It’s hard to believe now that, upon its release in 2001, Zoolander wasn’t a great success. It suffered mostly from bad timing as it came out only a matter of weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Critics weren’t exactly wowed and audiences just didn’t flock to see it. However, it eventually made enough of an impact to become a much-loved classic. My friends and I are huge fans and have been for many years. We left our school leaver’s ball, aged 16, to go home and watch it. I really love the film. So when I found out that my work friend hated it I really didn’t know what to do. Especially when she told me her reason was that it’s “too silly”. What the fuck was she expecting? Hating Zoolander for being too wacky is like hating Jaws for having too much shark. It’s the whole fucking point of the film. So, I may have lost a new friend but it did give me an excuse to rewatch this classic.
Zoolander is Ben Stiller’s satirical look at the fashion industry and is absolutely hilarious thanks to its insights. The narrative follows veteran fashion model, Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) as he comes up against newcomer, Hansel (Owen Wilson) and finds himself embroiled in a murder plot, whilst still trying to perfect his new look Magnum. There’s also a love interest, his coal-mining father, and a psychotic fashion designer involved but the plot is really by-the-by.
What matters here is how Stiller and co. represent the industry that they are trying so hard to dissect, He and Owen Wilson nail the two male models at the centre of the story and Will Ferrell some of the most memorable moments thanks to his exaggerated fashion designer, Mugatu. Derek and Hansel were born out of that breed of 90s male fashion models known for their vacuous and vain sensibilities. It’s cruel in its own way but it’s incredibly funny nonetheless.
Zoolander is a wacky and silly concept, it’s true. but it also offers some of the funniest writing Stiller has ever written. The results are often patchy but more jokes hit than they miss. The duds really don’t matter when the successes are as quotable and hilarious as these ones. Unlike the titular character, there is more to Zoolander than meets the eye and the seemingly stupid comedy has a darker and biting undertone to it. Everything on screen is based in some aspect of reality … but at least 3 times bigger.
The plot is perhaps pathcier and more rambling than it really wanted to be and feels like a bunch of shorts stitched together instead of a standalone narrative. The overall assassination plot is fun but it is at odds with much of the other work Stiller is bringing to the table. To say it’s only about 90 minutes long, this film feels too full whilst still managing to stretch its meagre plot to breaking point. It often just relies on celebrity cameos and quirky humour to get through. Had the film been a completely satirical look at the fashion industry it might have felt like a slicker film. However, it probably wouldn’t have been as funny.
Because, despite all of it’s problems, Zoolander is an incredibly funny and charming film. That’s mainly down to the cast of characters and the obvious love that went into making it. Just like Derek himself, you can’t help but love this film despite all of its obvious flaws. The chemistry between Stiller and Wilson and Will Ferrell in general are what has allowed this film to rise above it’s disappointing release and become the classic is deserved to be.