Norbit Is Objectively Good
And I suppose I’ll be basing a key element of my argument on an assumption made in ignorance: I had virtually no exposure to its marketing, because it never came out in Korea (surprisingly, since Korea’s number one comedy of all time, last year’s really stupid-looking 200-Pounds Beauty, is also fatsuit-based), but I doubt Norbit’s ads were particularly deceptive. My assumption is that what you were expecting was what you got. Or rather, not you, because I’m certain none of you, the people who may actually read this, saw it either, but what most of those people who gave it its $30 million opening weekend and over $100 million worldwide gross got was what they were expecting.
These aren’t the types who paid any attention to the Rottentomatoes-ranked critics who rated it 9% Fresh, and these aren’t the kind of people who eagerly logged into their IMDB accounts to deliver an average score of 3.4 out of 10. These folks don’t give a shit about film at any level beyond Brangelina. And as unfathomable as it is for those of us who do, these people don’t have any desire to ponder a film after it’s finished on any level beyond recollections of its fart jokes.
I’m trying my best not to insult them here; there’s no great law from on high that says a person needs to insist that all, most, or even some of the art they ingest is the work of genuine, dedicated artists. We all have things we’re willing to accept mediocre from — I don’t care how good the food I eat is, or how stylish my pants are. Some folks couldn’t care less if their computers are organized or efficient, as long as they get their basic job as Freecell facilitator done. For the bulk of the approximately (very rough estimate time) ten million people who saw Norbit, the basic job was done.
No doubt most of them haven’t thought about it for even a second since they got home that night, and aren’t particularly excited for the DVD release (but they will buy it, if only to re-live fond memories of Eddie Murphy doing a Chinese character guy, as well as for the promise of an Outrageous Unrated Director’s Cut) . Norbit’s not making any of their ten-best lists (assuming these are the types of people invested in film enough to put together a ten-best list, which they are not). But they can recognize a genuinely great movie when they see it, a 40-Year Old Virgin or a Pulp Fiction, and they’re happy to get one, they just don’t care enough about this greatness to seek it out and demand it every time. As a result, they miss out on something they really would’ve loved, at least on its first time around — everyone who was late to the game on Memento, The Shawshank Redemption, or L.A. Confidential, raise your hand. Would those be the hands of the vast majority of the people who love these movies, snob and otherwise, that I see?
Film has its two sides, the business and the art, and Norbit’s definitely on the side of the former. Eddie Murphy and everyone else involved made a calculated decision to craft a film of a very certain type, with a certain type of jokes and a certain type of plot, aimed only at a certain type of audience. And that audience approved. And then the rest of us shake our heads, shamed to share a species with them. Which is kinda bullshit — it was an honest transaction, a bit lazy perhaps, but honest. I’m no fan of laziness in my films, but I’ll take it over something a manipulative pandering insult like Crash any day. (In terms of “Should it be allowed to exist?” In terms of “Am I willing to watch it?,” I guess I’d have to take Crash, if just for Terence Howard and a bit of “justified” nudity.)
I’m not giving a pass on all movies with dollar signs in their eyes — whether it makes back its money or not, Transformers needs to at least deliver on promises of exciting robot mayhem (which demands a certain level of investment in character and story to give urgency to the mayhem) to be called a good movie. Norbit, as I said before, promised and delivered, nothing less and nothing more. Promised: fat/fart/sex jokes. Delivered: fat/fart/sex jokes, probably racial jokes as well. I just can’t imagine anyone saw a Norbit ad and then came from the theatre disappointed: “I just thought the fatsuits would be, you know, fatter.”For those people who wanted some of that, Norbit has to be called “good.”
For those of us who didn’t, we didn’t go see it; its advertisements were kind enough to let us know it wouldn’t be our cup of upscale, refined tea. Norbit is, as difficult it is to accept, depressing even, an example of the film economy working. As much as I may want to trash it, trash the studio system that allowed it to come to be, trash the people who offered up their money in exchange for a viewing, I can’t — Well, actually I can, and I certainly will, if the mood strikes me, but I’ll do so knowing, deep down in the black pit of my heart, that I’m wrong. laebmada