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"The Aristocrats"

Directed by Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette.
Release Year:  2005
Review Date:  8/21/05


A guy walks into a talent agent's office to pitch an idea.

This is the first line of the only joke that is told during "The Aristocrats", an insane idea that turns into one of the funniest movies of the year because it is a beautiful realization that all comedians tell their jokes in such different ways that their jokes can always be funny if delivered just the right way.

Of course, most comedians don't tell jokes, per se, in their acts so much as present situations or lines or people that you certainly see in your day-to-day life...which makes it funny.  The joke that is retold in "The Aristocrats" is, well, just a platform to say something that is ABSOLUTELY not realistic in any way, shape or form, which makes it funny.


A documentary that is just about the dirtiest thing in theaters this year, "The Aristocrats" takes that first line and tells us the story about how this joke is like THE joke amongst comedians over the years, about how many comedians have come up with some way to tell the joke and have it be 100 kinds of funny for 100 different comedians...then, to prove it, we get to watch about half of them actually tell their version of the joke onscreen.  From Robin Williams, to Whoopi, to Eric Idle, to Chris Rock, many of them give it a spin to hilarious effect.

But the real beauty is watching certain comics spin the joke completely watching a mime perform the joke (which usually starts with the "guy" pitching a potential theater act featuring his family, sex, and even the occasional household pet) or watching The Smothers Brothers not really understand the joke, or watching two guys that juggle fire torches talk about the joke while hangin' out in their backyard.  Sarah Silverman even does her version as one of the kids that is, ahem, "used" in the made-up show to howling effect.  Then, the film's creators, Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette, give us silly scenes like Kevin Pollak impersonating Christopher Walken, or other comics just laughing, or Penn & Teller being just plain ol' weird.

As many times as the joke is told, it is pretty much a split between the times that is funny versus the times that it isn't, but when it's funny, it kills.  Bob Saget, a perfect delivery man for this joke since it (like his stand-up act) is so dirty, does a great job with it; one comic does it with the punchline "And here's the kicker:  Grandma's dead!"; George Carlin is great, as is Andy Dick.  Hell, even Martin Mull (I know, crazy, right?) does a great job with his version of the joke.  But, the joke is pretty dumb, so sometimes comics fall flat in telling it, or prophesizing about it, or giving us anything shocking enough to even register.  Then, in the film's waning stages, we get some scenes on why it seems like no black comics tell this joke (Chris Rock is the only one to address it) or how comics have moved to a more racist edge in telling the joke; when one comic delivered the punchline for an act featuring three classically-trained African-American musicians, our theater was a morgue, it was so quiet...most of these scenes didn't work and one imagines that Provenza knew that when he cut the film but declined to take the scenes out.

Even with these late transgressions, most of "The Aristocrats" is good times.  Definitely worth the visit to your local indie house!

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09