There is a consensus amongst psychologists of today that the basic components of happiness are fulfilling and difficult work, a happy marriage and other meaningful interpersonal relationships. Mike Judge, the creator of such favorites as King of the Hill and Office Space, tends to disagree. With the economy in disarray, and the divorce rate at an all time high, his viewpoint is easily understood.
That’s why the central argument of Judge’s new film, Extract, is so convincing. Unlike Office Space, which is about sticking it to the man, Extract is about being the man — or, in this case, Joel, the owner of an extract factory. Joel is not exactly king of the hill — his greatest ambition is to sleep with his wife, Suzie (Kristen Wiig), before she puts on the “no-sex” sweatpants and watches Dancing with the Stars.
Joel’s ongoing failure to do so causes him to turn to Dean (Ben Affleck), a long-haired, drugged out friend with plenty anti-depressants to go around. Dean provides plenty of entertaining interactions, some involving a huge bong, others involving horse tranquilizers. While under the influence of the latter, Dean convinces Joel to hire a gigolo to have sex with Suzie in order to justify Dean’s own extramarital affairs — with the completely evil factory temp Cindy (Mila Kunis).
As with Judge’s other works, critiques of capitalism are abundant; Suzie, who used to passionately create art, now designs coupons and Joel cannot wait to sell out his factory to General Mills. What the film does lack is Office Space’s sharp wit. Or perhaps, it is Joel that lacks the charisma of many of Judge’s protagonists. Luckily, the smorgasbord of characters that work in the factory provide the lower class humor that most Judge fans crave, even if it is not in the super-sized helpings familiar in King of the Hill and Beavis and Butthead.
“Bobcat” Goldthwait’s third film, World’s Greatest Dad, offers an alternative viewpoint on male happiness, although it also one centered around sex. Lance (Robin Williams) is an unpublished writer who teaches poetry (a class the principal wants to drop) at his son’s high school. His son, Kyle (Daryl Sabara of Spy Kids fame), isn’t exactly world’s greatest material: spends his days watching porn and yelling misogynistic and homophobic comments at classmates.
Things seem to look up when Lance through a mix of fabrication and outright deception. All of the sudden, he is met with dying devotion from his girlfriend, co-workers and students. Unsurprisingly, this fame is dissatisfying.
Lance might be the most pathetic character Williams has ever played; the terrors in his life never cease. This should make this film completely unbearable, but somehow Williams’s character elicits enough empathy to keep the film tolerable and at many moments enjoyable. Other comedic moments, like Lance’s students reading their graphic poetry, keep the film’s momentum going.
Although Lance’s interpersonal relationship with his son and girlfriend are unfulfilling, his relationship with a neighbor, later revealed to be a hoarder, provides him with some companionship. In one pivotal conversation, Lance and the neighbor discuss zombie films and determine that, basically, life would better be lived out with predictable zombies instead of unreliable humans. The irony is that becoming famous accomplishes this wish for Lance; everyone he knows pursues him like he is a hot piece of meat. Lance likes this as much as Extract’s Joel enjoys getting high and hiring a male gigolo.
Joel and Lance are sort of pathetic heroes; they hold on to their ideals until something must give — until the desire for excitement/fulfillment overrides their everyman ethics. But as Lance remarks upon fame, “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone; it’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel all alone.” It is revealing that, in both films, Joel and Lance return to old habits and relationships to find happiness. Maybe those psychologists were not so wrong after all.