EDITORIAL: The Resurrection of Comedy in 2013

Last week we received both a red and green band trailer for what feels like the epitome of all comedies, This is the End. A comedy where comedians play versions of themselves and like other great self-referential and deprecating films of the genre such as Tropic Thunder or Shaun of the Dead, This is the End seems to be on track to be one of the bigger comedies this year while also sporting a theme at least one other major comedy will be touting. There are plenty of other reasons to be excited about not only the summer slate of comedies but those coming out in the latter part of the year, but this feeling of excitement seems to be especially significant because the genre of comedy has suffered more than any other as of late.

Over the past two years a mere nine major studio comedies in wide release have been blessed with a fresh rating by Rotten Tomatoes. For those unfamiliar with Rotten Tomatoes it is a news site for all things film, but its main purpose is to serve as a film review aggregator or website that collects reviews from a variety of different sources and averages the positive and negative reviews to come up with a percentage that if above 60% is given an approval rating of "fresh". These nine films come from a pool of about thirty-three major studio releases and while there have certainly been a few limited release/indie comedies featuring major names that garnered positive reviews they haven't exactly lit the box office on fire to lend the genre a helping hand in terms of relevance with mainstream moviegoers. While 2013 has already been a rough year for films in general (both in box office and in quality) comedies again seem to be getting hit the hardest. A Haunted House, Movie 43, Identity Thief, 21 & Over, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, and Admission have all received rotten percentages and only A Haunted House and Identity Thief have garnered more than $30 million in their theatrical runs. This isn't all bad news as Burt Wonderstone is the only one not to make back its budget, but if comedies want to find a place among the summer tentpoles they will need to start making more than their budgets back and to do that will be to make quality films that create good word of mouth.

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum in 21 Jump Street and Ted (Seth MacFarlane) being charming.
Last year there were two stand-out comedies, 21 Jump Street and Ted. Both of these films went on to score major business at the box office (and both with R ratings no less) as Channing Tatum helped usher 21 Jump Street to a total haul of $138.4 million against a $30 million budget and Seth MacFarlane's directorial debut was the comedy of the summer opening with $54.1 million and going on to score a final total of $218.9 million on a $50 million budget. It is no surprise that both of these films have sequels in the works. Coming out in March and late June both 21 Jump Street and Ted made for a good first half of the year, but there were plenty of other films that fell flat with both critics and audiences. To make it easier to understand why comedy has been in such a rut lately let's break it down by the comedy actors starring in what I hope will be the "Ted" of this summer. The headliner of This is the End is Seth Rogen who, along with Evan Goldberg, wrote and directed the film. Rogen last starred in The Guilt Trip last December with Barbra Streisand and though I felt the film was overlooked in a rush of prestigious holiday films, it only scored a 34% rotten rating and made only $37 million at the box office against its $40 million budget. Unfortunately this has been the case with several of Rogen's recent outings, the only exception being his 2011 dramedy 50/50 which scored an impressive 93% fresh rating and more than made back its $8 million budget with a $35 million run. In terms of broad, mainstream comedy though, Rogen hasn't had a hit since 2008's Pineapple Express.

Fellow cast members Jay Baruchel and Craig Robinson don't have much you can base their film careers on as leading men. Robinson has mainly played supporting roles as he's doing here along with his gig on The Office. He'll have a shot to prove his potential as a leading man in early May when the Tyler Perry produced Peeples premieres, but this will likely have little bearing on This is the End. Up to this point the closest thing he's had to a leading role is 2010's Hot Tub Time Machine. While that film felt like an attempt to capitalize on the success of The Hangover in 2009 it actually received a 63% fresh rating and made back its $36 million budget plus almost $13 million extra. Baruchel on the other hand tested his leading man qualities in 2010 after being a supporting player in the Apatow gang for over a decade and getting a good sized supporting role in Stiller's Tropic Thunder. He had a modest hit in She's Out of my League that has stood the test of time and is one of those films you can't help but stop and watch when you catch it on TV. How to Train Your Dragon is his biggest success to date though I haven't really included voice work as they aren't mainstream comedies and are almost a crutch for actors who need a hit. Rogen had parts in both Monsters Vs. Aliens, the Kung fu Panda films, and even Paul which would fall into the mainstream comedy category even if all he did was provide the voice work. Paul was both a commercial and critical success scoring a 72% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. 2010 also had Baruchel in the Jerry Bruckheimer produced flop The Sorcerers Apprentice headed by Nicolas Cage, but since this he has only been seen in the direct to DVD (but well received Goon) and a bit part in David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis. While these two are relatively untested and can really only gain from being featured in This is the End the studio is likely hoping both Jonah Hill and Danny McBride will help bring in the crowds along with Rogen and James Franco.

McBride seemingly came out of nowhere in 2008 after a breakout supporting role in 2007's Hot Rod. I love that Andy Samberg film and everything McBride did in 2008 whether it be in hits like Tropic Thunder and Pineapple Express or forgettable films like Drillbit Taylor and The Heartbreak Kid it was clear he was destined for greatness. Then came the moment to of truth and he made Your Highness after co-starring alongside Will Ferrell in one of the bigger flops of 2009, Land of the Lost. Your Highness also flopped royally in 2011 holding a 26% rotten rating and not earning back even half of its $50 million budget. McBride has since been seen in supporting parts that could be relegated to cameos with the exception of last years 30 Minutes or Less that also flopped despite enlisting Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari and Nick Swardson and a crazy premise that was destined to fall by the wayside in late summer. McBride does have the success of his HBO series Eastbound and Down, but his film career could certainly use the boost This is the End should give it and I certainly hope he takes advantage of it.

Hill on the other hand, while having his own ups and downs over the past two years, has had the best luck among his Frat Pack and Apatow gang members. While starting out white hot in 2007 providing some of the best bits in Knocked Up and headlining Superbad with fellow This is the End featured stars Michael Cera and Christopher Mintz-Plasse he has since stuck with those guns and made memorable moments in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and the underrated Funny People. He was of course nominated for an Academy Award for his supporting role in Moneyball and was part of the dynamic duo in 21 Jump Street, but last year also saw him in The Watch and 2011 gave us The Sitter. Both of these were straight up comedies with strong marketing pushes and large amounts of potential that bombed due to the fact they simply weren't as funny as they should have been with the talent involved.

So what does all of this mean in terms of This is the End? It means it has a group of funny people who audiences like to see when they're in the right movie and if there has ever been a "right movie" it would seem to be this one. Not to mention it has Franco in it as well which allows the film to still appeal to those cast members core fans (Franco was easily the best part of Pineapple Express and also has Freaks & Geeks to his cred while being in the good graces of most film lovers after his recent showing in Spring Breakers) as well as those outside that wall. Franco is a movie star beyond the comedy genre and that will help lend interest to the film while allowing Rogen, Hill, and McBride the opportunity to play themselves and remind us all of why we fell in love with them in the first place (for some this is needed more than others). The film also has the distinct advantage of using the self-parody angle to throw in several other big names that the audience will get a kick out of seeing in their everyday lives and how celebrities interact with one another as normal people rather than public figures while clearly addressing their status in the media as points of conversation and comedy. Whether it be Jason Segel, Paul Rudd, Emma Thompson, Rihanna, Mindy Kailing, Kevin Hart, or Aziz Ansari it is always a treat to get a glimpse behind the curtain and that is the real golden ticket This is the End has in its back pocket.

Coming back around to The Watch, I was sorely disappointed in the reception of that film as I was especially looking forward to it. It would be the film that reunited Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller after Vaughn seemingly took a break from the raunchy R-rated comedy after the mega-success of Wedding Crashers. The Watch was supposed to be his glorious return, but it wasn't and so now, this year, he has re-teamed with crasher buddy Owen Wilson in hopes of capturing that magic once again. Vaughn also has a smaller comedy coming out later in the year that has him playing a former sperm donor who finds out he's fathered hundreds of kids and now several of them want to meet. He is joined by Chris Pratt and Cobie Smulders and the film, titled Delivery Man, was written and directed by an unknown named Ken Scott. All of this seems to be good news for the project itself, but will this and The Internship make for the comeback Vaughn is hoping for? I'm skeptical.  

David Koechner, Paul Rudd, Will Ferrell, and Steve Carell return to continue the legend.
Since 2003's Old School it has been clear there was a kinship between a certain group of actors in Hollywood. Consisting of Will Ferrell, Luke Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Jack Black and Steve Carell this group, nicknamed The Frat Pack, has of course extended to include a very large circle of trust that is made up of a number of top names in the comedy circle today. Whether it be close Apatow collaborators such as Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, John C. Reilly, Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Bill Hader, Kristin Wiig, or the Wolfpack themselves. It is this core group though that I've always been interested in and tried to follow despite their community beginning to whither over the past few years. After going so strong in the beginning with Zoolander, Starsky and Hutch, Dodgeball, The 40-Year old Virgin and of course, Anchorman, which is the closest we've had to all of the core members being together in one film, lately they've seemed more on their own and intent on breaking any rumors of a bond between them. With Vaughn and Wilson re-uniting for The Internship and the highly anticipated sequel to Anchorman coming out this December though it is easy to see why the anticipation level for comedies this year is especially intriguing. Still, with the release of the first trailer for The Internship I would be lying if I said I wasn't concerned.

I don't fear that Anchorman: The Legend Continues will fail to at least meet expectations as the team of Ferrell and writer/director Adam McKay has never failed me before, but as much as I like Vaughn and his manic personality that plays the same character every movie, the comedy in The Internship trailer isn't funny and instead relies too heavily on the references of other movies. It is a clip of hopeful jokes that rest on the audience knowing these titles the guys are spitting out, but not from a situation or genuine place of comedy. What does bode well for the film is Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, Date Night) has directed it and he seems to have a good gauge for PG-13 material and making it funny, but people are wanting this to be R and it's unclear how far this will go and what rating it will receive. The other highlight is a dependable supporting cast that includes John Goodman, Rose Byrne, and B.J. Novak yet I still can't help but feel that it is nothing more than a big ad for google with throwaway comedy that hinges too heavily on one gag. I hope I'm wrong and I hope the trailer is misrepresenting what kind of film this actually turns out to be, but I'm still extremely cautious to get excited over this.

As for the remainder of the Frat Pack we will also be getting a new film directed by Ben Stiller around the same time as the Anchorman sequel. It feels as if Stiller has been working on this film for ages, but I am optimistic for it as Stiller always seems to come out on top when he is both behind and in front of the camera. Zoolander is a cult gem and Tropic Thunder is one of the best comedies of the last decade. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a remake of the 1947 Danny Kaye film and has been through several incarnations since first being brought up in 1994 with Jim Carrey in the lead role. It looks like a promising vehicle for Stiller's talents and eventually came to him with a screenplay penned by Steven Conrad (The Pursuit of Happyness). There has always been a fine line with Stiller, it seems you either love him or hate him and I like the guy. Like Jason Bateman, he has a penchant for delivering the everyman vibe with impeccable comic timing. Let us not forget his early reasons for becoming the figure he is today before his act grew tiresome and the complaints began pouring in. Regardless of what you think of Stiller as a funnyman he still knows the business and can make a good film. He he has assembled quite the cast to support his titular character in his latest; Sean Penn is rumored to have a role along with Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott, Patton Oswalt, Kathryn Hahn, and Shirley MacLaine as they tell the story of a timid magazine photographer who tends to live life vicariously through his daydreams but is forced to go on a real life adventure when one of his negatives goes missing. Judging from the set photos this looks to be a fun, throwback to comedies of old while promising something a little extra than your typical studio comedy. I'm looking forward to it, but I'm also hoping Stiller has time to film a cameo for the Anchorman sequel that sees his Spanish language newscaster, Arturo Mendes (como estan, bitches!), returning as Vince Vaughn and Luke Wilson have already confirmed their cameos in the movie. Jack Black doesn't have anything slated for release this year and so there should be no reason he doesn't ride back through and give another treasured item of Ron Burgundy's a good punt. Now, if they could simply coax Owen to show up the world might finally feel complete after it came so close in that street fight scene some nine years ago.

While I am both eager and hopeful to see these Frat Pack members thrive again, there is also plenty of other fresh comedy material coming from folks outside this troupe of comedians. Why the genre of comedy has been failing as of late and so reviled by so many critics seems due to the fact that studios have turned to the R-rated comedy as a source of reliance after it's resurgence in the latter part of the first decade of the new millennium. Out of those thirty-three major studio releases over the last two years only nine of them were rated either PG or PG-13. While attempting to capitalize on this craze the studios have also seemed to exhaust all of their go-to comedy writers as the majority of these types of films that have received lackluster reviews and low box office reception have turned foul language and formulaic plots into the standard for what is supposed to be promising comedy. The thing about comedy though is that it is supposed to be edgy and not simply full of a couple of gags sewn together with cuss words thrown in for good measure and called a script. No, comedy is about the chemistry and the magic that can happen between actors that understand the material and have the timing to be in tune with the type of comedy the script is using to tell its story. It is still about the story in most regards, but for a comedy to truly be successful it depends on the people as tools one is using to tell that story and if they convey it correctly they can create that magic that makes the comedy connect and the movie memorable. This idea of chemistry between players is thankfully a strength between most of the other studio comedies coming out this year.

Melissa McCarthy is hot. Simple as that. She is so hot in fact since coming off Bridesmaids that she is now reaching the point of overexposure and I can only help but feel a backlash is imminent. Following her second Saturday Night Live hosting stint this past weekend and the success of Identity Thief at the box office though it seems there is no slowing her down. I genuinely like McCarthy and I believe she has real talent as a comedian and especially in the realm of physical comedy, but she has rushed to capitalize on her popularity, and you can't blame her, as Zach Galifianakis did the same thing after the initial success of The Hangover. He took several roles he might not have been offered previously that did nothing to help his career, but instead lent to his shtick becoming tired quicker than it could have. While McCarthy may have placed critics on the doubting side of things with Identity Thief it seems she is set to redeem herself on the big screen as she re-teams with Bridesmaids director Paul Fieg and co-stars alongside Sandra Bullock in what seems to essentially be a female version of Lethal Weapon in The Heat. The film, besides its director and genius pairing of these two women, has a lot going for it. The initial release date was supposed to be last weekend, April 5th, but Twentieth Century Fox pushed the release date back to the middle of summer as it will now be released on June 28th. This naturally shows strong faith in the quality of the film. If the studio is willing to bet people will come to see it when it is opening against the latest Channing Tatum actioner, White House Down, and surrounded on either weekend by the likes of Monsters University, World War Z, Despicable Me 2, and The Lone Ranger not to mention This is the End and Man of Steel opening just two weeks before it, there must be something good going on. Seeing also that the trailers have been out for the film since November of last year there is no lack of awareness for the film. How it will perform is anybody's guess at this point, but I'm optimistic the quality of the film will place it near the top of the list for 2013. Bullock is due for a hit and audiences are still intrigued by McCarthy. It's as close to a sure thing as any original film can hope for in this day and age.

Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis and Bradley Cooper return for The Hangover Part III
The Heat isn't the only summer comedy McCarthy will be participating in though. If you've seen the first trailer for the final chapter in Todd Phillip's Hangover trilogy then you know she also shows up in The Hangover Part III as what seems to be either a possible match for Galifianakis' Alan or just a kindred spirit the Wolfpack meet along the way. Either way, it seems Mr. Phillips has packed a good amount of returning and new characters as well as a brand new premise into his conclusion of this series. I am in the minority and I know it when it comes to The Hangover films, but I actually enjoyed the second film just as much as the first. Most people will agree that the first film is great, a classic even, that will forever be overshadowed now by the failures of the second film. The Hangover Part II is generally regarded as horrible as it is nothing more than a cash grab and a rehash of the first film with nothing more than a change of location. Though I can certainly understand where those folks are coming from and as much of the intrigue around the first film was the detective aspect of the story that was repeated in the second didn't feel as fresh but instead completely lazy it is hard to say the film wasn't at least funny. The fact that it was funny, that it did deliver the laughs seemed to be looked over due to the intolerance for the blatant carbon copy of a plot it delivered. The thing that made me fine with this, why it doesn't seem to bother me as much as it does some, is because I genuinely enjoy hanging out with these three guys and getting into whatever it is they decide or happen to fall into. Whereas I truly do care about story and believe it should be at the top of the list when someone decides to make a film the chemistry between Helms, Galifianakis, and Cooper is undeniable and if there was a movie about them hanging out at a laundromat, I'd watch it. Luckily that doesn't seem to be what Phillips has concocted for the third and final film as he has stated several times there is no wedding and no bachelor party.

A second trailer for the film will be premiering this Thursday and I truly hope it doesn't give away too much of the plot. I might even avoid the trailer if I hear it does in fact give away major points because I'd rather walk into this with no idea of what is going to happen. The marketing team should have left it at just the single trailer, but they've already shown their faith in the film by holding off any press until a few weeks ago, a mere two months before the film is released. Besides the fact we get the core trio back together John Goodman will also be playing the films antagonist and he is always a welcome addition, plus I really like Phillips as a director and I believe he has a strong vision for this series. Where he was likely still learning and very much just in the moment when he made Old School ten years ago he now seems to have a distinct style and certain vision for his projects that he usually helps write; this alone lends to a strong focus on any given film. This may not always come through as the most significant of qualities when watching his films, but I believe that it will show through in future projects if not in the last installment of his Hangover trilogy.

While I have no shame in admitting my love for The Hangover films (Part III made my top 10 most anticipated list of 2013) and while I am holding out hope that this threequel shuts all the haters up and proves to be a worthy successor to the first film, but if not there is also plenty of other opportunities for the genre of comedy to redeem itself. In fact, if The Hangover isn't enough director John Turteltaub has the senior citizen version of that film coming out in November, titled Last Vegas. With Michael Douglas, Robert DeNiro, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline all taking a break from their day to day lives and throwing a bachelor party for their last single friend. It may sound like nothing more than an attempt to re-create the magic of the first Hangover with a well known group of older actors, and while I'm not generally enthusiastic about Turteltaub as a director, considering the cast this could, at the very least, be a fun time if not the comedy that will single-handily save the genre. The one that could possibly do this if all else fails is another completion to a sort of trilogy, The World's End. We haven't seen much from the final film in Edgar Wright's so-called "Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy" except for an official poster and a few stills, but there are many a fan of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz anxiously awaiting their first peek at some footage. While I certainly can appreciate the comedy of both of those films and their intelligent way of spoofing the zombie and cop genre it seems both Wright along with co-writer and star Simon Pegg have decided to go a different route this time around. While it may now be anticipated as a spoof seeing as last year brought about a rush of apocalyptic-themed films (including the headliner of this article) Wright has made it clear he didn't want to feel constrained by the outline of he and Pegg's first two collaborations but instead wanted to tell a story that appeals to him. While the simple premise listed on IMDB is that five friends reunite in an attempt to top their epic pub crawl from 20 years earlier unwittingly become humankind's only hope for survival, it seems obvious there is more to it than this and the team behind it give us more than enough reason  as to why this could easily take that comedy of the year spot especially among cinephiles.

Jennifer Aniston in We're the Millers.
Naturally, there are several other comedies coming out this year that I couldn't fit into this already extended piece, but none that struck an immediate chord or piqued an interest as the ones mentioned above do. In fact those left might even have the capability to keep the name of comedy in the slums where it already is or pull it down even lower. Granted, there is something to be said for We're the Millers which stars Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston in a Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball) directed film with an outlandish plot that could turn out to be entertaining. Thurber hasn't made a major film since Dodgeball which was almost ten years ago and Jennifer Aniston has a track record of playing second string to comedic leading men with mixed results (Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty, Ben Stiller in Along Came Polly, Vince Vaughn in The Break-Up, Owen Wilson in Marley & Me, Jason Bateman in The Switch, Paul Rudd in Wanderlust and of course her spirited turn in Horrible Bosses. Sudeikis had a hit with that one as well though he wasn't necessarily a leading character while his only other major credit is the Farrelly Brothers Hall Pass which only scored a 34% on the tomatometer but made back it's budget and then some. This of course comes along with the fact it opened in late February with no real competition two weeks on either side of it except for the Topher Grace penned and produced Take Me Home Tonight which had already been delayed several times and was pretty much dead on arrival.

If you've read the first half of this article you can likely deduce I was a big fan of Dodgeball, but could be swayed either way on We're the Millers though we will likely be able to conclude from the trailer what type of comedy this will be. With a drug smuggling story covered by the facade of a fake suburban family there is certainly ample opportunity for comedy and inherently I'd assume the film is leaning towards an R-rating, but it could also stay close in tone to Thurber's previous hit and be a goofy PG-13. We shall see, but I'm cautiously optimistic this could resonate with an audiences that could end up watching it over and over again for years to come. There is always that one comedy every now and then (not every year, that wouldn't make it as special) that becomes either a surprise hit at the box office and stays that way because of good word of mouth or that catches on once it hits home video. We're the Millers could go either way or it could end up disappearing completely. Either way, I'm interested to see how this story plays out.  

Finally, there is the case of Adam Sandler. Many wouldn't even consider his films to be comedies anymore, but he continues to push out at least one film a year and it usually falls in the summer season. It has been apparent though that his domination over his little part of the comedy world has been slightly waning over the past few years as he's continued to repeat himself as the same guy in Grown Ups, Just Go With It and the atrocious Jack & Jill which scored a mere 3% on the tomatometer (which is only slightly better than the 0% Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star scored which Sandler helped write and produce). Last year he attempted to go old school with a strange character in the form of Donny Berger and as a father to Andy Samberg in That's My Boy and while that film was certainly the funniest thing he's put out recently it also flopped at the box office finishing its run with only $36.9 million against a $70 million budget. This is even more relevant when you take into consideration this was the first Sandler-produced flick in which he also starred in twelve years not to break the $100 million mark and reap some kind of profit. Jack & Jill was a turning point where despite his films always being somewhat dismissed by critics he usually had a strong enough following who simply enjoyed showing up to watch him do his thing. That audience is clearly shrinking and thus is likely the reason both he and his longtime studio partner Sony decided to place him in his first sequel to his most successful live action film and have made Grown-Ups 2.

Granted, Sandler bounced back late last year by producing and providing the lead voice in Hotel Transylvania, but this sequel is the real test to see how much good will Sandler has left with audiences. Clearly people showed up for the first Grown Ups as it featured not only Sandler but a slew of his buddies and earned a nice $41 million its opening weekend despite following up his fourth foray into dramedy the summer before in Judd Apatow's Funny People. That film wasn't as much a failure for the funnyman though as he didn't produce it while what is unique about this situation is that his act is growing tired, that was made clear the year after Grown Ups and continued on into last year as it is clear the 25 and younger audience isn't as interested in his R-rated antics. If Grown Ups 2 doesn't open in the $30-$40 million range this could be the final nail in the coffin for Sandler. There is still money to be made, but his routine will have to be altered and he won't likely have the freedom to do whatever he pleases if he wants to continue to be a part of the Hollywood comedy landscape. As for the film itself, the first trailer was surprisingly more amusing than I imagined it might be. Much like I am with Stiller or The Hangover films I don't mind the guy when so many others seem to find him an easy target. I think he could try a little harder from time to time, but up until recently he'd been successfully making hits for fifteen years, why fix what isn't broken? The easy answer is artisitc integrity, but I guarantee Sandler's response to that would be there is no such thing left in Hollywood anymore, not in comedy at least. It's all about the business and Sandler is a smart businessman. His films present a strange angle for this piece though as they will certainly not help the reputation of comedy in its current condition, but will only bring more reason for those who complain about the current state of the genre. For me, Sandler has become such his own brand he feels separate from the remainder of the cinematic landscape and in that line of thinking gives me an excuse as to why I believe 2013 could easily resurrect the mainstream comedy. Fingers crossed.

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