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Marry me, Bridesmaids

12 May

Don’t be a dick—see Bridesmaids. I hate to get all aggressive on you, but I love this movie so much, I can’t not feel a little preemptively hostile. It is funny and moving and great, to the extent that I’m writing this blog post as a supplement to my blurb review in this week’s SF Bay Guardian. Which is reprinted below for your reading pleasure.

For anyone burned out on bad romantic comedies, Bridesmaids can teach you how to love again. This film is an answer to those who have lamented the lack of strong female roles in comedy, of good vehicles for Saturday Night Live cast members, of an appropriate showcase for Melissa McCarthy. The hilarious but grounded Kristen Wiig stars as Annie, whose best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) is getting hitched. Financially and romantically unstable, Annie tries to throw herself into her maid of honor duties — all while competing with the far more refined Helen (Rose Byrne). Bridesmaids is one of the best comedies in recent memory, treating its relatable female characters with sympathy. It’s also damn funny from start to finish, which is more than can be said for most of the comedies Hollywood continues to churn out. Here’s your choice: let Bridesmaids work its charm on you, or never allow yourself to complain about an Adam Sandler flick again.

I’m serious about this, guys. It’s kind of like when people say you can’t complain about politics if you don’t vote. It is our duty to support good, smart comedy so that the studios will just say no to dreck like Something Borrowed and The Zookeeper (with Kevin James!). The latter are films that the kind of films that critics pan but that audiences continue to go see. Or I don’t know, maybe Rob Schneider made a deal with the devil. The point is, seeing a movie like Bridesmaids sends a message. You’re demanding better! You want Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph in starring roles! You want quality toilet humor!

Part of being a film critic is seeing crappy movies—it’s unavoidable. And I never expect Hollywood to just stop making shit. My concern is that they’ll stop making the comedies I want to see, the aforementioned Wet Hot American Summer and Hamlet 2, the anti-chick flick Bridesmaids. Or that a female-centric, character-driven comedy will just be so difficult to make that no one will want to do it. Many movie actors have already made the transition to TV—in part because TV is damn good these days, but also because the film industry is kind of fucked. And that’s a bummer. If I’m going to pay $12 for a movie ticket, I want to be able to laugh consistently for two hours. I don’t want to spend 80 minutes wondering what the fat man is going to bump into next.

I was delighted to see that Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman gave Bridesmaids an A (read his review here). I had no doubt that this was an A movie, but I was concerned that it might not be regarded as such. I don’t think I need to tell you that comedy is an underappreciated genre. You can look at the giant list o’ Best Picture Oscar nominees to see how rarely something chuckle-worthy gets recognition. (It’s been a bit better in recent years, but how lame is it that we have to turn to the effing Golden Globes for Best Comedy?) I think critics have an easier time dismissing a lot of comedy, too—not all of them, certainly, but enough. And who can blame them when they’re forced to sit through Paul Blart: Mall Cop? (I was forced to sit through Paul Blart: Mall Cop.)

You know what, maybe Bridesmaids isn’t for you. Maybe it’s not your style of comedy. Your opinion is valid, even though it’s wrong. But take a chance on a flick Vince Vaughn hasn’t touched. Allow yourself to be won over by comedic all-stars like Wendi McLendon-Covey, Mike Hitchcock, Rebel Wilson, and Matt Lucas, who don’t often find themselves in a Judd Apatow-produced film. Maybe I sound too gushy, but until I can control everyone with my brain (by 2013, fingers crossed!), writing is the best chance I have to influence your choices. See Bridesmaids. Let me know what you think. Don’t let the comedy terrorists win.

No, I don’t know what that means either.

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Comedy litmus tests

3 May

Yesterday, my Twitter buddy Steven Amiri tweeted the following: “Wet Hot American Summer is on Netflix Instant. Do yourself a favor, log off here & watch it. If you don’t like it, log back on & unfollow me.” I feel the same way—though I’d probably never say it in those words, because I’m afraid of losing followers and I’m not too big on ampersands. But Wet Hot American Summer is essential viewing. I can’t imagine anyone would like me and not like that movie. (Note that I’m not presumptuous enough to think that everyone who likes the movie would necessarily like me.) This got me thinking about other comedies I’ve inflicted on friends in an effort to decide whether or not they were worth keeping around. Does that sound terrible? At least I’m judging people for their comedic tastes and not their looks. (Most of my friends are super cute, anyway.)

Lately, the movie I’m most likely to force on you is Hamlet 2. It’s one of the best and most underappreciated comedies of the last decade, and if you can’t handle the songs “Raped in the Face” or “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus,” we’re probably not going to get along. Hamlet 2 works especially well if you’re a fan of musicals, though I’ll admit that I occasionally take on friends who aren’t theater-oriented. On the other hand, Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, Elisabeth Shue, Amy Poehler—these are people you must know and appreciate. (I’m also fond of David Arquette, but it’s fine if you don’t feel the same way. Hater.) Along with Wet Hot American Summer, Hamlet 2 is probably the comedy I’ve watched most often, but if we watch it together, I promise not to say any of the lines out loud. I totally hate when other people do that.

Obviously Annie Hall is a classic, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t cite Woody Allen as a major influence. (Duh, right?) I prefer that my friends appreciate all Woody Allen films—OK, maybe not Curse of the Jade Scorpion—but Annie Hall is the one you kind of have to love. I think it’s his most approachable and it’s full of the Jewish humor I was raised on. Allen is probably the reason I still identity as a Jew, strange as that may sound: I haven’t been to temple in years, but I feel such a strong kinship to Allen (and Philip Roth, natch) that I can’t not be Jewish. My other favorite Allen comedies are Deconstructing Harry and Mighty Aphrodite, so bonus points if you enjoy both or either. Sometimes Deconstructing Harry actually displaces Annie Hall as my favorite, even though the latter is probably a better film.

And then there are the outrageously bad movies I show people: Valley of the Dolls, Wild Things, Starship Troopers. These are my favorites. These are my—I shit you not—first date movies. The ability to appreciate the camp factor and sincerity of a trashy flick is such an important trait. I like people who don’t take themselves too seriously: sure, you can dig Kubrick and Kurosawa, but if you don’t also occasionally dip into the Denise Richards oeuvre, you’re missing out on something special. Of the three above, Valley of the Dolls is the best—in my mind, it is the greatest bad movie of all time. Believe it or not, I have shown it to people who didn’t laugh once, not even at Neely O’Hara’s cathartic alley breakdown, and no, I didn’t kick them to the curb. But it makes me a little sad. Realistically, we’re never going to watch Showgirls together.

Honestly, you could hate all these movies and we could still be friends. I’m a lot nicer than I pretend to be on the internet. But taste in comedy is a good gauge of a person’s character. You wouldn’t hang out with someone whose favorite comedy was Grown Ups, would you? I mean, that’s just silly.

Nostalgia porn

28 Apr

I only made it through 20 minutes of Adam Green’s “screwball tradgedy [sic]” The Wrong Ferrari. I like Adam Green’s music and I like the idea of Macaulay Culkin dressed up as Luigi, but that wasn’t enough to sustain my interest. You know when you say something is “hipster bullshit,” and then someone else says, “What does that even mean?” This movie. This movie is what that means. I can’t offer a full review because I didn’t watch the whole film—not even close—so I’ll comment on what I’ve seen so far and wait until I can muster the energy to watch the rest.

From the get-go, The Wrong Ferrari is nostalgia porn. It takes a bunch of familiar images from our childhood and assembles them haphazardly. And while I guess there’s supposed to be method to the madness, the end result is Adam Green holding you by the shoulders and shaking you. “Do you remember Nintendo cartridges? Do you remember the AOL dial-up sound? Do you remember Teddy Ruxpin?” On some level, of course, it works. I see Macaulay Culkin as Luigi and I want to watch Home Alone and play Super Mario Bros. (Or the Home Alone game on Gameboy, because I NEVER BEAT IT.) I see Garfield bedsheets, and I remember how I used to have Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle ones.

But that’s cheap. It’s easy. Meanwhile, the dialogue is absurd and sexualized enough to get your attention. I’ll admit to laughing at, “That’s like the night your penis turned into the devil,” but I can’t say why. And everyone says “faggot” incessantly, which seems kind of edgy until you remember that it’s still one of the slurs you can get away with. Especially if you’re Adam Green, because his sexuality is fluid or whatever. My beef here isn’t with Green in particular, because I think this speaks to a larger issue in (forgive me) hipster culture. Just remember—wearing skinny jeans and kissing boys every once in a while might get you called a faggot, but it doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy heterosexual privilege.

Anyway, I want to watch The Wrong Ferrari again in 40 years. (I’m definitely going to forget, so do me a solid and remind me, yeah?) I say this in part because I watched 1970’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls again last night. It’s one of my favorites, but I think maybe I love it for all the wrong reasons—it’s so ’70s, it’s so Russ Meyer. I appreciate it as a product of its time, and I don’t even mind that it tries too hard to be hip. As is the case with The Wrong Ferrari, I’m not even sure what’s intended ironically and what’s sincere. (And is the sincerity ironic? Is the irony sincere?) So, yeah, all the shit that annoys me about Green’s movie might be totally charming in 2051—assuming we make it that far as a species, which is obviously kind of iffy.

You can watch The Wrong Ferrari in its entirety on the website. Do it. Tell me what I’m missing. Explain why I just don’t get it.