbanization chatter and a splash of ludicrously lazy and tired suburban “satire” (of course all the soccer moms drive the same car). But really, this is just a flimsy excuse to have grown ups swear in the presence of children. If it’s saying anything about masculine identity, it’s only expressed in 4-letter words.

Jeff Hart:  The Boy Scouts, those wise sensei of the manly arts, have been banished to the fringes. Patton Oswalt’s scoutmaster might at times seem to fit the lonely loser stereotype to a tee, but then I’d imagine similar aspersions were once cast on the likes of Henry David Thoreau. Oswalt’s character, presumably much like Rohal himself, is driven by a desperate need to save the next generation of men from their perfumed prisons of video games and fast food, and restore the gender to the glory it once achieved during the Greatest Generation (now, sadly, wheelchair bound and vegetative, their bold voice renowned for shouting down Nazis reduced to ineffectual horn-honking). Oswalt’s actions might seem criminal or at least “out of line” (a judgment coined by women, probably) but, after trial by fire, he is rewarded for his sacrifices by Rohal’s motorcycle-riding Mother Nature stand-in. A small step in the right direction.

Jeremiah White:  It’s hard not deride or simply disregard a film that presents such a sunny view of the Boy Scouts with what we know about the history of sexual abuse cover-ups. I didn’t expect or want Rohal to address the skeletons in the Scouts’ closet, but a more mild glorification might have gone down easier. Or at least he could have used a fictional stand-in like pretty much everyone else does.

You guys love short movies. What went wrong in the measly 79 minutes you spent with Oswalt’s Scouts?

Jeremiah White:  Looking past the objectionable subject matter already discussed, Nature Calls is a short but nonetheless irritating and cluttered experience. The audience is frequently tossed from Oswalt and the troop to the trio of Johnny Knoxville, Rob Riggle and Patrice O’Neal trying to track them down to Maura Tierney fending off the advances of a 12-year old. None of these threads are substantial enough to be called a plot. The big epiphany for the reluctant campers comes in the form of a picturesque sunset. Apparently their cruel metropolis has barred them from seeing the horizon all these years. And as for Tierney, that whole thing serves absolutely no purpose except to pad out the runtime. Nature Calls is short, but it could have been a whole lot shorter with responsible editing.

Jeff Hart:  I get the sense that there was a lot of post-production meddling with Nature Calls, likely from studio people that are products of the same namby pamby generation that Rohal satirizes. For instance, I'm sure that Rob Riggle and Patrice O'Neal eventually set aside their grossly testosterone-laden notions of masculinity for an eye-opening moonlight romp with Darrell Hammond's androgynous park ranger (perhaps an homage to A Midsummer Night's Dream, methinks?). In the pursuit of dumbing Nature Calls down to modern comedy standards, the scenes that would've tied everything together got left on the cutting room floor. For shame.

How stoned were you when you watched Nature Calls?

Jeff Hart:  Oh, very.

Jeremiah White:  Not at all, but the sleepy-eyed Sunday morning grog I watched it in certainly shares some characteristics with doping it up.

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