I recently learned all about "Poe's Law," from Cracked Editor David Wong. Poe's Law is a handy little concept invented by Nathan Poe in a religious Internet forum a few years ago. According to Wikipedia, the "core of Poe's law is that a parody of something is by nature extreme, [which] makes it impossible to differentiate from sincere extremism." In Nathan's case, the law applied to his inability to distinguish religious extremism from a parody of religious extremism. I don't hang around religious forums (court order), but I'm starting to feel like Poe's Law is just as applicable to movies. Something about movies changed over the last few years. Like Poe, I'm looking at the world around me and desperately searching for a joke that would be impossible to find.
I can no longer tell if movies are being serious. I used to be able to watch trailers and say, "This is clearly a parody" or "This is just a bad movie." But, these days, the gap between the two has become so blurry and thin, I'm like Nathan Poe, looking for some kind of winking emoticon that let's me know what's what. So many people will say that they love movies like Machete and Drive Angry and Snakes On A Plane "ironically" which is absolutely meaningless to me because A) I'm kinda dumb, B) irony as a concept was murdered by the Internet years ago and C) I only know how to like movies or hate movies genuinely. Some filmmakers are embracing this idea of movies being designed to be consumed ironically, while other filmmakers are just making shitty movies. And the frustrating thing is that there is no observable difference between the two. Once upon a time, I could finish watching a trailer and my only thought would either be "That was good" or "That was bad." Now, I watch most trailers and I just scratch my head, thinking, "Hey, filmmakers: Did you really mean that? Do you think shooting a movie where Nicolas Cage has sex on a motorcycle while he shoots machine guns is a genuinely good idea, or a patently ridiculous (and therefore 'ironically' good) idea? Is any of this a joke?"
To help illustrate my point, I watched three current movie trailers of films that are either terrible or hilarious from three different genres (Romantic Comedy, Comedy, Action), over and over again, all day. (My job is pretty cool.)
What's Your Number?: Worst Movie Ever, Or Worst Movie Ever And Also I Killed Myself
What's Your Number? is based on the novel I Taught My Nutsack How to Write a Book by some woman's nutsack, and it'll be in theaters later this year. Lead Female Character, Anna Faris, desperately wants to find a handsome husband as she feels hollow and incomplete without one -- because even though Romantic Comedies are aimed at women, the people who write them either have never met or aggressively hate women. She reads a study claiming that it usually takes 20 boyfriends before you find your soul mate (I think), so she decides to go back and meet up with all of her previous awful boyfriends to find out which guy was No. 20 (probably?). She enlists the help of her handsome neighbor (Chris Evans), and by working together they will learn that, spoiler alert, they've made a shitty movie. Anna Faris is, as always, lovable and adorable, but her character is a disorganized bag of hacky Romantic Comedy stereotypes and wide-eyed confusion.
"Riding a bike in a bridesmaid's dress! How quirky and unconven- Wait, hold on, am I shitting myself right now?"
Why It Feels Like a Joke:
Watch absolutely as much of the trailer as you can, and then come right back here. Back? Good. While you were watching a small portion of that trailer and then subsequently coaxing a brain aneurysm into submission, I built a robot designed to recognize patterns in Romantic Comedies. Its job was to go through every RomCom in history and find the most common and tired RomCom hallmarks. You might be shocked to learn that What's Your Friggin' Number? managed to cram every single tired RomCom trope into a single trailer. Most movies just overlap in one or two areas, but Number hits every damn mark. I don't know if it's because the movie is terrible, or because the movie is trying to symbolize the death of Romantic Comedies by exploiting all of its tropes, I just know I never want to see it because the ingredients still lead up to a shitty mean. Let's see what this trailer has ...
- A soundtrack full of chick pop music (check).
- A woman behaves impossibly awkwardly and even though she is likable, attractive and charming, she can't seem to land a man:
- An equally attractive and charming man -- who is her polar opposite emotionally and intellectually -- shows up and they form a bond that everyone except them knows will inevitably lead to a perfect relationship:
- WACKY DATE MONTAGE!:
- A wedding where our plucky, optimistic protagonist is of course a bridesmaid, never a bride:
- WACKY COSTUME MONTAGE!:
- A series of brilliant comedic actors being wasted in terrible, underwritten supporting roles:
This is all awful, but the moment that made my robot actually weep came at around 30 seconds into the trailer, when Anna asks, "How many relationships do I have to have before I find the right guy?" into a phone while walking down the street in a city. That, in a sentence, is the central conflict of every single female-centric Romantic Comedy that has ever existed. Single woman in the city, talking to her best friend/confidant and complaining about how she can't find Mr. Right. That is an academic deconstruction on the idea of Romantic Comedies, but instead of showing up on a college paper in some pretentious Theories On Romantic Comedies In Pop Culture class that I absolutely would've taken if they'd offered it at Rutgers, the lead actress is actually saying it out loud.
"Honey, I'm serious, this movie is making me shit myself."
And that's why this movie can't be real to me. For this to be real, at the very least a screenwriter, director and actress had to read a line of dialogue that could have been pulled from literally any Romantic Comedy ever and said, "Yes, I will sign on to make this fresh and original movie." No. No no no. This is clearly a very clever fake trailer designed to expose the crappy paint-by-numbers approach to modern Romantic Comedies. It has to be a fake, because the alternative is that multiple people were paid to make it.
"Baby I swear to God if we don't leave soon I might never stop shitting. This movie is a witch."
Hangover II, Is Like The Hangover Meets The Hangover
It's the sequel to the movie that, statistically speaking, you saw in theaters and own on DVD.
I really liked The Hangover. I enjoy all of the main actors involved, I thought the jokes were solid and it felt like a fairly original story. Mysteries have been done before, sure, but drunken comedy mysteries with Zach Galifianakis? That's a new thing. So I really had a blast watching it. I left the theater happy, because I thought, Good, now all of these funny actors that I like can break out and do a bunch of other movies.
Or, hey, they could just do The Hangover again and again, and never change a thing.
Why It Feels Like a Joke:
The Hangover: Part Two is less a sequel and more of an almost shot-for-shot remake, albeit in a different setting. If you think I'm exaggerating the similarities, go ahead and watch the trailers for Part One and Two back to back. Or screw it, I'll just show you.
Both trailers open in the exact same way, with Zach Galifianakis' character doing something embarrassing and wacky in front of people. In the first, he stands around wearing a jock strap and, in the second, he tells an inappropriate story about Stu during his rehearsal dinner.
At about 36 seconds into the first Hangover trailer, the main characters all get together and raise their glasses for a toast. In Part II, this happens at about 40 seconds in.
Each of these scenes is then followed by a blurry, rapid-fire, wild party montage, a pure white screen and a close-up on one of the main characters' faces as he wakes up on the floor ...
... followed by a scan of the demolished hotel room ...
... followed by Ed Helms' character realizing that there is something horribly different about his face. A missing tooth in Hangover, a face tattoo in the sequel (and, in both cases, Bradley Cooper's character raises a hand to his mouth and tries to stifle a laugh. Both. Twice. Two times.)
- At this point in Part One, they stumble upon a baby that they then have to carry around, in Part Two it's a monkey they have to travel with.
- Next, they realize they're missing an important part of their group (the groom in Part One, the younger brother of the bride in Two).
- 1:23 into the Part One trailer, when the guys realize what trouble they're in, they all get worried except Zach Galifianakis' character, who lets out a short laugh and happily says, "We were messed up." 1:33 into Part Two, when the rest of the guys realize what trouble they're in, he lets out a short laugh and happily says, "We love to party," with the exact same inflection and, in both trailers, the background music cuts out the instant he says his line.
- They decide that the only way to find their missing person is to follow a series of clues based on what they have in their pockets. They treat this like a brand new discovery in Two even though they clearly made the same realization in One.
- At just around the 2:00 mark, an angry woman is on the phone demanding answers from the guys. I didn't specify which trailer, because it happens in both, at the same time.
And so on. A bunch of wacky stuff happens, some jokes are thrown in, Ed Helms screams, "What is going on," and the trailers end.
I understand that the first movie was very successful, and when things are successful in Hollywood, no one wants to mess with the formula, but come on, they're basically daring us to pay money for a movie we've already seen. This could basically be the exact same script with every instance of "baby" crossed out and replaced with "monkey."
Those guys who do the [Genre] Movies don't exactly understand what parody is, so sometimes they'll just recreate a scene from an iconic comedy and just replace the original jokes with jokes of their own that, generally, are worse. That's not a parody; that's just redoing an already funny thing and changing the wording of the jokes. That's what this trailer felt like to me, and when your legitimate Hangover 2 trailer could pass for the trailer for Friedberg and Seltzer's Hangover Movie, you're in big trouble.