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Thread: No, That's Not A Comedy

  1. #1
    aenemaTron's Avatar
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    No, That's Not A Comedy

    At some point during the indie boom of the 90s, movie studios began marketing certain films as "comedies" even though they weren't comedies. I'd sooner call Fargo a comedy than some of these, but it's not really considered one by most people. Just because there's one wacky character or the pitch is kind of wry doesn't mean your movie is a comedy. This isn't about comedies that aren't funny. It's about non-comedies that are for some reason called, marketed as or otherwise treated like comedies (not including "Troll 2" and the like).

    The two I always remember, due to the orgasmic critical praise for their comedic genius on the box, are Big Night and Swimming With Sharks.

    Ian Holm is very funny in Big Night. Very little else is, and- spoiler alert - it doesn't have a happy ending. The "Big Night" is a failure. Ha, ha!? Not a bad movie, but mis-marketed. There were no "smoking gun" blurbs, but just watch the trailer:



    Swimming With Sharks ("Hysterical," "Pure Unadulterated Joy") I remember less about this except for one scene during which - spoiler warning - Frank Whaley forcefully gives Kevin Spacey paper cuts on his tongue. My guess is that the movie's tone was so over-the-top that it could only be described as a failed comedy as opposed to a disaster of an anything else. I don't know. I found it difficult to watch.



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    Harry B's Avatar
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    Re: No, That's Not A Comedy

    I think I'm going to get the answer wrong but would Reality Bites count? Or that one with Stephen Baldwin where there was a threesome?
    What was the best concert you've been to?

    "Probably Sade. It was just so sexy and relaxing."



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    BillBrasky's Avatar
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    Re: No, That's Not A Comedy

    Quote Originally Posted by Harry Bongers View Post
    I think I'm going to get the answer wrong but would Reality Bites count? Or that one with Stephen Baldwin where there was a threesome?
    That would be "Threesome".

    It's been a little while since I've seen it, but one recent movie I can think of that was like this was "Adventureland". Other than the scenes with Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig and maybe a couple of Martin Starr's lines, I don't really remember it being much of a comedy. More a coming-of-age light drama with some brief funny parts.

    Most of the Coen brothers' movies have at least SOME funny bits, even "Miller's Crossing" has a couple. Paul Thomas Anderson's movies are like this too, "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia" are for the most part dramas, but they're still funny. Maybe not "There Will Be Blood" so much.


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    Harry B's Avatar
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    Re: No, That's Not A Comedy

    Are P.T Anderson movies and Coen Brothers movies marketed as comedies?
    What was the best concert you've been to?

    "Probably Sade. It was just so sexy and relaxing."



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    BillBrasky's Avatar
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    Re: No, That's Not A Comedy

    Quote Originally Posted by Harry Bongers View Post
    Are P.T Anderson movies and Coen Brothers movies marketed as comedies?
    Some of them, but I was just responding to this:

    I'd sooner call Fargo a comedy than some of these, but it's not really considered one by most people. Just because there's one wacky character or the pitch is kind of wry doesn't mean your movie is a comedy.
    I think Blood Simple, Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink, The Man Who Wasn't There, No Country For Old Men, and True Grit can be classified as dramas. Wikipedia says that Fargo and A Serious Man are "dark comedies". The rest of their movies are pretty much straight-up comedies.

    Punch-Drunk Love was a comedy, or as close as PTA will probably ever get to a comedy anyway.



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    Harry B's Avatar
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    Re: No, That's Not A Comedy

    How about Spanking the Monkey?
    What was the best concert you've been to?

    "Probably Sade. It was just so sexy and relaxing."



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    Re: No, That's Not A Comedy

    Do you think my co-workers would be okay with that?
    Hey, check me out. I'm a ghost.



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    BillBrasky's Avatar
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    Re: No, That's Not A Comedy

    Quote Originally Posted by Harry Bongers View Post
    How about Spanking the Monkey?
    Not a comedy, but completely appropriate to sit down and watch with your mom next Mother's Day.



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    ImAScooby's Avatar
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    Re: No, That's Not A Comedy

    Does The Room count? They did start marketing it is a "black comedy" after it was released and everyone tried pretending it was horrible on purpose.


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    Re: No, That's Not A Comedy

    And I remember watching Big Night in my high school Film as Lit class and our teacher billed it as a dark comedy and I asked him at the end why he called it that when it wasn't even trying to be funny. I do remember liking Marc Anthony's character in that though. Weird.



  11. #11
    aenemaTron's Avatar
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    Re: No, That's Not A Comedy

    Quote Originally Posted by ImAScooby View Post
    Does The Room count? They did start marketing it is a "black comedy" after it was released and everyone tried pretending it was horrible on purpose.
    It would, if you went to see it based on being told that and little else. But I think Reality Bites and Adventureland are much more along the lines of "occasionally funny creative nonfiction drama" . . . actually, maybe the Room is that, too. I haven't seen it.



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    Re: No, That's Not A Comedy

    Fargo and Barton Fink are clearly comedies. I haven't seen the 2 films listed in the OP.

    Where a tragedy is identified, not in terms of "having a sad ending", but in terms of the protagonist becoming undone by the logical working out of his fatal flaw (sometimes this flaw can simply be that his moral good is unavoidably in conflict with another's moral good), a comedy is identified by the purgative effects produced by the presentation of the Ordinary in an absurd or incongruous mode, which CAN include the overt muscular actions involved in actual laughter, but need not. There is a world of difference between a woodchipper in Fargo and a woodchipper in Saw Part XVII: The Re-Sawening. Ditto for the melted corpse in s1 of Breaking Bad -- clearly comic, but I can tell you I wasn't "giggling". If William H Macy were the protagonist in Fargo, it could have been a tragedy, but Frances McDormand was the hero. Every Todd Solondz film so far has been a comedy, etc.
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  13. #13
    BillBrasky's Avatar
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    Re: No, That's Not A Comedy

    Quote Originally Posted by Staircaseghost View Post
    Fargo and Barton Fink are clearly comedies.
    I guess? I mean, the woman Barton Fink loves ends up murdered in a bed next to him, and the movie ends with a psychopathic serial killer setting a hotel on fire.
    It's probably their hardest to define movie.



  14. #14
    aenemaTron's Avatar
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    Re: No, That's Not A Comedy

    Quote Originally Posted by Staircaseghost View Post
    Fargo and Barton Fink are clearly comedies. I haven't seen the 2 films listed in the OP.

    Where a tragedy is identified, not in terms of "having a sad ending", but in terms of the protagonist becoming undone by the logical working out of his fatal flaw (sometimes this flaw can simply be that his moral good is unavoidably in conflict with another's moral good), a comedy is identified by the purgative effects produced by the presentation of the Ordinary in an absurd or incongruous mode, which CAN include the overt muscular actions involved in actual laughter, but need not. There is a world of difference between a woodchipper in Fargo and a woodchipper in Saw Part XVII: The Re-Sawening. Ditto for the melted corpse in s1 of Breaking Bad -- clearly comic, but I can tell you I wasn't "giggling". If William H Macy were the protagonist in Fargo, it could have been a tragedy, but Frances McDormand was the hero. Every Todd Solondz film so far has been a comedy, etc.
    Yes, yes, you went to college. But this thread is for talking about your experiences with movies that fall into this category for you, not identifying the classical definition of dramatic genres.



  15. #15
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    Re: No, That's Not A Comedy

    Quote Originally Posted by BillBrasky View Post
    I guess? I mean, the woman Barton Fink loves ends up murdered in a bed next to him, and the movie ends with a psychopathic serial killer setting a hotel on fire.
    It's probably their hardest to define movie.
    But I mean, you can't use the logic that because bad things happen in a film, that it can't be a comedy. Dr. Strangelove ends with mutually assured nuclear destruction.

    I think it's more of a classification problem than anything- People want to know what they are about to see before they go to the movies, and that makes marketing people want to stick it into certain boxes. Personally, I think the fact that Barton Fink is a complete vision which is also hard to define is what makes it a great film.



  16. #16
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    Re: No, That's Not A Comedy

    Swimming With Sharks was a black comedy. Just because it wasn't good or funny doesn't mean it can't be classified as such. Dark or black comedy is such a vague, lazy genre that you get a lot of unfunny, violent junk with that tag. I think Fargo is a good example of dark comedy though: it's legitimately and consistently funny, and the violence is, as with most Coen Brothers movies, cut with absurdity. To me a good dark comedy makes you laugh, cringe and shake your head at the same time.


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  17. #17
    aenemaTron's Avatar
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    Re: No, That's Not A Comedy

    If a comedy is too inside, it doesn't read as a comedy at all, and I think Swimming w/ Sharks fell into that trap.

    A Serious Man - what was that? It was kind of a meta-comedy, like, how many awful things are we as filmmakers going to do to this character?


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  18. #18
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    Re: No, That's Not A Comedy

    There was a movie called "Unstrung Heroes" with Andie MacDowell and Michael Richards that was marketed as a comedy. I remember the VHS box had the main characters on the cover laughing their asses off. It ended up being super depressing.



  19. #19
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    Re: No, That's Not A Comedy

    I'd call A Serious Man a comedic tragedy, there are serious elements to it but I think it's way to funny to simply write off as a drama.

    "I don't want Santana Abraxis! I've just been in a terrible auto accident!"



  20. #20
    Staircaseghost's Avatar
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    Re: No, That's Not A Comedy

    Quote Originally Posted by aenemaTron View Post
    Yes, yes, you went to college. But this thread is for talking about your experiences with movies that fall into this category for you, not identifying the classical definition of dramatic genres.
    Then I'm unclear what question you're asking, or what the antecedent of "this category for [me]" is supposed to be.

    Since I adopt the standard taxonomy that has been developed over the years to facilitate classification and conversation, very few films fall into "the category for me of being described as a comedy but I don't understand why," since in fact I do understand why.

    If "this category for me" is "comedies that are just plain not funny and distastefully awful," then I would say, every Farrelly Bros. movie and every Happy Madison picture.

    If "this category for me" is "discomfort comedies," then I would say Welcome To The Dollhouse, which is one of the best movies of the 90s, but which I actually walked out on when I first saw it in the theatre. I had to grow up quite a bit before I grokked what he was going for.

    If "this category for me" is movies mismarketed in that they are non-comedies mistakenly marketed, then I was thrown by your mention of Fargo, which is not a non-comedy, and by the traits of the 2 movies (which it would probably help me to see) that you singled out as making them non-comedies. This kind of demarcation issue comes up a lot in 20th century music and visual arts: someone says of John Cage or Marcel Duchamp "that's not even really music!" or "that's not even real art!", when what they're really trying to express is that they feel it is bad music, or bad art, or bad comedy, not "not really" any of these categories.
    Last edited by Staircaseghost; May 25, 2012 at 12:23 PM.
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