Friday, February 8, 2008

The-Quirky-Comedy-That-Could Backlash

It happens every year. Well, okay, maybe not every year. But most years. Some years.


A low-budget quirky comedy does well. Its box office breaks $60M or $80M or sometimes even $100M. Maybe it gets nominated for an Oscar.

Then comes the backlash: It was trite. Its characters weren't real. It was formulaic. It was sitcommy.

This year, it's Juno, which recently broke the $100M mark. You can read my review at the link, fi you like. I enjoyed it, in particular for the way the story played out differently than other similar stories have played out in the recent past. (Though I would probably note that, feature film-wise, except for the teen sex comedies of the early '80s that patterned themselves after Fast Times At Ridgemont High, the woman always keeps the baby, e.g., the mostly forgotten Lucy Arnaz/Craig Wasson '80s abortion-comedy movie Second Thoughts.)

Last year, of course, it was Little Miss Sunshine. This was hyped incredibly and then attacked for all the things I just mentioned. And, true, there was a predictability to it, as in any seasoned filmgoer knew just which cast member more-or-less had to end up dead by the third act. And the form that Olive's final dance number would take was equally predictable.

Yet, for a fun little summer comedy, that's exactly what it was: A fun little summer comedy. Just like Napoleon Dynamite. And just like Juno, except they released in the winter.

Instapundit has highlighted two negative reviews in the past two days. The first is from neo-neocon. She's put-off by a lack of, I guess you'd call it, vibrancy. The characters are too low key for her, too flat, ironic, sarcastic, etc. The second is from Kyle Smith, who regards it as a "hipster" movie.

As with complaints made against Sunshine and Napoleon, I wouldn't really disagree with the criticisms raised. (I would take issue with some of the more politically oriented criticisms, which object to the non-abortion solution to the pregnancy problem, but that's for another time.) I can't really address the "hipster" complaint, because I'm never really sure what that means. I mean, I know it's meant derogatorily, but the parameters of actual hipsterism evade me. It sounds like a code for "people who talk in a way that they probably think is clever but which annoys me."

As I've known a lot of people who talked and acted like the characters in Juno, I can't really find fault with their energy level (or hipsterism, I guess). And I could cover all the ways that the exact things these reviewers objected to actually worked for me. I'm pretty sure that doing so wouldn't reflect upon me badly as a human being (though note how often disagreeing with someone on a matter of taste is framed that way), just as one who experienced a movie differently.

I don't usually make movie recommendations to people in general, believe it or not. (And when I'm writing I tend toward a Joe Bob-esque "Check it out" sort of formulation, which Joe Bob Briggs wrote at the end of every movie review no matter how bad he thought it was.)

But honestly, I typically have to know a person very well before I can say, with any sort of assurance, "Yes, you will like this movie." And I try not to frame movie preference in ad hominem terms--but of course it's more fun that way.

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