There’s a cliché in the music business regarding the ‘difficult’ third album. A band’s first LP is delivered full of fire, desire and with a gang mentality born from the years of bedroom/backroom songwriting, playing shitty clubs, transit vans and miles that went into getting to that point. The second is often inspired by the flush of success and the confidence that brings – along with a healthy back-catalogue of unused tunes. The third however, has to come from point zero; after things have calmed down – money has been made, long tours (and often drugs) have taken their toll on creativity and relationships amongst the band – and success from that point on relies on songwriting skill, dedication and a clear vision of what is to be achieved. Ask Axl Rose – or The Stone Roses – about it.
It feels as if there’s much of that strain in The Love Guru; Mike Myers’ search for his difficult third character, a new iconic lead to match up to Wayne and Austin. Hey, it’s not like he’s struggling, his side-projects – like serious acting roles and, er… Shrek – have hardly been unsuccessful, and he’s due to turn out in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds next year, but these will never be considered to be ‘his’ characters as much as Mr. Campbell and Powers, with whom he’s intrinsically linked. If that were me, it’d get on my nerves, and I think it’s getting to Mr. Myers’ too.
In the absence of a real creative spark, many a musician has reached to different cultures for inspiration – turned to the drum machine, mandolin, synthesiser, sitar, whatever; in that context, Guru Pitka makes some kind of twisted sense on a ‘what the hell was he thinking?’ level. The real irony, though, is that he is Myers’ most rounded character yet – the most refined, artful extension of his raison d’etre for the social inadequate-made-hero through earnest idiocy and the occasional blinding insight. He’s funny to boot; yet the world shrugged, walked away or became indignant. Ain’t life a bitch?
Well, yes and no. Mike Myers doesn’t really do satire or parody, what his comedy revolves around is affectionate send-ups of archetypes. His comedy always feels like it’s coming from within himself, from experience and a genuine affection for its target – from the right place in his heart. The last point is still true here, yet in moving so far away from his own culture in creating Guru Pitka, Myers has introduced something very squirm-worthy into the mix. It’s all a little too reminiscent of the bad-old-goodness-gracious-me days, for a start – and while the film tries to head off such criticisms at the pass with back-story revealing his central character to be a Canadian whose parents were killed in India, it’s simply not enough.
Let’s get this straight: Mike Myers is no Peter Sellers, and anyway times have changed and such characterisations as Sellers, Warren Mitchell or whoever may have attempted, are largely baulked at today – and rightly so. Even the great man would be in trouble here, to be honest. Here’s another memo to Mike: a love of HeIp! – no matter how genuine or heartfelt – does not make this okay? ‘Kay? No, Mike, like really…
You may look at The Love Guru, and think there is little difference here from Myers’ merciless ribbing of Brits about their teeth or whatever. Well, maybe there isn’t: essentially this film unerringly follows the Austin Powers template in both structure and material – both being a comedy of manners built around the incongruity of Myers’ character’s situation. However, he is building on a shakier foundation here; the shifting sands of political correctness are a dangerous place for constructing gags, certainly when compared to slacker teens, beat poets or spy movies. Sometimes the humour sinks and swims on a shift of the tide or one small deviation from the safe path.
To enforce this, the film’s gags are delivered in a much more relaxed way when it moves away from the Guru, and onto Myers’ more familiar ground of Canadian sport. This is helped immensely by Stephen Colbert, pretty much stealing every scene he goes near (alongside Jim Gaffigan) as the super-enthused hockey commentator with a penchant for peyote abuse. Indeed, his turn is very close to being Gary Cole/Jason Bateman-in-Dodgeball-standard material – high praise indeed around these parts.
There’s also a Smokey & The Bandit-esque bar fight that amounts to a sublime piece of comedy (it’s hard to beat a good comedy bar fight, to be honest), and even Justin Timberlake turns in a decent turn as Jacque ‘Le Coq’ Grande – a French-Canadian hockey star with a Diggler-esque ‘talent’. Damn. Conversely, The Love Guru is at its worse when it turns to India – what the hell Ben Kingsley is doing, I have no idea; and the film plumbs the depths of sniggering, childish humour by dubbing his character Guru Tugginmypudha (they’re Indian, and they have funny names, how HILARIOUS).
The Love Guru is far from the disaster many would have you believe; it functions very well as a slapstick comedy of manners, it has some wonderful affectionate flourishes, and – actually – treats the philosophies and beliefs underpinning its characterisations very respectfully. It saves its sharpest barbs for the commercialisation of such beliefs, and the habit we have for turning a life of learning into a lifestyle choice or a self-help option that can be picked up and put down at will, and packaged into soundbites for Oprah.
This movie stands as a testament to Mike Myers’ talent… No, really, hear me out. The premise is sooooo dodgy in these politically correct times, that lesser comedians would’ve driven me to eject the DVD after about 10 minutes.
If you have no love for Myers’ virtually-copyrighted mugging to the camera (he’s one of the best in the business, mind), avoid this film like the plague; if you’re unlikely to laugh at a sitar-driven Bollywood workout of Dolly Parton’s theme from Nine-To-Five, this isn’t the film for you. Me? I laughed like a drain; before spending the rest of the evening feeling guilty about falling for material so puerile.
By the time Myers et al hand out the same treatment to the Steve Miller Band’s The Joker, a closing to the film, I had actually been won over by this movie’s childish charms. The fact is that everything is delivered with such gusto and sheer wide-eyed joy that I find it virtually impossible to resist. Now, there’s a line that pretty much sums up my feeling on Mike Myers’ career, if I ever heard one.
The Love Guru is released on 26th December
23 December 2008