05 April 2007

IF IT BENDS, IT'S FUNNY

If I am not honest in my opinions, then I am of no use to anyone. This means that sometimes I am obliged to say things that are embarrassing to admit, and tonight I am going to say one of those things: I thought that Blades of Glory, starring Will Ferrell and Jon Heder, was a pretty funny movie.

Now, I'm not trying to call it some sort of comedic masterpiece. I'm not all hyped-up to buy the eventual 2-disc extended cut DVD or any damn thing like that. Frankly, I can't imagine what circumstances would lead me to watch the film, in its entirety, a second time. But I'm glad I saw it once.

Lord! I'm glad I saw a Will Ferrell movie! What is wrong with me?

The humor is pretty cheap, in all honesty. It's a film about competitive figure skating, which is about as easy a target as dog shows. That doesn't keep Best in Show from being a bona-fide new classic, so I think that it's safe to say that cheap targets and genuine humor are not mutually exclusive.

Last year's Will Ferrell vehicle, Talladega Nights proved that Ferrell + Sports + Easy Target does not necessarily = Funny, or even Tolerably Amusing. So what makes Blades of Glory work?

A big part of it, I think, is the cast. Here are the people who populate the film: Will Arnett (Arrested Development), Amy Poehler (Saturday Night Live Upright Citizens Brigade), Jenna Fischer (The Office), Craig T. Nelson (um...he was good in The Incredibles?) and cameos by Rob Corddry and Andy Richter. There's a whole lot of well-honed comic timing right there; and while professional funnypeople do not always guarantee professional funniness (want a good cry? Check out Arnett's CV), it's still a good sign that there will be a solid bedrock of support for the main players to perform upon.

And there is such a bedrock, and shockingly those main players perform very well. Full disclosure: I think Jon Heder is a talentless wretch. Here, I found him consistently funny and engaging (it helps a great deal that he appears to be channeling Jack McBrayer's character on 30 Rock). I do not, perhaps, hate Ferrell to the same degree; but I do not like him very much, either. I liked him in Blades of Glory.

"Why is that funny?" is, beyond question, the hardest question to answer for any art form. It's possible to go on about incongruity this and shock value that and any number of theoretical things about pulling the rug out from under the audience, but there's ultimately no way to explain why Some Like It Hot is a masterpiece and Sorority Boys is totally forgotten.* I have to admit that I don't know what makes Blades of Glory funny. Personal taste, I'm sure, has a lot to do with it. So all I can do, without giving away any of the jokes, is to mention some of the things I found interesting.

First up: gay panic. That most popular trope of modern American comedies featuring two males, and one of the most odious and unamusing. Surprisingly, given his pedigree, Ferrell has never had much apparent use for this type of humor, and Blades of Glory very specifically avoids it. Hell, this is outright anti-gay-panic humor. It's a film in which two men are forced to team up in pairs skating, for God's sake; and the closest the film comes to gay jokes are a handful of references to the discomfort that grown men feel when they are required to grope each other in the crouch. And in those moments, the laughter comes from their discomfort, not the act. That is, we're put in the position of thinking how silly they are for being worried about such a trivial issue. This, for the contemporary cinema, qualifies as outlandish progressivism.

Second: the structure. Talladega Nights and Anchorman were basically concepts meant to underpin a series of gags. At it's core, Blades of Glory is more of the same; but here there is an actual three-act narrative. We're a long way off from that high watermark of the comic form, the situational joke which acts as a punchline to all the development that has taken place before it; but we're closer here than ever before.

Third: the directors, Will Speck & Josh Gordon, are responsible for the Geico "caveman" ad campaign. I thought you ought to know. Pragmatically, I don't know that movies of this sort actually require a director for any reason other than to decide where to set the camera. But damned if they don't go right ahead and set the hell out of that camera.

Fourth: okay, I'm going to try and actually dig into the comedy a little bit: ask yourself, does the idea of watching two men skate together to Aerosmith's "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing," sound stupid or inspired? To me, it is inspired absurdity of a kind I (and way too much of my generation) love very deeply - the Incongruously High Concept Use of Generic Pop Culture. And it is not even the greatest song-related gag in the film. The other one is entirely too spoilery for me to consider sharing it. You don't find this idea amusing? You will hate the hell out of Blades of Glory.

OH MY GOD, reviewing comedies is hard.

7/10

1 comment:

Segway said...

Check out the Will Arnett Research Project for info on how he'll be padding that sad little CV in the upcoming years.

http://blutharnett.blogspot.com