Well, my credibility's probably about to go out the window. Just days after posting an essentially negative review of one of the most critically beloved movies of the year, I'm about to tell you I enjoyed a film that has a 26% on Rotten Tomatoes. To be sure, Your Highness aims much lower. It made me laugh, though, consistently.
I think I was able to enjoy it more than most critics because the two biggest objections to the film didn't apply to me--I wasn't shocked by the vulgarity and I didn't find the story empty or tedious. This may be because most critics wouldn't have the frame of reference I do. Very quickly I understood what this movie was. It's essentially a transcript of a Dungeons and Dragons gaming session played by a group of stoned teenage nerds. Much in the movie that was taken as detached and ironic was actually, I think, quite sincere. Most people who play (or played, I don't actually know if it's still done in the age of WoW) old fashioned pen and paper role playing games don't really know shit about the Middle Ages. They don't know how to speak with the appropriate diction; they don't really have a good idea of how things work in a medieval world. Usually the stories they weave amongst themselves draw on aspects of popular movies or books. Their language is a mix of the stylised dialogue of those movies and books and their natural, contemporary speech. This isn't a sign that they don't take the story and the characters seriously, but rather that they're invested enough in them that finding the emotional or artistic truth is more important to them than avoiding anachronisms.
Your Highness almost never deviates from this premise, and in the movie you can see these kids using the format to work through their own preoccupations and questions. All the gay jokes don't strike me as homophobic so much as kids as yet uncomfortable with their sexuality processing how displays of affection are different in something like Lord of the Rings. James Franco as the Prince Fabious kissing his brother Thadeous, played by Danny McBride, fully on the lips is exactly how your average 15 year old boy would process something like Aragorn kissing Boromir on the forehead. The affectionate joke here is on that 15 year old boy, whose reasoning can't perfectly assimilate a culture in which machismo manifests differently--there's a logic instead that goes something like, "In this culture, it's okay to be slightly gay, even though I would normally be uncomfortable with it, and it's proper here to act in a way I would normally consider slightly gay."
So for me, there's no dissonance for me when Fabious calls the villain, played by Justin Theroux a "motherfucker". This is how young nerds talk. I'm continually amazed that middle aged, middle class critics are amazed. I know they're not part of the culture, but do they ever look at the comments threads on Ain't It Cool News? Haven't Kevin Smith movies taught them anything? I suppose I can't understand it because the "F word" has so long since lost its punch for me. Maybe if it automatically injected me with a sense of shock and vague shame, I'd sympathise with those uncomfortable with hearing it repeatedly.
Justin Theroux's really good as the wizard, and his delivery when he tries to convince his captive Zooey Deschanel that her beloved Fabious frequently engages in orgies and ejaculates on barbarian men is so great. It's again that teenage boy genuinely trying to put himself in the place of an evil wizard trying to sway the affections of the princess. Both Deschanel and Portman are good with the group of boys--Deschanel has fun with her role as the innocent virgin character really borne more of young male hormonal fantasy than reality and Portman as the strong warrior woman seems to get that her role is really more of a surrogate mommy than the object of desire she ostensibly seems to be.
There are direct parodies of old fantasy movies, like Fabious' stupid mechanical bird companion which seems to be poking fun at the one in the old Clash of the Titans. But there's sincerity in the danger, too--the guy who sticks his hand in a pot of yellow liquid to make a giant hand with snake heads to fight the heroes is simply a cool idea.
There's a sweetness in the characters' desires to validate themselves by defeating evil and strengthening their bonds with one another. Your Highness is a nice little comedy about kids finding goodness in themselves, and finding ways to make it palatable next to their insecurities.