I don’t really know what it says about me that the first thing I did after an exhausting cross-country move was to get a bit intoxicated and watch Men in Black 2. There was a bit of natural selection involved; I was looking for something low-effort and the DVD was near the top of the box. How unsuspecting I was when I turned on the director’s commentary in a fit of boredom. Sometimes life-changing events just sneak up on you like that.
Barry Sonnenfeld’s commentary is basically The Room of audio commentaries. It’s the best-worst and I’m in love with it.
Typically, a good commentary skips over mundane details in favor of funny anecdotes about celebrities or stories of creative battles with studio execs. That’s not Sonnenfeld’s jam. Instead, he dutifully notes which city each scene was shot in (“…and we’re back in Pasadena!”), which elements were added digitally, and which animation companies created each digital element (ILM did about 20% of Frank the Pug’s mouth). This should be mind numbing, but his obliviousness to how boring he’s being somehow makes it more entertaining. He really thinks he’s being interesting. There’s also an earnest charm in his Jewish New York accent that gives his delivery just the right amount of heart to avoid monotony. There are some great moments when he points out an obvious CGI element (there wasn’t really an 800-pound worm in the subway; that actor doesn’t really have 8 arms) as if we might have actually believed they were real. I honestly can’t tell if he’s being sarcastic or if someone told him that only 6 year-olds listen to audio commentaries.
In addition to sharing a litany of production details, Sonnenfeld adds some odd non sequiturs, explains why jokes are funny, and makes a series of unfortunate comments about Laura Flynn Boyle. “I like the way Laura walks across here, it’s really kinda trampy.” There’s also a run where he points out which men have strong jaws and which one looks like Frank the Pug. The thing that gets me the most is that I can’t tell if he says this stuff for the audience’s benefit or his own amusement.
Whenever he mentions a crew member or actor, he always throws in a little anecdote about them, but each time there’s something slightly off about it. He introduces production designer Bo Welch and then humble brags about buying him (and his wife...and their daughters) dinner at an expensive restaurant the previous night. He mentions that he’s worked with sound designer Skip Livesay on all of his films, notes that Livesay has also worked with the Coen brothers, and then concludes with, “…and he mumbles.” A street intersection mentioned in dialog is revealed to be the intersection that screenwriter Barry Fanaro lives at and “You should go visit him.” There’s so much good material here, I’m gonna need some bullet-pointed highlights:
- “Those are Laura’s real breasts.”
- Sonnenfeld describing beatboxing; he had no idea.
- Shooting digital scenes sucks because, “The color blue all day makes you insane and angry.”
- That time Sonnenfeld thought he had a heart attack, but it was just stress.
- “Every time you can make a testicle joke, you know you’ve got a hit movie.”
- “She’s realizing there’s a problem between the picture of what she wants to look like and what she turned herself into. And it’s all about Laura’s stomach.”
- “Look out, Will” — used when Will Smith’s character doesn’t notice something or is about to be kissed.
- The story of how they reshot a scene because Rosario Dawson didn’t look cute enough the first time.
- The story of how one of the bit-part actors went to elementary school with Sonnenfeld and they both liked the same girl. It’s a real heart breaker.
- Will Smith is afraid of water.
I can barely believe I’m saying this, but for your next viewing party, I highly recommend you get somewhat intoxicated and turn on the Men in Black 2 commentary. You’ll thank me.
- Guest Writer, Ryan Nichols - Writer extraordinaire. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org