Friday, July 21, 2006

Comedic Confusion

Okay, so it's Friday night, and I, yes, am sitting at home watching the Colbert Report rereun on Comedy Central, and suddenly there was an ad for Talledega Nights. And suddenly I starting thinking about it, and realized: What is up with the comedies being released lately? I'm not sure when it started, but suddenly there's this weird tier of comedies coming out, and they mostly star Will Ferrell and Ben Stiller (they also have some or all of the following:, Steve Carroll, Paul Rudd, Seth Rogan, David Koechner, Luke/Owen Wilson, and Vince Vaughn in them). Anchorman, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Dodgeball. It's a long list.

Now, don't get me wrong, I actually really like all three of those movies (though Anchorman is the hardest to watch), but...where to do they come from? Why a sudden explosion of these sort of lower tier comedies (Zoolander, Mystery Men, Old School)? Did these movies exist in the 80s and I just didn't know about them? Movies seemed to be...bigger, when I was in highschool. Comedies, at least (I suppose there have always been schlocky, cheap horror films. Evil Dead, I'm lookin' at you.), were major studio releases. But, suddenly, in the mid-90s maybe, comedies became inexpensive and silly. Not all of them, obviously. I don't think Ben Stiller was exactly vying for an Oscar in Mystery men. But I also don't think he was just vying for a quick paycheck. I mean, it seems to me that these guys really feel like they're doing real work. And they are, because a lot of it, not all of it, is really funny. I think in all the movies I've named, I've found a lot to like. They've all made me laugh, and some I happily watch again (not all of them, but many of them). I think they offer decent comic roles for women I really like (Christine Taylor, Christina Applegate, Janeane Garafalo). But ultimately, they're confections. High in calories, low in actual food value. Meaning, of course, that they don't have any real lasting value or impact. They're not about characters, they're about stereotypes. They're not about ideas, about skewering presumptions and exploring society, they're about cheap laughs (and, I guess, they're cheap to make, as well).

I mean, will Anchorman even be funny in ten years? Or just painful? Some of these have more merit than others. I think the 40 Year Old Virgin is truely a funny movie, but Old School wasn't all that funny when it was released initially - how will it hold up?

I'm not sure what this says about us as a culture or a society. I was going to say that it seems like we used to make more nuanced and sophisticated comedies (Some Like it Hot, Philadelphia Story, Tootsie), but then I remembered Herbie the Love Bug. So maybe my whole premise is completely off base, and we've always made stupid, silly dumbass comedies, and I just never really noticed it.


Blogger mickey said...

aww buddy, the eighties gave us all the dan ackroyd, john belushi, bill murray, john candy, chevy chase, eugene levy,and harold ramis movies. they were all in each other's films ad they pumped them out like crazy. some were great , some not so great. overall, i love these movies of the last ten years and despite how stupid they are, the more you watch them the funnier they get. i hated some of them at first but they grow on you over two or three viewings. keep them coming. ;)

11:39 AM  
Blogger stalebREAD said...

yeah, i have to agree with mickey on this one, can anyone say Fletch, and Fletch lives? Beverly Hills Cop (all three?) there was nuance to these? Now, I love each and every one of the movies you mentioned, old and new alike, though I've never even heard of Mystery Men, but they've always been around. As well, Old School was ALWAYS funny. And always will be. Love that movie.

Also, maybe you're asking a bit much of your comedy these days methinks?

1:23 PM  
Blogger CultureMaven said...

Wow, all those are Second City/SNL people. And they made a lot of really bad movies. And, my point is, do people, coming to Fletch without the history, think it's funny? How has it held up? I would venture that Stripes is one of the few movies from then that I still find funny, (and let's leave Strange Brew out of the conversation altogether), but the movies coming out today feel different to me. They're (generally) not R-rated, though that is changing, they're set squarely in an unrealistic universe (Zoolander, Dodgeball, Mystery Men), and, this is my opinion, they're not really about anything. I mean, plenty of comdies have been released that don't have a greater meaning (Three Stooges?), but the best comedies have an enduring theme (Some Like it Hot, Bringing up Baby, Auntie Mame). Don't know, it was just an observation, not an indictment of silly movies.

9:05 PM  
Blogger mickey said...

ahhh, elsinore brewery, takes me back maven. :)

2:14 PM  
Anonymous Tijamonster said...

I think the phenomenon you're referring to is the "Frat Pack" comedies which are fast becoming self-referential parodies of themselves. But they still make me snort water up my nose when I watch them. "I'm going to punch you in the ovary"--I don't know why that's funny, but it's funny. I love a sophisticated comedy, but those don't tend to go as well with nachos.

6:42 PM  
Blogger CultureMaven said...

I belive you're right, Tijamonster. And I just can't seem to erase the puppet sex from my mind, either.

8:40 PM  

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