Danny McBride as Thadeous
James Franco as Fabious
Rasmus Hardiker as Courtney
Natalie Portman as Isabel
Toby Jones as Julie
Justin Theroux as Leezar
Zooey Deschanel as Belladonna
Charles Dance as King Tallious
Damian Lewis as Boremont
Simon Farnaby as Manious the Bold
Deobia Oparei as Thundarian
Targeted filmmaking is all well and good; if you make a film for no one that’s exactly who’s going to see it. And there’s no rule that says a targeted film can’t appeal beyond its demographic, counterintuitively becoming universal by focusing as tightly as possible on a specific subject and in the process reminding everyone how they relate to it.
On the other hand you can also make a film so narrowly targeted it’s not going to appeal to anyone accept those it was made for. David Gordon Green’s “Your Highness” is in the second category.
Fabious (James Franco) is the most beloved Prince in the land, a Prince Valiant stand-in who has never met a challenge or quest he can’t overcome. A fact which is tremendously annoying to his younger brother, Thadeous (Danny McBride), who is the opposite of the most beloved Prince in all the land. He’s slovenly, lazy and spoiled, but beneath it all he still loves his brother and when Franco’s princess to be (Zooey Deschanel) is whisked away by an evil sorcerer, McBride hops into his trusty carriage and ambles off with Franco to rescue, albeit at an extremely sedate pace.
As soon as the character dynamics are set up, it’s pretty easy to guess exactly what shape the plot is going to take. That’s true of most comedies, so the goal is to undermine those expectations in execution instead, presenting familiar scenes and then deconstructing them from a modern viewpoint. Such as a visit to a wise old wizard who gains his powers through a special herb he grows in his cave and smokes. That sort of thing.
But anyone familiar with star and co-writer McBride’s work will have seen much of this before, or is probably not interested in it to begin with. McBride has developed his acting career through a series of interesting supporting roles, usually playing some sort of loud mouth braggart with depthless bounds of depravity and little self-awareness. It’s the type of character he’s built over the years and he’s comfortable wearing it. But it’s also a character that is much better in support than as a lead. The longer McBride does his shtick the less funny it gets.
There seems to be some awareness of this as Green and McBride have saddled McBride with a decent ensemble who are often more entertaining to watch than he is. Particularly Franco, who is both the main driver of the plot and the character development and tends to have the funniest bits as well due to his occasionally other worldly naïveté.
It’s those sorts of absurd, out-of-left field character moments which “Your Highness” does best. They mostly come from McBride’s traveling companions Franco, Thadeous’ squire (Rasmus Hardiker) and his ridiculously unending loyalty, and Isabel (Natalie Portman), a viscous warrior woman who dreams of skinning her opponents and just happens to be going their way.
The rest of the time “Your Highness” is attempting situational comedy designed to take the rug out from under the tropes of the genre. That’s what it’s supposed to be doing, anyway, and what the filmmakers seem to think it’s doing. But they keep making the same choice to go for the most juvenile, immature, kid-oriented joke they can, which is wearing on anyone not in that group.
It’s like early “Saturday Night Live” without any sense of wit or timing. That’s probably all well and good for the group it’s meant for, but no one else is going to take much out of it.