Dear Danny McBride: Please Give Us Your Friend Back

Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 27 2011 2:08 PM

Whatever Happened to David Gordon Green?

111416512
Danny McBride and David Gordon Green at the premiere of 'Your Highness' last April.

Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

David Haglund David Haglund

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.

I have a request. Or maybe just a message to pass along. It depends. In any case, it concerns your friend, David Gordon Green.

Advertisement

I know you guys went to film school together, and you seem pretty close. You certainly work together a lot: He directed you in the “action comedy” Pineapple Express and the “medieval stoner comedy” Your Highness, as well as in several episodes of your very funny HBO series about a former major league ballplayer, Eastbound & Down. He served as a consulting producer on other episodes. And now you’re both working on an animated show for MTV that he created, which debuts tonight. (More on that in a minute.)

What’s probably less well known is that your first credits came on small indie projects Green directed. You were a second unit director on George Washington, his lyrical feature film debut from 2000 about kids in a small, hard-up town. I love that movie. And I liked All the Real Girls, his follow-up, a lot, too. You were good in it as Bust-Ass, a sort of no-good friend to the main character, played by Paul Schneider, who’s beginning to realize that sleeping with every girl in his small, Southern hometown isn’t going to make him happy after all. Zooey Deschanel has never been more charming, and Patricia Clarkson was great as always.

Both those movies showed the influence of Terrence Malick, with their unconventional use of voiceover and their deliberate pacing. But they weren’t mere imitations: They’re more domestic and less philosophical than Malick’s films, as though Green married Malick’s techniques to the intimacy of Charles Burnett’s wonderful Killer of Sheep from 1977 (to which George Washington is often compared).

Malick seemed to like those movies, too: He served as an executive producer on Green’s third feature, Undertow. I didn’t enjoy that one as much—and I confess I skipped the fourth, Snow Angels, which Green adapted from a Stewart O’Nan novel. So maybe I’m part of the problem here.

What is the problem? After getting mostly great reviews and underwhelming box office returns for those movies, Green seems to have abandoned whatever Malick and Burnett-sized ambitions he ever had. When he signed on to Pineapple Express, many fans of his earlier work thought, “Hey, this will be interesting: A promising young director with an experimental side is going to try his hand at a mainstream comedy.” Then came Your Highness. “Oh,” we thought, “he’s doing another comedy. Well, it’s an unusual one, at least, what with the marijuana in the Middle Ages and all.”

And now there’s Good Vibes, a cartoon about a short, overweight high-school kid from New Jersey who has to adjust to surf-crazed southern California. Fox picked it up a few years ago, but never put it on the air; it’s premiering on MTV tonight, paired with the revived Beavis and Butthead. You play the morbidly obese teacher Ms. Teets. The whole voice cast is impressive: Adam Brody, Josh Gad, Olivia Thirlby, Dax Shepard.

And the show is terrible. Not only is it unfunny and derivative, but it’s remarkably chauvinistic: The women on the show are either impossibly proportioned hourglass-shaped creatures who exist to be ogled by the show’s male characters, or (like your Ms. Teets) hideous subhumans who exist to be mocked.

When Green first veered into more commercial territory with Pineapple Express, a lot of us thought he might follow the Steven Soderbergh/Gus Van Sant/Richard Linklater playbook, and alternate between commercial projects and more indie fare. That’s a well-worn and often fruitful path. But we’re coming up on five years since Snow Angels showed at Sundance, without anything terribly interesting on the horizon. Black Jack, a pilot for Comedy Central, sounds like Eastbound & Down meets Alias; it could be good, but I’m not going to hold my breath. And The Sitter, the upcoming Jonah Hill comedy, is pretty clearly Adventures in R-Rated Babysitting.

Generally speaking, people shouldn’t tell artists what to do. Artists need to ignore their fans and follow their muses—otherwise, how would they surprise us? And I realize that, when it comes to movies, you never know which projects will get funding. (Imagine if A Confederacy of Dunces had gone forward? Then this is is a whole different conversation, most likely.) Finally, I don’t mean to look down my nose at these other projects (apart from Good Vibes; seriously, what were you guys thinking?). But Green has the talent to leave a real mark on American movies, and it looks like he’s letting the opportunity slip.

So maybe give him back to us? Or just pass this message along. It would be much appreciated.

Yours,

David

TODAY IN SLATE

Sports Nut

Grandmaster Clash

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Food

How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

Scotland Is Inspiring Secessionists Across America

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 18 2014 10:42 AM Scalia’s Liberal Streak The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 18 2014 11:25 AM Gays on TV: From National Freakout to Modern Family Fun
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 11:40 AM Where Pregnant Women Aren't Allowed to Work After 36 Weeks  
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 11:48 AM Watch the Hilarious First Sketch From Season 4 of Key & Peele
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 10:07 AM “The Day It All Ended” A short story from Hieroglyph, a new science fiction anthology.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 18 2014 7:30 AM Red and Green Ghosts Haunt the Stormy Night
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.