Week 23: Does Romance Kill Comedy?

What Happens in Vegas is in Cinema 3 for the third straight week. My friend Keith rode shotgun this week and we have agreed that it would have been much improved with a lot more Rob Corddry. I don’t really have much more to say about the film that I didn’t say two weeks ago, but I did notice a couple of new things:

1. There is a moment early in the movie where Joy (Cameron Diaz) goes to the hotel desk and tells the concierge exactly how their conversation is going to go, and that he should just save himself the time and give her what she wants right away. It occurred to me that combining a romantic comedy with the narrative structure of a movie like Richard Linklater’s Slacker – where the camera follows a different character every few minutes – could be fresh and original (relatively speaking, anyway).

2. The court where Dennis Miller lectures Jack & Joy has a Supreme Court insignia on the wall. Strange.

Anyway, after the film was over, Keith and I sat outside the theatre waiting for another friend to escape the Kingdom of the Crystal Skullfuckers. We spent much of the time talking about other terrible movies that we love anyway; the usual B-movie suspects like Ed Wood, Manos: The Hands of Fate, Ninja Squad, and so on. We probably laughed more in 5 minutes of quoting from Baseketball than we did during all of What Happens in Vegas.

Which makes me wonder: does the sentimental nature of romantic movies make it harder for them to be successful as comedies?

Consider the greatest comedy film of all time: the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup. It has a superficial plot and set pieces just like any other movie, but it is also completely unsentimental. The film is an adaptation of a stage show developed and honed to perfection by the Brothers. Here is but one line from the film, from Groucho Marx to an erstwhile young soldier:

You’re a brave man. Go and break through the lines. And remember, while you’re out there risking your life and limb through shot and shell, we’ll be in be in here thinking what a sucker you are.

Consider also the greatest comedy television show of all time, Fawlty Towers. John Cleese and Connie Booth wrote and rewrote their scripts for weeks, producing twelve episodes that are as brilliant and enduring as diamonds – without a moment of trying to make the audience like or care about the characters any more than they naturally would based on the situation.

What Happens in Vegas is not a terrible film, like The Wedding Planner; but its best moments are the ones that feel like they were improvised. The greatest films are often the ones that live up to their potential; the worst are the ones that do not.

About Scott M

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2 Responses to Week 23: Does Romance Kill Comedy?

  1. Patrick R says:

    I’m impressed that you’re able to unequivocally choose your favorite film and tv comedies of all time just like that on the spot.

    Also, I assume you mean films by Ed Wood, not “Ed Wood,” the movie?

  2. Scott says:

    Oh, trust me, those aren’t chosen on the spot, those are just the answers that you tend to get if you ask a film critic and/or comedy writer what the best comedies are of all time, if you take script and performance etc. into consideration. And I would tend to agree. I don’t have much patience for arbitrary list making and the like myself, so I figure those examples are as good as any.

    Ironically, many of my actual favourite films are very sentimental- Local Hero, Cinema Paradiso, My Favourite Year, and a Chinese film called Anna Magdalena, to name a few. But if there is one thing that turns me off in a movie it is a script that tries to manipulate the audience into feeling supportive or sentimental about the characters, and that is a very common sin in scripts these days.

    I was referring to Ed’s actual films, yes. The Tim Burton film has its strengths and weaknesses and is, in its own way, oddly sentimental.

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