It’s difficult to understand how this film ever got financed. It’s a high budget fantasy that’s rated R, featuring a cast of high-profile and, indeed, Oscar winning actors, and it’s completely bizarre and utterly filthy. It’s hard to believe this stoner comedy/ love-letter to 80s fantasy movies such as The Dark Crystal and Krull found backing from Universal.
Prince Thadeous (Danny McBride) is a disappointment to his father. While his older brother Fabious (James Franco) is off questing, Thadeous is getting stoned and sleeping with the bride of the Dwarf King. But when Fabious’ bride Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) is kidnapped by the evil wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux), Thadeous must go with his brother to rescue her. They face all manner of creatures and magical evil, not to mention warrior princess Isabel (Natalie Portman).
Going from the trailer alone, Your Highness should have been the funniest film of the year. However, while it’s far from a categorical failure, it’s still something of a disappointment. It’s obviously a labour of love for McBride, co-writer Ben Best, and director David Gordon Green. It’s loaded with impressive fantasy monsters (the filmmakers got creature advice from Guillermo Del Toro) and references to all your favourite sword and sorcery movies from the times of Jim Henson. But somehow it’s the comedy part that’s a little off. Green (Pineapple Express, All the Real Girls) is famously keen on improvisation and a loose structure, but while this has worked wonders for him in the past, it leads to this film feeling patchy and saggy. While the charm of seeing McBride and Franco in this kind of setting doesn’t really wear thin, and the sheer level of filth is hilarious, the pot humour doesn’t quite work in this setting.
This is the first major film that has featured McBride as the lead. Those familiar with his work in Pineapple Express or HBO’s Eastbound and Down will know what to expect, and his style is relatively unchanged, accent aside. Franco looks happy to be there, and most comfortable when riffing with McBride. Their relationship is probably the strongest part of the script, as each yearns for the other’s approval. “Who gives the warmest hugs in the kingdom?” asks Fabious to cheer up his brother, who answers “I do” with a reluctant smile. Portman and Deschanel each get into the spirit of things, and it’s nice to see them enjoying themselves. The supporting cast also features Toby Jones (Harry Potter), Charles Dance, and Damien Lewis (Band of Brothers), all of whom fit in nicely, Lewis especially. The best of the lot is David Lynch regular Justin Theroux as the evil wizard Leezar, who plans on deflowering Belladonna, but has to do so in front of his three mothers. He delivers the combination of toilet humour, evil sneering, and boyish awkwardness perfectly.
It’s a shame that Your Highness is so patchy. When it’s funny, it’s hilarious. The cast is excellent and the last twenty minutes are superb, mixing fantasy violence with the unexpected brutality of the toilet fight in Pineapple Express and a truly side-splitting Highlander gag. This really isn’t for everyone, but if you’re even remotely tickled by the idea of a medieval fantasy romp starring Danny McBride and James Franco, it’s definitely worth a look. Your patience will be rewarded. However, this will probably be much more enjoyable watched at home with friends where the lulls won’t be as noticeable.
Fitfully brilliant and very affectionate but undeniably flawed, Your Highness is worth the effort despite not matching our expectations.