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Film / Joe's Apartment

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"Movies about cute mice and cute pigs are one thing. Movies about cute cockroaches are something else; I don't think we're ready for this."
Roger Ebert in the end of the year specials on Siskel & Ebert

Joe's Apartment is a 1996 musical-comedy film produced by MTV, based off of a short film that appeared on the Liquid Television anthology series, and follows a hapless apartment owner who lives with thousands of cockroaches.

Joe (Jerry O'Connell) has just moved to New York City from Iowa, in need of money and a job. A local artist helps Joe get an apartment in a building slated for demolition, where he discovers that a horde of cockroaches is also present - singing, dancing cockroaches. Joe and the roaches soon strike an uneasy friendship - he's just glad to have an apartment, and they're glad that Joe is a complete slob. After a string of attempted jobs get ruined by the roaches, Joe signs on to become the drummer in a local band and meets Lily Dougherty (Megan Ward), the daughter of a senator (Robert Vaughn) who is looking to tear down the building Joe lives in and build a prison over top of it. With the help of the roaches, Joe tries to help Lily create a community garden and stave off the threat of the building's demolition.

Joe's Apartment was the first project helmed by MTV Films, and was loosely based on the 1992 short film of the same name (which was inspired by Twilight of the Cockroaches), which MTV frequently aired as filler material between music videos. The movie featured a large amount of grossout humor, and more than 5,000 actual cockroaches were used during production of the film. The computer-animated roaches were one of the earliest jobs for animator Chris Wedge and his fledging Blue Sky Studio.

The movie flopped at the box office, and was critically panned by reviewers and general audiences.

Whose Line Is It Anyway? fans will recognize the "dancing cockroach" scene from a playing of News Flash on the US series original run.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The original short involves Joe bringing a girl home for a date, and she promptly flees after the roaches break their promise not to inferfere with the two humans. The movie also includes this scene, but reframes it as the first date between Joe and Lily, and uses it as a basis to motivate the conflict of the film (that her garden is burnt down).
  • Big Rotten Apple: Zig-Zagged. Joe is mugged three times in a row immediately after stepping off the bus from Iowa. Lily's father uses this as his justification for wanting to build a prison in the East Village. Lily also sees the city as this after finding her garden burned down, but after the roaches turn the vacant lot into a beautiful garden she regains her optimism and her father even likes it more then a prison.
  • Busby Berkeley Number: Done by the cockroaches in a toilet bowl. Not even a clean one!
  • Cockroaches Will Rule the Earth: Played for Laughs, apparently cockroaches have a prophecy that some day the big war will happen and the world will be theirs.
  • Creepy Cockroach: Inverted - the roaches are friendly and want to help Joe.
  • Fill It with Flowers: Lily is working to make a garden in a depressed neighborhood to make it a better place. The villains make sure that the garden is destroyed. Joe likes Lily and wishes her to be happy and with the help of his cockroach friends and all of the rats, pigeons, etc. that the roaches can muster, Lily's garden is rebuilt.
  • Friend to Bugs
  • Fun with Acronyms: P.I. Smith & Sons, a urinal cake manufacturer. When Joe gets a job with them, he's given a bright yellow jumpsuit with a logo reading "P.I. S & S".
  • Funny Background Event: When Walter (the artist) talks with Joe about his experiment to create a new race of "periwinkle" (which involves dumping cans of paint on random passer-by in front of Joe's apartment building), a guy in a three-piece suit and briefcase is seen walking away in the background, his entire head and shoulders dripping in pink paint.
    • Joe gets on a city bus with a bag full of horse manure, which he plans on using to help Lily grow her garden. As the bus stops near the garden, he sees Lily hugging a man in a suit - in the background of his dismayed reaction shot, we see that all the other passengers are holding their noses.
  • He Knows Too Much: One of the reasons why the cockroaches decide to kill him when he tried to kill them for ruining his date.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: At the end of the original short, after Joe's date runs off, the roaches crack open a can of beer for him and he eagerly drinks it.
  • Kick the Dog: The thugs who try to force Joe from his apartment end up burning down Lily's garden while the two are on a date.
  • Men Can't Keep House: Joe's apartment is a pigsty, which is why the roaches enjoy living in it.
  • No Animals Were Harmed: Roger Ebert observed in his review,
    "I am informed that 5,000 cockroaches were used in the filming of 'Joe’s Apartment.' That depresses me, but not as much as the news that none of them were harmed during the production."
  • Only One Name: Joe.
  • Shout-Out: The film's original promotional website makes a reference to a new technology called ROL.
  • Starring Special Effects
  • Time-Compression Montage: The roaches gathering the materials to build the garden.
  • Welcome to the Big City: Joe immediately gets robbed three times in rapid succession when he arrives in the city.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Cute?: Talking, dancing, singing... cockroaches. Realistic cockroaches.