Review: What makes 'Nick Offerman American Ham' a perfect Valentine's movie?
Wait… why would I cap off my Valentine's Day publishing with a review of a movie that played Sundance?
After all, it's a concert film, just Nick Offerman onstage by himself sharing his tips for delicious living, a sort of onscreen companion to his recent book, "Paddle Your Own Canoe." How could that possibly be appropriate for Valentine's Day?
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, the film could easily be a vanity project. After all, Offerman is an actor, not a trained stand-up comic, and even for the best comedians, a full-length feature film can be difficult to make work. Offerman's an affable guy, and over the run of "Parks and Recreation," I've grown enormously fond of the way he can turn any scene into a gem, often wordlessly, and he's become an enormous asset to indie films who need someone who can come in and crush in just a few quick scenes.
What I didn't expect was that I'd have as intense an emotional response to the film as I did, and the reason is because of the enormous depth of feeling that Offerman has for his wife, Megan Mullally, who he describes as "a fantastic stack of curves and my legal property." Much of his advice boils down to something that sounds easy, but that can be enormously difficult in practice, and it is obvious from the way he speaks that he means it completely. He views his marriage as a gift, a privilege, not an obligation. He is head over heels in love with Mullally, and he expresses it continuously, with joy, and this film is simply one more part of that exclamation to the world.
It is inspiring to see a couple who work as hard as they do who still prioritize the time they spend together, and who take such obvious delight in who the other person is. If I have learned anything from the 12 years that I have been married, it is this: you have to love the whole person, and without hesitation. Anything less than that, and it will collapse. You cannot love the idea of someone, and you can't love someone's potential. You can't love someone and hope to fix them up or change them in some way. You have got to love the entire person, every part of their personality, even the parts that drive you crazy, and when Offerman tells stories about his life with Mullally, there is such joy in the way the speaks that I find it moving to even write about it. She shows up in several of the quick visual bits that Vogt-Roberts uses to punctuate the concert footage, and they look like they're having a blast, playful and silly and willing to do anything for a laugh.
I have never bought into the notion of using Valentine's Day or a particular anniversary to express something that should be part of every single day in a relationship, and Offerman makes it clear that it should not be limited to one day if you're doing it right. "Engage in romantic love" is one of the rules he offers up in the film, and that is an every day activity. As he puts it, "Being a romantic takes guts and it takes some stupidity, but it makes life so much more delicious." Real romance requires a constant reinvestment of energy. It is not something you do once or twice and then set aside. If you are blessed to be with the right person in this world, celebrate them. Do it often. Do it every single time you think of them. Do it every single time they make you smile. Do it even when you don't feel like doing it. When that stops, everything else suffers, and there will come a point where you cannot fix it. There is no gesture grand enough to repair what's gone wrong in my own marriage, and I'm grappling with the end of things, doing everything I can to make this part of it less horrible. Maybe that's why it hit me so hard to see the pure love that Offerman basically radiates when he talks about his wife. I know that feeling, and I wish I'd been able to keep it alive in my own life.
At several points in the film, Offerman performs songs, and he is capable of being blisteringly filthy. There's one song in particular where he talks about Mullally in terms that are nothing less than shocking, and after the song, he tells the story of how he performed it for her the first time and she ended up falling on the floor laughing at that particular line. "We're going to be together forever," he adds proudly, and I sincerely hope he's right. It's rare enough to see a couple this happy after years and years of marriage, but for him to be able to share that love in such a public and articulate way, and to make it seem so urgent and so vibrant is above and beyond. Offerman may be an "American Ham" as the title of his film suggests, but he's 99% heart, and I have a feeling this may hit people deeper than a mere stand-up concert normally would.
I'm not sure what the release plans are for this one, but I can honestly say that this expresses a more genuine and welcome view of love than any of the films that were targeted at the Valentine's Day audience this weekend.