Jonah Hill in "Get Him to the Greek": Too Fat to be Funny?
I'm getting sick of repeating this so this is the last time. Chubby or corpulent or run-of-the-mill fat is associated with "funny," as The Wrap's Leah Rosen reiterated yesterday. But Jonah Hill's button-busting obesity in Get Him To The Greek pushes this equation to the breaking point, I feel. The fact that his performance is arguably his best yet -- he's as funny as he was in Superbad but with more maturity and internal conflict -- is a tribute to his talent, but he has to grapple with his girth at every turn.
He's so ballooned-up, in other words, that it's almost an obstruction to the material. It doesn't "stop" his hilarious performance as record-company flunkie Aaron Green, but it seems to mess with the vibe a bit. Hill is running down a Las Vegas hotel hallway with Russell Brand and it's hard not to think "Jesus, he's gonna need oxygen if he doesn't slow down." Hill is talking to g.f. Elizabeth Moss about possibly moving to Seattle and you're thinking "I can't buy this...he's just too fat for her."
Hill's surplus tonnage is easily the most visually distinctive thing about him, and yet it's never once commented upon in Greek, a no-holds-barred comedy in which everything and everyone is batted around for fun. Start to finish, nobody utters a single fat crack of any kind. There's one visual gag about Hill's exposed ass, okay, but it's a mild gross-out. (Or it was in the screening I attended yesterday -- some people went "eewww.")
Hill is short, but he's like a beach ball with legs and arms. As fat movie comedians go, the only ones I can think of who were more super-sized was Sam Kinison and Chris Farley at the end of their respective roads.
(l. to r.) Fatty Arbuckle, Oliver Hardy, Jack Black, Chris Farley.
Look at all the other funny fat guys of yore -- Oliver Hardy of Laurel & Hardy, Lou Costello, Fatty Arbuckle, John Candy, Curly Howard of The Three Stooges -- and they were all somewhere between big-chubby and run-of-the-mill fat. During their prime none could be called obese (although Hardy grew into this during Laurel and Hardy's career decline in the mid to late '40s).
I'm not saying all this to be cruel, but to simply point out that there are gradations and degrees of heavyness, and that there's a point at which bulk starts to get in the way of humor.
Rosen doesn't seem to get this. Her piece about Hill says he's part of a "long line of chubby men who have reigned as box-office stars in comedies almost since movies began." Calling Hill "chubby" is analogous to describing the current BP oil leak as "problematic" instead of "catastrophic." (Is it problematic? Yeah, but is it the right proportional term to use? No.) She also calls him "rotund" and "pudgy" -- terms that are more polite than descriptive. She also calls him a "double-wide guy" -- that I'll buy.