I should probably watch Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson to learn more about black holes. I’d like to write that Seth MacFarlane is a human black hole sucking in all the talent from the universe but I’m not sure that’s how black holes work. A few things I do know about the disproportionately gifted actor, animator, comedian, writer, producer, director, humanitarian, singer, pianist and composer:
- Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson wouldn’t exist without MacFarlane. Honest. It was his idea and he put his own money into it.
- Since 2008 he’s been the highest paid television writer in the world.
- He turned pro when he was nine, publishing a weekly comic strip in his hometown paper.
- He studied under Frank Sinatra’s vocal coach and has sung at Carnegie Hall.
- His directorial debut, Ted, is the highest-grossing original R-rated comedy of all time.
- He’s widely recognized for his work on behalf of gay rights.
- On 9/11 he was scheduled to return to LA from Boston on the plane that flew into the North Tower but missed his flight due to a hangover.
- Notwithstanding all of the above, Seth MacFarlane is an atheist.
Clearly, the question is what can’t this guy do? You may answer “host the 85th Academy Awards without stirring up controversy.” That’s a bad thing? Oh, he was nominated for a Best Original Song Oscar that year.
The answer most definitely is not writing, directing and starring in a meta western so gutbusting it makes Blazing Saddles look like Unforgiven. Ignore the other reviews. This is genius.
MacFarlane plays a sheep farmer who can’t believe how much life sucks in Arizona circa 1882 and around whom increasingly absurd and surreal things happen for 116 inspired minutes. He’s essentially a fellow with 21st century sensibilities marooned in the Old West, a time and place MacFarlane clearly believes has been romanticized by Hollywood to the point of lunacy.
That’s the film’s brilliant twist. It’s not just another genre spoof but a laceratingly honest look at how appallingly dull, dumb and dangerous frontier existence was. It’s not about bad guys so much as as bad hygiene, schools, medical care, living conditions, fashion and entertainment options, the latter being virtually limited to things you can do in a saloon/whorehouse.
And a lot of entertaining things are done there. Sarah Silverman’s worth the price of admission by herself. Of course, she’s never by herself since she plays a prostitute who’ll do anything for a nickel but insists she and her meek geek bf (Giovanni Ribisi) save themselves for marriage. She’s never been dirtier or more hilarious.
Also stellar: Gilbert Gottfried as a Lincoln impersonator, Neil Patrick Harris as the proprietor of a swank boutique specializing in preposterous mustache care products and Charlize Theron as a stranger who hits it off with our hero and offers to teach him how to shoot.
A Million Ways… is that rare picture that’s even better than its ads hope to convince you it is, a wildly singular creation from a wildly singular artist. The dialogue will have you blowing Pepsi out your nose while the cinematography and score will flash you back to Technicolor oaters of the ’50s.
On top of a bar fight that’s an instant classic and the finest poop-in-the-street scene since Bridesmaids, it has a million unhinged gags almost all of which hit their mark. MacFarlane gives us old cowpoke tropes viewed through a lucent new lens. A spectacularly naughty place to visit that no one in their right mind would want to live in, the West has never been this wild.