My World Of Flops is Nathan Rabin’s survey of books, television shows, musical releases, or other forms of entertainment that were financial flops, critical failures, or lack a substantial cult following.
In a world of men’s rights activists, honey badgers, pick-up artists, and Donald fucking Trump as the Republican nominee for president, there’s something almost quaint about the sexism of best-selling author, bro icon, and exemplar of toxic masculinity Tucker Max. Oh sure, Max’s work is full of leering misogyny and references to women as sluts, whores, bitches, and worse. Yet Max hasn’t tried to promote the idea that women are inherently evil, especially if they’re (gasp) feminists, nor does he present women as the enemy.
Max’s books have been branded “fratire,” which Max finds upsetting because he didn’t actually belong to a frat and that I find upsetting because it implies that there’s anything remotely satirical about the flaming garbage fire that represents Max’s literary output. The cover of I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell, Max’s career-making literary basket of deplorableness succinctly sums up his sensibility. It depicts the wolfishly handsome author smiling smugly next to a generic blond woman whose face has been replaced with the words “Your face here.” The cover captures the book’s tone: smug, sexist, and raunchy, a glib celebration of drunken debauchery and promiscuity that depicts women as interchangeable sex objects, one no different from the next and none worthy of respect or understanding. Women are to be fucked and insulted. Beer depicts insults as foreplay and a deep, visceral hatred of women as the ultimate aphrodisiac.
This, sadly, was enough to make Max a grassroots phenomenon and an aspirational figure to some deeply gross dudes. But Max wanted more, so he co-wrote the screenplay for a 2009 film adaptation of I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell produced by Donnie Darko creator Richard Kelly, whose career is full of bewildering elements, his inexplicable fondness for Max’s words chief among them.
The film was a test of Max’s appeal to an audience beyond emotionally stunted college boys. It grossed a fraction of its modest budget and was rightly eviscerated by critics as one of the worst films of the year. Instead of launching Max into the cultural stratosphere, it more or less rendered him irrelevant, yesterday’s misogynist peddling stale frat-boy antics to a world that had thankfully moved on.
I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell opens with a fake-out: Cops bust into a house to find Tucker Max (Matt Czuchry) having sex with a woman who loudly tells the cops that she’s not being raped, she’s being fucked and is about to climax. The kicker, I suppose, is that she’s a deaf woman. Max then goes about telling everyone he encounters, from a stranger on campus to his buddies to a professor that he had sex with a deaf girl, complete with a crude burlesque of how the woman spoke.
The film finds the very idea that Max would have sex first with a deaf woman, and then later with a little-person stripper, inherently hilarious. These aren’t women with souls and agency; they’re hateful sentient sight gags wedded to some offensive yet intensely unfunny jokes about Oompa Loompas and Helen Keller.
The film’s thin plot, ostensibly based on true events but gratingly unrealistic and artificial, finds Tucker arranging a raunchy bachelor party for his overly domesticated, soon-to-be married friend Dan (Geoff Stults) involving their misanthropic pal Drew (Jesse Bradford, so precociously brilliant in Steven Soderbergh’s King Of The Hill, so charming in Bring It On, so unwatchable here). Drew is a gamer whose hatred of humanity, particularly women, kicks into overdrive when he finds his girlfriend performing oral sex on a rapper played by Paul Wall.
But really this is just an elaborate excuse for myriad scenes of Max getting drunk and calling women whores, sluts, and bitches in a manner both the film and the women find inexplicably charming and seductive. In order for I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell to not fail miserably on every level, Max would need to be played by an actual movie star, someone whose charm and charisma would render the character appealing in spite of himself, someone of the Ryan Gosling caliber. And while I’ve heard that Matt Czuchry is good on Gilmore Girls and The Good Wife, judging from his work here, he’s barely an actor, let alone a movie star.
One of the many curious elements of this rancid celebration of Tucker Max is its seeming disinterest in the character of Tucker Max. He disappears for long stretches so that the film can focus on the dire, laugh-free misadventures of his soon-to-be-married buddy ending up in prison and Drew being rewarded for his horrifically overwritten sexism by having Lara, an impossibly perfect stripper, fall instantly for him. Dan’s entire identity is wrapped up in being engaged, and even the film’s conception of a nice, conventional man still entails being a loathsome misogynist, albeit less so than his two friends. I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell is ragingly, repellently sexist, but it also clearly hates men as well, and with ample justification.
Lara, the stripper with a heart of gold, the body and face of a super-model, and the brain of a 22-year-old frat-boy/geek hybrid perpetually excited about Comic Con represents an impossible archetype called “the Cool Girl.” Gone Girl famously summed it up nicely:
Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.
That’s Lara. Even though she’s gorgeous, she’s also into video games and dirty jokes and profane insults. She doesn’t just hold her own when the bros are shit-talking; she dominates them at their own game. She’s kind and patient enough to look at a dude who assaults her with a never-ending stream of verbose misogynist invective and see only a sad little heartbroken boy who needs hot sex with a woman so far out of his league she practically belongs to a different, superior species.
Lara also has a son, but that just proves that in addition to being a smoking-hot sex worker with an encyclopedic knowledge of old Super Nintendo Games, she’s also a loving mother whose son, conveniently enough, seems to share the exact same interest as the asshole his mother instantly falls for. She’s mother and whore, a giddy sexual fantasy who is also going to heal Drew’s wounded psyche. It couldn’t happen to a less deserving guy.
The presence of a woman who isn’t just ideal but perfect theoretically should undercut the film’s raging misogyny, but because she’s such a preposterous male fantasy, she only ends up exacerbating it. We’re supposed to excuse Tucker and Drew’s hatred of women because they apparently weren’t hugged enough as children. Yet I have a hard time remembering a film with less sympathetic main characters. Tucker and Drew could have grown up in concentration camps and I still would have a hard time feeling sympathy for them.
The film version of I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell challenges itself to continually come up with hateful slurs for women more offensive than “cum dumpster.” This is the only level on which the film succeeds. The film offers charming odes to female sexuality like “snatch napkin” and “cum-guzzling demon slut,” yet despite the terrible things these odious men say to women (this includes comments like “I would rather mainline Drano than put up with another second of your whore prattle,” “I want to shoot every one of these bitches,” and “Get away from me or I am going to carve another fuck hole in your torso”), women find them sexy and desirable all the same.
I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell aspires to lifestyle porn of the Entourage variety. We’re supposed to have naughty fun living vicariously through men who never censor themselves and say every awful, hateful, profane thing that comes into their minds yet are damn near worshipped by hot women all the same. But Entourage at least made hanging out with the bros seem fun, whereas hanging out with Beer’s main characters feels like a torment of the damned. Tucker Max ends up being the worst possible advertisement for promiscuity, drunkenness, and remaining stuck in adolescence.
Max’s abysmal attempt to extend his odious brand tries to fake a redemptive character arc for its main characters, but it’s clear that no one has learned anything. No spiritual or emotional growth has occurred, despite what the presence of a tremblingly earnest Wilco song late in the film might suggest.
In a blog entry from earlier this year, Max describes the film as a crushing and deeply personal failure due largely to what he refers to as “deep identity and emotional issues.” An older and theoretically wiser Max vows to own his failures and learn from the experience, yet his conception of humility looks from the outside like a combination of blame-passing, bragging, and praising himself for undergoing profound spiritual growth.
Max blames the film’s failure on hiring the wrong director and working with the wrong production company, while reminding us, “Believe me, I FULLY recognize the self-indulgent absurdity of this scene: here I was, a rich and famous white guy, who someone gave millions of dollars and creative control to make a movie about his life based on his #1 New York Times bestselling book, crying because it didn’t do 50 million dollars its first weekend? Boo fucking hoo.”
Boo-fucking-who indeed. Max cries a river over his long-ago mistakes, whining, “I can remember the night I knew the movie wasn’t going to do well. It was possibly the hardest night of my entire life. I cried more than I had ever cried in my life. I felt the worst I’d ever felt about myself. The emotional pain was so intense, so real, it became literal physical pain.”
Max then went into therapy and now he’s got a baby. And no one with a baby could possibly be a narcissistic, self-absorbed, woman-hating douchebag, right? He has embraced Buddhist concepts and stopped glorifying the empty decadence that made him rich and famous. But he wants you to know that he’s still super rich, and his business is super successful. Even though he’s all spiritually evolved as well.
Among the Buddhist concepts he’s embraced is the noble truth that all is suffering. I don’t necessarily know if that’s true, but I know that my experience of watching I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell was pure suffering, with the blessed arrival of the end credits as the only release. Max made audiences inexplicably enamored of him and his literary endeavors suffer, so I can’t help but feel like Max’s post-film breakdown represents a form of cosmic karma. He’s suffered. But has he suffered enough?
Failure, Fiasco, or Secret Success: Failure