"It's funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen."

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Funny or Annoying: Wanderlust, Five-Year Engagement, and 21 Jump Street

After all the doom and gloom of Revolution, I was up for something much lighter.  I found three recommended comedies I had never heard of before (which is often, but not always, a red flag).

Wanderlust has Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd, and those two have made some stinkers in their time, so I was dubious. But the movie was light and held my attention enough to make me forget my troubles for the duration.  It's about two city-kids who go broke and join a commune.  People are people, and even in an all-loving, caring, trusting beautiful commune, there are jerks.  It's unavoidable.  It was cute. I'll give it a B-.

The second feature, The Five-Year Engagement, has Jason Segel, Emily Blunt and Alison Brie.  I love them, so this had to be good, right?  There were parts that were actually so unwatchable, I kept my hand at the ready to fast-forward.  There's a few weird sex scenes, some with food that make no sense in any context, but not even in a funny way.  And it wins the worst scene in any movie ever: Blunt and Brie entertaining a kid by talking as Elmo and Cookie Monster.  I kid you not.  Painful.

Why did they agree to do that?  Didn't they see how horrible it was?  Did they get paid a fortune?  Or, I suppose, it's just not my kind of humour.  Because at that link above, many many people say it was the funniest part of the movie.

Even worse than the painful scenes of nonsense is that the entire message of the film is that if a woman outperforms her man at work, it will have painful consequences for everyone.  The solution:  women should ditch their amazing opportunities (as a tenure-track PhD) and follow their husband's dream to own his own restaurant which can only happen in a city at the other end of the country, of course.  Otherwise the guy will become a bum and grow weird facial hair and just give up at life. Geesh, women are so selfish!   It was kinda like Mr. Mom, except in that movie, the dad learns to stop being such a baby and step up - and it's actually funny.  

Okay, I admit I did laugh out loud a few times at Engagement, but it didn't make up for the awkwardly unfunny scenes.   At all.  But it's a C- in my book because, for some reason, I was compelled to watch it to its painfully corny ending.

But, then, I watched 21 Jump Street with Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum.

It's that same sophomoric humour, but I was killing myself laughing.  It's clearly an A- for me.  And I thought about who to share the movie with, and it occurred to me how curious it is how we decide what's funny and what's annoying - because I have some friends who wouldn't consider watching any of these movies.

Sometimes sex scenes can be funny to me.  The scene in Grandma's Boy with the Barbie doll was hilarious, but Jason Segel having really fast sex in Engagement or even his different experiences in Forgetting Sarah Marshall weren't at all entertaining.  I found them uncomfortable.  And I found it tedious when Paul Rudd practiced pick-up lines in front of a mirror in Wanderlust.  What's the difference between these scenes?

I think unsexy sex is funny if the idea is new.  It has to be really original.  Maybe it's because I discovered fast forwarding VHS movies for kicks when I was ten, that it's not that hilarious to see it done in a big budget film.  But "You came on my mom!" is a new concept to me.  It's also a juxtaposition of the sacred and profane that can draw laughs.  Sometimes.  The other key is it can't be too close to home to hit a nerve.

I loved the first Harold & Kumar movie, but the Guantanamo Bay movie was too soon.  The prison is still in operation today, for crying out loud, and people really were sexually assaulted.  I know too much about the painful realities of the situation to be able to laugh at it.  Maybe ever.

People can get hurt in movies for our entertainment, but only certain types of people.  Most men can get hurt for laughs, but it's trickier for women.  It's hilarious if Kristen Wiig gets knocked down, but remember when a very young Brooke Shields tried a pratfall on the Tonight Show?  It was horrifying to watch.  She somehow provoked a sense of protection so it wasn't funny when she got hurt.  We're okay with people being hurt only if we think they can take care of themselves - or if we're made to hate them.  Even little kids getting hurt can be funny if they're annoying enough.  Or sometimes just if it's sudden and startling enough - right out of nowhere.  Or if they keep trying to do something but fail every time.  Okay, maybe it's always funny.  As much as I love cats, I laugh when they get hurt too.  It's been my experience that they're always okay afterwards.  They just shake it off and keep going, so it's rarely a tragedy.  Yet I feel a bit callous saying I get some joy from their epics fails right out loud.

Humour can't be objective because it has to do with individual experiences and sensitivities.  What's universal is needing to care about the characters and to understand the irony being posed, but I'm sure someone laughed his head off at the food sex scene in Engagement.  And somehow I think Jason Segel thought it was funny too, which is oddly disappointing.  We often make connections with people based on a shared humour which can reveal a shared background.  Funny that.

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