Monday, January 25, 2010

The case for or against the indie dramedy

One notable trend I've found in the last decade is that 4 films made the Best Picture Oscar shortlist that could be classified as dramedies: Sideways, Lost in Translation, Little Miss Sunshine and Juno. I would argue that two of these barely even had any humor in them at all. What unites them all is that they're dialogue and character centered and feel very personal. They get the comedy label by virtue of being classified as such by the Golden Globes race. My theory is that they get into the Oscar race because the Academy decides "we'll nominate some dark and gritty dramas and mix it up a little by nominating one from the comedy/musical column." They were also very strong films. Each of these made my top 10 of the year and I think all four are strong films (although Juno has faded a little bit in retrospect).

The problem is that for every Lost in Translation there's a Savages or a Rachel Getting Married which aren't as enjoyable to watch but are marketed as comedies. Check out the trailer for Rachel Getting Married. It looks like a comedy but it isn't.

Small indie films have to market themselves somehow and they generally have less of an overarching plot to offer so the only solution in a character piece like this would be to try to find some remotely comic moments and string them together. The film even uses creative editing to make it seem even funnier. At :044 for example, Rachel's mother asks "Is your sister behaving herself?", Rachel says "I'm not exactly sure what that means, followed by Rachel's sister (the main character played by Anne Hathaway) proclaiming among an awkward crowd, "I am Sheeva the destroyer and it's great to be here this evening."

It's classic comedy: The fish-out-of-the-water situation of a drunk girl having fun at the wedding. Having watched the film, though, I can tell you that that moment is taken out of context and that anything that looks funny in the trailer is anything but funny in the actual movie. These moments of awkwardness of Rachel or a wedding guest doing something inappropriate at the wedding are not played for laughs, but rather used as a window into the desperation that is being experienced by a daughter returning from a 12-step program and reconciling with her family.

Little Miss Sunshine is a movie in which you'll laugh, cry and jump for joy. Rachel Getting Married is essentially a movie where you'll just cry. You'll also gain insight into human nature and possibly admire the directing and acting performances, but the point is that one should beware the dramedy. Not every low-budget character-centered piece is meant to be funny. Fortunately, the Golden Globes noted this and categorized Rachel Getting Married as a drama.

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