Courtesy: Warner Bros.

Opinion

How to Fix Film’s Latest Comedy Slump

This spring has been a good season for movies. The latest Avengers hit a billion dollars before all your co-workers stopped covering their ears and yelling "Spoilers!" whenever you tried to bring it up. A Quiet Place became a go-to date movie for being genuinely scary and leaving you with some pretty solid conversation starters for post-movie drinks. But if you were in the mood for a comedy this pre-summer film season, your only options are a series of Rotten Tomatoes splats—30 percent for the remake of Overboard; 33 for Amy Schumer's think piece come to life, I Feel Pretty; and 40 for Life of the Party, the latest vehicle to underserve Melissa McCarthy's talents.

Comedies, like rom-coms, have had a rough time fitting into a movie landscape increasingly dominated by superhero franchises. Some of the growing pains come from direct competition—it might be hard to remember in light of the incredibly bleak Infinity War, but superhero films aren't afraid to be funny. Deadpool 2, out this week, promises to have just as many jokes as gunshot wounds (OK, maybe not that many, but at some point, the gore overload becomes a kind of a joke, too).

Last year's Guardians of the Galaxy 2, the highly anticipated sequel to what was seen as a wild card in the Marvel Universe until Star-Lord's dance-off charmed us all, launched a viral, genuinely funny meme from one of its most emotional moments. Even if you're not an action-movie person, even if your eyes gloss over during the big battle scenes, you're probably willing to sit through the consistently funny Thor: Ragnarok to be able to actually contribute to your group chat for the week (or month) after the release. Why bother with a middling comedy?

The world of comedy films hasn't been without hits in the last few years. Last year's Girls Trip grossed over $140 million worldwide, and—perhaps the biggest indicator of a comedy's success—launched the career of one of its stars, Tiffany Haddish. The film was rightly lauded as a piece carried by a cast of talented black actresses in a Hollywood that still fails to make movies led by performers of color. But it's also an R-rated movie full of outrageous gags (the entire theater I was in was sent into scream-laughter for several minutes by that window surprise) in between the tamer comedy fare.

It doesn't seem like a coincidence that the three underwhelming comedies playing in theaters today are PG-13, while one of the best-reviewed (though still far from a mega-hit) comedies of the year, Game Night, was an R-rated comedy. It's not that a free flow of curses or the freedom to flash unlocks amazing comedy potential, but in a world of viral videos shaping a collective sense of humor, movies have to think outside the box to get laughs. "Girl falls during a spin class" (a.k.a. the set-up for I Feel Pretty) sounds like a mean-spirited recurring segment on The Joel McHale Show. An adorable dog creating a blood-spattered tribute to a failed marriage is a little harder to find outside of a screenplay.

An adorable dog creating a blood-spattered tribute to a failed marriage is a little hard to find outside of a screenplay.

When considering the problem of the modern-comedy movie, it might be easier not to examine what they're doing wrong, but the competition they're dealing with. While the imminent death of the movie theater has been staved off again and again by a collective thirst for seeing things explode in 4D, it can be harder to part with $17 (if you haven't signed up for MoviePass yet) for a comedy that will probably end up on Netflix or Hulu within the year. There's also something to be said for the "must-see" part of must-see TV. If all your friends won't stop talking about Silicon Valley or Kimmy Schmidt, it probably makes more sense to catch up on your binge-watching, comfy on your couch, rather than being the one trying to fumble through the plot of Life of the Party in Slack.

During this upcoming summer, solidly blockbuster season, only a few pure comedy films are scheduled to be released, including Tag, a movie that at least stacked its cast with talented (and notably, mostly TV) comedic actors, while not relying on any one name to sell tickets. Dog Days looks like it might be one of the better airplane movies, with its bizarre mash-up of the conceit and overall aesthetics of Valentine's Day, and the feel-good elements of Marley and Me. On the rom-com front, Crazy Rich Asians is highly anticipated. But what might be more telling is how funny the trailers for summer's non-comedies have been. Ocean's 8 is billed first as an action-adventure film but looks like it could be the funniest movies of the season. Deadpool 2 will probably supply the summer with plenty of hilarious quotable lines. Maybe we should consider not what can be done to save the comedy, but just enjoy what comedy in film might become.

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