Hidden Gems Olympic Edition: Blades of Glory

It’s that time again, the summer Olympic Games, a magical time once every four years when people all around the world pretend to care about international sports.  But while the summer Olympics are pretty great, with the swimming, and the horse dancing, and the athletes’ visible erections, I know what you’re thinking: where the hell is the curling?!  No?  Just me?  Well, if you’re like me and the hot summer Olympic season has got you longing for the chill of winter and the majesty of fake ice-based sports, then I’ve got the answer: Blades of Glory!

Now technically I don’t know if this movie counts as a hidden gem, since it made three times its budget and took the number one spot at the U.S. box office on the weekend of its release, but I’d argue that Blades of Glory still didn’t get nearly the appreciation it deserved.  A large part of the reason for this is the movie’s superficial place in Will Ferrell’s bizarre trilogy of sports comedies, containing the decidedly lackluster Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and Semi Pro.  But if this is part of a trilogy, then it’s one of those in which the second movie is the only one you really need to see (looking at you, Star Wars and Spiderman).  Believe it or not, Blades of Glory is more than just a mediocre vehicle for Will Ferrell’s improvised one-liners.

Other similarities between these movies: spandex!

Blades of Glory is the story of figure skating rivals Jimmy MacElroy (Jon Heder a.k.a. Napolean Dynamite) and Chazz Michael Michaels (Will Ferrell).  Jimmy is “figure skating’s little orphan awesome,” a bright-eyed, innocent orphan adopted and raised by his rich father to be the best skater in the world.  Chazz is his polar opposite: “an ice-devouring sex tornado.”  After their rivalry reaches violent levels, they are banned from men’s skating for life.  But with the help of Jimmy’s stalker Hector (Nick Swardson of Reno 911) and Jimmy’s old coach (Craig T. Nelson), Jimmy and Chazz exploit a loophole to reenter the skating world as the first ever male figure skating pair.  “As if figure skating wasn’t gay enough already!”  That’s the joke.  The one joke, which, with a lot of help from an Anchorman-worthy performance by Will Ferrel and a pitch-perfect tone of warm self-parody, actually manages to sustain itself all the way through the ninety minute comedy.  The premise is milked in every way it can be, resulting in a range from dick jokes to an obvious but surprisingly interesting allegory for gay marriage.  And somehow, it doesn’t get old.

Get it?

As a new skating pair, Jimmy and Chazz find themselves up against the reigning champions, American brother and sister team Stranz and Fairchild Van Waldenberg.  The scheming, ruthless, and slightly incestuous pair, played by comedy power couple Will Arnett and Amy Poehler, will stop at nothing to prevent the two men from beating them out and stealing their publicity, including using their sister Katie (Jenna Fischer of The Office) as a spy and honeypot to take down the duo.  I would go on, but let’s be honest, this is a heartwarming sports story, you know the rest.  Fortunately, Blades of Glory is a film that’s more about the journey than the destination.

I wonder if they’ll get their come-uppance?

Blades of Glory manages to find this sweet spot between Anchorman and Dodgeball (both easy comparisons, since Will Ferrell starred in Anchorman and Ben Stiller produced both Dodgeball and Blades of Glory).  It’s not quite as over-the-top and silly as Anchorman (although Will Ferrell is every bit as awesomely funny here), but it also doesn’t take itself quite as seriously as Dodgeball.  It’s one of those comedies that manages somehow to play it straight and parody itself at the same time.  It’s this constant winking-at-the-audience self awareness that gives it such a sense of fun and warmth while still having a surprising amount of substance.  Will Ferrell’s one liners are hilarious, but his and Jimmy’s growth as characters and partners is somewhat touchingly genuine (as Chazz, the lone wolf, learns how to actually care about another person and Jimmy gets a chance to have the life he missed under his father’s strict upbringing).

It could have been even more like Dodgeball, but Ben Stiller turned down the role of Chazz Michael Michaels and brought in Will Ferrell instead. No offense, Ben, but thank God you did.

On top of that, another constant source of jokes is the sport of figure skating itself.  But while the film constantly rips on the sport, it’s not making jokes at skating’s expense; it’s clear that the filmmakers are genuine fans of skating, as evidenced by the piles of in-jokes and professional skater cameos.  As for the skating itself, the choreographer on the film was a former Olympian, and both Will Ferrell and John Heder trained extensively with Michelle Kwan’s former coach.  The resulting performances create a blend of hilariously homo-erotic moves interspersed with moves so legitimately awesome that you’ll wish they were real.

Blades of Glory may not have had the impact that Anchorman did, and in the end it may not be as memorable, but in some ways it actually did things better.  So if you’re getting a little tired of watching summer Olympic events that you didn’t even know existed after NBC already ruined the results, do yourself a favor: take a break and check out Blades of Glory.

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