Taking Comedy Seriously

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Comedies are never high on my year-end lists (if they make the cut at all) and I don’t see them very often on the lists of others. Films that have a few comedic moments are certainly very common, but I’m talking about pure comedy. Many have pointed out in the last several years that these ‘pure comedies’ never win film awards anymore, which is pretty much true. One may argue by pointing to 2011′s hugely acclaimed The Artist, but the film is more of a whimsical drama. Here’s the dilemma that I find myself constantly running into: I don’t take comedy films seriously. I generally have trouble viewing them as works of film art and usually discredit them as mere entertainments.

I think one reason I’ve viewed comedies as a lesser art form than the rest of the genres is that I’ve noticed that I only laugh based on the mood I happen to be in at that time. Because my mood alters my reaction to the film, I don’t usually see these movies as great films. Another reason is that comedy is, especially today, very often the genre of choice for the crudest and most undignified of entertainers. Yes, comedy is fun and I love Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but Monty Python is not exactly a well-made film, despite its hilarity. Many would say that the quality of comedy over the years has declined, which I would probably agree with. Most of Hollywood’s ‘funny’ movies made today are loud and obnoxious, just like their stars. I’d take His Girl Friday over The Campaign every day of the week.

Does “pure comedy” even exist anymore? Did it ever exist? Is comedy just a genre that naturally incorporates other genres into the picture? Or is it a genre all its own? Does comedy deserve even a little of the recognition film critics and movie buffs give to art-house cinema and foreign dramas? There are great comedies out there, though not too many have been made in the last decade that I’m aware of. Great comedy, to me, is well-orchestrated so that, even when I’m not in the ‘laughing mood’, I recognize the excellent craftsmanship of the film. This is not to say that the best comedies are complex, but rather that they should, like works of any other genre, simply be impressive pieces of filmmaking.

Some say that the last pure comedy to win Best Picture was Annie Hall in 1977. What has happened to the genre? There used to be some masterful comedic filmmakers out there in the earliest decades of cinema (I’m thinking of Chaplin, Keaton, Hawks, and Sturges, among others). Has the genre actually evolved into a cheap, low-grade form of filmmaking or are we, as Serious Movie Buffs, refusing to take comedy seriously?

Note: I have yet to post a top ten list for 2012, but there is a comedy (with science-fiction elements) that could very well make it into my ten picks titled Safety Not Guaranteed. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a worthwhile indie film.

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2 responses to “Taking Comedy Seriously

  1. Nice post. I’ve noticed that lately as well. Within the past few years there’s been the emergence of the “dramedy,” or a drama with comic elements. Films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Descendants, and Juno all fall under this genre. Still, I don’t think there’s really been a great pure comedy for a while.

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