Last weekend we were hanging out with a bunch of movie-loving friends who professed no desire to see Observe and Report, Seth Rogen's mall-cop black comedy. "I just don't want to see any movie where the main character's a rapist," one girl said firmly, which caught us by surprise. It's true that the movie's red-band trailer shows him pumping away on an unconscious Anna Faris, but then she stirs and yells, "Did I tell you to stop, motherfucker?" We assumed that once we saw the movie, we'd see some mitigating scenes that, as the Times claims, make it more clear that Brandi, Faris's cosmetics-counter floozy, has given her consent. Surely no studio comedy, no matter how supposedly "dark," would portray its lead character as a rapist, right?
And then we watched it. Spoilers ahead!
"It's like date rape — that's funny, right?" star Anna Faris told New York's Logan Hill in an interview last week. "Or not … " It turns out that yes, by any reasonable standard of behavior, Seth Rogen's character, Ronnie Barnhardt, totally rapes Faris's Brandi. More surprising is that, in the dark world of Observe and Report, raping Brandi is one of the least unsympathetic things Ronnie Barnhardt does.
The movie doesn't mitigate that sex scene at all. In fact, it makes it even more clear than the trailer does that when Brandi and Ronnie get home from dinner, she's unbelievably trashed on antidepressants and tequila. Not only does she throw up all over the place, she can barely walk — and she certainly can't give any kind of informed consent. She's way too wasted for her yelling at Ronnie to mean anything.
But, given all the horrible things Ronnie does later in the movie — out of spite, or stupidity, or flat-out psychosis — this scene winds up seeming a lot less awful as the movie goes on. For one thing, as horribly misdirected as it becomes, his "courtship" of Brandi is the only thing in Ronnie's life that comes partly from a place of sweetness rather than entirely from a place of darkness. (Sure, plenty of it comes from his sociopath-level desire to wield power over the world, but not all of it.) He may have no idea how to interact properly (or even legally) with a woman, but he's desperate for connection and helpless before her limited charms.
And he even shows a glimmer of self-awareness — after all, mid-rape, he stops for a moment, worried about whether he's doing the right thing. Yeah, he's so deluded and terrified that her drunken reprimand convinces him he is doing the right thing, but at least he thinks about it, which is more than you can say for his behavior in the rest of Observe and Report.
What will audiences think of this scene, which is deeply uncomfortable while also being explosively funny? "I do wonder if there's going to be a bit of a gender divide on this movie," Faris mused. "I think that some guys can see themselves in Ronnie, and understand him, I guess. And I'm not sure that women will go along with that." Hang out at your local multiplex this weekend if you're in the mood to overhear a lot of angry post-movie arguments, as couples debate the totally insane movie they've just seen — a truly dark big-studio comedy in which, yes, Seth Rogen rapes the girl of his dreams.