In my last post, I endeavoured to determine whether the film The Love Guru is really worthy of the near universal panning it received and continues to do. I rewatched the film for the first time since its initial release and I made some pretty detailed notes about it. Rather than pall my readers with everything, I’m going to break this down into digestible sections, beginning with a general statement about the film, then sections on characterizations and humour, before ending with my ultimate conclusions about it.
General Observations/Statement About The Love Guru
The first thing that hit me when I popped in the DVD of The Love Guru is that it is clear Mike Myers had a particular vision for this film. I know that sounds a bit gauche, but even from the DVD menu it’s obvious that the aesthetic was carefully planned; however — and this is a rather big however — the aesthetic in question is basically a giant conglomerate of Indian-ish stereotypes. I say -ish because, aside from the explicit references to the country of India and dance scenes that are unmistakably Bollywood-inspired, the film takes as its foundational gag the fact that India, its people, and cultures are so hilariously backward that they are able to produce charlatans at breakneck speed, Myers’ Guru Pitka being the prime example next to Deepak Chopra in this film. And that’s where I think this film falls apart overall; Guru Pitka’s goal in the film is to move out of second place and overtake Chopra as the #1 love/relationship guru in the world so that he can appear on Oprah. Pitka and Chopra are portrayed as lifelong competitors for guru supremacy, having been trained in the same ashram in India by the cross-eyed-from-masturbating Guru Tugginmapudha1 (played by Ben Kingsley, aka the guy who won the best actor Oscar for playing Ghandi) with Pitka pitted as the eternal underdog. This plotline would have been funny if it had been used as more of a way to satirize the New Age bullshit economy propagated and backed by people like Chopra, Oprah, and whoever did The Secret. Instead, it is mostly played as an earnest rivalry except when Pitka’s manager, *sigh* Dick Pants (played by John Oliver) brings it back down to Earth — as it were — and realigns focus on the business of getting the Oprah bump for Pitka. Pants is the only honestly satirical character in the whole film and the fact that his role is so summarily dismissed by all the other noise in the film is really a shame. Instead of playing off his straightman, Myers basically ignores all of Oliver’s setups in favour of delivering irrelevant dick or poop jokes.
I’m going to go through each significant character in the film in their order of importance as I see it, leaving Guru Pitka until last (he gets his own section in the next installment).
Jessica Alba is not really known for her comedic stylings and her role as Toronto Maple Leafs’ owner and heiress is no different. She hasn’t got one funny line in the whole film. The film would not have been drastically different without her. Alba’s role is ostensibly one of catalyst (she hires Pitka to help get her star player back together with his wife) but it is quickly revealed that she is a devoted follower of Pitka’s and has an unhealthy obsession with him, a “schoolgirl crush” as she calls it. She’s the love interest in the film but the chemistry between her and Pitka is never anything approaching appealing. It’s basically awkward dick jokes (Pitka’s erection pinging off his metal chastity belt, anyone?) and unnecessary musical interludes. 49 minutes into the film the audience is treated to the second musical number, a sitar and guitar cover of Extreme’s “More Than Words”, although in this scene Myers’ forced accent renders it into “More Than Verds”. Jane Bullard walks in on Pitka and his assistant Rajneesh in the midst of their jam session and you could make the argument that Pitka had planned it this way as a method of seduction. The obvious question, then, is: who let Jane Bullard into Pitka’s mansion? Did she have a key? Was there a butler/doorman that we never see on screen? Why didn’t the unseen servant escort Jane to the bro-duetting room? Why is Jane Bullard in this movie at all? Apart from phoning it in as a love interest, Jane serves as a non-threatening foreign other during Bollywood dance numbers. Most significantly, toward the end of the film Jane dances in full Bollywood dress with a phalanx of costumed Indian dancers as props. I’m no critical race theorist, but I would argue that Alba’s complementary skin tone was a significant justification used by Myers to appropriate and misrepresent (what amount to his vision of) Indian culture. I’m well aware that comedies routinely poke fun by generalizing lots of things: culture, traditions, attitudes, etc. I just think that The Love Guru takes this to an uncomfortable and unnecessary level.
The Toronto Maple Leafs’ star player and the sole reason they can’t win the Stanley Cup in this fantasy-based scenario. For the vast majority of this film’s potential audience who knows or cares nothing for the North American-centric game of ice hockey or its history, the major through line of the Maple Leafs’ predicament would be entirely lost. Let me fill you in quickly: as the movie states, the Leafs haven’t won a Stanley Cup – the highest achievement in North American hockey – since 1967. The undertones of this are not alluded to at all in the film. The Leafs are a national joke as well as treasure in Canada. They are consistently the most popular and underperforming hockey team in the National Hockey League and have the most expensive tickets in the entire league, sold to the most loyal fans. Their archenemies are the Montreal Canadiens and there is an ongoing war between fans of these two most Canadian teams (I took the fact that Justin Timberlake’s character is French-Canadian is a little nod to this rivalry). As a casual hockey fan myself, I find it pretty insulting that this movie’s underlying hockey premise is “winning or losing depends on one really good player”. As I’m certain Mike Myers is aware, hockey is a team sport. At any rate, on with the discussion of Roanoke.
Roanoke exists solely to be the problem Guru Pitka has to solve to get what he wants. The fact that he’s a hockey player is completely secondary and unnecessary to the plot, to the point that it seems a self-indulgence of Myers’. Being a Toronto-area native, though, why wouldn’t Myers relish the opportunity to make a movie incorporating his favourite hockey team? Roanoke is portrayed as a self-important sports superstar complete with an entourage of yes men, but he’s actually a fragile little boy frightened of his mother’s disapproval whose wife has left him for a French-Canadian goaltender with an enormous penis. Roanoke is essentially a eunuch when Pitka first meets him, shooting hockey pucks and failing until Pitka momentarily boosts his confidence by telling him his wife wants him back, prompting Roanoke’s return to form only to be dashed again by Pitka’s confession that he was lying. During their one-on-one treatment sessions to rebuild Roanoke’s confidence to get his wife back, stop being scared of his mother, and win the Stanley Cup, Pitka uses his DRAMA method of treatment (discussed in more detail in the Guru Pitka section of this post). The relationship seems meant to resemble a buddy movie but it is forced and punctuated – like the rest of the film – by Myers making dick and poop jokes, laughing at them, and then mugging for the camera. Roanoke doesn’t really have anything to add except his emasculating problems. Kind of like Vern Troyer, Romany Malco is used more like a prop than an actual character. There’s no give-and-take that resembles any of Myers’ other onscreen buddies. Myers has proved he is capable of this comedic interplay in previous films. Think of how well Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar work together in Wayne’s World. Or Charlie and his cop buddy Tony in So I Married an Axe Murderer. Yet another missed opportunity for The Love Guru.
Ah, yes, Jacques ‘Le Coq’ Grandé, the living dick joke. Chances are that the name was not an homage to the twentieth century French actor and mime, Jacques Lecoq. But rather that it rhymed and reminded the audience of the entire raison d’etre of this character: he has a large penis. Oh, and he likes roosters; he has one guarding his house.
I think Jacques is meant to be the villain in this film. He is, after all, the guy who stole Roanoke’s wife with nothing more than his ginormous package. He’s a goaltender for the Maple Leafs’ rival team in the Stanley Cup finals, the Los Angeles Kings. This only adds to Roanoke’s inability to play up to his potential. I’m actually okay with Jacques role as the rival, but the character himself has an extremely limited appeal as a comedic device and I think he is at the heart of one of this film’s central problems, its regional humour.
As mentioned above, the running gag in Canada about the Toronto Maple Leafs is that they’re terrible. The problem with having that as a backdrop for a film meant for international release is the limited scope of most audience’s understanding. This same thing is true – maybe even more so – with the Jacques character. He is intensely regional. He’s from Québec and, for his part, Justin Timberlake actually does a pretty decent Québecois accent. Of course I would know that. I’ve been to La Belle Province and have had actual interactions and conversations with French-Canadians (some who were even related to me). To the rest of the audience? Would they be able to differentiate between Timberlake’s accent and any generic French accent? I’m guessing not. Accent aside, Jacques says “tabarnack” throughout the film. I suppose you could say it’s his catchphrase. There’s that regional problem again. “Tabarnack” is actually a French-Canadian curse word. It’s kind of one of the worst ones you can say. It’d be like having an American say “cunt” as his go-to cuss. Unlike many Anglophone swear words that refer to the body and its functions – shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, tits – many French-Canadian ones are religious in nature. “Tabarnack” is short for “tabernacle”. I don’t know enough about the topic to tell you why “tabarnack” is the worst word, but it is.
But because Mike Myers recognized the limited appeal of a French-Canadian character beyond, of course, all the dick jokes, he devised a clever way to have Jacques connect with members of the audience who were not in the secret ‘I know stuff about Canada’ club: stereotypes. Enter Céline Dion. Well, she’s not actually in the film (see also the section on Oprah under ‘Cameos’ below). But Jacques the proud Québecer makes his solid determination to Prudence Roanoke that Dion is “the greatest singer ever from Québec” before singing along to the chanteuse’s hit “Because You Love Me” while delivering a foot massage to his rival’s wife. Dion is a smart choice because she comes from Québec and is so well known that most everyone will at least get the reference. Jacques’ obsession with Dion is used later by Pitka as he brings her out as a distraction at a club. While we see a thin woman with long hair we’re told is Dion take the stage at the night club, and we hear Dion singing, we never actually see her face. So, in one of the only things I will ever respect Céline Dion for, she was likely asked to be in the film and said no. I’m sure she had a great time with the money she got from licensing her songs for this film. Allons-y, Céline!
One final note about Jacques. I can see how this character might be funny as a concept and I think that J.T. does his best with the material. He’s at least a believable ‘70s porno version of a French-Canadian, if that’s what they were going for. Considering the limitations of Jacques’ cultural in-jokes, it’s clear that the character could have benefited from some reimagining.
Maple Leafs’ head coach, Coach Cherkov, another example of the penile nomenclature is this film, is played by Vern Troyer – y’know, ‘Mini-Me’ from the Austin Powers films. The main purpose for his appearance in this film is to remind audiences who may have forgotten that people who look different need to be objects of mean-spirited jokes too. It’s a really good thing that Mike Myers reminded us in just about every scene with Troyer that the latter is short, or else I might have mistaken him for a person. Whether it’s a meeting in his comically small office, juxtaposed with the other characters whom Cherkov must think are GIANTS, or Guru Pitka – in a brilliant antithesis of art imitating life – holding him aloft like an Academy Award, or explicitly being called a midget, the audience never has to worry about forgetting that Verne Troyer is so small he can fit inside a Gatorade bucket.
The only character in the film who doesn’t wholeheartedly buy into Guru Pitka’s or Deepak Chopra’s particular brand of bullshit. As we all know by now, John Oliver is a satirist extraordinaire. This character was the one glimmer of hope I had for this film to do some right good skewering of the subject matter. Pants has his eyes firmly on the Oprah prize and he seems to know the score: get Pitka on Oprah and cash in. I can totally get behind Oliver’s straight-up businessman caricature. It would’ve been fantastic if he’d had worthy foils.
Jay Kell (Stephen Colbert) & Trent Lueders (Jim Gaffigan)
Colbert and Gaffigan play the hosts/commentators of Hockey Night in Canada and are responsible for quite a few of the films more earnest laughs. They don’t really add a whole lot to the film except for the few bits and Kell’s (Colbert) running gag about his descent back into addiction. The host bit suffers, however, from the regionalism discussed earlier. Every Canadian, regardless of their hockey fandom, will know that Hockey Night in Canada is an iconic CBC live hockey broadcast that has aired on Saturday nights for as long as anyone can remember; scientists can’t agree on its exact origins, but some CBC literalists place its genesis as recently as the 1930s. Unfortunately, any cachet HNIC might have in Canada will be largely restricted to the Canadian population. Another layer of the film that excludes its larger audience. The only thing that could have excluded the rest of the world further would have been the inclusion of HNIC’s and, seriously not bragging here, one of Canada’s most recognizable celebrities, Don Cherry (below). Please don’t make me explain Don Cherry. Just know that he’s an awful human being. He’s the blurry pink object sitting next to Rob Ford. That should just about sum it up for anyone out there.
The guy who won the Oscar for his portrayal of Ghandi plays an Indian guru stricken with crossed-eyes from masturbating. Just read that sentence again. I assure you this is not another dimension. Oh, and he’s a knight of the realm too.
It’s fitting that the majority of the images that come up on a Google search for Prudence have her either in her bikini or accompanied by Jacques or Darren. Her purpose in the film is as a prize to be fought over, won, and lost. The Love Guru fails the Bechdel Test in a big way.
There were numerous cameo appearances in this film. In order, they were: Jessica Simpson, Val Kilmer, Mariska Hargatay, Oprah Winfrey (kind of), Daniel Tosh, Mike Myers (yes, really), Kanye West, and Deepak Chopra. Incorporating superfluous cameos is a gag Mike Myers has done before (I’m thinking of Britney Spears as a fembot in one of the Austin Powers films, which worked) so it’s not entirely out of place. As far as Jessica Simpson and Val Kilmer are concerned, they really are superfluous unless you read their presence is Guru Pitka’s ashram in Los Angeles as a comment on religious bandwagon celebrity culture; which you can, I suppose, but really I think those two just weren’t doing anything else that day. I forget whether they were washed up in 2008 but they had definitely passed their peak of fame.
Mariska Hargatay seems like a swell person and I’m so sorry her name was used in vain throughout this film as a gag worn out almost before it began. You see, “Mariska Hargatay” is a foreign-sounding name therefore making it justifiable poke fun at it. Pitka uses it as an all-purpose greeting, blessing/mantra that puts me in mind of obnoxious yoga practitioners’ use of “Namaste” to mean whatever the hell they like. “Mariskahargatay” stands in as a ‘Hindi enough’ (even though it’s Hungarian) mysticalish-sounding mantra that is A) confusing the first time you hear it uttered in the film B) a complete failure as a gag once Pitka says it to the actual Mariska Hargatay C) Ire-inducing throughout the rest of the film. In the DVD extras, Hargatay states that she liked the invocation of her name in the film as a didactic tool to teach the public how to properly pronounce it. And who am I to doubt her? Nobody, that’s who. I can, however, pan it as a trite gag.
So, Oprah’s in this film…sort of. The ostensible central motivation of the film is for Guru Pitka to help Toronto Maple Leafs’ star Darren Roanoke get back together with his wife so that he can lead his team to their first Stanley Cup championship since 1967 (which in itself displays a frightening misunderstanding of hockey as a sport dependent on a single player rather than an entire team) thus making Pitka the number one relationship/love guru in the world. The Oprah Effect has a proven track record of making things famous in a way #Kony2012 could only wet dream of. Since Oprah is also known as a major harbinger of New Age and self-help bullshit like The Secret and Dr. Phil, it makes further sense that Pitka should aspire to appear on the airwaves with her. This is all a solid setup, except that none of that comes through in the film. Instead, Pitka seems enamoured with the talkshow host to the point of an unhealthy obsession. His manager, Dick Pants, has his eyes on the money it will bring from the huge bump in book and merchandise sales. Fine. Another lost opportunity to satirize false prophets and charlatans. However, this is not the most messed up thing about Oprah’s appearance in the film. Remember how I said she was ‘sort of’ in the film? Let me explain: Oprah as a concept is mentioned early on in the capacity I’ve already mentioned. Her likeness appears in the film during a fantasy sequence in which she screamingly welcomes Guru Pitka onto her show. We see her face as she says “Welcome for the first time ever on the show…” and then the camera cuts to Pitka entering the stage as she yells “Guru Pitkaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!” before quickly cutting back to Oprah with her mouth agape on the final audible vowel extension. The sequence is over quickly and, I admit, I didn’t notice anything amiss until I watched the credits. During the credits I see that Oprah is not listed as appearing but instead there is a ‘voice double’ named Michelle Marshall listed. This is strange – did they use old Oprah footage and then get Michelle Marshall to voiceover? Yes, it appears they did. The footage of Oprah saying “welcome…&c” is unmistakably Oprah and then the voice noticeably changes when she says “Guru Pitka”. I have to admit that, when I saw it, I kind of assumed that was Oprah speaking. I looked up Michelle Marshall, who advertises herself as an Oprah impersonator, and saw this completely unconvincing Oprah impression. Long story short, this was a weird—albeit relatively effective and not that noticeable on the first go round—thing to do. What makes me sad, however, is that the voice double’s resume uses this two-word voiceover gig as a career highlight.
Daniel Tosh appears as a guy in a bar who incites a barfight (so not technically a cameo, I guess). The scene isn’t funny. Daniel Tosh isn’t funny. Let’s move on.
Kanye West appears in the crowd at a Maple Leafs game with Mike Myers. The scene is short and, remembering that classic awkward moment shared by Myers and West from the Hurricane Katrina fundraising telethon in 2005, one would expect this to be used to great effect. After all, Mike Myers is a comedian willing to humiliate his ‘friends’2 for a laugh. No such luck in the final cut of the film. A deleted scene, however, has Myers and West being interviewed by Hockey Night in Canada and Myers cuts West off before he has a chance to say anything provocative to which West replies, “You don’t have to do that every time”. This was a great comedic moment and I have no idea why it was cut from the film. It had elements most of the movie is lacking: a joke in reference to something that was actually funny (not so much West’s original comment as Myers’ stunned reaction to it), a celebrity cameo that actually increases the entertainment value of the film thanks to the uncharacteristically self-deprecating West. Another missed opportunity. It didn’t have to be that way, sadly.
Deepak Chopra, in this film, is Guru Pitka’s lifelong rival and the platonic ideal of self-help gurus. I don’t know what I had expected when he finally appeared on screen but, as a rival, it would’ve been fun if they’d portrayed him as having some sort of skin in the game to beat Pitka. For their entire lives, Chopra made quick work of Pitka in the guru game, being favourited by their mutual mentor and not having to wear a chastity belt because he “loved himself” and could therefore love many, many naked women. The Chopra character seems oblivious to all of this and that was kind of disappointing. Myers could’ve made it so that Chopra was a bit of a dick but I suspect there were plenty of caveats against that for his being featured in the film.
I’ll have a whole bunch more to say on The Love Guru in my next installment, in which the focus will be Guru Pitka himself. Thanks for reading.
1Tugginmadpudha, get it? His name’s a joke about how much he masturbates. Get used to crap like this if you ever decide to watch The Love Guru.
2Vern Troyer, in the DVD extras, says in no uncertain terms that he considers Myers a friend. Whether the sentiment is one-sided remains unclear. Troyer’s consistent use as a prop and non-human throughout this film and Austin Powers might indicate that Myers has a different opinion of their supposed ‘friendship’.