Role Models (R) Three and a half stars
Trouble the Water (NR) Four stars
Another R-rated comedy mixing raunchiness with a sweet story. A riveting documentary look at one of the families that got slammed by Hurricane Katrina. About the only thing the two films have in common is that they’re both worth your time.
Let’s look at the serious one first. Trouble the Water, winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, is a remarkably intimate look at the Katrina disaster. The documentary follows aspiring rapper Kimberly Roberts and her husband Scott, residents of New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, starting before the storm hit courtesy of camcorder footage taken by Kimberly.
The Roberts later hook up with co-directors Tia Lessin and Carl Deal. The filmmakers served as producers with Michael Moore on Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11, but never fear, they keep out of the picture and do not interfere with the compelling portrait of Kimberly, Scott and those around them. The directors structure the film so that it hops back and forth in time. The format is serviceable, but it allows for some holes in the narrative of the family’s quest for relocation.
So why should you pay to see this movie when so many documentaries on Katrina are available? Trouble the Water doesn’t just recount the now-familiar details of the effects of Katrina, it puts you right in the middle of it. When Kimberly began filming, she wasn’t trying to make a commercial film; she was simply recording the latest big storm to threaten her city. Accordingly, we get a sense of the individuals and of daily life in their ward. It’s like Cloverfield, except this time the monster is a hurricane and, later, the government. Kimberly and Scott are your neighbors — damn fine neighbors — and Trouble the Water is their story. By focusing on one family instead of trying to take in the entire disaster, the film offers a unique perspective on the sturdiness of people and the power and grit of the human spirit.
Role Models is a mainstream comedy covered with R-rated gravy. The story is pure formula: Two goofs in L.A., sarcastic Danny (Paul Rudd) and party dude Wheeler (Seann William Scott), get in trouble with the law and are given a choice: 30 days in the hoosegow or 150 days of community service. The guys end up working for a Big Brother-style program run by a zealot (beautifully played by Jane Lynch), with Danny assigned to Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, McLovin from Superbad), a gawky teen whose life is built around an elaborate medieval role-playing game, while Wheeler is paired with Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson), a 10-year-old with an obscenity-filled vocabulary and a bad temper.
You know everything that’s going to happen. Initial friction between the men and the boys, a gradual bonding, a big blow-up followed by a chance of redemption. Oh, and Danny is on the outs with his girlfriend Beth (raunchy comedy go-to girl Elizabeth Banks), so you have a romantic arc as well. Role Models is tremendously rude and vulgar, but it made me laugh and it made me care about the characters. The cast is really good — I knew Rudd would be great and had high expectations for Lynch, Banks and Mintz-Plasse, but what a nice surprise to see Seann William Scott, whose smirkiness has long annoyed me, play someone who is actually endearing. And young Bobb’e J. Thompson is a hoot as the foul-mouthed little hell raiser. Role Models is trite, obvious and funny as all get out.