The type of movies I most associate with my younger years, in the mid ‘90s and early ‘00s, are comedies. Not just movies that were funny, but movies whose sole purpose was telling jokes and performing skits while the overarching plot sort of slipped by.
The actors would cop some ridiculously cartoonish persona and we would all laugh at their antics for ninety minutes or so (Pauly Shore basically made a short-lived career out of this). I can clearly remember many scenes from John Leguizamo’s ThePest (1997), but I have trouble remembering just how exactly they came about. The movie pretended to be based on TheMostDangerousGame, but seemed to focus more on Leguizamo prancing around like a Latino Bugs Bunny. Out of the top ten highest-grossing films of 1994, two of them (TheMask and DumbandDumber) starred Jim Carrey and his spastic facial expressions getting up to hilarious shenanigans while, for reasons the audience never cared about, evading mobsters.
Now, in 2014, our top-grossing movies are gritty reboots about Disney villains and sentient apes going on murder sprees (and they’re the good guys in that one). The year before, the biggest smash at the box office was about Tony Stark dealing with his severe PTSD. Hollywood seems to have begun to embrace the dark side as movies and TV shows both get darker and grittier. Meanwhile, the last straight-up comedy to hold the box office’s attention was We’re the Millers, which is about as funny as kitten murder according to the authorities on the matter. Audiences and filmmakers alike seem to have turned away from the wacky, character-driven comedy movie that I grew up with in favor of dark, edgy action.
If this sounds like some kind of grouchy old man talk about how movies used to be wholesome and pleasant back in my day, I would like to take a moment to say this is absolutely not the case. I loved watching Heath Ledger’s joker blow up a hospital while in drag. I still get chills thinking about Django tearing a bloody swath through Candyland. And I would rather attempt intercourse with a rock than watch I LoveYou, Man (how this rating happened is beyond me). If anything I would call this development something of an improvement. After all, we still fit comedic moments into our movies and they don’t have to involve Pauly Shore any more.
Even TV seems to be going this way. People get more excited about the latest beloved character deaths in GameofThrones than they do about what Peter Griffin has been up to (for good reason). Even successful comedies (Parks and Recreation, Modern Family, etc.) seem to revolve around characters who are objectively awful people or seem to loathe one another with intense passion. Another example is AdventureTime, a delightful cartoon about a boy named Finn who goes on adventures with his magical dog Jake (seriously, go watch it if you haven’t yet). Despite its simple premise and goofy art style, there are times when the show is so utterly bleak you have sit in the dark and think about your life choices afterwards.
I’m not sure what this says about us culturally. Maybe we’re more mature and want our art to reflect this? Perhaps the relative prosperity and convenience we enjoy today leaves us wanting that sense of dread that struggling to live used to supply? Or maybe we just realized that watching Iron Man explode his way back to relative mental health is far more entertaining than Jim Carrey talking with his butt? I honestly have no idea, but for now I’m going to mull it over while binge-watching Hypermurder: Blood of the Brain-outener. I think I’ll start with the episode where (spoiler alert) Lord Sternface takes an acid-soaked machete to his nemesis Ivan Badman.