I’m a big fan of dark comedies. The darker, the more comedic (for me). In Bruges is a great example: our main character, Ray (Colin Farrell), is a hitman, and on his first hit, he accidentally shoots a child. Hilarious. He also does drugs with a cocaine addicted “racist dwarf” (the movie’s words) played by Peter Dinklage, and at some point he even punches a woman in the face. Yet, despite all this, Farrell is intensely loveable as Ray, who simply wants to come to terms with watch he’s done while he’s stuck in a “shithole” like Bruges. That’s what makes In Bruges so well written and memorable—I love horrible people in the movie for the horrible things they do, but I also get to see how every character is human and unique. Even the “bad-guy,” (a foul-mouthed Ralph Fiennes), is admirable and has a code of honor, even when he calls his wife an “inanimate fucking object.” The audience doesn’t even get a clear ending of what happens—how many comedies do that?—but it couldn’t have ended any other way. Written by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh (author of The Pillowman and the movie Seven Psychopaths), the inseparable drama and meta-comedy of In Bruges is unique as it is ridiculous, such as when a dying Brendan Gleeson says “I’m going to die now,” and then, of course, dies. This movie was so memorable to me that it even inspired me and my brother to visit Bruges, which was, as the movie joking suggests, like a fairy tale.
In the Loop
In the Loop is my go-to comedy that I never get tired of. Most movies I can’t watch more than once every six months or so. This movie, however, is endlessly rewatchable, even when you know the jokes are coming. Part of it stems from the partial improvised nature of the script, and part of it is it’s cutting political savvy—it’s a smart movie about dumb people. This is a movie that’s entirely dialogue dependent: most of the lines are a verbal tennis match between the characters, and everyone sinks their teeth in. One of my favorite insults is when Jamie (Paul Higgins) complains about opera music, saying “it’s just vowels.” But the real star of the film is Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), who is a wordsmith of expletives: he tells the expletive-sensitive US representative to not be a “F-star-star-cunt.” Same with most things that writer-director Armando Ivanucci does (like his work on Veep or his British television equivalent to In the Loop called The Thick of It). The movie also has a great sense of its own comedy, making jokes out things that wouldn’t make sense out of context. Some of the funniest and most memorable lines (such as “Difficult, difficult, lemon difficult”) are nonsensical outside of the context, which is the exact opposite of a lot of generic comedies that just go for one-liners. I love how In the Loop creates this insular world of comedy that also manages to skewer the political process in the United States while never taking itself too seriously.
The Royal Tenenbaums
Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums was actually the first of his movies I had seen. I was fourteen, and I had seen nothing like it. The deadpan deliveries (especially from Bill Murray and Owen Wilson) opened me up to a new kind of humor I didn’t expect from movies—most of the comedies I was used to at the time were outrageous, where the joke was either the cum left in someone’s hair or that a guy fucked a pie. Here, Anderson builds this movie’s comedy in the quietest way. It almost “snowballs” its way to the end, building and becoming funnier as you’re engrossed in his stylistic world. It’s hard to imagine why a line like “Well, I just want to die” can be so crushingly funny, and that’s the greatness of this movie—it’s unexpected funny and deeply moving, and just off-centered enough to redefine the center itself.
City Lights is 85 years old, and it’s still the funniest movie I’ve ever seen. Like most Chaplin movies, City Lights has a simple plot (the Tramp falls in love with a girl and wants to help her restore her sight), and he gets into trouble along the way. Chaplin’s physical comedy in the movie is unmatched—the long boxing scene between the Tramp and a “real” boxer is the pinnacle of humor in movies. Though Chaplin’s The Great Dictator is a close match, City Lights is the right kind of silent and silly movie that only someone like Chaplin could have made when audiences were flocking to talking movies. The impressive thing about this movie is how it manages to keep up the humor through without being offensive (it was 1931, after all). Of all the bitter-sweet endings the Tramp endures throughout Chaplin’s oeuvre, City Lights is one where we really see the Tramp “win” at the end. It’s almost a stock-Chaplin film in terms of plot, but the visual gags are so ridiculously funny, even so long after, that it’s impossible not to watch it and be in awe.
I must have a thing for dark comedies. I’m a difficult person to see a comedy with because I hate 99% of them, and that’s because I don’t think comedy without some form of realism exists. Likewise, I also don’t think anything serious in film can be portrayed without some bit of comedy within. Sideways is amazingly funny and deeply depressing, and the two coexists perfectly here. It’s hard to get the performances out of my head, and I’ve quoted the movie ever since I’ve seen it because it’s dialogue is so memorable. I happened to be working in a wine store when it came out, and my boss got really annoyed if I quoted it and said “I don’t want any fucking merlot”). Miles (Paul Giamatti, in the most pitch-perfect role he’s ever played) just can’t win in this film: his ex-wife is getting remarried, he can’t find a publisher for his semi-autobiographical novel, and he’s fucking depressed. When he takes his best friend Jack (Thomas Hayden Church, also perfect) on a road trip through the wine country of California, things get better, then they get much worse, and we get to see just how low Miles’s life gets. Somehow, amongst all of this, it manages to bring you to tears laughing at a fat, naked man running toward the camera and at Jack swinging his golf clubs at someone his hits-in to his spot. The thing I love most about Sideways is the way it ends with the most perfect, simple note—all we see is a knock on the door, and it’s all we need.
Taylor Gorman has appeared in The New Orleans Review and BOAAT, and he will be featured in upcoming issues of Cutbank, Passages North, and Okey Panky. He is currently the poetry editor for Mojo and Mikrokosmos and getting his MFA at Wichita State University.