Monday, January 12, 2009

Post-Globes #1: In Bruges?

Don’t let the trailer fool you, In Bruges is a comedy in the loosest sense of the term. Sure, it has moments of dark humor, but the themes sit heavy and the drama, through much of the film, is palpable. Last year’s The Savages (nominated in the same category) manages more hilarity from a topic doubly depressing (watching your parents wither in old age). I mean, even if we’re looking at In Bruges in the old-school dramatic, Shakespearean sense, it’s not a comedy. In fact, it has the trappings of an action-tragedy brought up from the mire with a handful of scattered punchlines, Colin Farrell playing a repentant version of his jittery, ADHD self, and the exploited physical comedy of one seriously messed up little person.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a quality film. But an award nominee? Unlikely. An award winner? Not exactly. What’s more, an award winner thrown into the Musical/Comedy categorization? Are you kidding? Yet, that’s what the Hollywood Foreign Press did, and a gum chewing, blathering Farrell slipped into stream-of-consciousness mode and picked up his award for best comedic actor. Interesting.

Equally interesting were the other nominees under the Musical/Comedy heading. Woody Allen’s delightful Vicky Christina Barcelona rightfully took home the gold, but the only other nominee with audience-friendly appeal was the ABBA-fueled sugar rush Mamma Mia!, which after a critical bashing, we can safely assume was nominated merely as the token, legitimate musical offering.

Ignore the bright colors. Lies. So many lies.

The other two, Happy-Go-Lucky and Burn After Reading, are tales in which the laughs are sparse. The latter was initially received with mixed reviews. Critics and audiences alike found it clunky and weighed down with Coen-brand bouts of increasingly unnecessary violence, though still fairly humorous. The former is a character study of an illogical and obnoxious woman so lonely and existing in such a shitty world that her peppy can-do attitude comes off as some sort of mental illness. How can we believe in her exuberant facade as she drowns herself (scene by scene) in alcohol, chortles, and unhappy situations? Does she believe herself? Can she really be that daft? No. I think the critics misread Happy-Go-Lucky entirely. It’s a melancholy drama occasionally mined for awkward, heart-breaking laughs. I don't know what US Weekly's Thelma Adams was tripping on when she wrote "This film made me blissfully happy", but i think i should have taken some of it.

Makes you wonder if the HFP actually watched the films or just checked out the trailers.

It’s true that traditionally speaking the Golden Globe category for best Musical/Comedy works a bit like a catch-all for the films they can’t justify placing in the more prestigious Dramatic categories. After all, they randomly placed 2005’s period romance Pride & Prejudice there, and have frequently thrown in quirkily sad Charlie Kaufman fare. But this year seems exceptional in terms of selection. Why is it that a large percentage of the supposed best “comedies” of 2008 are in fact, full-blown dramas in disguise? Since when are our light-hearted options such heavy lifting? Can we blame the economy? Our dire political situation? With the arrival of Mr. Yes-We-Can Obama will we see an altogether more optimistic representation of our society at next year’s Globes?

Who knows?

I get dark comedy. I’m a big fan of it. I dig my humor with a bullet through the skull or a dose of sardonic cynicism. But I’ll tell you, if In Bruges & Happy-Go-Lucky are comedies, than I’ve got two films that rival them in the laugh department. It might sound strange, but Doubt had a number of laughs equal to (oddly parallel minded) In Bruges, and Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino is shockingly (and purposely) hysterical, deftly executing well-timed lines and expressions into a tale that is essentially one of heartbreak. If Happy’s Poppy (Sally Hawkins) and Clint’s Walt were to meet, maybe we could find a happy medium.

Nuns. Apparently not funny to society at large.

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