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🎬 #22 Laughs and Lunatics.
Black comedy or dark comedy, whatever you want to call it is a weird combination of words. I think the first time I saw them together was when I saw Fight Club in the TV guide and it said ‘A black comedy about…’ and I thought how can comedy be black?
That’s what this week’s films do so well, make us feel uncomfortable, make us wonder is it ok to laugh at this/enjoy this? Black comedy is that for me - being shown something that sparks that kind of reaction.
Happy choosing, happy viewing
FILM ONE: PUNCH DRUNK LOVE
2002 Dir Paul Thomas Anderson
I came to this film in probably the opposite way to a lot of film fans. I was a big Adam Sandler admirer and saw the trailer for this and thought that looks strange and weird and not like his other films. So I was hooked.
In its high moments there is a magical, almost musical quality to the film. A story of a lonely man who gets caught up in ‘love’ in different ways and the consequences of those encounters. Sandler utilises his ability to create outbursts from nothing for some truly shocking moments that totally undercut this cartoon, whimsical world that Paul Thomas Anderson creates. These are often the moments where the audience is stunned into silence not knowing how to react. It’s funny but should I laugh at it?
Stylistically, the production design, shooting style and colour palette further emphasise this as a technicolor world, it’s only in it’s darker ‘more real’ moments where the tone shifts to something that feels a lot more dread-full - a lot less colourful and bright. The two sides of Barry’s personality brought to life cinematically. Like so many of PT Anderson’s films there are bold choices at every turn. In particular the use of Jeremy Blake’s animated paintings as interstitials between scenes. These further add to the film’s surreal and magical quality.
Adam Sandler’s Barry is a man who largely goes through life feeling misunderstood and in his own words ‘not liking himself.’ But this all changes when Emily Blunt’s Lena enters his life. He feels like someone ‘gets’ him and so begin the ups and downs of a burgeoning romance. When it comes to love, this is a story that exists outside of reality. In one striking scene Barry punches the wall in frustration and the cuts and bruises on his hand spell out love.
This is the first time Sandler stepped out of his usual comfort zone to create a character that’s both weirdly similar but totally different to his usual roles. He’s playing up to and against people’s expectations of him as an actor. His child-like wonder and gentleness together with his star power and explosive reactions make Barry a force to be reckoned with. This is Sandler and Anderson at their most lyrical.
TL;DR why should I spend 1 hr 35 mins of my precious life watching this? Fall in love with love as Anderson, Sandler and Watson join forces to create a modern, bizarre and brilliant fairy tale.
*Available for a small rental fee on Apple TV, Google Play, YouTube, Amazon and Sky Store.
Fact: It took Adam Sandler a long time to accept the role - sighting Anderson’s last film Magnolia saying ‘if that’s what you want, I can’t do that.’ Eventually Anderson convinced him by saying that he wanted to go in a very different direction to his previous film.
FILM TWO: THE KING OF COMEDY
1982 Dir Martin Scorcese
Like many films I love, I first discovered this late at night probably on BBC 2 or Channel 4 when I was pretty young. It tells the story of Rupert Pupkin, a delusional but dedicated wannabe stand-up comedian and his quest to achieve his dream. This quest is best summed up in his often repeated personal mantra ‘better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime.’
He’s assisted on his quest by another fan, who Pupkin thinks is deranged even by his standards - Masha, played by Sandra Bernhard. Scorcese’s study of Pupkin and his unrelenting dedication is like a weirdly comic version of Bickle in Taxi Driver. His frequent day dreams blending reality and fantasy to the point that you’re not sure what is real and what isn’t.
The most powerful moments for me are those where we see Pupkin practicing his craft in front of a cardboard cutout audience in his mother’s basement. The wide shot slowly creeping in on his back as he performs to his paper admirers. Or when he is practicing his appearance on his favourite late night talk show. The amazingly committed but hard to watch performance is filled with pauses and fake laughs as he interacts with the invisible version of his hero Jerry Langford.
In the end you can’t help but root for Rupert even as he goes to horrible lengths to achieve his dreams. If the film feels familiar it’s because Todd Philips used it as one of his key reference points for Joker.
The entire film can be summed up in one shot from the opening title sequence. A camera flash-lit mid shot of Rupert peering into Langford’s limo through a window. A portrait of a solitary man, an outsider, whose dream is so close but yet so far.
TL;DR why should I spend 1 hr 49 mins of my precious life watching this? Scorcese’s tale of celebrity obsession and ambition at all costs feels more poignant than ever these days - sit back and let the awkward, embarrassing charm and dark laughs keep you riveted to the screen.
*Available for a small rental fee on Apple TV, Google Play and YouTube.
Fact: Jerry Lewis insisted they change the character name [Originally Bobby Langford] to Jerry so they could use people’s real reactions when they spotted him on the streets of New York.