THE BEST AND WORST OF COMEDY IN 2011
By Kelly Laymon
This past year saw some great comedy that needs a glance back. But I have a few notes before we start. First of all, while my main focus here is the raunchy R-rated stuff that I generally handle, I’m going to have to highlight a great PG-13 comedy. Also, I’m covering a few films that I was going/supposed to do and couldn’t because they weren’t in wide release, my neighborhood was hit by a small yet disruptive hurricane on the opening weekend, or I was on a road trip with my mom. I’m also touching on ones that were released before I joined Cinema Knife Fight, but that LL reviewed. Also, I am not listing films in any particular order or ranking.
BRIDESMAIDS got a ton of well-deserved attention. I generally don’t like Kristin Wiig much and find that Maya Rudolph is better when she’s less over-the-top and more dramatic, as in AWAY WE GO (2009), but this worked for me because the film really played to their strengths as more understated actors. All of their interactions seemed real. My only complaint is that there should have been more scenes involving ALL of the gals. When all six characters were together, it was at its best. I was particularly fond of the exchanges between the seasoned Wendi McClendon-Covey and naïve Ellie Kemper. The Jon Hamm scenes deserve an award of their own. Sometimes I wonder if he’s trying too hard to prove his comedy chops because he’s SO handsome though. But the Irish cop (Chris O’Dowd) was the real star of the film. And while I thought Melissa McCarthy was good, I think some of the praise she’s received has been undeserved. Entertainment Weekly called her the new Queen of Comedy. Gimme a break! And this film was a nice finale for the late Jill Clayburgh. In the blooper reel on the DVD, they apologize for the horribly dirty lines she has to say. She just laughs and says something along the lines of, “No, I’m having so much fun.”
WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER? is a film that I expected to completely suck. All in all, it wasn’t that bad. The trailers made it look very silly and slapstick, but the actual film was a bit more down to earth and semi-amusing. Anna Faris reads an article in Marie Claire about the average number of men women have sex with in their lifetime. Since she’s reaching the dreaded #20, she decides to re-visit all of her exes to see if she can make a relationship stick with one of them. Some of the scenes are humorous, though it would still be nice to see Anna Faris in better material. Her films always seem to JUST miss the mark. And it was a sad waste of the great and snarky Joel McHale.
On the flip-side, OUR IDIOT BROTHER was a bit of a disappointment. It suffered from what I sometimes refer to as “the overly quirky and precious indie problem”. (Side note: Two of the worst offenders in my book are LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (2006) and JUNO (2007)). Paul Rudd is good as the dopey brother who needs to pull his life together at the expense of his mother and three sisters. One sister’s a savage career woman (Elizabeth Banks), another’s a quirky lesbian comedian who’s not any good (Zooey Deschanel, who I’m very tired of), and the third’s a put-upon and poorly-treated housewife (Emily Mortimer). Fellow co-stars Rashida Jones, Adam Scott, and Elizabeth Banks—all three of whom I like a lot—couldn’t save the overly meaningful lessons that the “idiot brother” inadvertently teaches everyone.
CEDAR RAPIDS was an enjoyable film that didn’t get a ton of attention. Ed Helms plays a naïve insurance agent who goes to the big city for the region’s yearly insurance convention. His roommates are the very funny John C. Reilly and Isiah Whitlock, Jr.. Reilly plays a seasoned con-goer and all-around bad influence, while Whitlock is straight-laced, but goofy. Anne Heche is the married “what happens at a con, stays at a con” love interest. Aside from enjoying the humor in this, I saw a lot of myself and my friends in the characters and some of the convention antics. The film ultimately has a good heart and leaves you with a warm and fuzzy feeling.
The PG-13 ringer on my list is CRAZY STUPID LOVE. It would be impossible to talk about the comedies of 2011 without highlighting this one. The entire cast is solid, but the film really belongs to the relationship between the newly separated, dorky, forty-something Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling. Although their makeover scenes have some flashes of THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN (2005), they totally work. Ryan Gosling, who’s mostly known for more dramatic roles, is great as a sarcastic, know-it-all, trendy, hipster womanizer. He’s the kind of character that could be totally unsympathetic, but is played just right. The “big speech” at the end is kind of corny, but sometimes even really good movies have a semi-lame moment or two.
PAUL is a tough one to talk about. It plays so much to the nerdy fan boys who know about authors, comics, and conventions that I don’t know how normal people viewed it. As someone who knows the convention circuit and a lot of authors and has traveled the UFO regions of Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico, I totally dug it. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, of SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004) and HOT FUZZ (2007), are great as two English buddies on a nerd tour that starts at the San Diego Comic-Con and is supposed to take them on a UFO hot spot voyage. Seth Rogen is the voice of the vulgar, pot smoking alien they stumble upon, and we have yet another nice performance from Jason Bateman. And if your eyes are dry when Paul visits the girl whose yard he crashed into sixty years ago, you have no soul. Kudos to Blythe Danner.
THE HANGOVER II wasn’t as bad as people said. For a sequel, it held up better than most. As with the first one, which I loved, I found more humor in the simple dry throw-away lines than in the big, crazy situations. I liked that they paid tribute to the first right down to the music cues (Danzig on the opening credits, Kanye West during the arrival scene, Wolfmother as they make it back for the wedding), etc.. And the fact that Zach Galifinackis’s Alan was still obsessed with what happened in Vegas was a nice touch. I was disappointed that Ed Helms’s Stu wasn’t marrying Heather Graham’s stripper Jade from the first one. And Stu’s “big speech” at the end about his inner demons seemed forced and almost silly, whereas his “big speech” at the end of the first one had a cheer-worthy power to it.
Although he didn’t ruin THIRTY MINUTES OR LESS, Nick Swardson resumed his usual roll of the anti-funny with BUCKY LARSON: BORN TO BE A STAR. It is a fantastic…waste of a supporting cast. Don Johnson and Christina Ricci both co-star in this train wreck. I won’t even bother to describe this exercise in lameness other than to say that it’s a terrible attempt at porno humor. I’m convinced that Adam Sandler is funding Swardson’s career through Happy Madison Productions in order to make us appreciate Sandler more. It is so ridiculous and over-the-top, without even a toe dipped in reality. And, when it comes to the comedies I like, the characters and situations need to be relatable. I need to see tiny bits of myself, my friends, and things that have happened to me or could happen. I knew it would be pretty bad and even texted a friend when I sat down to watch it that “I must really hate myself to be watching this.” If you want to see a comedy about porn that’s actually funny, go for Kevin Smith’s ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO (2008).
Don Johnson had a small role in another small and little-seen sex-themed comedy in 2011, A GOOD OLD FASHIONED ORGY. He plays the rich, jerky father of Jason Sudeikis and owns a posh beach house in the Hamptons. He no longer uses the house, but Sudeikis and his high school pals (including comedy staples you’d-know-’em-if-you-saw-’em, Martin Starr, Lake Bell, Nick Kroll, etc.. Luckily, the annoying Will Forte is toned down and plays it straight…and he’s not in it much.) still party at the house each weekend during the summer. Once Johnson puts the house up for sale, Sudeikis decides that they need to have one final legendary bash over Labor Day weekend and he lands on the orgy idea. Sudeikis has been very likable and funny in a few films over the past couple of years, such as GOING THE DISTANCE (2010) and HORRIBLE BOSSES. We’ll just pretend that the super-mediocre HALL PASS (2011) didn’t happen. And I enjoyed this one too. It’s a dumb guy plot, but the dialogue and jokes worked for me.
I’m not going to rehash the films I already reviewed, but the links are below.
© Copyright 2012 by Kelly Laymon
OTHER COMEDY REVIEWS BY KELLY DURING 2011 (Just click on the title):