The Hangover and the rise of the jokeless comedy
The second Hangover movie makes it official: Punchlines are no longer welcome in funny movies, says Adam Sternbergh in The New York Times
Love it or hate it, The Hangover Part II is "a notable, even groundbreaking film," says Adam Sternbergh in The New York Times. It marks the first time that someone has "dared to make a mainstream American comedy in which nothing funny happens." That's not to say that nothing happens. There's plenty of "shrieking, squirming, beatings, panic, a severed finger, and a facial tattoo." And "it's certainly possible that you might watch it and convulsively emit human laughter." There just aren't any jokes — "you know, those familiar contraptions of setups and punchlines; the misunderstandings, mistaken identities, spoofed conventions or parodied clichés." Much of the blame lies with the wildly successful directors Judd Apatow and Todd Phillips, Sternbergh says. Here, an excerpt:
What these auteurs truly have in common, though, is that they have systematically boiled away many of the pleasures previously associated with comedy — first among these, jokes themselves — and replaced them with a different kind of lure: the appeal of spending two hours hanging out with a loose and jocular gang of goofy bros. (Also: ritual humiliation. Humiliation is a big part of it, too.) ...
Every so often someone tosses a brick through the window of mainstream comedy, to wake us up and remind us what's possible. It happened with Airplane! in 1980 and There's Something About Mary in 1998 and The 40-Year-Old Virgin in 2005.
That last film is Apatow's masterpiece, and its lived-in bagginess was like a cool breeze let into a stifling room. Since then, though, Apatow's films — and those of his lesser imitators — have become their own incestuous little jam sessions, bros riffing with bros, and Hollywood has once again locked the door and pulled the shades, so we're right back to that same sense of comedic claustrophobia, except now we're trapped in there with Russell Brand. The remedy is simple: Someone needs to toss a brick through the window. Let some air in. It wouldn't hurt if the brick came wrapped in an actual joke.