David Gordon Green was a breath of fresh air in the dwindling indie film scene when he broke through in 2000 with George Washington, a slow churning tragedy about a group of poor kids in rural North Carolina who have to clutch at the seams of their lives as it slowly rips apart after a murder, and All the Real Girls, his 2003 depressed-guy relationship drama that introduced the world to both Paul Schneider and Danny McBride and was Zooey Deschanel's second big role after Almost Famous.
But ever since it's been a steady plummet downward, and he looks to have finally hit bottom with Your Highness, his medieval stoner comedy starring McBride, James Franco, and Natalie Portman, who is burning away any credit she got from Black Swan as fast as it'll burn.
Somewhere, something snapped in the David Gordon Green timeline. At some point, the time line skewed, creating an alternate David Gordon Green. A decade ago, Green met with Danny Leigh of The Guardian in London for an interview the yielded this pullquote:
"My only criteria is that if I ever make anything clever..." - the word drips off his tongue like poison - "... you can shoot me. Incoherent is fine. Clever, who needs it?"
I have a tough time holding someone to a quote they gave a decade ago, as I wouldn't want to be held to anything I said that long ago. But this quote is kind of what he is famous for, and it came back up screaming from the depths of my memory bank a few years ago when he made Pineapple Express, and again during Eastbound and Down. And again, and most loudly, with Your Highness.
So what happened? What made the timeline skew off into the alternate David Gordon Green?
Here is a director who made a name for himself on the deft ability to cut through the top layer of bullshit and find the real emotion in people -- in amateur child actors in George Washington, no less. He made dramas between All the Real Girls and Pineapple Express, but the edge had dulled off of the emotional bayonet mounted under his lens, whether by time, accident or alien replacement, he was the same director, but a different talent.
It happens. Cinema history is filled with Michael Cimminos, and Francis Fords (the original one -- John Ford's brother, not Coppola). History in total is filled with them, and we know the list thanks to Trainspotting. They had it, lost it and never got it back.
But Green is something of an odd case because he had it, lost it and replaced it. He is actually more successful and his films are more profitable now, after the downgrade in talent, balls, or the cinematic eye. Whatever you want to call it, he lost it and replaced it with cleverness and stoner jokes. And now he's giggling all the way to the bank with it.
Good for him, I suppose, but I still miss the old director.
Your Highness opens in theaters everywhere today.