March 28, 2011

Say goodbye to the quiet comedy.

The Hangover. Old School. Wedding Crashers. Knocked Up.

Funny movies? Absolutely. They're also some of the most commercially successful comedies of all time. The success of The Hangover, in particular, has proven that inspired casting and an engaging premise can trump even the latest bloated Jim Carrey/Adam Sandler corpse of a movie.

To varying degrees, I enjoy all of these movies (and many others like them). I do wonder, however, if they're doing serious damage to a different type of film. I'm sure film critics have varying names for it, but I'm going with "quiet comedy." And I realized, after seeing Cedar Rapids this weekend, that it's a form of filmmaking that's slowly dying.

Cedar Rapids stars two very popular comedic actors, John C. Reilly and Ed Helms, and comes with an easy-to-grasp concept: small-town guy overwhelmed by the "big city." Anne Heche and The Wire's Isiah Whitlock Jr. (Senator Clay Davis, sheeeeet) kill in supporting roles, and Maeby from Arrested Development plays a prostitute! It's got it all.

But after more than a month, it's made just over $6 million at the box office. Hell, I was surprised that it was even still playing; a baby-sized release of only 462 theaters all but ensured that it wouldn't find an audience.

Now, I know it's not fair to say that comedies like The Hangover are the reason that Cedar Rapids perished during childbirth (a comparison made even easier by the dual presence of Ed Helms), and I know there have been far more deserving movies than Cedar Rapids that also didn't make a dime at the box office. But Cedar Rapids could never in a trillion years be The Hangover, even if it wanted to be, and I find that interesting. Simple, well-executed and straightforward comedies, stuff that you could even justifiably deem its own form of art, just don't seem to cut it anymore.

And it's not like audiences have always been drawn to grandiose, laugh-a-second spectacles. Animal House, Groundhog Dog, Trading Places and Blazing Saddles wove memorable comedic actors and situations into legitimate (albeit oft-clich├ęd) storylines, and they still made millions upon millions of dollars. Even Ghostbusters and Caddyshack, two of the most memorable and quotable comedies of the last 40 years, don't cram funniness into your every orifice. They're paced far more deliberately; they're movies instead of joke vehicles.

Maybe it all started with There's Something About Mary (probably). Or perhaps, as the movie industry grew larger and larger, it was the natural evolution of comedy in film. Whatever makes the most money is going to be copied again and again; belly laughs and fart jokes and the occasional small naked Asian man sell.

I should, however, point something out. Some of my favorite comedies are those from the Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker trio, such as Hot Shots! and The Naked Gun (and the far less beloved Jane Austen's Mafia!, High School High and BASEketball). These movies move a mile a minute, smashing you over the head with stupid gag after stupid gag. And I can't get enough.

I'm not 100% what makes their intentions seem different, even slightly purer, than something like Tropic Thunder. It might be because the Zucker/Abrahams movies are always poking fun at themselves by being so openly stupid. Or maybe they're just legitimately funnier than what's being released nowadays. I'm not a student of comedy so much as someone who likes to laugh, so I can only suppose. What I do know, however, is that I want there to be a place for the Cedar Rapids of the world. It's not like they aren't willing to compromise; Ed Helms drinks heavily and you get to see John C. Reilly's butt! Last time I checked, that's the stuff of a $400 million blockbuster.

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