A salute to Mariska Hargitay, who survived The Love Guru
The summer of 2008 broke history, and rebuilt it. America suffered through a bitter presidential election on the road to a globewrecking financial crisis. In theaters, cinematic generations were rising — and falling. Superheroes, Will Smith, George Lucas, Guillermo del Toro, Emma Stone, Mike Myers, Sisterhoods and Step Brothers, Batman, and ABBA, adaptations of TV shows we still tweet about, new installments of movie franchises studios won’t stop rebooting: everything Hollywood was before, alongside everything it still is.
In our weekly column Two Thousand Late, we’ll explore the big hits and curious flops from a summer that has never really ended. Last week: The Happening’s good-bad terrible badness. Next week: Pixar hits new spaced-out highs with Wall-E and toxic masculinity gets a love letter in Wanted. This week: Mike Myers had this funny idea about a love guru.
Ten years ago, Mariska Hargitay was merely the popular star of a long-running TV series. She had won an Emmy a couple years earlier for her role as Detective Olivia Benson on Law & Order: SVU — the only Emmy win, in fact, for any lead performer in the Law & Order-verse, and an early indication that Hargitay’s persona was inextricably linked to the whole cultural idea of Law & Order more than the wry Orbachs and gravely Watersons from the franchise mothership.
In 2018, Mariska Hargitay is still a TV star, preparing to return for Year 20 of SVU. She’s also, like, an elemental force, a firmamental aspect of pop culture, meaningfully still here in a way that suggests she won’t leave. If she’s canceled or retired, she’ll still be here: SVU is making new episodes, but its tail grows longer in rerun perpetuity. Around 2011 was the first time friends started admitting they watched SVU as comfort food. In 2015, SVU fan Taylor Swift assembled a cast of hashtags for her “Bad Blood” music video, a parade of insta-models and millennial multihyphenates and the Delevingnes of yesteryear.
The event of the video, of course, was the climactic appearance of Hargitay herself, alongside fellow broadcast empress Ellen Pompeo — and Hargitay got the best alter ego, “Justice,” short, descriptive, accurate. Just a few years later, “Bad Blood” already feels ancient, a distant epoch when everything was #squadsomething. Hargitay’s still Hargitay.
And the whole time she’s been a TV deity, Hargitay’s had precisely one appearance in a major Hollywood movie. It was The Love Guru, one of the worst movies ever made but one of the best arguments in favor of total nuclear annihilation.
REVIEW: The Love Guru
Released ten years ago Wednesday, The Love Guru marked the end of comedian Mike Myers’ era as a bankable Hollywood star. He had an enviable position in what Hollywood was becoming, the face of one successful franchise (Austin Powers) and the irreplaceable voiceof another (Shrek).
And he threw it all away with The Love Guru, a self-immolating labor of terrible love. 2008 had already been a summer of calamity for some of the decade’s superstar figures. The Wachowskis’ Speed Racer sunk, and Shyamalan’s The Happening was sunker. But those directors didn’t appear on screen. Whereas Myers is all over The Love Guru: a public spectacle of loud failure. He stars as Guru Pitka, a new age-y self-helper living a charmed life in glorious cameo-strewn Hollywood. The plot of the film — sorry, the “plot” of the “film” — is that he’s got to fly up to Toronto to help the Maple Leafs’ star Darren (Romany Malco) get his mojo back. Hard to explain why, it involves mommy issues and Justin Timberlake’s giant, errr, hockey stick.
Now, no movie that features a main character named Darren can ever be completely terrible. Except for this movie, which becomes a misery carnival of gags that a fifth grader would describe as “immature.” The humor depends on the viewer assuming that everyone on screen is an alien who learned about human emotions from close study of that formless manthing from the IKEA instructions. Myers is doing a couple different accents, John Lennon by way of something racist, and at certain points falls back on the kind of prop work that first-week improv students love. Someone hands him a corn dog: “Is it made from dog? Is it a dog’s thing? Am I being Punk’d?” Punk’d went off the air in 2007, so even commenting on that reference being lame was lame by the time Love Guru came out.
There’s also a climactic scene where two elephants have sex on a hockey rink, but let’s not dwell on specifics. The badness of Love Guru became historic, and the karmic stain that reverberated through our decade. The story rotates around the Maple Leafs’ Stanley Cup series against the Los Angeles Kings. Myers is a Toronto native who loves the Leafs — and since 2008, the Leafs have continued their decades-long championshipless streak. Meanwhile, the Kings have won the Stanley Cup twice.
But not everyone in The Love Guru was a loser. One of the several horrible running jokes is that Guru Pitka uses the name “Mariska Hargitay” as an all-purpose phrase — greeting, farewell, thanks, space-filler. He greets the celebrity cameos thus: “Mariska Hargitay, Jessica Simpson. Mariska Hargitay, Val Kilmer.” There are more celebrities in Love Guru. The whole plot revolves around the Guru’s aspiration to appear on Oprah Winfrey’s TV show; his great nemesis is Deepak Chopra; when you least expect it, this happens.
And there’s Jessica Alba as the Maple Leafs owner, giving arguably the toughest performance of her career as the person who has to almost-convincingly laugh at Myers’ jokes. It’s a kind of trope of decadent stardom, that moment when you can get anyone on screen for a few moments at a time. Myers could never have a lineup like this again, just like it’s hard to imagine Taylor Swift circa 2018 reassembling the “Bad Blood” cast (which included, hey, Jessica Alba!)
But there is one truly notable moment in The Love Guru, when Pitka meets one final celebrity:
Yes, it’s her! Hargitay herself! Looking happy to be here, honored, scared, disappointed, but above all, like someone who knows she’s got better things to do. Some stars burn bright into supernovas. The best will shine bright in the night sky long after our civilization is forgotten. The Love Guru is so dumb, but Pitka’s mantra is catchy, repeated 18 times throughout the movie. Say it to yourself morning, noon, and night: Mariska Hargitay, Mariska Hargitay, Mariska Hargitay…
Complete Summer 2008 Schedule:
May 2: Iron Man and Made of Honor
May 9: Speed Racer
May 16: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
May 22: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull
May 30: Sex and the City
June 6: Kung Fu Panda
June 13: The Happening
June 20: The Love Guru
June 27: Wall-E and Wanted
July 2: Hancock
July 11: Hellboy 2: The Golden Army
July 18: Mamma Mia and The Dark Knight
July 25: Step Brothers
Aug. 1: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
Aug. 6: Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 and Pineapple Express
Aug. 13: Tropic Thunder
Aug. 15: Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Aug. 22: The House Bunny