Posted April 27, 2015
By SIYUAN TONG
Comedy, as a genre of film that emphasizes humor, has always been popular and lasting. People always need something funny to help them relax, especially in the midst of life’s hardness.
During the darkest periods like the Great Depression, films, especially comedy films by actors like Charlie Chaplin, still gained great success — people spending money on them even during the time of little or no income. Comedy is simply something necessary. No matter life is good or bad. After all, who will mind some more laughter?
Originated during the era of silent films around 1895, it is one of the oldest genres in film. Some of the very first silent movies were comedies, such as “Watering the Gardener” by Lumière brothers — the first filmmakers in history — in 1895. Though the film only runs for a minute, “Watering the Gardener” opened an entirely new world.
Comedy, as some may think, is about humor, but it is not only about humor. There is more behind this word. Maybe it was only focused on humor at the very beginning, but as the genre grows into maturity, comedy becomes telling something profound in an amusing way.
“Modern Time,” directed by Charlie Chaplin in 1936, vividly portrayed a factory worker’s life during the Depression. There might be exaggerations, but it did show people’s lives during the Depression. It was considered as “culturally significant” by the Library of Congress and selected as preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry.
Throughout the history, comedy has never lost its importance. Instead, it is continually developed and becomes everlasting classic. From the earliest slapstick, a type of comedy predominantly relies on visual depictions without sound, to today’s multiple hybrid genres of comedy, comedy’s contents and forms have become much richer and more diverse.
“Home,” “Get Hard” and “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” are three comedies currently showing in theaters this spring. Compared to the earliest slapstick, today’s comedies apparent have a mix of styles. Animation comedy, action comedy and drama comedy, it is obvious that producers are trying their best to make something new out of the familiar genre to provide audience with a fresh taste. Different from typical jokes, these three current movies show their directors’ own perspective of being funny and entertaining for an audience.
“Home” by Tim Johnson as an animation comedy has a simpler storyline. An alien Oh runs from his own people because of a mistake. During his time of running away, Oh forms a valuable friendship with a human girl Tip and learns to be considerate to others. It is not a film only for kids, but it does have a more relaxing content compared to the other two films.
The funniest parts of the film are mostly Oh’s behaviors due to his lack of human common knowledge. No matter it is Oh keeps calling Tip’s mom “mymom” after hearing Tip saying that or it is his confusing comment “now he is vibrating” when Tip’s cat purring on his head. All these makes the audience burst into laughter.
Johnson as an experienced animation film director who directed “Antz,” “Ciberworld” and “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas,” does a pretty solid job in making “Home” funny and uplifting at the same time. You can see the natural interaction between Oh and Tip in the film and all Oh’s awkward mistakes are into something funny. DreamWorks’ production of the film is sophisticated and smooth as usual, which makes “Home” such a nice movie to watch.
Etan Cohen shows another understanding of comedy with “Get Hard” and has a completely different approach towards what is amusing and what isn’t. When a millionaire James King is accused of fraud, he turns to Darnell Lewis to prep him for the life in jail. The whole film is filled with ridiculous vulgarity and erotic jokes mixed with some absurd scenarios. No wonder it is an R-rated film. It is not worth watching at all. Other than becoming coarser, you gain nothing from the film.
Probably because Cohen is more of a film writer than a director—he has no experience of directing other than a 10-minutes short film in 2007, the whole film is full of pervasive crude, sexual content and dirty language aimed at teen movie-goers. I’m not sure if it is what he intended it to be or it is due to his lack of directing experience, but the film conveys nothing but vulgarity. Cohen is probably a good writer. He wrote popular films such as “Man in Black 3,” “Tropic Thunder” and “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.” But it does not seem Cohen has the same talent in directing as he does in screenwriting.
In “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” John Madden introduces still another form of what is funny. Sonny Kapoor, a hotel owner in India, fights for his dream of expansion after his first hotel gets closer to its capacity. At the same time, his wedding day is approaching. With his guests’ stories weaved in, a drama of several love stories combined with dreams, friendships is presented.
Continuing the stories of seven British retirees in its first movie of the series “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” focuses more on their experiences of love and Sonny’s struggle of expansion.
Probably because the guests of the hotel are getting more familiar with India, and there are not that many jokes to be made on foreigners getting used to another country, it is not as funny as the first movie. The laughing points are hidden in those subtle moments due to each character’s special personality like the first movie does, such like Sonny calling each guest’s name aloud in the morning to “make sure nobody passed away during the night.” However, compared to the first movie, it is more of a drama than a comedy, though it does includes some amusing content.
Directed three actors in Oscar-nominated performances, Madden managed pretty well in organizing the film as a whole. Though the stories of characters are mixed together, it does not feel chaotic. With his sufficient experience in directing, Madden bestows a film with funny warm stories.
The variety of comedies gives today’s spoiled audience plenty of choices to satisfy their needs and tastes. Producers are all attempting to make their films distinctive to attract audience.
“Get Hard” and ”The Second Best Exotic Hotel” are distinctive enough compared to traditional comedy, but they not seem succeed in being funny by being different. “Home,” as an animation comedy, though not that special, it is probably more successful since its humor is easier to get and the content is safer to watch. Being an old-form comedy does not mean it is outdated, though sometimes people do expect to be surprised.
It is worth appreciating and understandable that producers are making an effort to add more diversity to gain more audience attention. However, you have to wonder if trying all those weird methods is truly necessary or actually redundant. Maybe sometimes it is best to keep the humor simple and, for this, traditional is not a bad choice. Traditional sometimes means classic after all.
- Movie: “Home”
- Production Company: DreamWorks Animation
- Director: Tim Johnson
- Release date: March 27, 2015
- Stars: Jim Parsons, Rihanna, Steve Martin
- Run time: 94 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- Author rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
- Movie: “Get Hard”
- Production Company: Gary Sanchez Productions, Warner Bros.
- Director: Etan Cohen
- Release date: March 27, 2015
- Stars: Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Alison Brie
- Run time: 100 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- Author rating: 2 out of 5 stars
- Movie: “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”
- Production Company: Blueprint Pictures, Participant Media
- Director: John Madden
- Release date: March 6, 2015
- Stars: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy
- Run time: 122 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- Author rating: 3 out of 5 stars