The seriocomedy is probably one of my favorite sub-genres. Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it to? The seriocomedy lets you have the sweetness of the icing (comedy) with all the bulk and substance of the cake itself (drama).
But name the last really good one produced inside of the studio system in the last ten years or so. (“The Kids Are All Right” was independent, so try again.) It’s hard because so many of them miss the mark. ”Love & Other Drugs” and “How Do You Know” both could have been so good but wound up falling short.
“The seriocomedy has never been easy creative ground for directors. To make a good one you need to be proficient at constructing both laughs and drama, and have the dexterity to switch between them. From a business standpoint it’s even dicier: How, in this age of marketing, do you retail these tweeners?
Movie-making these days seems to have calcified into genres. Dramas are intense and serious, like ‘The Social Network,’ or weepie and inspirational, like ‘The Blind Side’ or ‘Secretariat.’ Comedies are broader and more gross-out, like the best of Adam Sandler or Apatow.
‘The problem is trailers,’ said James Schamus, the Focus Features chief who released “The Kids Are All Right.” ‘These days with the Internet, it’s more important than ever, and it’s very hard to cut a good trailer for [seriocomedies]. If you go for the laugh you never get the full laugh because the humor is situational, and you can’t play the drama because then you kill the comedy vibe.’”
I think the death is due to two things: the declining quality of studio output and the hyperfocused nature of the American moviegoing audience. We want straight drama or straight comedy when we go to the movies; a hybrid just doesn’t satisfy much as it often feels like a muddled mess. That’s partially the fault of filmmakers, but I think that most moviegoers nowadays can’t handle them both together.
We all make dumb predictions; it happens to everyone. I called picking “How Do You Know” as one of my 10 predicted Best Picture nominees back in November one of my 10 dumbest of the year in my “10 for ’10” series.
Here’s how I stacked up the movie in my Oscar Moment back in November:
“I think comedy has some unfinished business with the Academy, and ‘How Do You Know’ could provide that perfect mixture of comedy and drama to score big with the voters.”
Well, the 36% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes didn’t do much for it, nor did the box office, which will struggle to top $30 million. For a movie that cost over $100 million to make, this is not good. The domestic grosses will be able to cover salaries for Reese Witherspoon ($15 million), Jack Nicholson ($12 million), and Paul Rudd ($3 million).
People didn’t think this could take a road worse than “Spanglish,” which made modest box office returns (about $55 million adjusted) in the same timeframe but no awards headway. With less money in the bank and not even a Golden Globe nomination to its name, it appears that the only recognition “How Do You Know” will receive is going to
I sure wish “How Do You Know” knew what it wanted from the beginning. James L. Brooks’ latest comedy is a study of three people uncertain of what they want for their futures. Nervous, frantic, and anxious, they each search for the answer to the questions they pose about their lives. But no one ever seems to find an answer, just a new question to occupy their thoughts. This makes for dynamic and neurotic characters, all portrayed with gusto by the sensational cast, but the movie feels like it’s running in circles around the same issues.
Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) is looking for a new life direction after her softball career is abruptly ended. George (Paul Rudd) is unsure of the next step in his life after being served an unexpected indictment. Serving more as comic relief, Matty (Owen Wilson) is an organized womanizer trying to figure out whether he loves Lisa enough to change his ways. ”How Do You Know” is really the story of Lisa and George, though, as they actively seek conviction in their life choices and wind up finding each other.
The two are incredibly vulnerable and emotional train-wrecks, never certain of where they are headed even when they begin a sentence. It starts out with George, caught between a rock and a hard place with pressure from his dad (Jack Nicholson) mounting as his head is about to be served on a platter to the prosecutors. But when the two meet on a blind date, all the neuroses transfer over to Lisa, who becomes increasingly unsure of her decision to move in with Matty and unable to remain committed to anything. While George’s options become more black and white, he is still just as lost as Lisa, and the two manage to find comfort in their mutual wandering.
Eek, I’m really scrounging for factoids … and not finding much. Honestly, a part of me just wants to say that I caught a really strange pop culture reference in “How Do You Know” today. On Reese Witherspoon’s mirror, there are all sorts of inspirational quotes about courage and other virtues. Then, there’s a quote from KeKe Palmer’s song “Bottoms Up.” You got some swagger, better let ‘em know; you got some swagger, better let ‘em show. It belongs right next to Shakespeare and Biblical passages.
(If you want to listen to the line, it’s around 2:10 in the video.)
Yet another part of me wants to tell you that my family’s Christmas tree was dubbed “The Avatar Tree” by me today after these horrific white orb lights we bought from Target make it look like those little dandelion spirits of the forest. My mom and I were going to dismantle the tree and replace them with new lights, but we decided to live with “The Avatar Tree” rather than waste two hours of our life for a tree that would like pretty for a week.
Or perhaps I’ll just complain about how peeved I am with the ticket-taker at AMC Studio 30, who won’t stop eyeing me as if I’m a 13-year-old trying to sneak into an R-rated movie. I showed you my ID once, I’M 18 YEARS OLD!
Maybe I’ll just cop out and post this funny cartoon I found thanks to /Film:
Speaking of WikiLeaks, has anyone noticed the resemblance??? It seems pretty obvious who’s going to play Julian Assange in the WikiLeaks movie. Future Oscar-winning performance right here.
I’m dog-beat, and this running around in circles trying to entertain you with a new factoid is about the best I can muster right now. I’ve come up with stories, opinions, and all sorts of other stuff for 507 straight days – today is a sort of reprieve where I just use this post for an open page to express all the stuff running around in my mind.
Hard to believe we are rapidly approaching the last month of 2010! Enjoy the movies now, because soon Hollywood will be offering us its scraps. We have an interesting December slate peppered with Oscar contenders and blockbusters, so it makes for an interesting mix. Let’s get started at our look!
I’ve already seen “Black Swan” (mwahaha), and you need to see it. Not for the faint at heart, I must warn.
FINALLY opening after being shuffled from preview post to preview post is “I Love You Phillip Morris,” the racy comedy starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor as lovers. It’s changed release dates so many times, in fact, that I’m not going to write anything about it just in case I jinx it. Also opening is “The Warrior’s Way,” which looks to potentially play “Norbit” for Geoffrey Rush’s Oscar chances. And “All Good Things” looks like a jumbled mess that might be worth checking out on video if for no other reason than to see Kristen Wiig’s first major dramatic turn. If you really need a Christmas movie, check out no-name distributor Freestyle’s release of “The Nutcracker” in 3D with Dakota Fanning’s sister and Nathan Lane!
Also in limited release is a documentary on Benazir Bhutto, the assassinated former Prime Minister of Pakistan, called “Bhutto.” I think she would be a fascinating subject, and I sure hope it comes to Houston.
“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” looks to undo the disastrous effects of Disneyfication on C.S. Lewis’ classic series. After “Prince Caspian,” the series needs a strong recovery. Here’s to hoping the venture with Fox can do it.
As for “The Tourist,” I like anything with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. This could be a totally formulaic thriller, but it’s Christmas and I have time to see whatever.
For all those interested in having Julia Taymor’s bad trips mess with their mind, “The Tempest” opens in limited release this Friday. The weekend also brings us “The Company Men” with Ben Affleck, which tackles the issue of unemployment in America. Unfortunately, the zeitgeist movie market has pretty much been cornered with “The Social Network,” so it’s going to take a backseat. ”Hemingway’s Garden of Eden” also heads your way in limited release, yet even with the big name expatriate author out in front, this still doesn’t excite me in the slightest.
Oh, and opening limited this weekend and wide December 17 is a little movie called “The Fighter.” It just stars a few no-names like Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale. It’s kind of got some minor buzz, so it could be worth checking out. (Note the sarcasm.)
“How Do You Know” is my top mainstream pick for December. The combination of the light dramedy of James L. Brooks with stars like Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, and Jack Nicholson is just endlessly appealing to me.
I feel like the jury is still out on what will become of “Tron: Legacy.” It’s sure going to be a visual effects phenomenon worth my IMAX money, but is it going to be any good? Quality doesn’t seem to shine through the numerous trailers. Maybe it’s some ’80s child thing I don’t get.
I’ve also seen “Rabbit Hole,” and it is more than worth your time and money in the busy Oscar bait season. Nicole Kidman is astounding. Also in the indie spectrum, Kevin Spacey stars in the late George Hickenlooper’s “Casino Jack,” a story of big influence on Capitol Hill. Expect the two-time Oscar winner to hit out of the park as usual.
In case your family was looking to fill the void that “Alvin and the Chipmunks” left in the holiday season, Warner Bros. has quite a treat in store for you with “Yogi Bear!”
As for big name, sure-fire Oscar bait, it doesn’t get much better than the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit.” It’s the perfect holiday movie that is totally not for the holiday season.
For more shoddy kids’ entertainment, you could also check out “Gulliver’s Travels” if you think that a non-animated Jack Black still has the capability to be funny. I don’t think he does, to be honest. As for “Little Fockers,” I don’t want to ruin whatever jokes the movie has up its sleeve by watching the trailer. Who knows, there could be few to be had.
In limited release, moody hipster Sofia Coppola has a new movie, “Somewhere,” to totally disrupt the mood of your holiday season. There’s also Gwenyth Paltrow in “Crazy Heart” — I mean, “Country Strong.” More on that when it opens wide in January.
I’ve been hearing good things all year about “The Illusionist,” an animated movie about a magician, NOT the Edward Norton starrer from 2006. It obviously won’t be making Houston in 2010, but I hope I get to catch it some time before it hits Netflix.
The year closes with three awards-type movies: the depressing “Biutiful,” the Mike Leigh unfunny comedy “Another Year,” and the intense NC-17 “Blue Valentine.” I’ll see all three, but the only one I’ll be rushing the box office for is the latter, starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.
So, what are YOU looking forward to in December? I’m tightening up the poll this month to save some space by eliminating some of the less popular titles that never get votes.
No one knows much about “How Do You Know” at the present moment. But any movie that comes from director/writer/producer James L. Brooks has to be considered given the man’s 60% track record in scoring Best Picture nominations for his movies.
I’ve only seen his latest two movies, “As Good As It Gets” (which I totally adore) and “Spanglish” (which is still good although to a much lesser degree). But the man has directed a Best Picture winner with “Terms of Endearment” and picked up a nice Best Director trophy for himself while he was at it. Brooks is an incredibly influential figure in comedy, and as I pointed out in my column on “Love & Other Drugs,” that’s not an incredibly popular genre with the Academy. To land three movies in the winner’s circle is a pretty huge accomplishment.
So what’s he up to now? A comedy with comedic actors laced with drama. His previous movies have starred, for the most part, dramatic actors – unless you dare to call Shirley MacLaine, William Hurt, and Jack Nicholson comedians. It will be interesting to see how critics and voters react to this shift in tactics. ”Spanglish” starred Adam Sandler, and they pretty much spat that right back out; will “How Do You Know” be any different?
To its advantage, it does have two Academy Award winners on the marquee: Reese Witherspoon as the headliner and Jack Nicholson in a supporting role. I think wins are out of the question; Witherspoon because she won for a much more serious role, and Nicholson because he has enough with three. The Golden Globes could nominate Witherspoon in a heartbeat in the musical/comedy category, and I could even see Jack getting an Oscar nomination because they love so darn much.
The other two leads are played by Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd, both of whom have a fair amount of respect compared to other similar performers (cough, Jack Black/Will Ferrell). I think it would be pretty amazing for Owen Wilson to score an Oscar nomination given the field (assuming he competes in leading actor) and his often poor selection of films leading up to this (“Drillbit Taylor,” anyone?). Paul Rudd, on the other hand, has picked movies that have gotten his comedic talents some good notes from high up. And according to Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere, he could actually be a contender for this movie:
“The guy who delivers the goods is Paul Rudd. This will raise his profile to the A-list. This is a guaranteed Best Supporting Actor nomination.”
I’m a huge Paul Rudd fan, and I can probably quote every single line in “Role Models” that he utters. So I’m all for him getting an Oscar nomination. Best Supporting Actor has been particularly kind to comedic actors in the past decade with winner Alan Arkin for “Little Miss Sunshine” and nominations for Robert Downey Jr. in “Tropic Thunder” and Thomas Haden Church in “Sideways.” My only worry for Rudd is that he could be pushed out by Mark Ruffalo in “The Kids Are All Right,” which could be a stronger overall awards play. But in my mind, the males of that movie were the weak link, and I don’t feel as much buzz around him as I do Bening or Moore.
As for the movie as a whole, I feel like Best Original Screenplay is a category that the movie could easily score in given the pretty slim field this year. Best Director is not quite as likely given that Brooks has already won. But Best Picture, now that’s an interesting proposition.
Smart comedy is something that many people speculated that the Academy would want to reward with the expanded Best Picture field. They get their recognition at the Golden Globes, but very few find their way into the big dance (with a few notable exceptions over the past few years). I think comedy has some unfinished business with the Academy, and “How Do You Know” could provide that perfect mixture of comedy and drama to score big with the voters. Dave Karger of Entertainment Weekly stood up for it in October, writing:
“Here’s the one case where I’m apparently the most alone in my thinking, as no other participant has the film on his or her list. But I have faith in the upcoming Reese Witherspoon romantic comedy based on writer/director James L. Brooks’ selected track record (‘Broadcast News,’ ‘Terms of Endearment’) and the positive buzz I’ve been hearing about costar Paul Rudd’s performance. Here’s hoping it’s not another ‘Spanglish.’”
Karger ranked it as his fifth selection, which shows a lot of confidence. It’s hard to judge anything until the movie gets seen by a lot of critics, so right now all I have is speculation based on little substantive evidence. But with James L. Brooks, we can make those guesses pretty educated.
BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Rudd), Best Original Screenplay
OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor (Nicholson)