Whose Film Is It Anyway?
Mike Myers
Note: The purpose of Whose Film Is It Anyway? is to examine the validity of the auteur theory through the lens of individual film-makers, taking a look at their bodies of work and highlighting the technical elements, personal style, and thematic consistency of their films. Ultimately, the goal of this column will be to generate a discussion of the merits of auteur theory through examinations of directors widely considered auteurs, analyses of directors whose status as auteurs is more tenuous, and occasional looks at non-directors who may drive the quality and content of their films with more assuredness than the directors they work with.

"It's his way or no way."-Anonymous studio executive to Entertainment Weekly, on Mike Myers

"Mike is the author of what he does. Like a novelist writing a novel over a few years, he thinks up all the details and all the layers necessary to make things work."-Jay Roach, director of the Austin Powers trilogy.

From the first installment of this column, I have endeavored to examine the question of film authorship from as many angles as possible. Clearly the focus of the column is on directors, as one of my main aims is to evaluate the validity of the auteur theory which claims that directors are the primary authors of films. Yet I have from time to time deviated to examine the works of screenwriters who I believe can be called the true authors of their films (specifically David Mamet and Charlie Kaufman to date). This time around, I want to try something a little different. Looking at the career of Mike Myers, it is hard to imagine a person who deserves more credit or more blame for each of his films. Instead of looking at Myers as a screenwriter (to be clear, he wrote or co-wrote the screenplays for both Wayne's World movies, all three Austin Powers movies, and The Love Guru), I want to examine the idea that an actor can at times dictate more about a film than the director or the screenwriter. By creating so thoroughly the characters at the center of his most popular (and most reviled) movies, Myers as a performer is an important, and perhaps defining aspect of his movies.

Myers has developed something of a reputation in show business circles for being a megalomaniacal asshole with Stanley Kubrick's tireless work ethic and Peter Sellers' gift for forging lasting professional relationships. His champions call him a tortured genius (in a profile for Entertainment Weekly one person compared Myers' dedication to comedy to Paul Thomas Anderson's commitment to There Will Be Blood) while his detractors have labeled him a whiny, high maintenance bastard who will lie, manipulate, and pout to get his own way on just about any aspect of filmmaking. This reputation began when Saturday Night Live overlord Lorne Michaels let Myers out of the cage he keeps all cast members in long enough to make a movie-length version of his immensely popular Wayne's World sketch. This was undoubtedly a triumphant moment in Myers' career, and one he by all accounts quickly began tarnishing. Myers tried to keep Dana Carvey, his more popular SNL co-star and the man playing Garth in every sketch, from being in the movie for fear he would eclipse Myers star. He also reportedly clashed nearly endlessly with first time director Penelope Spheeris, fighting for more takes to get certain scenes right, and complaining about multiple takes on other scenes that he felt wouldn't generate enough laughs (strangely Myers complained specifically about the repeated neck gyrations he was forced to do for the now iconic "Bohemian Rhapsody" scene). Myers wore Spheeris down through unabashed psychological manipulation, to the point that Spheeris assigned her daughter to ensure that Myers had any snack he might require to keep him from storming off set when Spheeris wouldn't give him his way. That Myers tended to get his way very possibly made Wayne's World a better movie, but it almost certainly made it a Mike Myers movie.

From the start, the movie came together around Myers and the iconic character of Wayne Campbell he had created for SNL. Myers developed the character based on people he had known growing up in Canada, and had honed both Wayne and characters like him for years, using him to impress girls at parties and playing with similar types during his time with Second City. Myers co-wrote the script for the film, and supposedly improvised large swaths of it during filming. There's little doubt that the project hinged almost totally on his ability to make Wayne work at feature length, and there can be little argument that Wayne's World is a huge success in that regard.

His ability to wear Spheeris down clearly tipped Myers off to a trick to make sure he got his way most of the time"”working with first time directors. For the sequel to Wayne's World, the controversially named Wayne's World 2, Myers tapped Stephen Surjik, who made the movie his feature film debut (Myers also worked with first-time film directors on Austin Powers, Shrek, The Cat in The Hat, and The Love Guru, all of which I'll discuss in a moment). Returning to the character that he was now most recognized as, Myers again worked to craft the script and wielded his increasing power to guarantee that Surjik cowed to his requests. Helping matters were rumors that Myers had intentionally kept Spheeris from returning to direct the sequel because she had been "difficult" though the party line by all remains that it was a matter of "creative differences."

After the relative failure of Wayne's World 2, Myers disappeared from the lime light for four years before returning to write, produce, and star in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (which was helmed by Jay Roach, who had technically previously directed, though disowned the 1990 comedy Zoo Radio). After spending over a year crafting the Powers character in private comedy shows and writing the script (which Myers wrote as an ode to Peter Sellers, his father's favorite actor), Myers also paid homage to Sellers by stepping into multiple roles. In addition to playing the libidinal super spy Austin Powers, he also embodied Powers' arch nemesis Dr. Evil, a character he had also previously road tested in shows. The script for the movie (written solely by Myers for the first time in his career) is undeniably clever, but it is impossible to conceive of the movie without his stellar portrayal of both characters. As Penelope Spheeris put it, "I hated that bastard for years, but when I saw Austin Powers, I went, "˜I forgive you, Mike. You can be moody, you can be a jerk, you can be things that others of us can't be"”because you are profoundly talented. And I forgive you." The absurd parody that made Austin Powers a classic and its subsequent sequels so vastly successful comes from only one mind, but more importantly is centered in the tour de force comedic performances Myers delivers.





Riding high on the success of the first two Austin Powers movies, Myers was tapped in 2001 to step into the shoes of the late Chris Farley as the titular character in Shrek. Brought in to a movie that had been in development hell since it was first conceived by Steven Spielberg as a follow up to An American Tale: Fievel Goes West for director Don Bluth, Myers cost the film an additional $5 million (and also arguably created yet another iconic character) when he decided half way through his voice recording that the character should speak in a Scottish accent similar to the one he had used when playing Fat Bastard in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. While Myers had nothing to do with the development of Shrek as a script, he changed all conceptions of the character, altering not just his voice but many of the characters lines throughout the script, working again under an enabling first time director.

Myers similarly overhauled 2003's The Cat in the Hat, though to greatly diminished returns. In this case, it seems clear that Myers' influence was a large part of what felled the project. Transforming the already iconic character into a crass, lewd, accident prone kids-movie nightmare (complete with flatulence, erection jokes, and a baseball bat to the testicles) he sullied all the memories associated with the story, and more importantly delivered a phoned in performance that still somehow comes across as calculating and mercenary. While I can hardly go to bat for the film's script (which again Myers was not involved in) or for first time film director Bo Welch, its Myers lifeless, humorless, crude performance that ultimately fells the film.

After the failure of The Cat in the Hat, Myers disappeared like he had after Wayne's World 2 to hone a new character, hoping to return triumphant once again. The result of this period of isolation, The Love Guru, is so shockingly miscalculated it can't help but call into question Myers' genius. An obviously personal film that Myers admits he hoped would communicate the ideas of Deepak Chopra a close personal friend Myers credits with his spiritual salvation following his father's death, The Love Guru is an unabashed failure full of stupid puns, terrible midget jokes (poor Verne Troyer has been suffering for Myers humor for a decade now), and low brow humor that forgets to be as intelligent and funny as all of Myers dirty jokes from films past. Even in his darkest days, though, Myers shows signs of the true comedic auteur that his fans call him. The film opens with an inspired gag in which the perfect narrator Morgan Freeman introduces us to the story before it is revealed that Myers is actually speaking through a voice machine, and has its moments throughout (including a flash back sequence that is flat out terrifying except when it makes great humor out of the death of Myers' character's parents) yet for the most part made me, and so many other Myers fans ashamed to have paid to be tortured by the man for 90 minutes.

At his best, Mike Myers is nothing short of a comedic genius who has created a series of iconic characters that put most comedians to shame (love Adam Sandler or hate him, have any of his characters attained the level of fame or quotability as Myers has several times over?). At his worst, he is a manipulative ego maniac that exercises such iron-clad control over his films that if he is even slightly misguided in his approach to a role it can derail an entire movie. Yet good or bad, it is impossible to conceive of any of his films without remembering exactly how Myers delivered some key line. By keeping tight control over his directors and writing or altering every screenplay he comes into contact with, he has ensured that all credit, and every shred of blame for his movies lies ultimately with him. Call him an auteur on par with Stanley Kubrick, an asshole on the level of Peter Sellers, or a destructive force rivaled only by Hitler (I promise some have), but it is impossible to deny that the films of Mike Myers are driven solely by the performer at their center.

Read more Whose Film Is It Anyway? here

Coming up on Who's Film Is It Anyway?:

1/16: Kevin Smith

1/30: Akira Kurosawa

2/13: George Lucas

2/27: Quentin Tarantino
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