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Monday, March 05, 2007

Blog, movies, hilariousness

Ben directed me toward a very good blog by a guy who has decided to watch every last DVD in the Criterion Collection called The Criterion Contraption (also in the blog roll). In his review of Monty Python's Life of Brian, he mentions that "for a comedy, plot and structure are not as important as hilariousness." A wise and true statement. Keep that statement in mind for these two popular comedies: 1

Office Space

Office Space
, first released in 1999, didn't do very well in the box office. It has since become a cult film, and with good reason. It's imminently quotable, it speaks to a large section of the population, and it's funny. But it has that stupid plot about the Superman III penny-rounding scam, and the stupid love interest with Jennifer Aniston. When people talk about that movie, do you ever hear them fondly mention anything about the story? Or the montage of Peter and Joanna getting to know each other through episodes of Kung Fu? The best parts of the movie are the recognizable cubicle characters, the "Yeah . . . we're gonna need you to come in on Saturday . . . ," and the inanity of low-level white-collar work. How much better would that movie be if it were a little more like . . .

Napoleon Dynamite

Just a few years later, first time writer-director Jared Hess made a comedy about high school life in the Midwest with almost no plot--and it was hilarious.2 It did exactly what Office Space didn't. It focused on the wackiness of Uncle Rico, Kip, and Napoleon, and didn't revolve around Napoleon trying to save the school from shutting down due to asbestos, or some story about him falling in love with Deb or something. The movie did, of course, have the loose plot of getting Pedro elected student-body president, but it was at best secondary to the other stuff. It had weak moments and it had forced moments,3 but these things weren't a result of structure decisions, they were a result of Jared Hess's decisions as a writer and director.

I'll finish with another quote from the Criterion Contraption blog, this one from Robert McKee (the writing sage who was made more famous by his role in Adaptation):
Comedy is pure: if the audience laughs, it works; if it doesn't laugh, it doesn't work. End of discussion. That's why critics hate comedy; there's nothing to say.
Other stuff:

- "Napoleon Dynamite" is Elvis Costello's nickname. I have no idea why Jared Hess appropriated it.
- "Joanna," besides being the name of Jennifer Aniston's character in Office Space, is also her middle name.
- A hilarious clip of Life of Brian:

1I should note that this was first pointed out to me by Lan.
2To some people. Including me.
3Like Kip's gangsta outfit after meeting LaFonda.

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Blogger Cibbuano said...

I like the Broken Lizard stuff for the same reason, ie. Super Troopers is hilariousness made pure. The plot just gets in the way, really...

10:57 PM  
Blogger Andiar said...

I thought it took place in Idaho.

5:20 AM  
Blogger Christopher Zane said...

I think you're right--but pretty much anything west of Tennessee and north of Texas I consider "the midwest."

7:01 PM  

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