What Planet Are You From - Internet Movie Database What Planet Are You From? - Nitrate Online Review
Contents | Features | Reviews | Books | Archives | Store
What Planet Are You From? - Nitrate Online Store
Movie Credits Buy It!

What Planet Are You From?

Review by Jerry White
Posted 31 March 2000

Directed by Mike Nichols

Starring Garry Shandling,
Annette Bening, Greg Kinnear,
Ben Kingsley, Linda Fiorentino,
John Goodman, Richard Jenkins,
Caroline Aaron, Judy Greer,
Nora Dunn, Ann Cusack,
Camryn Manheim, and Leah Jediny

Written by Gary Shandling 
Micheal Leeson

I never watched The Larry Sanders show, the long-running HBO series that made Garry Shandling famous, with any kind of regularity. I saw it from time to time, thought it was funny, but could never muster the passion for it that many of my film-buff friends had. Why, then was I originally so enthusiastic about seeing What Planet Are You From?, Shandling's first big break into feature film making, which, it must be admitted, looked pretty dumb from the previews?

It's because I can remember watching, and can remember absolutely loving, The Garry Shandling Show. This was Shandling's pre-Sanders, late-'80s effort, and it remains with me to this day as a remarkable example of televisual minimalism. I remember the theme song so well, sung by some very earnest-looking, tuxedo-wearing chubby guy, right into the camera: "This is the theme to Garry's show / This is the theme to Garry's show..." and at one point, "We're almost at the part / Where I start to whis-tle / This is the theme to Gary Shandling's show!" Then he started to actually whistle. The show's masterpiece was certainly the mah-jong episode, where Garry claimed in a brief pre-credit sequence to have just discovered, from his mother as I recall, the wonders of the game of mah-jong. As he announced that this was to be the "mah-jong" episode, a small Asian man came up to the microphone and sang that very same theme song in what I can only guess is Chinese. That episode struck me as an exceptionally brilliant effort on the part of what was already a ridiculous, innovative show. Looking back on it, I believe that The Garry Shandling Show was a kind of Seinfeld "avant la lettre", so to speak.

And why, you may now be asking yourself, am I dwelling so long on a late-'80s TV show that I have very fond but somewhat vague and probably overly-sentimental memories of? I'll 'fess up. It's because I'm trying to put off actually having to write about What Planet Are You From? You see, this is a terrible film, utterly unworthy of the talents of either Shandling (who also co-wrote the screenplay) or of its director Mike Nichols. It's not even worthy of the time and talent of Janine Garofalo, and she's only got a sixty-second cameo (and that's not really very funny, either). I love Garry Shandling so much, though, it was just quite a big disappointment to actually watch this monstrosity. But I guess I better get on with this ....

The film's story centers around a planet inhabited entirely by men. It seems that they have eliminated the need to copulate, having chosen to procreate by cloning (more efficient, they say). For reasons that are not made very clear, the future of their race, and therefore of their plans to dominate the universe, is in danger. Also for reasons that are not made very clear, this can be rectified by a return to sexual reproduction. Shandling's character is chosen to undertake this mission, fitted with a penis (seems they've also genetically eliminated the appendages) and dispatched to find as quickly as possible a woman who will bear his child. A brief (but seemingly interminable) sequence follows his heavy-handed attempts to pick up women, and its full of lowbrow and often quite offensive attempts at humor. Finally Shandling settles on a sweet but very vulnerable woman played by Annette Bening, who he meets at an AA meeting (don't ask why he's there; it's too idiotic to recount here). They quickly marry, he screws her obsessively until she gets pregnant, and then he slowly begins to experience the emotions that were supposed to have been bread out of his people eons ago. Oh yeah, John Goodman plays an FAA inspector who's trying to track him down. 

The primary problem with the film is its script. The jokes about this alien's ham-fisted attempts to pick up women often are quite stale, but worse than that, they're often just vulgar. There are jokes about how large women's breasts are. There are jokes about how sluttish some women are (guess what: one of the sluts in question is the office manager at the bank where Shandling works. Does the world really need more movies that have the sex-crazed secretary as a plot point?). Shandling's co-worker, played by Greg Kinnear, is like a comedic version of one of the guys from In The Company Of Men (another film I hated....), and when his sociopathic boorishness is milked for laughs, it's hard not to feel a little sick to your stomach.

The performances are all basically fine (except for that Kinnear guy, who strikes me as completely full of himself as an actor, seeming to believe that he's much more clever and subtle than he ever ends up being). Ben Kingsley plays the leader of the Guy-Planet, and he's of course totally wasted. John Goodman has some funny bits, but isn't in the film all that much and doesn't really have much interesting to do when he is in the film. Annette Bening also does a fine job, although her character is so flatly written that it's hard to know exactly what to say about what she does with it. Shandling's performance is the biggest disappointment; he's not given any space to spread out, and until the last reel or so he also seems to be indulging in a very vulgar, very juvenile form of humor. He's funny in the last little bit, though, especially when he's allowed to become his whiny, difficult old self. One scene where he's trying to convince his wife he is an alien and does so by making a blinding white light come out of his nose is especially odd and comic. A few minutes later he's outside with John Goodman, bantering in a deliciously deadpan way about aliens and how he knew the leader of his planet couldn't really cure any wound. And then I get a glimpse of the Shandling that I knew and loved.

But it's much too little, way too late. Gary, what have you done?

Contents | Features | Reviews | Books | Archives | Store
Copyright 2000 by Nitrate Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.



www.nitrateonline.com  Copyright 1996-2005 by Nitrate Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.