Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dude, where's my sense of humour?

This week we've treated ourselves to several American comedies of the kind one perhaps all too reflexively refers to as 'dumb'.

I'd hestitate to describe the target audience for these films as mature, but their makers do seem to be addressing a more profound, late-stage kind of puerility. I suppose if Disney can make kids' movies that parents can enjoy, there has to be a market for movies for slightly older juveniles which can also be appreciated by adults...or at least adults who occasionally like to let loose their inner adolescent.

Judd Apatow's 2005 comedy The 40-Year-Old Virgin, starring Steve Carrell (and the ever-likeable Paul Rudd) was a fine example of this trend. Sure, plenty of the jokes were based on simple expletives, gratuitous nudity etc. but on the other hand, there were glimpses of real pathos and in the end (and end which did take a long time to come) it was all rather heart-warming.

If I didn't know that Yes Man was based on the book by Danny Wallace I'd have to have imagined that it was a cookie-cut vehicle for Jim Carrey. It's like someone said we'll take his hapless Stanley Ipkiss bank employee from The Mask, add a bit of the emotional depth and zany romance from Eternal Sunshine... and then impose on the protagnist the kind of drole fixation suffered by Fletcher Reede in Liar, Liar. Roger Ebert reported sensing that Carrey had to work hard to overcome the flatness of the comic material, yet I'm not sure I wasn't picking up signs myself of the director working just as hard to deter Carrey from his wonted excesses of improvisation.

There was certainly some sort of strange tension going down here. Some of the gags seemed genuinely smart, such that there might be a short delay before engagement of chuckle. With others either the delay was too long, or the joke wasn't really that smart after all.

Last night it was the turn of The Hangover, superior than the others for sheer laughs, but also for the sophistication of its concept and the effort made to create more complex, believable and ultimately sympathetic set of nitwits at the heart of the story. And in the mid-section there's also a pall of darkness that reminded us both of After Hours. It's perhaps a pity that these hints of real ugliness are dispelled towards what is ultimately a fairly conventional conclusion, but it has set my mind racing about how one could go about blending more overtly the horror and 'dumb' comedy genres.

Grade: A collective B+ (Though a B++ for The Hangover.)

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