“Stephen Spielberg, you have been found guilty of taking an immortal science-fiction classic . . . H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds . . . and turning it into a horrible movie back in 2005. Although such a crime fully deserves the maximum punishment this Court has decided, in lieu of your past services to the genre, to reduce your sentence to fifteen years of watching Fran Drescher movies.”
“NOOOOOOOOO . . . “
“Take him away. Next! Ah yes . . . in regards to the matter of sentencing in the Court vs. J.D. Shapiro. Mr. Shapiro, you have been found guilty of having written the screenplay for the movie “Battlefield Earth”. It has been decided that this crime . . . perhaps the most heinous ever committed in the memory of this Court . . . deserves nothing less than the most serious and severe penalty which it is in our power to hand down. Before the sentence is carried out—“
“Yes? Ah, it’s Uncle Mikey.”
Permission to approach the bench and address the Court in defense of Mr. Shapiro.
“Ummmmm. This is all highly irregular. You have a reputation for speaking rather eloquently in favor of bad movies. But no one here doubts that you are also a Film Fan in good standing. You may address the Court.”
Thank you, your Honor.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury . . . I want to state for the record that it is not my intention here to defend “Battlefield Earth”. Far from it. But I like to believe I am a lover of Justice and, if we are able to reduce Spielberg’s sentence on the basis of past accomplishments, then I feel we can find it in our hearts to offer Mr. Shapiro the same courtesy. Even more so because he has tragically lacked the same sort of exposure which Spielberg enjoys.
Which brings me to the subject of “We Married Margo”. This was released the same year as “Battlefield Earth”, and paradoxically it not only failed to gather as much attention, but it is clearly the much superior film. Of course we’re comparing it to “Battlefield Earth”, which isn’t much of a comparison, but let me explain further.
“We Married Margo” is an independent comedy which Shapiro not only wrote, but also directed and starred in. It has appeared a few times on cable, which is how I first saw it, and I immediately had to add it to my collection.
The film is loosely based on events which actually took place in the life of both Shapiro and William Dozier (an acquaintance who co-wrote the film with Shapiro). In the story Shapiro’s character (Jake) marries a woman named Margo, but it’s quickly realized that the relationship is a disaster and the two soon divorce. Margo then marries Rock (Dozier): a surfer type who she previously introduced to Jake, but that marriage also spirals down into a portion for foxes. Since Jake and Rock have become friends (and are now united by both having been married to Margo) they decide to become roommates (the arrangement becoming especially possible since Jake’s girlfriend Tracy has moved out). The body of the movie deals with Jake and Rock trying to get their lives together, but the only thing they seem to be succeeding at is in irritating each other totally.
A bare bones story. No frills or bells or whistles. But Shapiro treats this as a blank canvas from which to work on. For him, narrative takes the form of a blast from a shotgun. Sight gag follows one-liner follows slapstick follows sight gag follows one-liner . . . boom boom boom boom! Although on the basis a one-joke comedy monologue, Shapiro never lets things sit long enough to risk staleness. There’s always another gag coming along, and he keeps the pace going for 85 minutes.
A specially quirky and funny touch are the cameos from various celebrities (e.g. Kevin Bacon, Tom Arnold, Cindy Crawford, Victoria Tennant, etc.) who appear to explain how Margo so traumatized their lives that they were obliged to improve. As for Margo herself, she’s portrayed by New Zealand born actress Kylie Bax, and she gets my Uncle Mikey “Good Sport” Award for what she went through in this film. Shapiro never entirely shows Margo . . . Bax’s face is always partially hidden by a menu, microphone, etc., and her acting is limited to making wild gestures while, at the same time, her voice is depicted as a high-speed squeal. She’s not meant to be a real character in this film, only the embodiment of everything Shapiro found irritating in regards to a bad relationship.
To be honest, none of the people in “We Married Margo” are meant to be real characters. Jake and Rock and Tracy and the others are actually cartoon parodies of real people. The best way to describe this film is as being the closest we may ever get to an American version of Monty Python . . . or a live-action episode of “The Simpsons”. Once you’ve experienced that epiphany the humor really takes off. It’s the secret behind the wildest forms of comedy: not complete unreality, but the exaggeration of reality.
(Here’s a good opportunity to mention Jillian Johns, who plays Shapiro’s on-off-on-off-on-off-so forth and so on girlfriend Tracy. Like everyone else in the movie she realizes she just a step away from being a character in a Road Runner cartoon and that’s how she plays it: more of an elemental force than an actual person. There’s no call here for actual depth in a character. No one’s going to walk away full of Life’s sweet lessons, and Johns possesses the common sense to roll with the punches and go for the belly laugh.)
“We Married Margo” cost around $230,000 to make, and I’m willing to bet most of the money went into trips to the various location shots. Shapiro’s three sisters were, in fact, among the producers, so there’s a telling point right there. This is bare knuckle filmmaking at its best, and every inch of it is worth watching. It might not be Billy Wilder or Marx Brothers or Buster Keaton comedy . . . but it’s a good joke told quickly enough. So good, in fact, that I’m willing to excuse Shapiro for “Battlefield Earth” on the basis of this movie. And if he should ever team up with Dozier again I’d be willing to excuse quite a bit more.
As for myself, I enjoyed Margo . . . I mean, the Movie!
Your Honor, the Defense rests.