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James Franco, Danny McBride, Natalie Portman and Zooey Deschanel star in this comedy about a noble prince and his do-nothing brother who must save a damsel in distress and save their father's kingdom. There are some pretty good laughs in here, but overall we remain underwhelmed by what we've seen.
Upon hearing the title of “Your Highness,” one might reasonably fear that yet another movie had been made solely on the alleged strength of its jokey title, like say, “Gnomeo & Juliet.” Fortunately, “Your Highness” is as foul, crass, sophomoric and profane as you could hope a medieval stoner comedy to be.
Danny McBride stars as Thadeous, your classic do-nothing, bong-hit-ripping, skirt-chasing second son of a king. His older brother, Fabious (James Franco), on the other hand is as fabulous as his name would suggest: handsome, fit, brave and courageous. When Fabious’ fiancé, Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel), is kidnapped by an evil wizard, Thadeous is commanded by his father to join his brother on a quest to rescue her. Along the way, the brothers encounter Isabel (Natalie Portman), a beautiful archer out to exact revenge on the very same wizard, Leezar (Paul Theroux), who a generation ago killed all the people of her village.
Franco’s faux naiveté and boyish glee and McBride’s sneering, misogynistic pothead routine can both wear thin in large doses, but together they compliment each other nicely. And the duo get a lot of help carrying the load, from Portman’s earnest avenger to Thadeus’ page, Courtney (a not-to-be-overlooked Rasmus Hardiker), to Theroux’s arrogant, yet racked with doubt villain.
The script, by McBride and longtime collaborator Ben Best, is positively littered with the basest humor imaginable, taking aim at child molesters, masturbators, sexy wenches and dwarves, with equal gusto. As always, the only way for this type of humor to really work is for the protagonists to be the butt of jokes as well, and sure enough, Thadeous is the butt of more jokes than anyone. Are a few jokes taken too far? Yes, absolutely—there’s a lifetime supply of Minotaur penis on offer in this film.
Not only is the film hilarious, but the “medieval” elements are exciting and imaginative. Nothing can prepare you for the secret Toby Jones is keeping, and there’s giant baby-man thing that is as disgusting as it is mesmerizing. Throughout, director David Gordon-Green strikes a balance between the laughs and action that keeps things moving.
There have been no shortage of laugh-out-loud medieval epics over the years—“Season of the Witch” comes to mind-- but “Your Highness” is easily the funniest since “The Holy Grail.”