Zack and Miri Make a Porno

After several disappointing and shockingly sentimental films, such as “Jersey Girl,” quintessential low-budget auteur Kevin Smith is back on terra ferma with “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” a foul-mouthed, down-and-dirty sex comedy, which recalls his very beginnings as a director, “Clerks,” and artistically represents his most accomplished film since the romantic comedy “Chasing Amy,” in 1997.

“Zack and Miri Make a Porno” world-premiered at the 2008 Toronto Film Festival and will be released by the Weinstein Company through MGM on Halloween, October 31, 2008, a good date for such flick.

Smith has gone on record proclaiming Ben Affleck, his frequent collaborator, as his favorite actor, but he benefits immensely from the presence of the young, popular comedian-actor Seth Rogen, who seems to be on a roll over the past three years, dominating Judd Apatow's comedies, and beyond. Also a plus is the strong on-screen chemistry with Elizabeth Banks, a charming actress, with a bright future ahead of us.

Superficially, “Zack and Miri” recalls in its central premise Bob Reiner's “When Harry Met Sally,” starring Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, namely, can close friends and buddies also be lovers and companions. In this comedy, Zack (Rogen) and Miri (Banks) play lifelong friends and roommates, who are facing hard financial times with huge debts and no sight of relief in the near or distant future.

Conditions get worse, in fact reach a nadir, when the electricity and plumbing get cut off. What are they couple going to do They come up with the audacious idea of making a homegrown porno movie for some quick cash, to which goal they enlist the help of their good friends. Deluding themselves, the duo vow that having sex will not ruin their friendship. But reality is always more complex and subtle than Hollywood or indie narratives, and when shooting begins, what started out as a strictly business proposition between friends turns out to be something different and more meaningful.

For this picture, Smith took a group of ragtag actors to Pittsburgh for two months to find out the answers to his film's queries. Smith claims that Zack was specifically tailored to Seth Rogen's talents and qualifications, after seeing the actor's hilarious turns in Judd Apatow's “The 40-Year Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up.”

By now, it's clear that Smith is attracted to offbeat characters, which are considered to be losers, or vast under-achievers, by mainstream society and consumerist, upwardly mobile culture. Fitting right into this category is Zack, a nice guy who never amounted to much high school. Though not explicitly stated, it's valid to assume that he never did attend college, or perhaps dropped out, just like helmer Smith himself. (He began studying film at the New School and then NYU but quit after one term).

Holding modest expectations and no long-range goals, Zack works in a coffee shop, and lives with his best friend whom he’s known his whole life. Neither happy nor miserable, he's a guy who lacks self-consciousness, sort of floating through life.

The film's universe is unmistakably Smith's, both narratively and tonally, with its dark humor, filthy language, ad some hilariously staged and executed sex scenes, which will not make the picture controversial with young viewers in today's moral and cynical climate, but are certainly responsible for the MPAA slapping the ballsy, raunchy comedy initially with the punitive NC-17 rating, later changed to R, when Smith challenged the verdict and offered to cut out some brief, unimportant moments.