There’s “not for everyone,” and then there’s The Happytime Murders — a genuinely abominable film, and also one of the few times I laughed out loud in a theater this year. It’s not particularly well-written, although I’ve seen much worse. It’s not all that proficiently acted, especially as far as Melissa McCarthy’s concerned. The direction of the puppet action is inspired, but visually speaking, it’s pretty lackluster. So why did I love it? In a word: nihilism. Muppet nihilism. OK, that’s technically two words, but you get the idea — and if such things aren’t for you, read no further.
Make no mistake, The Happytime Murders is an exercise in bad taste. It’s a bit like John Waters adapting a Dashiell Hammett novel, but with felt-skinned characters in the Jim Henson mold snorting lines of sugar through Twizzlers and producing comically explosive Silly String ejaculate. The visual similarity to Henson’s Muppets is far from incidental, as Henson’s son Brian directed this affront to decency and more than earns the hard R rating he was shooting for. To reiterate, if you’re the type of person for which “affront to decency” represents a recommendation, then you’re in luck. I happen to be such a person — don’t judge me.
Again, as a person who wrote a lengthy analysis of Team America: World Police for a college course, I may be biased in favor of debauched puppet farces. Add in Happytime’s film noir trappings, and it starts to look as if this might have been a movie conceived with my prurient sensibilities specifically in mind. The plot, such as it is, revolves around a convoluted scheme to murder the surviving stars of a popular children’s television show and a dogged detective’s attempts to crack the case. The humor hinges on the fact that the P.I. is a puppet, while his former partner (Milissa McCarthy) is not. While you could have gathered all of that from the trailers, no amount of promotional material could prepare you for just how thoroughly The Happytime Murders runs this gag into the ground.
If the premise for Happytime is profoundly stupid, so too is its insipid script. But is anybody really going to see a movie in which purple puppet pubic hair is a plot point because they’re interested in the quality of the writing? As dumb as the jokes can be, many of them land, and the pacing is adequate if not exemplary. McCarthy is less objectionable here than I’ve found her in some films, although her loose line delivery and improvisational style seem at odds with rigidity of her carefully choreographed puppet co-stars. Henson’s direction is competent if not particularly inspired, but this is clearly a labor of deranged filial love for the scion of a man who single-handedly shaped the childhoods of countless children — which begs the question: What could Jim Henson have done to warp his son’s comedic sensibilities so severely?
Look, I’m not saying that The Happytime Murders is a great film. It falls short on nearly every critical metric and is engineered to offend even the most callous viewers. Of the six people in the screening I attended, two walked out. But the remaining four laughed their asses off, myself included. Maybe it was a case of laughing at rather than with, but the distinction in this case is negligible. So how can I, in good conscience, possibly recommend a film so obviously bad? Simple: I enjoyed it. God help me, I enjoyed it.