Observe and Report’s dicey maybe-date-rape scene is controversial enough, but it’s not the scene dividing critics today. Instead, critics are fighting over Jody Hill’s explosive, improbable ending.
Time’s Richard Corliss rants: “Observe and Report eventually chickens out. The apparently unbreakable rule of modern comedy is that audiences not only have to laugh … they must also leave with a smile, a glow that tells them all’s right with the world, until they get back into the world. You can’t have the cleansing anarchy and bile of classical comedy; that might sow sullen word of mouth and reduce the box-office revenue by a few dollars.”
Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle raves, “The innovation of Observe and Report — its one small step for comedy — is that it finds its way to a satisfying ending without compromising an audience’s (or its own) sense of truth.”
Slate’s Dana Stevens fumes: “[It] ends on a note of triumph that’s curiously out of keeping with the movie’s own logic. […] For there to be even a hint of redemption (and depending how you read the last scene, there may be way more than a hint) throws everything that came before into question, and breaks an unwritten contract with the viewer. What’s meant (I think) to be a “fuck you” to action-movie conventions reads instead as a “fuck you” to the audience.”
Jeffrey Wells rants: “Hill is a copout compromiser … I found the Observe and Report finale infuriating for a film that is supposedly delving into the dark side and dealing with human derangement with at least a semblance of bluntness.”
And the Post’s Lou Lumenick cops out: “Is the ending a cop-out or welcome restraint? There will be debates about this.”
Without spoiling anything, we’ll just say that we agree that the ending is, as Stevens says in her sharp review, a “fuck you” to the audience — but maybe that’s not a bad thing. To give Jody Hill some credit, the dreamlike ending is so audacious, it must be intended to make some portion of the audience do a double take and say, “Whoa: This happy ending is so wrong. These people should not be celebrating what Ronnie just did.” That’s what we were thinking, anyway — as the audience around us whooped it up and cheered, just like those implausible extras on the screen. We often go to the movies to laugh and cheer as one audience. But like these critics, nobody ever really feels the same way about a movie. And it’s a rare studio film that doesn’t just highlight this fact, but leaves you gawking at the dude next to you, thinking, “Christ, you’re just as scary as what’s onscreen.”