Theatrical Review: YOUR HIGHNESS
Writers: Danny McBride, Ben Best
Director: David Gordon Green
Cast: Danny McBride, Zooey Deschanel, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Toby Jones, Justin Theroux
Studio: Universal Pictures
The plot of YOUR HIGHNESS is best described as being the plot of every vaguely medieval film ever conceived of in cinematic history – two princely brothers embark on a quest to save a fair maiden from an evil sorcerer. Along the way, there are distractions and destruction in the form of a warrior maiden, some dwarves, a battle royale, a creepy wizard channeling Michael Jackson, and a well-endowed Minotaur. It is a stew of its predecessors, as served up on an (apparently?) humorous platter. YOUR HIGHNESS certainly starts with promise, eagerly embracing its conceit in its first third. That giddiness, however, wears off in time, as YOUR HIGHNESS stuffs itself so full of nod-nod-wink-wink references that it completely forgets to be its own film.
As written by star Danny McBride and Ben Best (Eastbound & Down, THE FOOT FIST WAY), YOUR HIGHNESS has a considerable amount of talent behind it. McBride again joins his PINEAPPLE EXPRESS co-star James Franco, and the two act alongside Zooey Deschanel, Natalie Portman, Toby Jones, and Justin Theroux – but a strong cast of both established and emerging talent cannot save the film from itself. Most of the film is McBride’s vehicle, as he plays the lesser prince, the hapless stoner Prince Thadeous. Though Thadeous is second fiddle to the valiant Prince Fabious (Franco), the film focuses too closely on McBride, and even his particular brand of humor is not enough to keep the film moving along in an enjoyable way.
McBride and Franco typically have a wonderful comedic chemistry together, but it gets lost in the scattered mishmash of YOUR HIGHNESS. Never allowed to let scenes grow organically, most of their work together here is cut short. As the film feels overlong, that missing element is the one piece worth wanting more of – it’s a buddy film that is somehow without a true sense of companionship, though all that framework is, so frustratingly, in place.
Director David Gordon Green is still a great talent (and, admittedly, this critic’s favorite young director working today) – but YOUR HIGHNESS is assuredly his weakest effort yet. The comparisons to his first studio venture into comedy, 2008’s PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, will undoubtedly be frequent, but can be broken down to one simple question: which film is funnier? PINEAPPLE EXPRESS is tighter, somehow more lucid, and better-acted. Unlike PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, there is a considerably smaller emphasis on the influence of marijuana in YOUR HIGHNESS (despite that damn clever title). It’s a mere footnote in the film, as YOUR HIGHNESS is simply not PINEAPPLE EXPRESS set in the medieval era. But would more drugs have made the film any funnier? Most likely not, so at least we can be thankful that weed was not slopped all over the screen in a misguided attempt to give the film stoner cred (it’s a bit too busy already, with all those attempts to dip it facefirst into nostalgia for other films that, also, were not even very good).
Green continues to make films that, at the very least, show how astute a student he is of a wide variety of genres – whereas ALL THE REAL GIRLS was a study in transforming independent romantic dramas into a singular, beautiful, and original film, and UNDERTOW highlighted just how well Green understands the machinations and workings of a tight and unrelenting thriller, YOUR HIGHNESS proves that Green knows his medieval flicks, and knows them well. But whereas his previous films succeeded in carving out their own distinct niche within their respective genres, YOUR HIGHNESS’ constant reiterations of past films leaves it flat, disorderly, and uneven. There is something about YOUR HIGHNESS (beyond just its subject matter) that feels immature – a goofy endeavor between friends, not the sixth feature film from an accomplished director.
YOUR HIGHNESS is not a film for everyone, it’s not even a film for everyone devoted to the comedic genre. It’s an oddly specific studio film – a comedy somehow tricked out with the usual bits of adult humor (drugs, nudity, some violence), but used in a way that is completely nostalgic, unironic, and somewhat bizarre. There is a startling absence of coherent flow to the film, and it cannot seem to find its own tone or pacing. It can’t even get away with being wacky and off-beat and just sort of gutsy in its irreverence in the way that PINEAPPLE EXPRESS did. There are surely parts to the film that are amusing, and it’s filled with gorgeous scenery and pitch-perfect set design, but none of that makes up for the fact that film does not even rise to the expectations of its generally weak premise, much less to the promise of the talent in front of and behind the camera.
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