"Are you afraid that there are mysteries in this world that you don't understand? Are you afraid that you aren't the same person you were yesterday?"
"I don't want to be the person I was yesterday."
Spirituality isn't a subject I've really broached so far in the films I've taken a look at when I've reviewed religious films. You can either lay that on me being a cretin or the fact that all of the films that I have looked at when writing this series have been wholly dogmatic in approach; it's hard to discuss what the film wants you to feel when it's too busy telling you what to feel.
That being said, I also shy away from discussing spirituality because that falls distinctly more on the philosophical side of things. I can say I've stumbled through some Aristotle and chuckled over the occasional Nietzsche joke, but philosophy often strikes me as spitting in the wind and waiting to see if it will come back and hit you in the face while an apathetic crowd shuffles along.
Said the guy who writes movie reviews in his spare time.
This is all leading into my film for today, The Chosen One, starring Rob Schneider. Yes, that Rob Schneider. Seeing the cover for the film I had hastily assumed that someone in Hollywood was kicking themselves for missing out on the Bruce Almighty bandwagon and had hastily assembled a Rob Schneider-centric knock-off to grab some money.
And, apparently, that assumption just made a huge ass out of me. While The Chosen One has a couple of punchlines, it's desired goal isn't to be Bruce but something more akin to Little Miss Sunshine. The characters wallow in pathos, as Schneider, well known for playing crappy bit parts and one note characters, attempts to wade into something of a more serious persona.
His character here is a car dealer whose father killed himself recently, leaving Schneider into a spiral of booze and regret. He attempts suicide several times before a fateful knock on the door reveals three holy men and their interpreter who insist that they've found the home of the man who will bring snow to their mountain again. And while I was waiting for an intense plot of everyone learning the powers of global warming or Schneider taking on a predominately silly quest, the movie heads in a smarter direction: he doesn't believe them.
Some would argue such a move is obtuse, and those people would be structuralists: he's in a movie, he's been given an extraordinarily silly set-up, his character must have a silly reaction. Schneider shrugs, though, and takes his sad sack character through the journey of self discovery rather than cheesy quest. Since I saw Surf Ninjas about two weeks ago which had involved Mr. Schneider on a wacky quest, the direction The Chosen One takes was quite welcome.
The three wise men and their beautiful translator (that last part is a sign of a screenplay working a bit too hard) arrive and quickly bewilder Schneider's used car salesman. They tell him of how their tribe is the last remaining Pre-Columbian civilization who lives in harmony with the Earth. Since their mountain has lost its snow, they are convinced the world is ending and seek out their Chosen One to solve their problem.
Several other reviews have pointed out that this plot seems to contain a share of racism, but I'm not entirely convinced of that, and it seems like a convenient way to shrug off the characters whose faith and beliefs seem to simply be ridiculous to most Western thought. In fact, the movie even goes the extra mile to make fun of this disconnect, as Schneider's brother has spent the last eight years of his life as a monk in South America, studying trendy new meditation techniques and eating vegetables because 'everyone else does it'.
Schneider's brother is played by Steve Buscemi. It's just that kind of movie.
The film views the world as interconnected by tragedy and hope. Schneider's character's acceptance of his father's suicide is directly connected to a hawk in New York and a mountain in Columbia, and the grace that the film preaches is a sweet and gentle one. The Indian's spirituality relies on a theory of interconnectedness that isn't uncommon in New Age theory and isn't revelatory here, either, but it's rare to see it treated with so little disdain. It's a film more about the acceptance of that revelation than the journey to it, if that makes any sense.
The movie itself doesn't work tell well as the serious plotline (including some really amazing work between Schneider, Buscemi, and Holland Taylor as their mother), and Schneider's job woes all grind their gears as they try and switch from broad comedy to straight drama. It's obvious that everyone knew who the audience was (Schneider fans) and who they wanted the audience to be (indie film fans) and in trying to make a movie that would please both, they got kind of a weird hybrid that will probably get rank indifference from both.
Well, it got that from me, at least, but I will say that the movie was smarter than I expected and much better than I expected. I wouldn't recommend it, but I'm still stuck in a particular kind of awe. If Rob-freaking-Schneider has something like this in him, what does that say about the rest of us?