Thursday, June 4, 2015

New movie review: Entourage

Adrian Grenier (left), Jeremy Piven (center), and Kevin Connolly star in the television-to-film adaptation Entourage.

Let’s talk for a minute. It is possible you have strong feelings one way or the other about the HBO television series Entourage. Based on the myriad angry columns and snarky news reports about the show’s new big-screen adaptation, it is possible those feelings are negative and bordering on blindly hateful. Maybe you are sick of the so-called “bro” culture and everything that entails. Perhaps you are offended by the borderline misogyny on display. You may be sick of the celebration of excessive wealth.

These are all the things the popular culture has turned its nose up at in recent years and not without reason, which means many of you probably do hold these views and society at large will not disagree with you. In the four years since Entourage went off the air, we all tacitly agreed to participate in the backlash against the man-child celebrated by the show and its ilk such as much of Judd Apatow’s output and basically any Adam Sandler movie.

This is a world now in which people who once may have enjoyed the show might claim to have grown up and moved beyond it. Some will always have been too “mature” for it, whatever that means. Others simply are offended by the premise. If any of the above describes your worldview, the Entourage movie is not for you, and that is fine. No one can say you are wrong. That being said, I am not talking to you right now. Much like the movie, this review will not be for you.

Okay, whom do we have left? Fans, I hope. Now that we are alone together, let’s talk about how much damn fun this movie is. Written and directed by the show’s creator, Doug Ellin, Entourage is a direct extension of the show that spawned it, set just a few months after the events of the series finale. As such, it plays like a long, big-budget version of the show, not that the series was ever lacking for production value.

In its waning days, roughly seasons seven and eight, even fans – among whom I count myself – can agree the show started to slip as it attempted more dramatic storylines and split apart its core group. What made the show work was always the comic dynamic of its central cast, Vinny (Adrian Grenier), E (Kevin Connolly), Drama (Kevin Dillon), and Turtle (Jerry Ferrara). When the writers moved away from that group dynamic, the show suffered.

For the big-screen adaptation, Ellin returns to the show’s bread and butter, keeping at least two of the guys together at all times – even in situations in which it would otherwise be ridiculous, except that we know what we are watching and why – and letting them bounce off each other. The rest is just watching sparks fly, and despite the show having wrapped years ago, the cast has not lost an ounce of chemistry. Dillon, in particular, seems to be back in his element, and Jeremy Piven is never better than when he is channeling super agent turned studio head Ari Gold.

The central conceit has not changed in the translation from TV to film. Vince wants to express a specific artistic vision, and the Hollywood machine stands in his way. Since the movie is just a super-sized version of the show, though, Vince’s problems are infinitely larger and the stakes are monumentally higher – for the characters, should I need to specify that for the haters who insist on reading this far.

Left to right: Jerry Ferrara, Piven, Grenier, Connolly, and Kevin Dillon.
Vince wants to direct a movie, and as the new studio head, Ari is in a position to make that dream come true. He uses his clout to put Vince in charge of the next summer tent pole with a $100 million price tag. He goes considerably over his budget and is forced to deal with the Texas money man and his son (Billy Bob Thornton and Haley Joel Osmet) who are financing the production. Eric has a side plot with longtime on-again-off-again girlfriend/fiancée/wife Sloane. Turtle tries to romance a celebrity. Drama has self-esteem issues based on his lacking career. It is all par for the Entourage course.

Trust me. If you are interested in Entourage, it is not because of the plot. If you are not familiar with the show, the plot will not get you invested in these people. If you do not like the show, well, see the introduction. However, if you are a fan, the plot is not really the point. The point is to watch gifted comic actors throw shade at each other for a brisk 100 minutes.

I saw the film at a Tuesday night preview screening with an audience that was absolutely thrilled to be there. Every joke landed and landed hard. This was the target demographic. The movie might not – hell, probably could not – play the same to anyone outside the intended audience. I am here to ask: So what? This movie has been absolutely pounded by mainstream critics. I understand. I see their points. None of it, however, makes the experience of watching characters you always enjoyed brought back to life and bigger than ever.

Not everything is for everybody. Not everything needs to be. High culture is not the only culture. I will be the first to admit there is an anti-feminist, pro-excess streak running through Entourage. That is kind of the point. Entourage began as a satire of the Hollywood lifestyle. Somewhere along the way, people stopped thinking of it that way and started critiquing it as a glorification of extravagant wealth. Honestly, it is both, in many of the same ways Martin Scorsese’s recent The Wolf of Wall Street was.

It plays simultaneously on our collective id and our collective super ego. In many of us, there is a part, however small or large, that wishes we had infinite wealth, unending youth, and incorruptible beauty. That is the fantasy of Vincent Chase. At the same time, most of us realize such a life is not only unsustainable, it is undesirable. It is inherently empty. There is a void at the heart of the Entourage dream that intentional or not, reflects the emptiness of the lifestyle it depicts.

Yeah, Entourage is about a movie star living a life most of us cannot imagine – much of it based on true stories of Hollywood life – but that is not the soul of the enterprise. Really, it is about a guy and his friends. There is no deeper message than: Friendship is pretty great. I see the flaws in the details, but on the whole, how could I possibly disagree with that sentiment? The truth is I cannot.

See it? Yes.

1 comment:

Thomas Watson said...

There's an incredible feeling of deja vu in Entourage aka the male Sex and The City as it feels like the film has recycled several plots from the series' run