Zoolander. Paramount Pictures 2001.
Zoolander. Paramount Pictures 2001.

Before watching the movie:

I remember all my classmates in middle school going nuts about this movie when it came out. I had no idea what it was other than a funny name and some incessantly repeated, grammatically shaky line about a school. I later learned Zoolander is a fashion model, and he has a rival model, and that’s about it. Apparently there’s an international assassination plot that he gets involved with somehow, but that’s not funny enough for people to talk about, I guess.

After watching the movie:

Derek Zoolander is the three-time winner of Male Model of the Year, which is fortunate for him because he’s dumb as a box of rocks, not even realizing that this year’s Male Model of the Year was awarded to rookie Hansel until already on the stage delivering his acceptance speech. When Derek’s three best friends die in a gasoline explosion, Derek decides to quit modeling and make a positive difference in the world, with visions of a Derek Zoolander School for Kids That Can’t Read Good. But things don’t go well for him outside the modeling world, and designer Jacobim Mugatu is insistent that Derek headline the unveiling of his fall line Derelicte, specifically so he can brainwash Derek to kill the Malaysian Prime Minister threatening labor reforms that would hurt Mugatu’s profits.

I’d never heard of Ben Stiller before this movie. It can’t have been that early for him, because nobody would cast an unknown to lead a big-budget comedy. A bit of quick research tells me it wasn’t even especially a breakout movie for him, as he’d starred in There’s Something About Mary and Meet the Fockers in the years previous. Those probably wouldn’t resonate with junior high schoolers anything like Zoolander did, being much more grounded in adult realities than the problems of a manchild model with an IQ that that could describe the temperature of a brisk fall day.

I was also surprised by Will Ferrell’s presence in the movie. Zoolander is a character that seems more Ferrel’s style than Stiller’s. Most of the roles I know Stiller for are much more down to earth, but the innnocent manchild is a type Ferrell can play in his sleep. Or Adam Sandler. However, Stiller co-wrote and directed the movie, so it must have been something he had in his system, and Ferrell’s Mugatu is the manic villain type Ferrell is also good at. Meanwhile, Owen Wilson is playing exactly the kind of character he’s known for, if a little dumber.

This is hailed as a satire of the fashion industry, which I suppose it is, only my main exposure to the arty, weird side of fashion is through other parodies. The fashion that comes to stores near you is limited to very minor modifications on traditional designs. What resonated more with me is the villain’s attempt to use influence over governments to increase profits, which is more a part of the social consciousness today than it was a decade ago. From this angle, the plot is similar to the more recent movie The Campaign, only the difference is that the businessmen are planning to bring the foreign sweatshops to America, which no one would have thought plausible in 2001.


Watch this movie: for glitz, sparkle, and low-intelligence humor.

Don’t watch this movie: for characters too smart for their own good.

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