Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Owning Absurdity

Tonight my good friend and I decided to take in a movie. We tossed
The Wolf Pack. See that's a funny picture.
around many ideas of what to see as we had no plans and this has become an almost weekly outing. We the merits of venturing to the latest Shyamalan travesty; After Earth. That was an early veto when it became clear that neither one of us could stomach a foray in to the twisted travesty that surely another Shyamalan piece would be. We ultimately decided to venture into the abyss of a threequel and went to see Hangover III

Both of us, many winters ago, went to see the dark sequel to the original masterpiece and we were fascinated by the prospects of further adventures of the Wolf Pack. We had heard that this new film was dark and quite unforgiving. Some critics had suggested that devoid of humour. When the projector (do they use projectors anymore?) began to roll and the audience was taken by the flashing wallpaper to become distracted from their mouthfuls of popped corn, I was surprised to find a very odd experience. This Hangover rejected the premise of the last two other films and decided to go on a kind of screw ball fantasy journey. This film decided to follow the North By Northwest premise and place its heroes in a state of unknown persecution.

Somehow this is less funny. Hangover III Wolf Pack.
In the past two films, the group was already in a position of play as they had awoken from a night that was forgotten in a drunken (roofie) filled nightmare. The room around them was nothing but a mishmash of evidence from the last night’s escapades.  The Wolves had to become ‘Morning After Sherlocks. This led them on a series of odd adventures and scenarios that not even Hunter S. Thompson could imagine. This was a situation that focused around one of there greatest foils from the last two films played by that brilliant Korean-American comedic force, from CBS’ Community, Ken Jeong. All of these changes to classic narrative of the two last films added a refreshing take on the gritty drug-filled chaos of the last two films. 

The comedy, in the previous two movies came from the hunt to track down the previous night’s goings on. III is focused on the present. This should have worked and nearly did. It ultimately failed.

When walking along the squalid streets of Toronto’s answer to San Francisco’s multicultural hellhole Chinatown, Spadina and Dundas, we, my diminutive but nevertheless brilliant friend and I arrived at the conclusion that it was not the failure in chaotic humour that hurt this movie. Its failure stemmed from the need to instill an unneeded and depressing reality into the film’s world. When the flurry reached a moment of true chaos the film pulled back into the very real reaction. There was always some very real consequence to the absurd action. A character would make an outrageous move then suddenly shocked by realistic results of his action. So the audience followed suit. They could sense a comedic payoff coming but it was suddenly and cruelly slaughtered like a pack of humourless butchered cows. For example, death is hilarious. A child crying out of grief is not. Hell, at one point a character witnesses a death and has an outrageous childlike reaction which is befitting his man/boy status, but then is immediately undercut when he wets his pants. The wetting of the pants should be uproarious but because of his choice to play genuine embarrassment (or the director’s) served to only undercut the comedy and make it not okay to laugh.

In comedy a commedian must embrace the absurdity of the situation and
One, very accurately, can see the dynamic. 
not comment on it. In Michael Caine’s second memoir, which I’m reading like a bat out of hell at current, that old Cockney brings this very point up. When he was shooting with Steve Martin on set of the brilliant film Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Michael was forced to play opposite to Steve Martin in his prime. A man who was right the middle of Steve Martin’s epoch of comedic genius. Michael found this insanely difficult so he soon found that he was drowning. Therefore Michael resolved to play everything completely straight. He partnered Steve, sometimes stealing scenes from him, by making no comment on the performance and treating his behavior as being completely normal. What this did for the film was create a relationship that was even more absurd. It was and is an instant of comedic genius. 

Likewise, in the first Hangover film, the Wolf Pack did the same, they did not explain the insanity. They had bigger fish to fry then exposition. Hell there was a baby lying on the plush vomit covered carpet of the Las Vegas bachelor suite! They excepted the absurdity and added. They went with it.

Comedy is ‘owning it.’ Going with it no matter how absurd. Tragedy is fighting against the environment and finding that you can’t win. Comedy is freedom. Tragedy is rules. Freedom is tougher then Rules.  

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