Cures for the common Oscar
So, you’ve watched all the Oscar movies, and you’re wondering where the laughs went. Sure, it’s nice to see movies with something on their minds for a change, but would it have killed the Academy to ditch the clumsy Crash in favor of even a half-comedy like Broken Flowers or Me and You and Everyone We Know?
For readers tiring of all the seriousity and smartitude, a slew of new comedy DVDs, many of which are unrepentantly stupid:
The torchbearer of the group, of course, is Dumb and Dumber (New Line), which launched the Farrelly Brothers’ three-film winning streak and gave Jeff Daniels something to look back and laugh at if he got too depressed shooting 2005’s The Squid and the Whale. (A very funny movie itself, albeit painfully so, which Sony issues on disc late next month.) Don’t expect much titillation from this new “Unrated” release, but do expect strong bonus features that were AWOL on the previous edition.
Somewhat less featuriffic is the new edition of a prior generation’s bastion of dumb comedy, Airplane! (Paramount). The movie’s still reliable in the yuk department, but the image looks the same as on the old disc, and the touted “Long Haul Version” isn’t a newly discovered longer edit: It just stops the film now and then to interject new interview material and the like.
Last year’s most successful comedy, though, has extras that will knock the socks off anyone who thought the film itself was funny. Universal’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin (which, unfortunately, is only available in separate theatrical and “unrated” editions, not in one package with both cuts) was made by some very talented improvisers, and the proof is all over the deleted scenes. Seth Rogen, in particular, is like an Energizer bunny — turn him on, and he’ll talk on camera until you ask him to stop, getting funnier by the minute.
A fistful of more obscure reissues range from those that sound too silly to be viable (Koch Lorber’s A Slightly Pregnant Man, in which Marcello Mastroianni plays a fella impregnated by wife Catherine Deneuve; or Anchor Bay’s Star Trek-obsessed romantic comedy Free Enterprise) to hopelessly mismatched material (Robert Altman adapting National Lampoon in MGM’s O.C. and Stiggs?!) to comedies that veer into grim or cult-friendly territory, like Alex Cox’s classic Repo Man (in a swell new package from Focus/Universal) and Quick Change (Warner), a heist-gone-wrong yarn that to date is Bill Murray’s only credit (shared with Howard Franklin) as director.
Jumping back in time, Kino offers something cinephiles don’t get nearly enough of, two discs of shorts from Hollywood’s Golden Era. Both Cavalcade of Comedy and Robert Benchley and the Knights of the Algonquin pack plenty of laughs, with more than a dozen shorts apiece; the former goes with such middle-American stalwarts as Bing Crosby and Jack Benny while the latter has a New Yorker vibe.
Somewhere between Algonquin panache and contemporary wackiness is Kind Hearts and Coronets, in which a young Alec Guinness plays eight different members of a family standing between a working stiff and a huge inheritance. Available for some time as a mid-priced disc from Anchor Bay, the film now also comes in a double-platter Criterion package that includes a doc on England’s beloved Ealing Studios and an hour-plus talk-show appearance Guinness made in 1977. (Huh — what movie could he have been promoting then?)
Finally, Criterion also just released one of my faves from the ‘90s, Whit Stillman’s precious and precocious Metropolitan. Set in the waning world of Manhattan’s debutante circuit, the comedy puts over-educated, self-obsessed yuppies in a room and lets them talk. Whether you see the result as a loving portrait of a misunderstood class, a biting satire of same, or some hybrid probably says as much about you as the film itself; I like to think Stillman knows how silly his characters are, even if he’s one of them.
And isn’t a bit of identification practically mandatory in a comedy, even when the protagonists are Dumb and Dumber? •
By John DeFore