Great filmmaker though he is, Martin Scorsese isn't the first name that comes to mind when you think about comedy genius. But Jody Hill, who developed a cult of admirers with his debut feature, the micro-budgeted martial-arts farce Foot Fist Way, and who enters the big-time-studio-release category with Observe and Report, traces his inspiration in part back to his first viewing of Taxi Driver.
THANKS, SETH: Hill says the film wouldn't be as wild as it is without Rogen.
"I discovered Martin Scorsese when I was in middle school, and that's when I suddenly realized, okay, there's actually directors behind movies. But me and my buddy kind of laughed at Taxi Driver. Like, oh my God, he takes her to a porn movie? Maybe we weren't really getting the full meaning at the time — we were 13 years old. But now, whenever I make movies, I try to remember when I was 13 and just kind of discovering movies and had my juvenile appreciation of '70s cinema. Straw Dogs and all that. The themes they dealt with in the '70s, isolation, alienation, the kinds of things that Peckinpah was dealing with, like codes of honor and bands of outsiders — I always responded to that. I think there are similar kinds of themes in this movie. At least, I tried to get them in there."
Another aspect of Scorsese's filmmaking that Hill tries to emulate is his unnerving tonal shifts, from comedy to creepiness, from laughter to cringing discomfort, the kind of effect that distinguishes King of Comedy and certain scenes in GoodFellas.
"King of Comedy is one of my favorite films of all time. I love how it rides that tone. It's easy to make the Taxi Driver comparison to this movie, but I think tonally it is closer to King of Comedy. I'll let people call it whatever they want to call it, but I think if you view this movie thinking it's kind of a drama — and I say 'drama' meaning any serious movie — then you might like it a little bit more. I think with comedy you get set up for a lot of preconceived notions, most of which are horrible. You get set up for jokes per minute and that kind of thing, but I don't think this movie is really based on that. I think it's based on characters. A lot of the time, I feel like comedy is disposable. Where things that are sad are funny-sad and things that are action or violent are funny-action. I didn't want to do that at all. I wanted to make a real movie that was funny."
This doesn't sound like the kind of pitch that would have studio executives reaching for their checkbooks. Hill, however, had Seth Rogen, fresh from hits like Knocked Up and Pineapple Express, in his corner.
"Seth probably has had the chance to do whatever romantic comedies he wants and make a lot of money. But he's taken this clout in Hollywood that he has and is looking to push the envelope. Without Seth, this movie would not be as wild as it was. It would be more cookie-cutter. Seth from day one would talk to the studio and say, 'You've got to let us do it the way we want to do it. That's the only way I'm going to do this movie, if it's wild and with nakedness and so on.' He knows a lot of his fans are probably going to be freaked out by this movie, and he welcomes it. He's not interested in repeating anything he's done before. You hear all these horror stories about Hollywood, and to meet someone like Seth and become friends with him, it's really an honor. I'm proud of this film, and a lot of what I'm proud about in it I owe to Seth Rogen."