In comic books, the sidekick often ends up overshadowed by the hero. They are beloved, but forever merely a part of a whole that doesn’t always need them. Madness in the Method, the directorial debut from Jason Mewes, addresses this problem in a way one might only expect in a one-shot from DC’s defunct Vertigo label. Perhaps he’s better known as Jay, the hetero-lifemate of Silent Bob, played by his childhood friend and director Kevin Smith. The film knows you know this, and thus makes it the foundation for one of the more murder-y films about making films in that canon. Yet, Madness in the Method also shares something that giant blockbusters like Avengers: Endgame and the original Spider-Man share: a cameo from Stan Lee.
The Final Appearance of Stan Lee
As the trailer for the film revealed, this cameo-filled passion project earns a place in cinematic history, as it is likely the very last time the inimitable Stan Lee will appear in a movie. In a way, it’s a sweet bookend because it was Smith who put the comics legend in his first feature film, 1995’s Mallrats. While he and Mewes never shared the screen, it’s fitting that his final role would be for a film for someone in the family. Ironically, Mewes and Lee don’t share the screen in this film either. However, Stan Lee gets a good insult in, and there is a funny gag about misremembering common phrases. It’s the kind of subtle humor that Stan Lee was a master at pulling off in a cameo. Mewes also included a memorial in the credits.
Dark Comedy or How to Start Accepting Funny Murder
Image via Cinedigm
The rest of the film, however, is not as heartwarming as the few moments we get with Stan Lee. The premise of the film is that Jay feels boxed in by his iconic role as Kevin Smith’s sidekick. Wanting to be taken seriously as an actor, he gets his hands on a book about method acting that is so powerful it destroys his life. We won’t spoil the plot of the film but know that (more than once) Jason Mewes (playing a fictionalized version of himself) murders people. In the 1990s and early oughts, comedy murder happened all the time. It’s a hallmark of the black comedy subgenre. Today, murder is little more difficult to find funny. Still, Madness in the Method skirts the line in exactly the right way. The situation soon becomes so absurd you can detach it from any semblance of reality.
Once you do this, you see that Madness in the Method is a dark farce that also has something to say. The emotional climax of the movie comes when Mewes and Smith have an argument that sounds, at least, inspired by real life. Two friends who owe each other everything make the tragic mistake of seeing their partnership as a burden. And even though at this point in the film Mewes has a couple bodies on him, you still feel more for him in that moment. Perhaps this is another, more subtle, bit of metafictional irony at play, but you just can’t stay angry at Mr. Snoogans. The film’s twist ending pays off another thing you might miss on the first viewing, how effortlessly Jay balances playing himself and a person truly becoming evil. A story hidden under just enough cartoonish buffoonery to pleasantly surprise you in the end.
Jay Mewes’s Ambitious Directing Style in Madness In the Method
One reviewer harshly critiqued the look of the film. He called it “all shiny but cheap-looking color-correction, resembling a YouTube music video doing a passable impression of professionalism.” In an age where we all understand how this look is light-years beyond the look of (beloved) indie films from yesteryear, the reviewer still levies this idea as a criticism. Frankly, outside of a few over-edited moments, the visual style in this movie is remarkable. As the film suggests, even people who love Jay Mewes have low expectations where he’s concerned. This film is a professional film, directed by a person with an eye for it. All those years snootchin’ and bootchin’ around the set of Smith’s films, Mewes definitely learned quite a bit about how they are put together. Madness in the Method is a mostly gorgeous film, with effective and bold lighting, cinematography, and nuggets of surrealism throughout.
As Mewes’s character falls deeper into his madness, we see flashes of moments in the past but also the future moments. (Interestingly, this is a visual style also used in The Loudest Voice, Showtime’s series documenting the rise and fall of Roger Ailes.) Look carefully and you can spy Smith rubbing himself, uh, sensually(?) and gnawing on his once-signature hockey jersey. Jay also takes time out from the narrative to include dance numbers, complete with showgirls. Also, the moments of “movies within the movie” are more convincingly real than any of Smith’s versions of that concept. The biggest gag the movie pulls off is sending viewers away with the feeling that Jason Mewes could probably pull off more serious roles than we expect from him.
Our Grade: Weird, Watchable, and Fun
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Trying to quantify artistic value is a fool’s errand. For example, David Lynch is either a visionary auteur whose brilliance is unmatched, or he makes unwatchable dreck. Even though most objective and thought-out critique boils down to the reviewer’s emotional reaction to the piece. In this case, that means I loved this movie. Casting Brian O’Halloran as a guy whose star is on the rise in Hollywood but also watches his catchphrase scene from Clerks alone at home is genius. Dean Cain, the best Superman of the 1990s, has a hilarious turn playing a fictional version of himself. Danny Trejo makes an appearance as a fellow method actor, meaning he talks with an affectation and wears a pink boa throughout. Chances are, even if you love Madness in the Method, you aren’t having as much fun watching it as they did making it.
Madness in the Method is not a film for everyone, because it expects you to watch it fully aware of both Jay’s and Silent Bob’s, er Kevin Smith’s, oeuvre. People who’ve never seen a Smith film would be confused by all the meta references to them. Yet, that’s not a flaw. Understanding the perceived dynamic between the two lifelong friends is central to the film’s story. It also does what any good film-about-making-films is supposed to do. The movie makes Hollywood seem like this cartoonish landscape filled with ego and cruelty, masked as politeness. It also says something about self-interest. Too much of that can turn you against people who do care about you. Madness in the Method is a film that Mewes’s should feel proud of. It delivers on its premise and promise of comedy. But also surprises you with moments of heartfelt emotion and heartless violence.
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.