Stupidity in film is critically undervalued. The perceived ridiculousness of a given film’s premise can be enough for some to write it off entirely before they even see it. People just don’t like watching something that’s dumb. It’s a common judgement, the most recent target being Andy and Lana Wachowski’s Jupiter Ascending, and a completely unfair one. Why are people so averse to silliness in their blockbusters?
I’m sure that titles of very silly recent blockbusters popped into your head as soon as you read that. I’m not saying they don’t exist, but they’re almost never as unashamed of their absurdity as Jupiter Ascending seems to be. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is about a talking ape civilization that does battle with humans, but it gets away with it by having a cold, joyless aesthetic and a heavy plot. Guardians of the Galaxy is about as goofy as movies get, but it constantly cracks jokes as a way of appearing self-aware about that goofiness, so that the audience won’t feel bad about enjoying it. Captain America: The Winter Soldier masks its silliness with token nods to themes that are relevant to contemporary society. It seems tapped-in to the workings of reality, so its silliness becomes forgivable.
I find those attempts to avoid embracing stupidity to be cynical at best, but they’re not done without good reason. Irony is in at the moment, and audiences generally won’t get on board with inanity unless they get to feel like they’re above it. So when something as seemingly unpretentious as Jupiter Ascending comes along (Sean Bean plays a bee-human hybrid named “Stinger,” so that’s where the film is), everyone assumes that it’s going to be terrible. But why does “stupid” always have to equal “terrible”?
One of my favorite films of all time is Frank Oz’s Little Shop of Horrors. It’s a musical-comedy about an alien plant that eats people, and the hapless flower store employee who it hoodwinks into becoming a killer. It’s a stupid premise, and I love it. I don’t love it ironically, I don’t “love to hate it,” I just love it. It’s very funny, and it makes some clever jabs at capitalism and the nostalgic idealization of 50s culture. It doesn’t do either of those things by subverting its premise or burying it under faux-seriousness. It just allows itself to be a movie.
I don’t expect Jupiter Ascending to have anything trenchant to say about society, but it shouldn’t be required to do so. I admire any film that is unafraid of people not taking it seriously. The audiences who will likely shun Jupiter Ascending this weekend are the same people who would happily buy a ticket for it if it appeared superficially formalistic, or if it had a gritty and “realistic” aesthetic. The widespread desire for that kind of film hurts every blockbuster, from the ones that don’t submit to it and bomb at the box office, to the ones that do submit to it and suffer artistically. In other words, see Jupiter Ascending this weekend. It might not be good, but at least it’ll be proudly not good. Movies like this shouldn’t pretend to be anything they aren’t, and we should be celebrating the ones that hold their heads up high even if they’re walking off a cliff.
Featured Image: Jupiter Ascending, Warner Bros.