I will be the first to admit that, over the past few years, certain genres of films have steadily been getting better than they ever have in the past. CGI has now gotten to the point where it is either harder to tell what is real and fake or is just so good that we do not care that it is from a computer, studios are beginning to focus more on having a good screenplay before anything else in the filmmaking process, and audiences are getting smarter and learning to not go see the same types of movies all the time.
But if there is one genre of film that has gotten worse over these last few years, it would be comedies. As Hollywood has pushed more towards the action and thriller genres, films that focus specifically on comedy and laughter have been going downhill and not doing what they’re supposed to do: make us laugh.
I’ve mentioned this in the past, but comedy is an even more subjective subject matter than cinema. What one person finds hilarious maybe boring and dull to someone else. Good comedy, for the most part, comes down to the individual and their personal tastes. If you’d like to see my personal tastes in comedy, check the bottom of this editorial for the types of things that make me laugh.
However, something that has not been making me laugh lately are these film funnies. Last year, for the longest time, the movie that I laughed the hardest at was “Iron Man 3” until “The Wolf Of Wall Street” came along. This year, the only film that consistently made me crack up was “The Guardians Of The Galaxy.”
Here’s the thing about all three of those movies: They’re not comedies.
The two Marvel movies fall more into the group of action/adventure/sci-fi with some comedy thrown in for good measure. “The Wolf Of Wall Street” is a heavily exaggerated depiction of an actual Wall Street stock broker. Humor is not the focal point of these movies, yet any time the over the top personalities of Tony Stark, Jordan Belfort or Rocket Raccoon are on-screen, I laugh so much that my sides still hurt the next day.
You know something is wrong with the state of comedy when a talking racoon is funnier than most of the big name stars.
Just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here are some of the “funny” movies released over the past few years that did very little for me: “This Is The End,” “22 Jump Street,” “Anchorman 2,” “The Heat,” “A Million Ways To Die In The West,” “Don Jon,” “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty” and “Despicable Me 2.”
While I could go on about why each of these movies failed to deliver, they do all share the same major complaint: They failed to make me laugh.
This is not even that hard to do. Just show somebody slip on a banana peel or make a funny face before getting hit in the face with a pie or something. Charlie Chaplin made it look so easy.
Part for the problem might be that these recent farces get too caught up in their own egos. Before the opening credits begin to role, the filmmakers seem to know they’re going to be hilarious and everything they so or do is golden. Like when Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum act like tough gangsters pulling out their guns and posing, or the continuous set up for the slow-motion RV crash in “Anchorman 2.”
This makes the film seem superior to the audience. That the filmmakers are so much better than you that they don’t even need to be funny to make you laugh.
An example of how to make a fantastic modern comedy is “Hot Fuzz” or nearly any film directed by Edgar Wright. His films are filled with all sorts of hilarious moments, including visual gags, film manipulation, logic loops that make the villains motivation both realistic and hysterical, and still have great one liners with wonderful comedic setup.
Part of what makes Wrights’ films so great to watch is that, not only are there so many jokes going on that you need to watch the film multiple times to see every little detail, but also that every little detail is planned out ahead of time. The way the camera moves, how the scene will be edited, what will be in the background, and most importantly, the script.
“Hot Fuzz” has one of the tightest screenplays I’ve ever seen. Every scene has a purpose, every character adds something to the story, all the lines of dialogue have a function that makes the film even better. Nothing is wasted, and that makes it stunning to watch.
But with a movie like “The Heat,” you can tell the filmmakers are letting the actors improv most of their lines. Many of the scenes with comedy are not well thought-out or have much of a point to it other than to halt the story and try to make the audience laugh.
To matters worse, from a filmmaking perspective, there is even less thought put into it. Just look at the scene from “This Is The End” where Danny McBride and James Franco talk about masturbation. The camera hardly moves, only keeping the actors in the center of the shot, and very light editing. It is so undynamic that it makes the scene boring.
This makes it less of a movie and more of a improvisational act.
Edgar Wright and “Hot Fuzz” understand the boundaries of a movie and manipulate that as much as possible. You can show the passage of time with a few simple cuts and use of a montage, or have someone completely off screen and out of the viewers vision do something funny, like offer Simon Pegg a piece of cake when he’s criticizing his fellow police officers.
What many of these movies don’t seem to get is that this is not just an excuse to film whatever you consider funny and put it on the big screen. We can get that by watching a stand-up routine or going on Youtube and looking up our favorite clips of “Saturday Night Live.” With movies, you must treat it differently.
I laugh at Jordan Belfort, not because DiCaprio has great improv skills, but because he is so far removed from reality and lives in his own little world where anyone who isn’t the highest possible upper class is living a sad and pathetic existence. The comedy comes from the character and his antics, not necessarily the skills of the actor. This why Melissa McCarthy was funny when she played the loud-mouthed, independent yet screwed up woman in “Bridesmaids” but not the fifth time she played the same character in “Tammy.”
We’ve seen Ron Burgandy get drunk on live television and be sexist towards women already. We’ve already watched the “Hangover” crew get lost and have no idea what they did last night. We’ve gotten enough of Seth MacFarlane acting like a prick. What else do you have?
Show us something new. Give us comedy that we’ve never seen before. With all the technology and wide range of actors at your disposal, that shouldn’t be too hard. Just be bold, be creative, be surprising, don’t play it safe and do something that you actually think is funny.