Friday, May 27th, 2011

Are We Living in the Age of the Jokeless Movie?

Adam Sternbergh sure is steamed at Judd Apatow and Todd Phillips in his New York Times article "The Hangover and The Age of the Jokeless Comedy," essentially blaming the pair for crushing "joke-driven" comedies in favor of films that rely more on everyday people falling into situational gags, rather than making specific jokes. At least I think that's what he's saying, because this article is all over the place. "The films of Phillips and Apatow arrived as an antidote to tired, mechanistically joke-driven comedies, like the reference-packed Scary Movie clones. But their movies wound up acting as a kind of comedic nerve gas, wiping out joke-comedies en masse," Sternbergh says, though he also plays pretty fast and loose with the definition of the words "character" and "joke." I can't read the claim that Austin Powers is not a character-driven comedy without my brain screaming "Does Not Compute."

Because of the success of Apatow and Phillips particular brand of bro-centric comedy, Sternbergh conflates concept of bros with the look and feel of a film that relies heavily on improvisation, which are of course not the same thing, unless you are a studio executive who wants to sleep on a giant pile of hundies. Sternbergh also throws Bridesmaids into the mix as a jokeless bro comedy, despite the fact that was a scripted comedy by two women, and most people could probably cite their favorite lines (or will after it's on DVD). As amorphous and many layered as Sternbergh's argument seems to be, he makes a reasonable demand: somebody needs to kick off the next comedy wave. What does a post-Apatow comedy landscape look like? Are we due for a return to Airplane-esque spoofs, or is a Stefon movie actually the comedy cure-all that I've been hoping it would be?

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  • http://www.collegehumor.com/user:328495 Chase Mitchell

    Got into a discussion about this yesterday. That article is indeed a mess, and the biggest problem with it is misplaced blame. The duo preventing the moviegoing public from getting quality gag-based spoof comedy is not Apatow/Phillips, it's Friedberg/Seltzer. Audiences with a brain won't walk within 500 feet of anything labeled a "parody movie" right now, so no one with a brain wants to make one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jon-Bershad/8829871 Jon Bershad

    The problem here is that he has one thesis, but then lumps in a bunch of random other things that annoy him making the article muddied. He begins by critiquing The Hangover for making comedy out of dark subject matter that doesn't instantly appear funny and then quickly switched over to critiquing the Apatow movies for being formless. You can make both of these arguments (I, for one, definitely feel that the "improv for hours and then stick in the funniest five seconds" approach Apatow movies use gives them an unsatisfying, lurching pacing) but they're not the same argument. And neither of them is what the piece actually ends up being.

    He finally gets to the point that there haven't been a lot of purely "jokey" comedies recently and I would totally agree with that. But he seems to say that this kind of comedy is a new thing which is ridiculous (please, list me the hilarious puns and visual gags in the original Heartbreak Kid). Then he changes his mind and lists older movies like this.

    He should have just written an article saying "Where are the modern day Marx Brothers?" or something instead of this piece which is basically "Where are the modern day Marx Brothers and, also, I don't like bro comedies and, also, wasn't that cut off finger in the new Hangover movie gross?" Not to mention the fact that his use of the word "brilliant" is pretty loose. I mean, Modern Family has some very good episodes but…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jon-Bershad/8829871 Jon Bershad

    Ps. I understand what you're saying about Austin Powers, Halley, but, in his defense, there isn't really a better name for it. You could call that type of movie (the comedy that's more about a humorous tone than a series of gags) a Situational Comedy but then people would start thinking TV show. Character Comedy isn't a great description but it works.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Caroline-Anderson/731041782 Caroline Anderson

    David Wain is great at making joke-dense movies. I really wish he got the credit he deserved. Granted, his cinematic output isn't as large as Apatow, but between Stella, Wainy Days, Childrens Hospital, The Ten, Wet Hot American Summer, and Role Models, he really doesn't let a minute go by without one "joke" (or in Childrens Hospital, five or six).

  • http://www.twitter.com/becca_oneal Rebecca O'Neal

    Meh @ the content of the article, but I feel for the guy and his jumbled up writing. I've written some sloppy bullshit in my day, but this is really just a plate of word spaghetti.

  • http://recursivebee.blogspot.com Patrick Mortensen

    Assuming that this article isn't just poorly thought-out linkbait, it's sort of interesting that he's basically calling for the exact opposite of what James Wood has been calling for in his "hysterical fiction" essays but actually just kidding this is just poorly thought-out linkbait; let's not talk about it anymore.