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Observe And Report: Does The Mental Health Humor Cross A Line?

Observe and Report, actor Seth Rogen’s latest “comedy” adventure, has been out for a week now, and reviews are – quite frankly – not all that hot as far as the mental health angle is concerned.

Rogen portrays Ronnie Barnhardt, a mall security guard with bipolar disorder on a mission to restore safety and decency to the Forest Ridge Mall with a mouth worthy of some industrial strength disinfectant.

Several reputable names support Rogen in Observe and Report. Ronnie’s mother (Celia Weston) is an alcoholic who blames him for Ronnie’s father leaving, the object of his affection (Anna Faris) is a makeup counter girl with some questionable behavior issues of her own, and his archenemy is apparently a toss up between the mall’s latest nuisance – a flasher – and the real detective who steps in to clean up the problem (Ray Liotta).

However, despite an impressive cast, some reviewers are, well, quite unimpressed themselves.

“Watching a misguided satire like ‘Observe and Report’ fail is like watching a multi-vehicle collision in slow motion […] maybe Rogen’s performance doesn’t work for the simple reason that mental illness isn’t funny.” – Jeffrey Westhoff, Northwest Herald.

When the two [Seth Rogen and Anna Faris] teamed up for Jody Hill’s new film “Observe and Report,” the result was more painful than funny […] Ronnie’s mental illness and violent behavior aren’t the only basis of inappropriate jokes.” – Morgan Davis, The Daily Colonial.

“We later learn that Ronnie has a bipolar disorder. Going off his meds doesn’t help him with the psychological exam required to get into the police academy. Even if you’re not offended by the use of mental illness for cheap laughs, it’s not very funny.” – Steve Warren, The Sunday Paper.

Of course, not all reviews have been unfavorable. Visit Observe and Report‘s website and you’ll be accosted by numerous praises from Rolling Stone, People, and New York Daily News.

I was a mall employee during college – twice – so I get all the mall politics, the trivial gossip, and those security guards who do believe they and they alone are responsible for the efficient running of the well-oiled retail biodome the rest of us just think of as, um, the mall. So, I’m usually all over anything poking fun at that. I’m also usually all over any Seth Rogen comedy, because to me, the man’s hysterical.


Mental illness and comedy don’t always work well together. Oh, the union is far from impossible (my friend and fellow advocate Chato B. Stewart does a fantastic job with Mental Health Humor), but just from reading some of the reviews, I don’t think Observe and Report is as successful.

Maybe I’m wrong. I haven’t seen the movie, after all. Have any of you? Any thoughts, praises, gripes you’d like to share?

Observe And Report: Does The Mental Health Humor Cross A Line?

Alicia Sparks

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APA Reference
Sparks, A. (2009). Observe And Report: Does The Mental Health Humor Cross A Line?. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 20, 2019, from


Last updated: 18 Apr 2009
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 18 Apr 2009
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