Like ticks or radio commercials, snobs of any kind generally make life just a little bit harder. Take the wine snob: try to purchase a bottle of red to wash down a half decent pork chop and the wine snob is all over you, deriding your choice as, "flinty and gamelike," and then spending ten minutes or more trying to steer you to something a little more, "jammy and plump." Obviously, adult human beings should take great care to avoid using the words "jammy" and "plump" to describe our beverages. The fact that the wine snob either doesn't know this, or does and charges ahead anyway does not speak well of him. Not to mention the implied insult of his assuming I don't want my wine flinty and gamelike. As it happens, I'm partial to pinot noirs that have "hints of black powder rifle" with a "gray squirrel nose", thank you very much.
While the film comedy snob doesn't use the same jargon, preferring to throw around terms like "Hal Ashby" and "razor sharp satire," they do have their own Chateau Lafitte-Rothschilds and Petrus Pomerols. But while most comedy snobs do themselves tend to be jammy and plump, what are their favorite films? Let' take a look.
An ensemble period comedy starring Kevin Bacon, Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, Mickey Rourke, Ellen Barkin, Timothy Daly, Paul Reiser and Ruth Gordon as their horny orangutan sidekick (okay, I made that last one up), Diner is a snob comedy for which, I admit, over the years I've had a lot of affection. Then I watched it again.
And hey, it' not bad-though you do have to endure a scene in which Mickey Rourke tricks a girl into touching his, um, little Mickey by putting it through the bottom of a popcorn box out of which she is currently eating. Though such an event would not be out of place in a horror movie, it doesn't belong in a comedy, especially one that does not feature an explicit disclaimer warning that the viewer will be forced to envision Mickey Rourke' genitalia. (Since viewing it several weeks ago, I have not eaten and I expect that I never will again.)
The presence of Steve Guttenberg is, frankly, ominous. You can see by the look on his face that he fully intends to go on to star in Police Academy and Three Men and a Little Lady. It' chilling.
I'll bet every screenwriter who has ever pitched an idea about a cop who is transported back to the time of Vikings, or an animal trainer who uses his Bengal tigers to steal 200 million in gold from Fort Knox, thinks, "Wait a minute — you tell me my idea isn't commercial enough, then you turn around and pour money into a movie about a guy who finds a portal into the head of actor John Malkovich? Eat me, Hollywood! Eat me so bad!" And who can blame them for inviting the entertainment elite to eat them? I for one extend the same invitation in solidarity.
Being John Malkovich is one of a new breed of comedies-one whose goal is not to be enjoyable or make anyone laugh. Rather, they are meant to be enjoyed later, when the viewer-lying to his friends and co-workers-claims to have enjoyed the film, thereby conferring hipness and prestige.
The problem for those people is that they actually have to sit through Being John Malkovich. Save yourself the trouble. Do something hip but less painful, like getting a tattoo on your throat.
It is a critical component of the comedy snob mating call: "Yeah, I'm probably gonna go home, crack an Anchor Steam, open a pack of wasabi peas and watch Strangelove." Yes, Dr. Strangelove is revered, probably as much for its profoundly anti-military bent as for its fine performances and famous Terry Southern script. What Strangelove fans don't like admitting is that it is frequently very, very boring. There are scenes aboard the bomber that go on so long, they will have you wishing there had been Mutually Assured Destruction.
Like most snob comedies, it is also distressingly short on real laughs and long on those blow a little air through the nose and nod the head knowingly laughs that aren't really all that fun.
Back in the days when Woody Allen' daughter Soon-Yi was still his daughter and not his wife, he used to make urbane romantic comedies in which he wooed and won younger women who weren't his daughter. This is probably his best, but unfortunately, as you watch Annie Hall, the creepy, incestuous modern day Woody becomes a kind of off screen character in the film, and this is not good. If I wanted to watch a movie featuring the creepy, incestuous modern day Woody, I'd rent The Curse of the Jade Scorpion-and there' not a chance in hell I'm going to go and do anything that crazy.
Another strike against it: Annie Hall was made during the '70s, a decade during which every single thing produced was covered with a thin coating of icky '70s-ness. There is residue of Erica Jong, Jonathan Livingston Seagull and bong water all over it. Both Paul Simon, as a mellow music producer, and Tony Roberts as Woody' pal, are particularly groovy.*
*And that' bad.
Several of the reviews at IMDB.com call this "one of the greatest movies of all time." I agree-if the pool of the greatest movies of all time is expanded to include every movie ever made. Then I'll allow that it beats out both Coyote Ugly and Battlefield Earth. And that' about it.
Its comedy is funny, I suppose, in the same manner as is, say, a Japanese mustard commercial. That is to say, it is relentlessly and punishingly weird. Its strange, despicable characters seem as though they were once alive, but were then hit by a truck, buried in the Pet Semetary and reanimated. Strangeness is job one, apparently, but the problem is strangeness in and of itself does not necessarily make for good entertainment. After all, the guy in the pajamas who stands on the corner near my house beating on an empty paint can with a stick and screaming "The sonova bitchin' donkeys stole my whistle!" is unimpeachably strange, but I doubt he'll ever get a development deal with Miramax. (Though, now that I think of it, he might be executive material.)
As Head Writer and star of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Michael J. Nelson was paid to talk to plastic puppets on a daily basis for 10 years. Now he writes books and screenplays, and rides his very geeky recumbent bike. His regular column, Comedy Critic, can be found in every issue of CRACKED Magazine.