"Be kind for everyone is carrying a heavy burden," Ian Maclaren once noted. It is not easy to be kind to individuals we find to be obnoxious, hateful, or irritating. Yet that is precisely what all the spiritual traditions admonish us to do each and every day. You might not think this applies to characters in movies but it does. Consider Observe and Report as spiritual exercise for your heart.
Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen) is the security chief at Forest Ridge Mall. He is a foul-mouthed young man with a chip on his shoulder. Most of the people he regularly encounters on his job experience him as a socially awkward person who makes them feel uncomfortable. He always seems to say the wrong things. When a flasher shows up at the mall and does his thing in front of women in the parking lot, Ronnie decides this is his big chance to be a superhero on his own terms. When Brandi (Anna Faris), a buxom blonde working at a makeup store, encounters the flasher, she goes into a state of shock. Since Ronnie has a crush on her, he is very upset when Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) shows up to interview her and takes the spotlight off Ronnie.
One of the many troubling things about Ronnie is that he is a bigot who expresses his bias without reservation. This is exemplified by his hatred of Saddam (Aziz Ansari) who sells lotions out of a kiosk in the mall. Ronnie lives in such a fantasy world that he thinks he can make it into the Police Academy without a hitch. When that fails, he plunges into a nihilistic phase where he follows the irresponsible antics of Dennis (Michael Pena), his assistant at the mall. His buddy surprises him and leaves Ronnie wondering why he ever liked him in the first place.
There is a tender side to this security chief that comes through in his relationship with his alcoholic mom (Celia Weston) who is grateful that he hasn't thrown her out given the severity of her addiction. Ronnie also stands up for Nell (Collette Wolfe), a temporarily handicapped woman who works at Toast-A-Bun and is constantly ridiculed by her boss. We also learn that the security chief has been taking medicine for bipolar disorder for years and that his father left home because of Ronnie's problems.
So there you have it. Test yourself with Observe and Report, a raucous comedy written and directed by Jody Hill. See if you can open your heart to the struggle of this obnoxious and violent young man with outlandish dreams of grandeur. Does he push any of your buttons? Pay attention to see if there are any moments in the film when you actually sympathize with Ronnie's plight and his ungainly attempt to redeem himself after blowing everything. We live in a society that accentuates the negative and always looks for flaws in people. Observe and Report, if you want to live dangerously, can point you in another direction, looking for the good even in loathsome individuals.