David Gordon Green works like many of the other directors who excel in improv comedy; he gets a take that’s just like the script, and then he begins getting other takes with other jokes. He’ll let the actors explore the jokes, go big. He’ll bring them back and try smaller things. Armed with all of these choices, he goes into the editing room and constructs a movie. And the movie he’s constructed in Your Highness is, weirdly, one that seems to eschew many of those bigger, broader laughs.
Which isn’t to say that Your Highness isn’t funny, because it is. But the film is more a giggling type of funny, only truly getting to the hearty belly laughs in the final act. And what it forfeits in guffaws it makes up in serious fantasy chops; David Gordon Green and writers Danny McBride and Ben Best have made a really, truly legitimate 80s style sword and sorcery movie, just with a couple of extra dick jokes.
In fact the giggle-worthy nature of most of the film’s jokes sort of replicates the experience of watching a ridiculous, low budget and completely silly fantasy movie. Even in that context, Your Highness is a really GOOD version of that kind of fantasy movie - the monsters are cool, the locations are awesome and the basic quest plot is strong.
As are the leads. But just as big laughs aren’t what makes Your Highness really work it also isn’t necessarily McBride and James Franco who fuel the film. For me Your Highness is all about Justin Theroux as Leezar, the weird, evil wizard, and Rasmus Hardiker as Courtney, Danny McBride’s squire. Theroux is ludicrous, but he layers in a slimy sadness and vulnerability to Leezar. In many ways Leezar is the broadest character in the film, and he probably gets the best lines. Hardiker, meanwhile, is just an incredible reactor. He stands quietly in scenes and gets incredible laughs with just his facial expressions; Your Highness needs more Courtney. I hope a future DVD release fixes that.
I suspect that repeated viewings of Your Highness will improve it; movies like this age well. I remain surprised at how slight it is, though. There’s not a bad moment in the movie, but there are a lot of very okay moments. I liked the film but as you can tell by the length of this review, it’s a hard one to get worked up about. This isn’t like Land of the Lost, where I walked out thinking I had just seen a cult movie in its infancy; Your Highness is a good movie, an enjoyable movie and a movie that works, but I wonder if it’ll ever be seen as anything other than a minor work in the filmographies of all involved.