Comedy

The Ugly Truth

the-ugly-truth

Movies with major stars saying impossibly stupid and unrealistic things usually come together because of some producer’s mandate to write a script that fills a very particular marketing niche. In this case, we have the bizarre and disturbing subgenre, “romantic comedies for dumb men.” Instead of hoping that two attractive but contentious people eventually let their guards down and recognize the traits that make them compatible, we’re hoping that the woman rated #1 in askmen.com’s list of most desirable women can learn to sexualize herself enough to satisfy the leader of the Spartans from 300.

Quicktime trailer.

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Chandi Chowk To China

Now watch the very different Quicktime trailer.

Who’s the intended audience?  Will the comedy play stereotypes against each other, or stereotypes against reality?

A couple other comedies that deal with inter-cultural tension in a way that seemed smooth at the time:

Michael Keaton is the working-class American guy who pretends to know how to talk to Japanese businessmen in Gung Ho. Interestingly, I can’t find a trailer, or even a good still image from that movie. It’s almost as if it’s been erased from public memory, like Songs Of The South. Here’s the climax, though:

Eddie Murphy is a finder of missing children, who must now find the Dalai Lama, or something, in The Golden Child. But does anyone else remember that trailer as a little bit different?

Also, The Guru vs. The Love Guru, previously discussed here.

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Yes Man

Very few of us actually have trouble saying Yes to the thousands of solicitations we receive every day. What we have trouble with is saying No. This movie sets up a straw man argument, designed to make the audience feel better about the fact that they say Yes as much as they already do. The first level of subtext - that we actually don’t say Yes enough - is ridiculous. The second level - that it’s ok to forgive ourselves for how often we say Yes, because it could be a lot worse - is far more palatable.

Quicktime trailer

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Tropic Thunder/Rain Of Madness

Tropic Thunder trailer

Rain Of Madness trailer (requires iTunes)

A lot of interesting stuff going on here. Tropic Thunder is a parody of, among other things, Apocalypse Now. So Rain Of Madness, the non-existent documentary about Tropic Thunder, is a parody of Hearts Of Darkness, the documentary about Apocalypse Now.

It’s an interesting time to make a comedy about the war in Vietnam, given that the US is currently involved in another endless police action. But Tropic Thunder isn’t, on its face, a comedy about war. It’s a satire of the whole idea of making a movie about war.

This extra level of remove insulates the audience from having to think directly about what this movie really is: a sophisticated comedy about the war in Iraq. Not just the war itself, but the perceptions that surround it: the way it’s imagined vs. the way it’s realized, what it’s like to really be in combat vs. what it’s like to feel so immersed in war toys, imagery, and information that you feel you might as well be there, even when you’re not.

If you pay attention to the Tropic Thunder trailer, you’ll see that the heart of it is just the old Seven Samurai formula: A group of misfit performers find themselves having to actually do what they previously only pretended to do. For them, the comedy becomes serious. The audience gets the chance to laugh at a situation that’s both serious and funny, but above all, pathetic. In this context, it means that Americans can laugh at how ridiculous it is that we’re still sending troops to Iraq.

The same trick is being used to make jokes about racial stereotypes. If I’d told you last year that Robert Downey Jr. was going to do a movie in blackface, you might not have believed it. But now, ha ha, he’s doing a movie about an actor doing a movie in blackface, so that’s okay, because it’s not really Robert Downey Jr. doing a movie in blackface. But it is.

Isn’t it?

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Stephen Colbert Endorses Trailers Undone

Well, not explicitly. But if you saw his interview with Will Smith last night, you know what I’m talking about. Colbert’s final question to Smith was whether Hancock is a metaphor for the United States - powerful but reckless - and Smith came about as close as he will ever get to squirming.

See my discussion of Hancock from months ago, where I suggest the same thing.

I’ll embed the YouTube clip of the Colbert-Smith interview as soon as someone posts it…don’t see it yet. Anyone else?

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My Best Friend’s Girl

This movie is a combination of While You Were Sleeping, and that scene from Back To The Future where Marty’s father says “Take your damn hands off her!”



My Best Friend’s Girl
is what’s known as a low-stakes comedy, leading to the obligatory scene when the poor sensitive guy gets his heart broken, followed by the resolution in which he realizes that he doesn’t actually give a shit. The resolution is so well understood from the beginning that there really isn’t any suspense at all, which is why the whole movie is in the trailer. The studio is betting that a profitable number of people will be titillated by Dane Cook grabbing Kate Hudson’s ass, and this is the vehicle in which that’s going to happen.

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The House Bunny

This is a Pygamalion story, and in American pop culture it goes like this:

The cool kid helps the geek become cool. In the process, the cool kid becomes less superficial, and comes to appreciate the inner beauty of the geek.

This story is such a cliche at this point that it’s a surprise to see it repeated here with no apparent irony or self-awareness. Worse, sorry to hear the producers didn’t get the memo, but we are living in the age of the hot geek girl. Those huge eyeglasses do nothing but emphasize Emma Stone’s beauty, and on any modern college campus, that Zeta house would have boys swarming around it. The trailer shows Shelley (the bunny) trying to make herself smart for a smart guy, but it doesn’t show her succeeding, and it doesn’t show her coming to realize that these girls don’t need her help, which would be the only outcome that might make this movie worth seeing.

About the other images:

Continue Reading »

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Swing Vote

(Here’s the trailer.)

This is an “honest man in politics” movie, much like Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, in which Jimmy Stewart is a naive senator who learns to make the system work for him, Mr. Deeds Goes To Town, in which Gary Cooper is a good ol’ boy who outsmarts city slickers with his down-home common sense, and Dave, in which Kevin Kline, a presidential look-alike and comedic impersonator, finds himself standing in for the real thing.

Dave is perhaps the most similar to Swing Vote, in that it’s also a “little guy shouldered with great responsibility” movie. Another relevant example is Amazing Grace And Chuck, in which little-league pitcher Joshua Zuehlke (never did another movie) decides to stop playing ball until there are no more nuclear weapons on the planet, inspiring a string of professional athletes to follow suit. (Am I the only person who actually saw that movie in the theater?) Citizen Ruth places Laura Dern (playing the most oblivious and irresponsible mother imaginable) at the center of the abortion debate.

About Swing Vote itself: Continue Reading »

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Burn After Reading

All detective movies, even the comedies, follow the same formula. A small-time guy is sucked into a big-time situation. At first, the detective thinks his goal is simple: collect some money, photograph an infidelity, track down a ditzy ingénue. He has no interest in the big picture. But the original task turns out to be more difficult than he imagined. In fact, merely extracting himself from the situation will require him to understand it, and his quest to do that expands his knowledge of how complex the world is and how depraved people can be. Ultimately, he finds himself the focal point of a high-stakes battle that affects many people, and shoulders him with a great moral responsibility that he doesn’t want.

The crux of the humor in Burn After Reading is that Continue Reading »

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The Love Guru

Guru
There was already a comedy about a sham guru coming from India to the US, being hired by wealthy people to solve simple problems, and having sex with beautiful white women. But nobody saw it (except me), because American mainstream audiences aren’t ready to get behind a bumbling Indian and cheer while he hoodwinks rich white people, realizing that he can revel in their money and their bodies simply by embracing how exotic he seems to them.

But mainstream American audiences will see a similar story if the hero is played by a white man. It’sMumford2
probably disquieting to many Americans to watch while a skinny unknown Indian seduces Marisa Tomei under false pretenses; it’s just good clean fun to watch Mike Meyers seduce Jessica Alba with whatever means are at his disposal. And by having a white man play an Indian, the Indian can be portrayed as a complete goofball, with strange mannerisms and ridiculous clothes, allowing the audience to laugh at the same stuff that they would have been afraid to laugh at or make fun of under different circumstances. Thirty years from now, all this will be so obvious upon a repeat viewing of The Love Guru that audiences will squirm the way they do now when they see old movies with white actors in blackface.

The Love Guru Trailer

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