Friday, June 19, 2009

Comedic prehistory

It's Michael Cera week, for all you Michael Cera lovers out there. This is the second straight post where his face has adorned the artwork. However, you may not love what I'm going to say about him.

Comedies have been on a roll the past few years, in my humble opinion. I guess I don't have to be humble about it, because a lot of people agree with me. Ever since Judd Apatow has become the primary driving force in comedy (a post for another time -- in fact, I may time that post for the July 31st release of Funny People), there have been a lot more hits than misses among comedies loosely defined by Apatow and his interests. Namely, shlubs dealing humorously with everyday problems -- losing your virginity, going through pregnancy, surviving a bachelor party, dealing with a breakup. It's the absurdity that's built in to the normalcy that makes us connect with these movies.

So why, pray tell, would Jack Black, Michael Cera and writer/director Harold Ramis want to go back to the high concept days of Mel Brooks?

(Oh crap. I just looked at the production credits for Year One, and Apatow is a producer. Nonetheless.)

I get why they thought it would be funny, I guess. They're going to apply the quintessentially modern comic shtick of Black and Cera to the stone age, with the certainty that just saying the lines with a contemporary inflection will make them funnier. Which I simply don't think will be the case.

It's no surprise that Year One reminds a person of Mel Brooks' A History of the World Part I. That too tried to shoehorn modern vernacular/attitudes into a variety of ancient periods of history. And yeah, I laughed when one guy's using the word "Christ" in its modern sense, as the substitute for a swear word, while the actual Jesus Christ is sitting across the room, thinking he's being addressed.

But that was 1981. We filmgoers barely even knew what a parody was back then. And even that movie was more stink than fresh.

Everything that's old is new again, so 28 years later, we're probably ready for another movie like this. But then again, the comedy world has shifted in another direction. High-concept comedies just don't have the power to lure us like they once did. We don't want to see Three Amigos updated, do we?

I'm also pretty sure it's going to be the 10,000 B.C. of comedies, where time periods are haphazardly mixed together so that "everything old" can co-exist in the same movie. Are they cavemen? Are they Romans? Are they Roman cavemen? Who knows. And this doesn't matter as much in a comedy -- we're not supposed to care. But I have a feeling this might be the kind of movie that would cause me to nitpick.

And I'm a little over these two stars as well. Many comedy stars are overexposed -- I'm looking at you, Will Ferrell, and surprisingly, you already Danny McBride. And I have the feeling Year One could make us even more tired of Jack Black, and freshly tired of Michael Cera. It's hard to speak ill of Cera, because he's so essentially sweet. But his eye-contact-avoiding, nervous shy guy is starting to seem a little played out, isn't it? What's more, I'm getting a whiff of self-satisfaction from these two. I recently happened to catch a promotional bit they did on Jimmy Kimmel, where they were both caught in an elevator for the length of their appearance on the show. It left them both to relentlessly peddle what they do -- Black being outrageous and over-the-top, and Cera being the exact opposite. I felt like I needed a middle ground.

These are scattered thoughts, in part because I started writing this post several hours ago, and am now trying to finish it on the same day I started it, before going to bed.

But let's just say I greet Year One with wariness. It's the kind of throwback I don't think we need right now.

No comments: