(Once Again Belated) Weekend Update – August 17, 2011

17 08 2011

“What is comedy? Comedy is the art of making people laugh without making them puke.”

– Steve Martin

“I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose.”

– Woody Allen

There’s a MASSIVE analysis of comedy down at the bottom.  Please read and comment or I’ll feel like all my hard work was for nothing.

In case you missed it…

I gave two stellar reviews this week for summer closers “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and “The Help” as well as major kudos to Dominic Cooper’s performance in “The Devil’s Double.”  Things were not so rosy for “Final Destination 5,” “Another Earth,” or “30 Minutes or Less.”  Speaking of the latter, this week’s “F.I.L.M.” was “Roger Dodger,” the film debut of Jesse Eisenberg.

Recommended Reading

Here’s some of the good stuff I was reading.  If you don’t like to read, then why are you on my site?

Sunday Funnies

The New York Latino Film Festival’s ad campaign revolved around movie clichés and implausibilities, and they nail some of the stuff we just accept spot on.  (via /Film)

The Inadvertent Activist

On Monday, I noticed a humongous uptick in traffic.  Naturally, I got a little skeptical, especially when a lot of the hits were coming from Facebook.  Then I started getting a lot of redirects from a site called R-Word.org.  I had heard of this site before, but in case you haven’t, here’s a video that succinctly states their mission:

They saw that I had called out the filmmakers of “The Change-Up” in my review for senselessly using these people as the butt of a joke.  Some people are calling for radical action, and they have done a good job of making their voices heard.  But as offensive as it is, the writers have the right to free speech and can say it if they want.  The joke falls flat in the movie, and if you do for some reason decide to see it after my D+ review, use it as a reminder to eradicate the word from your casual vernacular. If you want more information on this campaign, click the picture below.

An R-Rated Renaissance?

In The Los Angeles Times back in July, Steven Zeitchik asked this question, “How deep will the R-rated renaissance run?”  He cites the statistic that 2011 is “the first year ever that at least four R-rated comedies have topped [$75 million].

I’d like to respond back with this question: is this what a Renaissance supposed to look like?  Because all I see is one comedic gem shining amidst a surplus of lackluster and forgettable others.  Just because there has been a great quantity hardly means there has been great quality.  Before I jump into my own analysis, I’d like to review my reviews of the seven R-rated comedies of summer 2011.

While “Bridesmaids” does ultimately have its heart planted in romantic comedy, it’s got one killer funny bone.  There are plenty of big laughs to go around here, be they from physical comedy, hilarious situations, or witty writing.  B+

“The Hangover Part II” is like breathing in airplane air.  Recycled, stale, but better than not having air to breathe at all.  In essence, it gives you exactly what you expected – and nothing more.  B

If this is supposed to be a satire of the American education system, then its writers clearly failed ninth grade English.  It may expose human folly and error, but “Bad Teacher” doesn’t take Halsey down the path of criticism and ridicule, but rather down the path of a romantic comedy heroine.  C

 ”Horrible Bosses” is definitely irreverent, but it’s a dish that tastes best to those who have ever had to work under Satan … or who happened to have not seen “The Hangover.”  B-

If you can look past the shamelessness in being just another romantic comedy, you might find that “Friends with Benefits” is a pretty decent movie. It’s wickedly funny, undoubtedly helped by its R-rated liberty to be raunchy, disgusting, and vulgar to the extremes.  B

“The Change-Up” represents that lazy and misplaced mentality that  doubling the crudeness and gutting the inventiveness down to next to nothing will still produce a good comedy.  D+

While Ruben Fleischer’s directorial debut was a fun, creative comedy, his second go-round, “30 Minutes or Less,” is exactly the opposite.  It feels like something Adam Sandler didn’t have time to squeeze in his schedule between “The Waterboy” and “Big Daddy.”  C+

As of August 16, 2011.

We’ve seen quite a variety of success both critically and commercially for these movies.  “The Hangover Part II” capitalized on goodwill from its predecessor for the highest live-action comedy debut in history but failed to sprout the legs of the original.  “Bridesmaids” used its originality and humor to show remarkable strength all summer, rarely dropping more than 30% per weekend and stayed in the top 10 for eight weeks, something no other movie achieved this summer, not even “Transformers” and likely not even “Harry Potter.”  Its opening weekend will amount to barely over 15% of its total gross, second to only “Midnight in Paris” among wide releases so far this year.  “Horrible Bosses” opened decently but benefitted from strong word of mouth and will likely wind up at around $120 million.

“Bad Teacher” opened strongly but lost steam quickly and will likely fall short of the magic $100 million.  “Friends with Benefits,” kicking off the back half of the 2011 R-rated summer, wasn’t able to match the opening of “No Strings Attached” and then hemorrhaged greatly each weekend, only remaining in the top 10 for 3 weekends.  It will probably wind up earning around $60 million.  “The Change-Up” and “30 Minutes or Less” both opened around $13.4 million, disappointing starts that probably point to both earning below $40 million, or how much “The Hangover Part II” grossed in a day and a half.

So whether you judge by critical or audience reaction, this really doesn’t seem like a Renaissance in comedic filmmaking.  In case you happen to be easy to please when it comes to comedies or are actually impressed by these statistics, let me lay out the definitive case that this definitely NOT a Renaissance.

The box office record books are usually kept in terms of how much money a movie made when it opened.  However, as I explained in a post last year when “Avatar” was proclaimed the new highest grossing movie ever, this may not be the best way to chronicle box office glory.  Here’s an excerpt from that post, entitled “Unadjusted vs. Adjusted Box Office.”

“Simply put, the adjusted system measures a movie’s box office not by the amount of revenue that it brings in, but rather by the amount of tickets sold.  The domestic gross of a movie is how much in cash the movie brought in…

Box office speculators often make a big fuss over the $100 million mark, a common indicator for success.  2009 was the biggest year for $100 million in history – according to the domestic system.  But in previous years, it has taken more total tickets sold to hit that mark.  In 2009, it took over 13.3 million tickets to make $100 million.  But in 1990, when ‘GoodFellas’ was released, it took well over 23.6 million tickets to make the same amount.  After a little bit of math, I discovered that it only took $55.6 million in that year to make the equivalent of $100 million.

According to the adjusted system, ‘Avatar’ is not number 1.  With a gross of $603 million, it has yet to even crack the top 20.  The #1 movie is “Gone with the Wind,” which made the modern equivalent of nearly $1.5 billion.  It reached such an astronomical gross because it played for years in American theaters.  And yet on the domestic chart where ‘Avatar’ ranks #1, ‘Gone with the Wind’ is one $200 million movie away from being knocked out of the top 100.”

Granted that with the growth of at-home options and the emergence of independent and arthouse cinemas, largely due to the scaling-down and increase affordability of filmmaking equipment, competition makes the disparity a little bit exaggerated.  Yet when you look at the difference in attendance from today’s movies to decades-old comedies, that can’t count for a gap this big.

When you look at the unadjusted domestic chart, the highest grossing adult comedy is “Meet the Fockers” at $279.2 million.  Just below it is the highest grossing R-rated comedy, 2009’s “The Hangover” at $277.3 million; the second-highest grossing R-rated comedy is “The Hangover Part II” at about $254 million.  Nowadays, it’s pretty much unheard of for a comedy to reach $200 million.

However, when you examine the chart that adjusts for inflation, you’ll see that comedy hasn’t always been such a hard sell for Americans.  The most attended R-rated comedy ranks at #40 on the adjusted chart, 1984’s “Beverly Hills Cop,” which made the equivalent of $535 million in terms 0f 2011 tickets.  That’s twice what “The Hangover Part II” made this summer and more than any “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie would have made at these ticket prices.

Other R-rated comedies would have made mind-boggling sums adjusted as well.  1973’s “Blazing Saddles” would have made $503 million and ranks higher in attendance than any “Lord of the Rings” movie.  1978’s “Animal House,” which Stephen Zeitchik calls the birth of the modern R-rated comedy, would have grossed $477 million and ranks higher than any “Harry Potter” movie.  1970’s “MASH” would have grossed $427 million and ranks higher than any “Toy Story” movie.

So going by these standards, how can you even begin to call this a Renaissance when “Horrible Bosses” is dubbed a box office success despite bringing in a quarter of the attendance of these comedic smashes?  If anything, look to the 1980s as the “Golden Age” of R-rated comedy and the 2000s as a sort of “New Wave.”  For comparison, here’s what the R-rated comedies were pulling in during the Reagan Era:

 1980

  • “Stir Crazy” – $300 million
  • “Private Benjamin” – $206.9 million
  • “The Blues Brothers” – $169.5 million
  • “Caddyshack” – $118 million

1981

  • “Stripes” – $244.5 million

1982

  • “Porky’s” – $285.9 million
  • “48 HRS” – $213.8 million

1983

  • “Risky Business” – $160.7 million

1984

  • “Beverly Hills Cop” – $535 million
  • “Police Academy” – $192.6 milion
  • “Revenge of the Nerds” – $97 million

1985

  • “The Breakfast Club” – $103 million

1986

  • “Ruthless People” – $153.8 million
  • “Down & Out In Beverly Hills” – $133.4 million

1987

  • “Beverly Hills Cop II” – $313.3 million
  • “Good Morning Vietnam” – $252.5 million
  • “Lethal Weapon” – $132.9 million
  • “Broadcast News” – $104.4 million
  • “Eddie Murphy Raw” – $103 million
  • “Plains, Trains and Automobiles” – $101 million

1988

  • “Coming to America” – $252.1 million
  • “Working Girl” – $123.6 million
  • “A Fish Called Wanda” – $121.1 million
  • “Bull Durham” – $98.6 million

1989

  • “Lethal Weapon 2” – $295.6 million
  • “When Harry Met Sally” – $186.3 million
  • “The War of the Roses” – $174.4 million
  • “Tango & Cash” – $127.3 million
  • “Major League” – $99.9 million

Particularly towards the end of the decade, that starts looking incredibly impressive.  It wasn’t just a couple of exceptions or flukes; R-rated comedies were dependable sources of money and entertainment.  If you were looking closely, you’ll spy two Best Picture nominees on that list and seven of the American Film Institute’s funniest films of all time.  There was obviously one dominant star, Eddie Murphy, whose standup act could bring in more viewers than Cameron Diaz could with “Bad Teacher.”

The genre had a turbulent time in the 1990s, starting with a bang thanks to “Pretty Woman” scoring $336 million and an Oscar nod for star Julia Roberts.  Yet successes were few and far between, and the ones that did well were usually blended with another genre: action-comedy “Lethal Weapon 3” ($277.9 million), dramedy “Jerry Maguire” ($277.6 million), horror comedy “Scream” ($185.8 million).  An exception would be “The Birdcage” which scored a cool $223.7 million in 1996.  Then along came “There’s Something About Mary,” which was the surprise hit of summer 1998, grossing $300 million from a very unique run – the movie reached #1 for the first time 8 weeks after release!

Then there was a short boom, headlined by 1999’s “American Pie” ($161 million) and 2000’s “Scary Movie” ($232.1 million) and their sequels, but the genre was still not reliably producing hits.  Then, two movies came along that sparked interest in the R-rated comedy again in the summer of 2005, reminding us of the humor they could provide with all their boundless freedom.  “Wedding Crashers” was the sleeper hit of the year, grossing $258 million and garnering widespread critical acclaim.  A few weeks later, the world got its first taste of Judd Apatow, the man who is now the leading name of the genre’s rebirth, with “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”  It only grossed $136 million, but its massive appeal to audiences and critics alike had people in love with R-rated comedy again.

The genre got a boost from the poor showing of PG-13 comedies from the so-called “Frat Pack” or “Slacker Pack” of Will Ferrell, Jack Black, Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, and Owen Wilson.  The summer of 2007 brought “Knocked Up” and “Superbad” to the tune of $172.3 million and $140.7, respectively.  Those movies both received widespread critical acclaim at 87% and 90% on Rotten Tomatoes.  If there was any doubt ater 2005 that the R-rated comedy was back and here to stay, there couldn’t be any now.

Then the floodgates opened and we started getting a mixed bag, a mix of stupid vulgarity and smart Apatow Factory flicks.  Here’s what we’ve had since August 2007:

The Good

  • “The Hangover” (2009) – $294.7 million
  • “The Hangover Part II” (2011) – $254 million
  • “Bridesmaids” (2011) – $167.2 million
  • “Tropic Thunder” (2008) – $122.7 million

The Alright

  • “It’s Complicated” (2009) – $119.8 million
  • “Step Brothers” (2008) – $111.5 million
  • “Horrible Bosses” (2011) – $110.6 million
  • “Due Date” (2010) – $101.5 million
  • “Bad Teacher” (2011) – $97.9 million
  • “Pineapple Express” (2008) – $96.9 million
  • “The Ugly Truth” (2009) – $94.4 million
  • “Zombieland” (2009) – $80.3 million

The Average

  • “I Love You Man” (2009) – $75.9 million *
  • “Role Models” (2008) – $74.7 million *
  • “No Strings Attached” (2011) – $70.6 million
  • “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (2008) – $70.1 million

The Disappointments

  • “Bruno” (2009) – $63.8 million
  • “Get Him to the Greek” (2010) – $61.6 million *
  • “Funny People” (2009) – $55.1 million
  • “Friends with Benefits” (2011) – $53.6 million **
  • “Hot Tub Time Machine” (2011) – $50.7 million
  • “Cop Out” (2010) – $45.3 million
  • “Hall Pass” (2011) – $45 million
  • “Death at a Funeral” (2010) – $43.1 million
  • “Semi-Pro” (2008) – $37.1 million
  • “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” (2008) – $34.9 million
  • “Love and Other Drugs” (2010) – $32.7 million
  • “The Change-Up” (2011) – $27.7 million **
  • “Your Highness” (2011) – $21.6 million
  • “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” (2007) – $21.2 million
  • “Going the Distance” (2010) – $18 million
  • “Jennifer’s Body” (2009) – $17.2 million
  • “30 Minutes or Less” (2011) – $17 million **
  • “MacGruber” (2010) – $8.6 million

* – Unfairly placed here, ** – Still in release but unlikely to leave the disappointment area.

That hardly looks consistent to me.  For every movie does as well fiscally and critically as “Bridesmaids,” there are three movies that do poorly like “The Change-Up.”  Most of these movies are entirely forgettable, and I’d argue that my favorites of the bunch didn’t even do well at the box office.  Just because there has been quantity this summer doesn’t mean there has been great quality.  In reality, all this summer amounts to is the Hollywood reaction to the success of “The Hangover.”

So, am I right or wrong?  Is this a Renaissance?

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4 responses

18 08 2011
Steven Flores

Thanks for the love man.

I’m not really into Hollywood comedies because they don’t do it for me anymore. I don’t think it’s a Renaissance but rather a regression of Hollywood just running out of ideas. It’s become more like “So-and-so derp-de-derp does derpity-derpy-derp”. I really miss Mel Brooks and the guys of Monty Python.

18 08 2011
Whiffer

WELL…it’s not quite as intense as “Black Swan” (and how could it be?) But still cool.

…thanks for the referral by the way; there was a sudden uptick in people who saw the link and clicked on it. And good luck at the Christian Science Monitor (!).

18 08 2011
Brian

Thanks for the linkage!

The R-rated comedy bit is incredibly interesting to me. I wonder how much life the movement has left in it. Way too many of those films have been exceedingly lame this year.

19 08 2011
Sam Fragoso

Thank you for the link Marshall. Hope you enjoy “The Guard”

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