Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Breaking down the humor of viral youtube clip "Anne Hathaway Freaks Out on the Set of Rachel Getting Married"


This latest viral clip, "Anne Hathaway Getting Married" is by comedienne Sara Benincasa who's slowly eclipsing LisaNova as the funniest girl on youtube. Anyway, I started thinking about this and deciding to do a full-on analysis about why this is funny and how this is particularly genius. The youtube clip is an audio parody of Christian Bale's explosive outburt at the director of photography (or DP for short)on the set of Terminator Salvation last week. In this fictitous clip, Anne Hathaway has a similar tirade at the Director of Photography for Rachel Getting Married.
Let's really break down the humor until it's no longer funny:

1. It's well-researched:
Sara Benincasa has either seen this film and knows more about its plot than I do (I also watched this film but found some of the plot to be confusing). Considering that one could easily make fun of Rachel Getting Married by watching the trailer or seeing a review, you have to admire a comedian for being so thorough as to actually watch a 2-hour art film just so they can make jokes about it. The actual names of the Director of Photography, Declan Quinn, her costars and their filmographies are all accurate (she could have looked that up on imdb). But her references to a sex scene in which she has her clothes on, the interracial dynamic of the new family (something touched upon in actual reviews of the film), the filmographies and context of various castmembers in the film.
She alludes to Rosemarie DeWitt's increased profile and the possible ego boost it might give her now that her show Mad Men has won the SAGs, Emmys, and Golden Globes.
Why is this funny?
Humor grounded not just in truth, but in exact details, makes for better parody. Think how Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein is funnier because it recreates the original film shot-for-shot. Another example is when Tina Fey delivered an acceptance speech at the Academy Awards when she singled out actual screen names of internet users who trashed her.

2. The fact that Anne Hathaway thinks that these people are compared to the amutuers who made Bride Wars:
Again, a fairly intelligent piece of context of the situation flipped upside down on its head.
So let's look at the context: Many respected actors and actresses today have not always had a history of being respected because they were previously known as comic talents (i.e. Bill Murray, Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell), singer/rappers (Queen Latifah, Mark Wahlberg, Will Smith, Beyonce, etc), or hot women (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Charlize Theron). All of these actors and actresses owe their success to one single film that broke them out of that role (see appendix). Anne Hathaway is like that but in a different category. She's very cute and girly and makes a good leading lady for a romantic comedy or some cute Disneyesque film like The Princess Diaries. 90% of Anne Hathaway's work (except Brokeback Mountain) is her giggling and acting all cute and girly, but since she is now nominated for an Oscar and acted very non-cute in Rachel Getting Married, she owes any future work she gets to that film.
The irony here is that Anne Hathaway is criticizing the people on this set for not being as great as the cast of Bride Wars when the upcoming film, Bride Wars is as derivative and generic as all her previous work.

2b. The further incongruities of Anne Hathaway's state of mixed-up logic:
Anne Hathaway is being presented as someone who wants to take control of her career and image (why else would she be throwing a tirade on the set) but she wants a director who can allow her to do more full-frontal nudity. Again, a small bit of irony, but she seems to be disrupting the set and complaining because she wants to take her career backwards.

3. Mastering the tag and escalate
Tagging is what Conan O'Brien refers to as hitting the audience with a joke, and then when the audience is laughing at that joke, tagging something onto the back of the joke within the same context. You can do this a few times in a row and it will drive it to absurdity. The monologue does a wonderful job of tagging on a few occasions: In the "you aren't the f-ing cast of Bride Wars" part, she says "that movie was a feminist tour de force" (when, ironically, she's starring in the most feminist movie to come along ever), we're laughing at that, and she hits us with a rephrasing of the same statement, in an even more absurd statement "I felt like I was reading the feminine mystique meets the belljar." It's escalation. The best example of this is the part about how she "raped" her costar. Let's review this:
"Heather Matarazzo, I'm in a bad mood and she'd be like ok"......tag......escalate "I'm gonna f-ing rape you at 3:00 weiner dog and she'd be like 'fine'.....tag....(if you don't think that's funny enough, here comes an escalation).......escalate "and then i'd actually rape her and it was fun and everyone would let me"..tag.....escalate..."and we're still friends today"...tag....escalate...."and those are some of the best sexual experiences she or I have ever head today." See the idea here about how this gets more and more absurd? I particularly like the part (towards the end) about everyone "letting her rape Heather" as if consent for sex is given by a third-party or a consensus of third parties (did everyone on set meet and take a vote over whether they'd allow Anne Hathaway to rape her?).

4. It's risky, but not overly offensive
Now, if you're going to be offended that they're making fun of rape, consider that this is not by definition rape since Heather said "fine" to the rape (which sounds like a deliciously uncharacteristic answer to whether you want to have sex or not). The idea of the entire set consenting to Anne Hathaway having sex with Heather makes it sound even MORE consentual than sex, in fact. Consider how much less funny and how much more disturbing this would have been if the line about Heather Matarazzo (I still haven't even looked up who that is, btw) consenting wasn't used. Also, there are three targets of Anne's wrath in fact, but none are for valid reasons: Rosemarie DeWitt stars on a TV show, the director of photography Declan is being made fun of because it's a parody of Christian Bale's tirade, and Julie Andrews is a much-loved icon whose status as America's favorite nanny makes her pretty much bullet-proof, so none of these tirades come across as being mean-spirited. If she started making fun of some intermediate figure like director Johnothan Demme, who for all we know, could be a humongous jerk, that might come across as worse. If she bashed Rosemarie DeWitt for logical reasons, then we might also find it vindictive or tasteless, but she sticks to the absurd. It reminds me of when Jack Black and Will Ferrell threatened to beat Peter O'Toole over the head with a Nickelodeon award because he's legendary: because the threat has no basis in truth, it has no negative connotations and we can enjoy it.

Appendix: Examples of actors and actresses who owe one single movie for remaking their career:
-Rappers or Singers include Mark Wahlberg for The Departed, Queen Latifah for Chicago, Mos Def for Hitchhiker's Guide, Will Smith for Six Degrees of Seperation.
-Comic talents: Bill Murray for Lost in Translation or Will Ferrell for Stranger than Fiction, Adam Sandler for Punch Drunk Love
-Hot ladies: Charlize Theron in Monster, Catherine Zeta-Jones in Traffic or Chicago, Cameron Diaz in Gangs of New York

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