It was my birthday, so my wife let me choose the movie. She hadn't quite forgiven me from last year when I convinced her and my cousin to rush to No Country For Old Men. Not knowing anything about the movie at the time, I found the title funny, and I said, "You want to laugh, don't you? You'll love the Coen Brothers and this movie."
When they were both bent over cringing and shielding their eyes from the ruthless killer Chigurh killing yet another person with a bulky cattle gun, my wife gasped, "So when's the funny part?"
Last week I might have been pushing it when I said let's see the Coens' Burn After Reading--but it was my birthday. My wife said okay and smiled. It's a small moment that made me cheer.
Perhaps because I grew up in Minnesota like the Coens, and our mutually shared cultural background included grazing at the local Swedish Smorgasbord when we were young, or, as a young adult, drinking at the "Mew-knee" (i.e. the Municipal Bar). I get their humor--even the funny bits that were in No Country for Old Men such as the conversations with Moss and his wife.
I'm happy to report my wife laughed in Burn After Reading--outright sustained laughter. It's a comedy, and a brilliant, controlled one at that. Time magazine's movie critic Richard Corliss, however, says, "If there's a knock on Joel and Ethan Coen, the writer-director brothers who otherwise have enjoyed a quarter-century of critical acclaim, it's that they betray a condescension, almost a contempt, for the people they've created." Corliss basically feels the movie is about stupid people doing stupid things.
I can agree that the characters portrayed by George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Brad Pit and others do stupid things, and that they are also not necessarily imbued with a lot of gray matter, but the Coens and the actors love these people--and those people are us. We do stupid things.
And isn't that what comedy is--real life amped up by hyperbole? I recently saw again Some Like It Hot, which had Tony Curtis and Jack Lemon dressed up as women to play in an all-girl band with Marilyn Monroe. Was what they did rationale? No, it was stupid--and funny.
In Raising Arizona, another Coen comedy, Nicholas Cage's character, Hi, may as well be a comedic Willy Loman. He's trying to get by in this world as we all are, and a trip to the convenience store to get diapers is pushed beyond belief and includes an amazing car chase. Yet the pathos beneath it all is believable.
What about the humor in The Incredibles? That family is our family. Did you see Superbad? It's stupid people doing stupid things, and I can't help but love McLovin and the others. Those teenagers are funny to me--and beneath it all, real.
In fact, great humor reveals truths. In Burn After Reading, Frances McDormand's character tries calling her HMO to speak with an agent about why she was denied coverage for cosmetic surgery. The automated phone system drives her nuts--and who hasn't felt that? In fact, it's the small moments these characters have that make me nod in agreement: this is life. It's an absurd one. It's one I can wrap my arms around, just as I do my wife.
If you don't laugh at the movie's end--well,then, I guess you don't get it. Corliss doesn't.
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