I’ve just had a couple of days off and to celebrate I decided one thing I could do with them would be to catch up on a few drossy films that ‘the wife’ wouldn’t touch with a deliberately longer barge pole than usual. Her taste in films can be equally dubious but isn’t that just one of those Mars v Venus crap type things? So one thing I watched was called ‘Office Christmas Party’ which was all about the titular gathering in Chicago going hilariously wrong and all mayhem ensuing. It stars amongst others the comfortably pedestrian talent of Jason Bateman and the failed movie talent that is Jennifer Aniston (and I mean that in a nice way, because who doesn’t like her?) and it is exactly the kind of movie you’re imagining right now.
America pumps out this kind of toilet water at a scary rate. Just like the Carry On films they never really learn from their mistakes; they just plough on regardless (no pun) and simply replace the male lead from Jason Bateman to Jason Sudeikis to Will Ferrell to that fat bloke with the beard from ‘The Hangover’, and then they ditch Jennifer in favour of Melissa McCarthy or Mila Kunis or maybe now you get the idea. The plot remains pretty much identical:
- A sentimental foundation about a failed relationship or a death in the family or a struggling business.
- A screwed up couple or brother and sister or an unlikely mismatch etc.
- A ‘wacky’ friend with an amusingly unhinged temper who means well but manages to pull everyone else into all kinds of scrapes.
- An epic ‘challenge’ which manifests itself as something like a road trip or a wedding or the pursuit of a boy/girl or I dare say, an office party.
- An endless string of worrying profanity, mishaps and not so edge of your seat set pieces follow but it all ends up alright and whatever you hoped would happen to our lead characters does happen. And then someone forgets all that and tries to say something profound. This never works.
And there are 2 other things that happen these days, in an age where the Police Academy films seem oh so tame:
- There is an relentless barrage of references and use of prostitutes and drugs and pimps and guns and bone crunching violence, regardless of the target audience.
- There will be outtakes over the end credits and they will all be deeply, deeply unfunny. Of course this follows the principle that if the film isn’t funny in the first place then it’s unlikely you’re going to find any extra bits that are worth a tiny pile of squirrel poo. They’re akin to Nigel Farage telling you another bawdy joke at the end of the night in the hope you might think him slightly less of a prick.
Don’t get me wrong – the British, or indeed anyone else, are just as liable to make this kind of rubbish (any ‘comedy’ film featuring David Walliams or Danny Dyer is a good place to start) it’s just that the Americans make it seem that extra level of vacuous and wasteful. There are only three US comedies from the last 10 years that I could watch on a regular basis and as a proportion of actual product that can’t be a good statistic. Ultimately the point is that comedy films are probably the hardest genre to get right because you’re expected to sustain the funny stuff all the way through as well as chuck in another handful of themes to make people want to come back. Here are my top 5 comedy films of all time. They’ve stayed the same since I can’t remember when.
- Midnight Run. A masterclass of a comedy wrapped up in an action/drama kind of thing and quite possibly Robert DeNiro’s finest 2 hours in front of a camera. Not only can you engage with every character it has the distinction of being the most winningly sarcastic film yet made. And remember that the only people who say that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit just aren’t doing it right.
- Withnail and I. It seems a bit obvious but it always gets a mention for a reason. It is brutally quotable because it’s so brilliantly written. Indeed I would say that Bruce Robinson could have just done this one script and then given up because there is not a chance anyone will ever write something as riddled with genius. It also has one of the saddest ends to any film of any genre. Sorry, did I say end? I meant denouement.
- The Big Lebowski. Even the Coen brothers most serious films are shot through with a dark wit, which is why their next film is always worth a shot. The Big Lebowski has a cast sent from wherever heaven thinks it is and floats beautifully around Jeff Bridges as the world’s biggest waste of space. The working of some of the best lines are not a lot short of spellbinding. Thank you Donnie.
- This Is Spinal Tap. There is a moment almost immediately early on as the director introduces the film: as he talks to the camera he folds his arms in front of him but instantly realises this will not be a comfortable pose for him to hold and so just gently lowers then hoping that no one will have noticed. You’ll have to watch it for yourself and then just keep on watching. It doesn’t matter if you’re not so much into rock and roll.
- The Cannonball Run. My wild card, but it’s earned it’s dues many times over. You could argue that this is the godfather of all the crap we get thrown these days. Yes it’s stupid and crass and crude but it has such a warm feel to it and it’s funniest moments are both intentionally funny and exquisitely timed. And this time, unlike almost every other example since, the celebrity cameos do work (Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, Peter Fonda, Roger Moore and so on) and the outtakes are genuinely funny. Ahh, now I remember why Burt Reynolds is always worth a watch!
So there’s five to start with. Go on. What are you waiting for? We could all do with a laugh these days.
G B Hewitt. 07.04.2017
Ps – they’re ‘The Other Guys’ (with Will Ferrell), ‘The Campaign’ (with Will Ferrell and the fat bloke with the beard from ‘The Hangover’) and ‘Bridesmaids’ (with Melissa McCarthy). If only they could be this good all the time. If only we could all be good all the time. And I’m still not really sure how much I like Will Ferrell.