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Notes on The Human Condition
A Downey Softener

The Full Douchiness

  • 4/14/09 at 5:06 PM

I should learn not to be disappointed by stars, the brightest and kindest of whom are still unstable and apt to be pissy when they’re not given due deference, but Robert Downey Jr. has thrown me for a loop. Vulture reprints this exchange from Movieline (welcome back, Stu!) in reference to the notorious “Full Retard” speech from Tropic Thunder:

First Journalist: I’ve got to ask. What do you think [Tropic Thunder Method actor] Lincoln O’Siris would think of Jamie’s performance in this?

Robert Downey Jr.: Next question.

Robert Downey Jr.: By the way I could just say that to all them.

First Journalist: Do you think he’d approve?

Robert Downey Jr.: I have no idea how to even begin answering that question. And by the way — I want to have a good time. I want to have a great time, just that one tied my fucking shoelaces together right off the bat. What else you got?

Now, I am gaga about Downey, having bored my readers and listeners and viewers over the years on the subject of his brilliance in multiple media, but there’s no excuse for this degree of douchiness.

Downey won an Oscar nomination thanks to his delivery of that “Full Retard” speech — which wasn’t just funny but also fundamentally accurate in its assessment of actors' obsessions and the Academy's taste. Even given his sympathy for the subject of The Soloist and his co-star Jamie Foxx, Downey could have handled this with more grace: “Yeah, I knew that would come back to haunt me … that was that character's opinion. But Jamie got to know this guy and really wanted to do him justice and blah blah blah blah … ” Or something. Instead, he took umbrage; he was offended that a journalist would dare to bring up something he had uttered in a movie released less than a year ago.

Downey is a great actor and deserves all kinds of respect for keeping his demons at bay, but there ought to be a rehab center for celebrity self-righteousness.

The Fuller Douchiness. Perhaps I’m so rankled over Downey’s responses because the issue speaks to our culture’s schizophrenia when it comes to bad-taste black comedy. Given all the noise from sundry disability/ethnic/religious groups over Tropic Thunder and the current brouhaha over the so-called date rape in Observe and Report, it seems that American celebrities learn reflexively to distance themselves from their own work — at least when their next project hits the market and it’s in their economic interest to do so. Let’s hope that next year Seth Rogen and Anna Faris won’t respond with outrage to impish questions about Observe and Report when promoting their next films. They shot the scene, they believed in it, and they — like Downey — ought to continue to stand up for its aesthetic, to defend the indefensible in the name of Aristophanes, Voltaire, Jarry, Richard Pryor, South Park, Sarah Silverman ... and the next one who’ll live to push our buttons.

See my next post for further thoughts.