The Gross-Out Comedy Has Been Replaced By the Gross-Out Prestige Movie
Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, it seemed as though movie studios were in a veritable arms race of ickiness, with a staggering number of mainstream comedies desperately trying to out-nasty each other. Austin Powers drank a coffee cup full of feces. A nude Ace Ventura emerged from a rhinoceros’ butthole. The world bore witness to Jason Biggs’ bare ass as he humped a homebaked icon of Americana.
It wasn’t only limited to teen comedies either, “adult” comedies were also home to an influx of assorted bodily fluids. Why? Scatological humor was nothing new, dating back to the Ancient Greeks, but if you’re looking for a socio-political interpretation, perhaps it’s not a coincidence that in the wake of the Bill Clinton blow-job scandal, the country became way more comfortable with semen jokes? Seriously, in the late 1990s, jizz showed up in more movies than Nicolas Cage, perhaps most memorably as Cameron Diaz’s inadvertent hair product of choice in There’s Something About Mary.
While the trend continued for some time, the dominance of the gross-out comedy arguably died off around six years ago, seemingly due to "audience fatigue." But in its ashes, a new revolting sub-genre has risen: the Gross-Out Prestige Movie.
In the past year, we’ve gotten a number of acclaimed films from renowned directors that are surprisingly nauseating. Most obviously, there was Triangle of Sadness, Ruben Östlund’s social satire that features a prolonged scene in which a group of wealthy yacht-dwellers are violently puking and shitting all over the place. It goes on for so long and reaches such stomach-churning extremes that it makes Monty Python's "Mr. Creosote" sketch from The Meaning of Life look downright tasteful by comparison.
Similarly, Babylon, an $80 million period piece from the Oscar-winning director of La La Land, also features cartoonish moments of projectile vomiting and even opens with a guy getting a faceful of elephant diarrhea.
Other potential awards contenders this year have had decidedly queasy moments; the controversial The Whale featured a "shocking" and arguably "exploitative" binge-eating scene, and the grotesque Blonde was a cavalcade of awfulness that included a "toilet's-eye-view" of Marilyn Monroe barfing.
It’s hard to say why exactly this scatological sensibility migrated from comedies to more allegedly respectable fare. In the case of Triangle of Sadness, it could be part of Östlund’s efforts to help reinvigorate the theatrical movie experience. The director recently stated: “We didn’t make the movie for this little individual screen,” but rather for the big screen. He added, “I’ve thought a lot about how we can reenergize cinema culture. Because the connection with the audience is super, super important.”
And as anyone in a packed theater when Maya Rudolph pooped herself in Bridesmaids can attest, sitting in a collectively grossed-out audience is an intensely communal experience that can’t be replicated at home.
Similarly, Babylon director Damien Chazelle told Deadline: “If you want your movie to play on the big screen, you have to go grab it; you have to demand it.” And spraying the camera with elephant poop certainly does grab one’s attention. Plus, in terms of a distinctly cinematic experience, making people cringe at excessive amounts of poop is certainly way cheaper than, say, CGI-ing a bunch of Na’vi.
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