Zoolander received mixed reviews from critics when it was first released, but it quickly became a cult favourite among comedy fans. Starring Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, and Will Ferrell, it tells the story of model Derek Zoolander (Stiller) who, when reaching the end of the road on his modeling career, is brainwashed to kill the Prime Minister of Malaysia. The premise is as ridiculous as it sounds, but the movie has given rise to many iconic lines and even facial expressions.
Zoolander: A Hilarious Comedy About Idiots
Derek Zoolander is a male model whose career is waning, and he soon finds competition in Hansel (Wilson). After Zoolander’s friends all die in a “freak gasoline fight accident”, he is taken advantage of by fashion mogul Mugatu (Ferrell) and brainwashed to kill the Prime Minister of Malaysia at a fashion show. With help from journalist Matilda (Christine Taylor) and Hansel, Derek works to uncover the plot and prevent the murder from happening.
It’s easy to see why Zoolander became such a hit among movie lovers and comedy nerds. It is eminently quotable and one of the best examples in the “idiot” genre. A movie full of stupid people has the risk of being extremely annoying, but Zoolander manages to make it funny without it getting stale. The sharp writing means that there is joke after joke, and the hilarity comes from both the writing and the visuals of the movie too. Despite being a movie about idiots, it is very clever in its delivery.
Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson are no strangers to working with each other, and Zoolander is one of the best collaborations they have produced. They both have the chance to play absurd roles that allow them to have fun and show what they are able to do with a sharp comedy script. They work well together and with the other stars, from comedy colleagues such as Ferrell to celebrity cameos.
Despite being a silly movie that has fun with the idiocy of the two main characters, Zoolander also manages to touch on some serious subjects. The reason that Derek is brainwashed to kill the Prime Minister of Malaysia is that Mugatu and Zoolander’s agent need the Prime Minister out of the way so that Mugatu’s fashion empire can continue to take advantage of cheap child labour in Malaysia. According to Scott Cooper Florida, forced and trafficked labour is one of the biggest issues facing the fashion industry today, with about 50% of trafficking victims, including children, sold into forced labour.
Even the smaller plot points can be read as a criticism of the fashion industry. Another key issue in the industry today is the appropriation of certain aspects of different races and cultures. In Zoolander, another type of appropriation is evident with the fashion line designed by Mugatu, Derelicte, which takes “inspiration” from homeless people. The line is actually a parody of real-life fashion from John Galliano, who used clothing worn by disadvantaged people as inspiration for a fashion line in 2000, the year before Zoolander was released.
Naturally, the movie also spends a lot of time making fun of the shallowness of the fashion and modeling industry. Although now nearly 20 years old, it continues to be relevant in an image-obsessed world, especially with the spread of social media and the influence that it has had. While focusing on being funny, the movie still finds plenty of time to make social commentary about not just the fashion industry but also society in general, and the way that we are obsessed with image and reputation.
Despite the fact that it does take a look at some serious issues, Zoolander never takes itself too seriously. The absurdity of some of the situations and the dialogue prevents it from ever becoming a true satire or earnest criticism of the things that it takes a swipe at. The move is silly in every way, while still managing to get in some interesting points about fashion, modelling and the image-obsessed culture not just of the turn of the century but also today.
Zoolander: The Bottom Line
Although the sequel to Zoolander was not well-received, the original movie is sure to continue to be a firm favourite among both old and new fans. It might not be a movie that won many awards and was even poorly received by some critics, but it is set to be an enduring comedy classic. Having already survived almost two decades without becoming irrelevant, it’s likely to persist as a must-see cult comedy favourite. Anyone looking for some silly comedy with a serious undertone should see it.