The answer is yes. Yes, I can still repeat most of the lines in Zoolander while I watch it. Determining this was not my goal in watching it again last weekend, but it’s nice to know that some skills just don’t fade with time. My goal, originally, was to determine whether Zoolander was still funny, 14 years later. I realized, as I laughed at Derek’s tiny phone and the 2001: A Space Odyssey scene in Maury Ballstein’s office, that, for me, Zoolander will always be funny, whether it’s objectively funny or not. It recalls to me my 15 year-old self, my 15 year-old friends, and the good times we had quoting Zoolander at each other. In fact, when I told my old college roommate I was watching it, the first thing she did was to send me a quote, so clearly this movie is too much a part of us to judge it objectively.
Luckily, there’s a new Zoolander coming out, which we can judge with all the objectivity of devoted fans! The recently released Zoolander 2 trailer has reminded us all of our Zoolander fandom and caused us to wonder: Can they pull it off a second time, and can Zoolander turn left whenever he wants now, or was that just a one-time thing?
For those unfamiliar with the plot of Zoolander, I’ll summarize: the Malaysian prime minister proposes wage increases for underpaid garment workers in his country. A cartel of powerful people in the fashion world tell Mugatu, a fashion mogul, that he must train a male model to kill the Malaysian prime minister, so that they can continue manufacturing their clothes cheaply. Over the course of the film, we learn that Mugatu has done this several times in the past. As David Duchovny explains at one point, the fashion industry has been behind every major political assassination in the last couple of centuries. After he embarrases himself at an awards show, model Derek Zoolander is chosen to be the assassin (unbeknownst to him), since his career is effectively over. Mugatu brainwashes him using massage and hypnosis to the tune of “Relax” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Meanwhile, TIME reporter Matilda Jeffries does some research and stumbles upon the fashion industry’s involvement in historical assassinations, tries to warn Derek… and I’m sure you can guess the rest. It’s completely absurd, right? Yet this movie has a cult following.
Sequels, historically, have a tougher time winning over audiences than original films, in part because fans loyal to the first iteration have high expectations for a second. For true fans, the second Zoolander must be just as absurd and just as quotable, yet different enough from the original that it’s not simply a reboot. Zoolander, as a cult favorite, has a large and critical group of fans to please. So, after fourteen years and a few months of strategic hype, will Zoolander 2 recapture the magic of the original?
Zoolander was released in September of 2001, just a few weeks after 9/11. It was unfortunate timing for a film essentially about international conflict, but it turned out that perhaps Americans needed a laugh – Zoolander brought in over $40 million at the box office. Not a blockbuster haul, but certainly nothing to sneeze at. After witnessing the deadliest acts of terrorism ever on US soil, Americans welcomed a satirical film suggesting that a cabal of leaders in the fashion industry were behind every major political assassination over the past 200 years. Something so ridiculous was a relief from a terrifying reality. Over the years, Zoolander’s fan base has only grown.
Zoolander was also a snapshot of the time. Its genesis was a couple of short films for the VH1 Fashion Awards, and it featured cameos from celebrities of the millennial age, including Paris Hilton, Winona Ryder, David Duchovny, and Fred Durst. These were recognizable faces to young adults of 2001. It follows, then, that as the years passed, our love of Zoolander has developed a tang of nostalgia, and nostalgia is blind, and will keep us loving Zoolander for a very long time with blind bias. Watching it now makes us laugh, but also reminds us of our younger selves.
So, given its popularity and its ties to one particular moment in time, can Zoolander’s sequel hope to succeed in establishing a place in our hearts alongside the original? Can it, at the very least, bring audiences to the theater? Or was the original Zoolander a happy accident, an unreproducible fluke that we should treasure in our memories instead of attempting to recreate it?
Well, there are a few factors working in Zoolander 2’s favor. First, Ben Stiller has taken his time in coming up with a script for the second Zoolander. In fact, he’s been so careful that it has taken over a decade to see the release of Zoolander 2. Second, the key actors from the original cast have signed on; Mugatu, Hansel, Matilda Jeffries, Todd, and, of course, Derek Zoolander all have a role in Zoolander 2. Third, Stiller seems to have chosen celebrity cameos that will tie this movie to the mid-2010s as firmly as the original Zoolander is tied to the early 2000s, opening it to new, younger audiences as well as loyal fans. Teens that love Justin Bieber will appreciate his appearance, and fans of Sherlock will probably get a kick out of Benedict Cumberbatch in a comedic role. Finally, the marketing for this one has been over-the-top and just what we all wanted. Derek and Hansel showing up at Paris Fashion Week? Genius. And given a number of recent events, we could all still use a laugh.
So, here’s hoping that Zoolander 2 is as absurd, fun, and quotable as Zoolander, and that it brings us some laughter and absurdity in the gray month of February.