What Planet are You From?
Dying is easy; comedy is hard. Laughing at good comedies is easy; explaining why they are funny is death. When Mike Nichols' What Planet Are You From?, starring Gary Shandling and Annette Benning, came out in early 2000, it received the same critical disdain awarded to Albert Brooks's The Muse. But unlike Brooks' difficult comedy, which wasn't really trying to be funny in the conventional sense, Nichols' film aspired to be a crowd pleaser. It didn't work: with a budget of $50 million, the movie grossed $6.2 million after about four weeks. But with the film now on DVD from Columbia Tristar, viewers who want a further look at this witty comedy can be grateful. The story concerns an alien (Shandling) from an all-male planet where cloning is the preferred form of regeneration. Sent to Earth to mate and save his race (as a prelude to taking over our planet), he meets a daffy alcoholic real-estate agent (Bening) and soon finds himself trapped in the illogic of romance. Meanwhile, a Federal Aviation Administration inspector (John Goodman) is on the alien's trail, and the various strands all come together in amusing and sometimes unpredictable ways. What Planet Are You From? may sound familiar or derivitive (Earth Girls are Easy, Mars Needs Women), but it excels in finely honed and impecably delivered dialogue embedded in character, and in Nichols' characteristically realistic context for his gags. An example of Nichols' technique is found in a simple scene between Goodman and his wife Nadine (Caroline Aaron). If one looks at it carefully, the dialogue is played almost absolutely straight she really seems suspicious that his obsession with the purported alien is a cover for an affair, and even if what she's saying isn't necessarily funny, humor even slightly painful humor comes out of the realistic backdrop. Good transfer anamorphic transer (1.85:1), with pan-and-scan on the flip-side, and (unusual for a comedy) the movie actually looks good, thanks to the cinematography of Michael Ballhaus. Dolby Digital 5.1, isolated musical score highlighting Carter Burwell's energetic music. "Making-of" featurette, trailer, notes. Keep-case.