Say It Isn't So

(James B. Rogers, USA, 2001)


There is variety within the much-maligned genre of trash comedy. While Dude, Where's My Car? (2000) focuses on playgirls, aliens, erections and dope, Say It Isn't So concentrates on the gross possibilities of death, injury, disability, incest and pubic hair.

Scatological and crypto-gay elements figure in all trash comedies, but this latest one attempts an unlikely fusion: it places its extremely tasteless set-pieces within the framework of a sweet romance. Director James B. Rogers' apprenticeship with the Farrelly brothers (There's Something about Mary, 1998) is evident in this regard.

Gilbert (Chris Klein) is a sensitive, lovable guy who longs to find his real mother. He falls for Jo (Heather Graham), whose attractiveness to men is equalled only by her klutziness at all feminine tasks. Their relationship comes to a screeching halt, however, when Gilbert is informed that Jo is his sister.

What sets this apart from most trash comedies is its class consciousness. Of course, all films of this ilk aim for vulgar, proletarian laughs and mercilessly deride middle class propriety. Here, however, social mobility is an important aspect of the plot.

Gilbert's discovery of what he assumes is his real family is a nightmare, with Jo's parents (Sally Field and Richard Jenkins) embodying the horror, the horror. A grotesque carnival of bad taste, bodily disintegration and loud manners, this pair want nothing more than to marry off their daughter to the richest, most eligible guy in town.

A key figure in this scenario is the curious Dig (Orlando Jones). Introduced into the plot when Gilbert literally runs him over on the road, Dig is a classic helper character and also a symbol of the socially disenfranchised: according to his own fanciful boast, he is both Afro-American and native Indian, and his two prosthetic legs suggest he is also a Vietnam veteran.

Unfortunately, the script by Peter Gaulke and Gerry Swallow has little clue about what to do with these intriguing elements. The film turns into a simple struggle between rivals for the hand of Jo, enlivened by a few amusing gags (particularly one involving the rear end of a cow).

An early highlight involves Gilbert's recital of an excruciatingly saccharine ode to deceased animals. Jo's tearful reaction to this masterpiece is a cue to savvy viewers that the poem is likely to recur at a key moment of the plot.

And so it does, for a fleeting second evoking the brilliant twists that Preston Sturges once brought to transgressive comedies of yesteryear like The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944). Sadly, nothing else in Say It Isn't So invites such a lofty comparison.

© Adrian Martin April 2001

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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