Your Highness is a film that doesn’t take itself all too seriously. You only have to watch the trailer to get an idea of what David Gordon Green (director of stoner comedy Pineapple Express) and writers Danny McBride and Ben Best aimed for with this fantasy comedy. And if you don’t get it then, you certainly will when the voice-over in the film says “A long time ago in a land of heroes, fair maidens, wizards and other serious sh*t?”
YH is the tale of two princes. First-born Fabious (Franco) is the son his father, King Tallious (Dance), always wanted. He’s a brave warrior who rids the land of all the kingdom’s adversaries, a man who will one day succeed his father to become king. On returning from a quest he rescues a virginal damsel named Belladonna (Deschanel). Fabious is adamant to marry her straight away but during their ceremony an evil wizard named Leezar (Theroux) captures her so that he can fulfil a prophecy when the two Moons come together. And thus Fabious has to go to on another quest in order to save his bride-to-be… Then there’s his brother and our protagonist, Thadeous. A slob who has amounted to absolutely nothing besides from managing to get himself and servant Courtney (Hardiker) tangled up in one shenanigan after another. When his father offers him the choice of joining his brother to save Belladonna or his own banishment from the kingdom Thadeous can really only say one thing, ‘Sh*t’.
The fact that YH is a cliché shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. When a prince goes off to save his beloved you can expect that he’ll overcome a few obstacles, possibly meet some new ally/ies and eventually get to where he was going in the first place. That’s exactly what McBride and Best give us. And if you flip the coin, there’s always some useless layabout who needs to grow up an take on responsibilities and prove that, although he is the black sheep, he too is just as worthy as the guy who has been worthy all along. There’s not one iota of spanking newness that this film has to offer but maybe that’s part of the charm… Right?
Well, what YH manages to get right is the casting (for the most part). Franco’s portrayal of prince Fabious is exactly what you expect from a medieval prince in a fantasy type gig – classically handsome, utterly brave, staunch in his decisions, kind-hearted even in the face of betrayal, a hopeless romantic and, of course, a bit of a dunce. So it’s not a surprise when without question he decides to save Belladonna from Leezar despite only knowing her for a few days. Franco reminds us why we liked him so much in Pineapple Express although, saying that, Fabious hasn’t a thing on stoner Saul. With ease, Franco slips from the childish overzealousness of a prince who is always triumphant to that of the great warrior that Fabious is famed for which offers us some great action sequences which you don’t exactly expect from a film such as this.
Then there’s Natalie Portman as Isabel, a warrior who is the last of her tribe and on a quest of her own to revenge the death of her father at the hands of Marteetee. As one of the only two main female characters (the other being the damsel), Portman carries the most interest. Her ability to deliver absurd lines completely deadpan pays off and balances the over-the-top humour of some of the other actors. And who isn’t fond of a chick who can kick butt like it’s just a routine part of her day? She’s also one of the few Americans in it who can actually pull off the English accent (McBride doesn’t even try) which she seems to have maintained since V for Vendetta. Hardiker, who’ll proably be passed over by most, was actually one of my favourites. He plays Thadeous’ loyal servant Courtney and he’s the only one who manages to soften McBride’s gruff humour and make it bearable despite the whole Minotaur bit.
Under a wig and gnarly teeth, Theroux (American Psycho, Mulholland Drive) is unrecognisable. As the villain, Leezar, you know he means business when he utters “Magic, motherf*ckers!” The best part about him is that he’s a parody of himself. His plan makes little sense – he wants to impregnate Belladonna so that she’ll give birth to a dragon – but let’s not forget that some other wizard tried this about 100 years beforehand so this crazy plan isn’t actually his own. His constant wind-ups at Belladonna’s expense are some of the best despite some of them being explicitly about an impending rape. His best moment is possibly when he tricks her into thinking he’s Fabious but folds due to his own giddiness.
Well, here’s the catch… Where there’s a high there’s a low. The thing that I think will bother most people about YH is that McBride’s humour is an acquired taste. He fits in well with the cast of Tropic Thunder and was possibly my favourite (after Franco) in Pineapple Express but let’s just say this, he’s a guy you’ll either love or you’ll hate and alas, I think I’ve fallen into the latter end with the help of YH. McBride is the drunken vulgar uncle you don’t want at your wedding for fear he’ll get handsy with the bridesmaids. Actually that’s a pretty apt description of Thadeous minus the uncle bit. What doesn’t help either is that he pushes his way to the lead, despite being undeserving of it, while the better actors (Franco and Portman) are slung into the support roles.
The character relationships are indisputably weak so much so that half the time you’re wondering why anybody is actually bothering to do a thing for anyone else. This is partially due to the overload of pointless jokes instead of fleshing out believable characters. Franco and McBride have little in common but they’ve both established themselves as funny men. Franco is the epitome of the fairytale prince as I’ve already said. McBride, on the other hand, doesn’t exactly fit into the fairytale but isn’t that, in a sense, what the film tries to deal with? It’s not McBride’s odd-man-out look that bothered me but did anyone buy him as Franco’s younger brother? He’s just a year older than Franco in real life so the age gap isn’t anything worth writing home about but McBride doesn’t just look one year older, it’s more like five. At least. Maybe all that partying really did take a toll on him. The only thing that saves the brothers’ relationship is Franco’s commitment to Fabious. He makes you believe that there’s an actual connection between them despite the thinly written bond because as far as McBride’s concerned getting high in a field with sheep is more important than his sibling.
And then there’s Zooey Deschanel. Her only purpose in the film seems to be that of a clothes horse – her costume changes actually border on the ridiculous – but then again, this isn’t exactly something new for her. 500 Days of Summer, anyone? I couldn’t help but think ‘Is the villain really handing her piles of beautiful clothes?’ and if he is, why does he have a wardrobe of pretty dresses? I get that she’s a princess-to-be but come on, didn’t even Cinderella have rags? Oh, she also had to remind people that yes, indeed, she can sing. As if we’d forgotten from her last film. She’s slowly becoming a ‘Michael Cera’. If she doesn’t pull out a Scott Pilgrim sometime soon I think I’ll have to give up all hope on her acting chops, if she actually had any to start with.
Undoubtedly, Your Highness is the sort of film where you turn off your brain in order to leave your IQ intact but if you’re in a mood to giggle at abundance of childish gags and some downright ‘can’t be unseen’ scenes – Let’s just say the words Great Wise Wizard and Minotaur will never be the same ever again – then maybe Your Highness is right up your ally.