A Million Ways to Die in the West
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
As soon as I saw the previews for A Million Ways to Die in the West, I knew I had to see it. The previews were downright hysterical and the fact that Seth MacFarlane directed the film, co-wrote and co-produced it and starred in it, sealed the deal. MacFarlane had never disappointed me in the past, so I had high hopes that he would not do so this time around. Thus, I went to see A Million Ways to Die in the West on opening day.
In A Million Ways to Die in the West, Seth MacFarlane is Albert Stark, a sheep farmer who hates life on the frontier. In 1862, Albert’s only spark of happiness in a dark and dangerous world is Louise (Amanda Seyfried). Unfortunately, she doesn’t feel the same. After Albert withdraws from a duel, Louise sees him as a coward and leaves him for Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), the owner of the local moustache shop. Albert feels lost and wonders what he is doing with his life.
His friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and his prostitute girlfriend Ruth (Sarah Silverman) try to persuade him to stay and try to enjoy life on the frontier, but Albert is becoming set on leaving until a fight in the local bar gives him a reason to stay in the form of Anna Leatherwood (Charlize Theron), a woman he rescues from the fray. A beautiful woman without pretense, Anna sparks Albert’s interest and the two hit it off right away. She offers to help him try to get his former girlfriend back from Foy, but eventually finds herself falling for Albert, who has begun to have feelings for her as well.
Unfortunately, Albert has no idea that the woman he has fallen for is married to Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson), one of the most feared outlaws in the region. Anna was only supposed to be waiting in town until the heat blew over from a recent stagecoach robbery conducted by Clinch and his gang. But now, she finds herself in love with a local sheep farmer who can barely fire a gun, let alone aim it well enough to save himself. When Clinch finds out about Albert, will he run from the outlaw, or stand and face his enemy to save the woman he loves?
As the movie’s opening credits began, I began to worry about this film. Many comedies begin with a funny scene just before the opening credits. This one begins with beautiful views of the landscapes of the west coupled with music reminiscent of the old western shows like Big Valley or Bonanza. The action opens with the failed duel between Albert and another farmer over Albert’s sheep overgrazing on the other man’s land. Things don’t really get funny until the end of that duel.
What I loved about this movie is the title describes what the whole movie is about. The old westerns always made the West interesting and dangerous, but unless you know anything about history, these shows and films also made life in the West look incredibly exciting. What Seth MacFarlane and his writing staff does is poke fun at the reality of the West. As Albert notes, there was really nothing to do in the West, but farm, own a store, drink, fight, have relations…and…well, die. And as he points out, there are soooo many ways that a fella or gal can die in the West. Many of those ways are explored quite hysterically in this film.
Many methods of death in the West take place at the Fair. This felt like an inside joke between me and Seth. For years, I had been noting the dangerousness of the West Indies Day Parade in Brooklyn. Having lived and worked in the area for years, I can concede to the fun and beauty of the parade, but have also noticed that someone always dies or is seriously injured at the parade, whether through gunfire, stabbing, or…during the one parade when no one was looking to fight or kill, a float ran someone over. Having made this statement to the friend I went to see this movie with, it was fairly funny to hear Albert telling Anna that he hates the Fair because someone always dies at the Fair. In fact, I think my friend and I laughed the loudest in the audience at this joke. People probably wondered what was so funny about the statement, but I knew what would follow next as the writers did their best to prove the point of Albert’s statement.
There were quite a few funny moments in this film, but one worth mentioning is the peyote scene in which Albert seeks to find his path with the help of the local Native Americans, led by Cochise (Wes Studi). Another funny moment takes place in the bar, when we realize that Edward has never had relations with his girlfriend, because they are Christians and she wants to save herself for their wedding. Keep in mind that Edward’s girlfriend is a prostitute and understand how sincerely Giovanni Ribisi makes this statement and you will realize just how funny this moment really is.
Is A Million Ways to Die in the West the best movie I have ever seen? No. There are moments where you find yourself going “wah wah waaaaah” at a flat joke, but there are other moments when you just know that the actors are adlibbing and having fun doing so. I could tell that Charlize Theron, an actress who doesn’t take on comedies, was having a lot of fun with this film. I found her comedic timing to be just right and was surprised to see that she and Seth MacFarlane had great chemistry on screen.
So, if you are looking for a movie that will lighten up your day and make you laugh until you find yourself holding your stomach in pain, A Million Ways to Die in the West might be just what the doctor ordered.