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A Serious Talk About American Comedy

Katherine Stuart, one of the brightest of my former students from the College of Lake County, recently asked to interview me for an argumentative research paper she is currently writing in an English class. The topic of the paper is why classic comedy films are better than the comedy films of today. With her permission, I am reprinting the wide-ranging interview in its entirety below.

KS: You used Bringing Up Baby in your class. What characteristics do you think this film has that make it a classic?

MGS: The screenplay by Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde (who incidentally fell in love while writing it) is very clever and contains a lot of witty banter within a very solid narrative structure, the direction by Howard Hawks is flawless and, most importantly, the chemistry between the two leads (Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant) is palpable and irresistible. I always describe the mixture of their distinctive speaking voices as sounding like a beautiful musical duet. Furthermore, there’s a “wildness” to the film, an element of chaos represented by the leopard, that I think is crucial for a screwball comedy to be effective. The leopard is associated with Hepburn’s independence and untamed sexuality, which is presented in stark contrast to Grant’s frigid fiancé (“no domestic entanglements of any kind”). Plus, it’s just so damn fun watching this woman turn this man’s life upside down.

KS: What do you think are some of the best qualities of classic comedy films?

MGS: For the most part, it’s the screenplays. Look at the scripts for Some Like It Hot or The Apartment: they are completely sound according to the rules of narrative logic and the characters are three-dimensional and highly memorable. Billy Wilder could have made those films as dramas and they might have been just as effective but he chose to make them as comedies instead. Or consider any of Preston Sturges’ films. Those movies are just incredible pieces of satirical writing. It’s what I think Mark Twain would’ve done had he been born in the 20th century and decided to become a filmmaker. Nobody even tries to write comedy like that anymore. Or if they do, their screenplays certainly aren’t being produced.

KS: Why do you like Howard Hawks as a classic screwball comedy director?

MGS: Hawks’ style is completely unobtrusive. It’s invisible. You’re never aware of where he’s putting the camera, when he’s moving the camera, when he’s cutting, etc. and that’s because he’s always making the right choices. He was the consummate professional Hollywood director. The first close-up in Bringing Up Baby doesn’t even occur until 17 minutes into the movie! It’s a close-up of Katherine Hepburn’s face expressing disappointment after she finds out Cary Grant is engaged. She doesn’t say a word and yet it’s an unbelievably effective moment. Hollywood comedies nowadays are slathered with close-ups from beginning to end and there’s no thought behind any of it. It’s just to try and make a movie star’s face fill up the screen.

KS: Do you think that classic comedy films are better than comedy films today and why?

MGS: It seems inarguable to me that the best comedies from Hollywood’s golden age are superior to the comedy films of today. The problem with today’s comedies is that the majority of them are nothing but a long string of jokes from beginning to end. The approach of most of these filmmakers is to throw everything they can think of at the screen and see what sticks. The end result is that even a relatively funny movie is going to have a lot of unfunny moments. (I do love the original Airplane! but I hate most of what it has spawned.) Also, the tone of today’s comedies is almost always uneven. In a movie like Superbad, there are some moments where the dialogue and performances are surprisingly naturalistic but then the next minute something completely absurd and cartoonish is happening. The problem is that the filmmakers can’t get from point A to point B smoothly. The tonal shifts are completely jarring.

KS: Who are some of your favorite classic comedy directors?

MGS: From the silent era, Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin were geniuses. Their humor is entirely visual and is therefore universal and timeless. Their best movies are just as funny today as they ever were. The reaction of students in my Intro to Film classes (the majority of whom have never seen a silent movie) is proof of that. In the sound era, Ernst Lubitsch and Preston Sturges are my favorites. Sturges was the best comedy writer who also knew, as a director, how to get the best out of his actors. Everything William Demarest says in a Sturges movie sounds hilarious. Lubitsch’s movies are just so elegant and so damn effortless. In addition to being very funny, they are actually beautiful. No one tries to make comedy beautiful today. Also, the early Marx brothers’ movies at Paramount are among the funniest – and most insane – movies ever made, especially Duck Soup, which was directed by the great Leo McCarey.

KS: What are some of the characteristics of comedy films today?

MGS: Most comedies today fall into one of two subgenres: the gross-out comedy, which is aimed at male viewers and the romantic comedy, which is aimed at female viewers. The gross-out comedy is a more explicit, contemporary version of the “teen sex comedy” that was popular in the 1980s. It is characterized by humor involving bodily functions and fluids and was first popularized by There’s Something About Mary and American Pie in the late Nineties. The less said about contemporary romantic comedy, the better.

KS: Who are some of your favorite directors of comedy films today?

MGS: I think Woody Allen is still the best comedy director working in America today. His output might be hit or miss but I thought Midnight in Paris was a terrific movie. The premise of it was so clever and the tone of it so refreshingly sweet. I’m not surprised that it’s his highest grossing movie. Richard Linklater is a great writer and director of comedy. I especially like Dazed and Confused, Before Sunset and School of Rock. I like Harold Ramis a lot. Groundhog Day is probably my favorite Hollywood comedy to be released in my lifetime. The Coen Brothers do comedy well even when they’re not making official comedies. I like the Farrelly brothers’ early movies. And I like a bunch of random comedies that you might say succeed in spite of who directed them – like Office Space and Borat.

KS: Are there any modern screwball comedy films that you think are not as good as classic screwball comedy films? What characteristics do you think it lacks?

MGS: I would say that almost all contemporary films that try for a screwball tone end up not measuring up to the classic screwball comedies of the Thirties and Forties. Most of the contemporary examples (e.g., Runaway Bride, Along Came Polly) are too tame, cutesy and formulaic. They lack the anarchistic spirit of the originals. Also important is that a lot of the original screwballs were about class difference and therefore contain a certain amount of social criticism as subtext. Contemporary Hollywood isn’t interested in doing that. The Coen brothers probably do screwball the best and yet, interestingly, the times when they’ve tried to work purely in that mode (The Hudsucker Proxy, Intolerable Cruelty) resulted in what are probably their least successful films. They’re better at marrying aspects of screwball to other genres. Also in that vein, The Social Network, which is of course a great drama, does contain a surprising screwball vein in Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue and in the delivery of the performers.

KS: As the expert, what do you think I should know that I did not ask you?

MGS: A couple of things: I do think comedy is alive and well in America, just not in the movies. Nowadays, most people get their comedy from sketch comedy shows, stand-up comedy, Comedy Central or even YouTube. None of those things existed during Hollywood’s studio system era. One could argue that there’s less of a need to laugh at the movies today because we’re surrounded by comedy everywhere else we go. Also, I’m not a reactionary; I don’t think that movies in general are any worse than they’ve ever been. But almost all of my favorite American films of the 21st century are dramas (Zodiac, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Mulholland Drive, Letters from Iwo Jima, A History of Violence, There Will Be Blood, The Hurt Locker, etc.) It seems that if you’re a serious, intelligent, artistically ambitious filmmaker in America today, comedy isn’t a genre that you’re going to try to get into. Therefore, as a filmmaker, I am naturally pursuing comedy.

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About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

37 responses to “A Serious Talk About American Comedy

  • jilliemae

    It’s great that you recognize Woody Allen and I fear that unless we keep talking about him and showing his old movies, the next generation in high school now (and even in late twenties in some cases) will never get to experience his movies. Recently, someone who was 24 told me that she didn’t know who Bon Jovi was, so I fear the worst for Allen…

  • michaelgloversmith

    Interestingly, the one time I tried to show a Woody Allen film in class, Annie Hall last spring, it did NOT go over well. Needless to say I will probably try again with another film.

    As far as people not knowing who Bon Jovi is, you shouldn’t say that like it’s a bad thing!

  • carol

    My 18-year-old daughter is a big Woody Allen fan. She has watched “Love and Death” probably twenty times. She is a theater and improv kid, so perhaps that’s the attraction, but don’t give up on the next generation!

  • michaelgloversmith

    Thanks for the encouragement, Carol!

  • Suzi

    I also showed ANNIE HALL in the Intro to Film class at Oakton, and it did not go over well for me either. Very few of the students got the references and seemed unable to listen to the dialogue and let it sink in enough to get the joke.

    I actually think Sandra Bullock makes a good protagonist in a rom-com and some of her films come closest to screwball. I think FORCE OF NATURE was underrated and she was great with the physical comedy in THE PROPOSAL. Another feature of Golden Age screwballs that made them terrific was the character actors, who were skilled at delivering dialogue and creating memorable bits. Charles Ruggles comes to mind in BRINGING UP BABY. Hollywood studios today would rather hire a star in a character role than actual character actors.

  • michaelgloversmith

    The only Sandra Bullock movies I’ve ever seen are SPEED and CRASH – certainly not rom-coms. I know a lot of people think she has comedy chops so I’ll have to look one of them up one of these days.

    Good point about the character actors in screwball. Another great example is The Lady Eve: Eric Blore, Eugene Pallette and William Demarest MAKE that movie!

  • Corrine

    Now, I’m looking forward to watching Midnight in Paris!

  • This Comedy Classic Was

    […] A Serious Talk About American Comedy « White City Cinema The topic of the paper is why classic comedy films are better than the comedy films of today. With her permission, I am reprinting the wide-ranging interview in its entirety below. KS: You used Bringing Up Baby in your […]

  • Getting Screwed « White City Cinema

    […] like the kind cited above (which is not to say that such dialogue is no longer being written) and, for a variety of reasons, can’t seem to make movies that are nearly as funny today. But, to paraphrase Rick Blaine, […]

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  • Alex

    Howard Hawks does an amazing job of keeping you where you need to be when you watch his films. Bringing Up Baby and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes were excellent examples of good pacing and camera work. There are no shots that have random close ups. Airplane is a good example of comedy and is loaded with a ton of lasting and memorable scenes. One good example of this is when Ted is trying to impress Elaine at the disco. And, I have to agree with you on the point of Woody Allen being our last hope of a comedy director. As an actor he does a very good job in his films where he will play the very boring, bland, and dweeb-ish personality that is a very good stock character. Bananas is one of the best examples of Allen’s comedies and this. In Bananas, Allen really likes to make fun of narrations, with the use of narrations themselves, in scenes like where he’s making out in bed with that girl, the silent train scene where you hear nothing, but the piano playing and he throws those two guys out of the subway car, 1000 grilled cheese sandwiches with 300 tuna fish and 200 bacon lettuce, and 490 on rye, 110 on whole wheat, and 300 on white bread, “And also, coleslaw for 900 men.” You just never see scenes as good as those in modern comedies. Modern comedies try to make fun of serious matters while classics take a more cartoonish and playful stance on certain things. By “serious matters” I’m thinking of Silver Linings Playbook, which does not leave a lasting impression on me at all. I forgot that I had already watched that film just before you first mentioned it. It’s true that in Silver Linings Playbook that every character, besides the extras, have a social disorder. I feel that the only times this movie is funny is with the little snaps of anger that are caused by the social disorders that every character seems to have. Some of those little snaps do not feel funny at all, as if the scene was trying to be funny just for the sake grabbing your attention. It’s like how you explain in class that Hollywood studios, these days, come off more of like a business than being actual film studios. Silver Linings Playbook does have good romance and drama too, but comedic scenes can sometimes come off as forced. What I did like is the inclusion of Chris Tucker who is obviously funny in this film, in the same way as with the Rush Hour series. Why I like Chris Tucker might just be for the nostalgic factor. The pace in modern comedies seem to work at a much more rapid fire speed when it comes to jokes that are either about sex, toiletries, or stupidity, like Anchorman 2 for example. It’s perfectly fine to include any of these things, but not to the point where you are crushing your viewers and they can not keep up with the movie. Comedies, in general, just are not built the same way as their earlier counterparts.

  • Nathan Anderson

    Classic screwball comedies are a ton of fun to watch because it is well-thought out comedy in the film that always has an up-beat feeling to it, no matter what the situations are that occur. They were able to thrive in such a way that hilarious things like chasing two leopards around or crashing into a chicken-filled truck were perfectly fine because of the way the 1930’s and 40’s were, with everyone enjoying this style of comedy. Now, however, it appears that the focus on comedy is all-too focused on the requirement of realism, and thus it is more difficult to sometimes set the tone of the movie as a comedy. A movie like Silver Linings Playbook found success in this approach, although it was more of a seriously toned movie that included humor in it, versus being a movie with the sole-intention of being humorous. This film did still include the amount of insanity that a screwball comedy usually entails, with Pat being acknowledging of his “abnormal” behavior (having a bipolar-disorder in which he needs medication). But Tiffany is a nymphomaniac and is still recovering from her husband’s unexpected death. Pat’s father has OCD pertaining to the television remotes for Eagles games, as well as a massive gambling problem. These are just a few examples, as there are more characters who are “crazy” in some way. But the back-and-forth dialogue between Tiffany and Pat, the fact that Tiffany is “chasing” Pat up until the end of the film, and the situations that occur in this film all make it a screwball comedy. But the tone for it is different in comparison to classic screwball comedies, as the style used in the 1930’s and 40’s seems to be lost in the past forever.

    As it pertains to the genre of comedy in general, I concur that the focus in Hollywood has been turned away from comedy and is more-so in the action/drama region, with subtle attempts in those films at comedy. Most of the solely-based comedies do not thrive, but there are those out there that are able to find success, although they may seem few and far between. One prominent example I can think of in relation to “modern-comedy” is The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. It has a great cast, led by Steve Carrell, Paul Rudd, Seth Rogan, and Romany Malco, but this is such an incredibly performed comedy that all of the actors and actresses are capable of having you gasping for breath. Whether it be the hilarious scenes at the electronics store, the speed-dating scene, or (my favorite) the health clinic scene, there are well thought out lines and scenes that are not just random attempts to be funny, like many comedies these days try so hard to throw in. The entire story, no matter how ridiculous, is all tied in to trying to get Andy a girl to have sex with so he won’t be a virgin anymore. As previously mentioned, these types of comedies are few and far between nowadays since comedy in movies now is more prevalent in serious movies that throw in humor, but are not focused around the aspect of comedy. Perhaps it is a cycle that will come back around in full-circle, but unfortunately there may be the simple truth that the success that was had in the genre of comedy may never be had again.

    • Nathan Anderson

      Also Shaun of the Dead is another modern comedy that I forgot to mention. That is probably my favorite comedy of the 2000’s.

      • michaelgloversmith

        I’m so glad you brought up SHAUN OF THE DEAD, a great modern comedy! It’s not quite “screwball” but it IS a romantic comedy first and foremost (even more than it is a horror parody). Shaun is an irresponsible character — and a bad boyfriend — who learns to become the kind of person who’s ready for a mature relationship over the course of the film. He just learns this through the act of killing zombies! This is opposite of BRINGING UP BABY — where David Huxley is someone who’s too responsible but over the course of the film learns how to loosen up. 10/10

  • Ariel Notterman

    Modern-day audiences expect movies to be realistic, especially if it is clear that the film takes place in the “real-world”. I’m sure popular complaints after students watch movies in film class are “That wasn’t very realistic” and “That could never have happened in real life”. This might be why screwball comedies (good ones anyway) don’t do so well with modern audiences, and why studios are not producing them.

    I think a big factor contributing to the success of SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK as a screwball comedy is the mental state of the characters. The fact that both of the leads as well as the rest of the cast are mentally ill makes the fast-paced, unfiltered dialogue acceptable to audiences that crave realistic behavior. You mentioned that modern Hollywood is pretty good at making dramas, which may be another reason why SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is so successful.The film is seems as if it is dancing (no pun intended) on the line between comedy and drama. The mannerisms of the characters as well as the conversations between them are hilarious and screwball-like, but the emotional scars of each character trouble the audience. Characters in BRINGING UP BABY are also very humanistic. The first close up of Susan’s face is a very intimate and personal moment. As for SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, some moments in the film are purely dramatic. For example, the scene where Pat is frantically searching for his wedding video and hits his mother is particularly serious.

    In BRINGING UP BABY, David is fascinated by Susan, a woman relentlessly pursuing him. They understand each other, in an odd but sweet way. In SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, Pat and Tiffany are the exact same way. Both David and Pat have there mind set on another woman, much to Susan’s and Tiffany’s dismay. Both women are determined to win the hearts of their men, even if it means they have to cheat and lie to get there. Just like when Susan takes away David’s clothes so he cannot leave, Tiffany blackmails Pat so they can spend time together. In both relationships, the male is annoyed but intrigued with the strong, free-spirited female. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK also plays with the literal chase of the two leads, such as when Tiffany follows Pat as he jogs, and when Pat chases Tiffany before he confesses his love to her.

    Modern comedies like GROWN UPS and ARE WE THERE YET? are popular for their wacky characters and ridiculous situations. But screwball comedies are more than those genre conventions. As you noted, there is intelligence in the dialogue, Mark Twain would have succeeded in comedy if had he been a filmmaker in the 20th century. Screwball comedies like BRINGING UP BABY and SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK are full of intellectual and silly humor, as well as depth and heart. That is much better than goofy dads getting kicked in the crotch.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Good points of comparison and contrast between BABY and PLAYBOOK and good observations on shifting standards of realism in American culture. Getting kicked in the crotch can be funny too though! 10/10

  • Jaycelline Ancheta

    You state that the best quality of classic comedies are their logical narratives, and I agree. And when I think about some of my favorite comedy movies, 50 First Dates, Grandma’s Boy, Step-Brothers, The Other Guys, Bridesmaids, The Lego Movie just to name a few, I realize that many of them are character-driven, which further enhances their sound narratives. I love the way they seem realistic and relatable while still maintaining their humor. However, I find it very interesting that you admittedly love the movie Airplane! after stating, “The problem with today’s comedies is that the majority of them are nothing but a long string of jokes from beginning to end.” Airplane! is very much joke-driven, but I suppose every rule has its exceptions. While Airplane is hilarious, you’re absolutely right about what its aftermath has brought on. Did Scary Movie really need to have 5 sequels, each one subsequently worse than before?

    While today’s screwball comedies are not as alive and well as they once were, in my opinion I think Judd Apatow’s movies probably come the closest. However, I could be biased since I am a fan of Apatow and Apatow-esq films. Also, I agree that since comedy is ubiquitous in nearly all types of media, there isn’t much of a need to rush to theaters to get a few laughs, yet I don’t believe that’s why people are going to the theater less. I think the cost of theater tickets and popcorn are what deter people more than bad jokes or unfunny comedies, but I digress.

  • John Maher

    I agree screwball comedies were generally better in the past. Director Howard Hawks makes the whole screwball movie genre funny without resorting to tasteless dialogue and actions. Today we see men being rude with women, and somehow the movie ends up being a romantic comedy that isn’t pure at all. A pure example in the last few years that you mentioned in the article was School of Rock. I love how Jack Black is just naturally funny with his students. Richard Linklater does not try to make a cutesy and formulaic movie based on a student/teacher relationship. He takes a ridiculous situation and with verbal humor makes a serious comedy movie that is pure screwball. David O. Russell also does a good job with modern day screwball comedy in the movie we just saw, Silver Linings Playbook. Russell’s plot for the movie probably didn’t even seem funny at first, but as the scenes went on, the movie moved into screwball comedy without any force at all. I liked how you said screwball comedies are trying too hard and they aren’t beautiful. I think today the screwball comedies are forced with comedy and sex for “beauty.” The movie Silver Linings Playbook is an exception. Like the classic screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby, there is rapid fire dialogue and verbal humor between the male and female leads. Tiffany, like Hepburn, is a strong willed, free spirited, independent protagonists. Also, both male leads come to realize that the women they are battling with are good for them, and so come to love them. Russell also uses the elements of chaos, rather than vulgar jokes and sex to make the comedy work – like when Pat is trying to find his wedding video. I also noticed you liked Airplane! although it does have joke after joke, I think that movie does a good job of being a screwball comedy because like the classics, it has inspirational moments in the film disguised under ridiculous situations. If we could go back to the forties and fifties then that would be awesome because we could watch movies that weren’t a forced genre with basically the same old, same old plot. Today’s comedies are only memorable for the laughable rude jokes and actions, unlike movies from the forties and fifties that are remembered for actually being creative.

  • Katie Lawler

    Earlier comedy films have such interesting elements to them. They are so much better than comedies in todays era because they divert away from the normal view on how romantic relationships are. For example, in Bringing up Baby, the relationship between the two leads certainly did not start out perfectly but eventually they grew to love each other and i think that is why it made for a much more entertaining more because of all of the chaos and wittiness that surrounded them. Howard Hawks did an incredible job directing this film. One little example is that there wasn’t one close up until 17 minutes into the movie. Most people didn’t even notice it because the film flowed so well, and we were entertained with the story. You made a really good point about how comedies made today just throw everything out there to see what sticks. People are becoming less risky and just playing the safe card instead of taking risks and going for a classic sorry that may or may not work. Those types of movies are essentially the best because they have different stories and have new story lines, its refreshing. You also mentioned a director that made school of rock. I love that movie because of the storyline. Its not like any other films out there and the comedy isn’t forced, it just happens, its easy and it flows. I could watch that film over and over again and still laugh every time. Social Network is also one of my favorite movies of all time, even though it is a drama type of movie, it does contain some screwball comedy elements and has witty remarks throughout the whole movie.

  • Thalia Perez

    I agree that in Bringing up Baby, the two characters had chemistry, which made it palpable. Which I believe that’s the same chemistry we see in the Silver Lining Playbook with Pat and Tiffany. You stated that the “wildness” was an element of chaos in by the leopard in Bring up Baby, and I think that’s the same with Silver Lining Playbook but with their mental illness. I think that Pat and Tiffany’s mental illness really added fuel to their relationship that made it so great.
    Although I agree that Hollywood comedies are slathered with close-ups, I think Silver Lining Playbook did a good job on the close up on the letter of supposedly Pat’s wife. When Pat reads the letter they do a very close-up specifically when he reads ‘but if it’s me reading the signs’, which later when Tiffany says the same words, and Pats goes out to re read the letter and there’s a close-up on to where it says those exact words. It’s then when we realize and Pat realizes it was Tiffany who wrote the letter not his wife. I think that would have been one a few good close-ups.
    I couldn’t agree more that today’s comedies just try and throw all these jokes one after another. Sometimes it would a joke and then just something ridiculous right after. I do notice that not that many comedies now are very original. Also that the two subgenres really just aim for either males or females. I think that in Silver Lining Playbook shows a very good modern screwball comedy. It did remind me of Bring up Baby, a strong female protagonist, going for the man and doing whatever it takes to get to them. In both films the man realize that during being with the woman they were actually enjoying their company. I think a great example would be in Silver Lining Playbook, in the beginning Tiffany is the one running behind Pat kind of a “chasing after him”, but in the end it’s actually flipped because it’s Pat who is now running behind Tiffany. Another good thing is that this film shows very chaotic scenarios that add affect to the screwball comedy, for example when mostly all the characters are in Pat’s parents house, everyone is very loud and arguing, a bit similar to Bring up Baby. The film went very smoothly, it didn’t really seem uneven, which is why Silver Lining Playbook is what modern screwball comedies should look like.

  • Pia Gräwe

    In my opinion the film SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is the perfect example for a good modern screwball comedy. In the interview you pointed out some positive characteristics of comedies in the ’30s and ’40. For instance you were talking about the memorable and complex characters or the smart conversations, especially between men and women. There was also a special kind of chemistry between them which was also rooted in their complex characters and the contrasts between them. In addition to that you said that comedies were more satirical and critical in the past. In many ways the movie SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK complies with those characteristics. Instead of bringing up “a long string of jokes” like most modern comedies this film is being funny because of the authenticity of the story and its characters. I agree to your claim that most modern comedies are either “gross-out-comedies” picking men as their main target group or “romantic comedies” that are appealing to women. For instance I see movies like AMERICAN PIE or HANGOVER belonging to the first group because they are often dealing with obscene humor and that are bringing up one joke after the other to keep the audience entertained until the end. Romantic comedies however are often having a similar kind of plot and characters and the aim to tell their female audience about true love. While watching silver linings I got the impression that this movie is appealing to both genders, also because it combines the two genres of comedy and drama, Unlike a lot of modern comedies is not only meant to entertain the audience but it is also including a lot of critical aspects. The movie conveys a very critical vue of the society because every single character is portrayed as crazy or mental ill. Even though Pat seems do be the only person being diagnosed with mental illness, it gets clear that everyone is suffering under some kind of mental illness, for example his dad who is showing signs of OCD. However it almost seems like it doesn’t really matter that everyone is a little bit crazy because the craziness is somehow part of their characters and their imperfect behavior is just human and makes the movie seem very authentic. As we discussed in class, the movie does not have a strict storyboard because it is rather character- than plot- based which supports that impression. In addition to that we can see some kind of chaos that is created through the movie which was also very typical for screwball comedies in the ’30s and ’40s. A key scene for that is Pat’s outburst when he is looking for his old wedding video. In my mind that scene is very similar to the chaotic dialogs of BRINGING UP BABY because everyone is talking at the same time and it is really hard to keep the overview over the whole situation. These scenes are so chaotic and absurd that they make us laugh even though they might be showing total despair of the characters. In SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK the director even uses special camera settings to stress the chaos by using a lot of close ups and by making the camera shake. In this way the situations become even more realistic. Another similarity between classic screwball comedy and this movie is the relationship between men and women. Right from the beginning Pat and Tiffany are having a special kind of chemistry. Even though they are having verbal fights with each other it seems like they are having a therapy session because their conversations are very complex and they are interacting very well. This is also very similar to the early screwball comedies because the complex interaction of men and women in an equally way was one of the most important aspects.

  • izzie

    there was a clear point mentioned on the interview where it’s stated that modern comedies today are pretty much mainly jokes and seeing what sticks; as well as comedy films are either for male or female audiences. such films like “American Pie” or “Euro trip” which fall into the ” teen sex comedy” category, needles to say that modern comedy films just aren’t the same. the “silver lining playbook” however is a great modern comeback from screw-ball comedy. it also mentions how comedy is still alive in modern america just not in movies, which surprising but yet true; the reference of “stand-up comedy” and “YouTube” is a great point that comedy films need to step up their game. Screwball comedy is a great genre for film it has a little bit of everything and in the end it’s wrapped up in a bow. just like in the silver linings playbook, some parts were sad, some were happy, some were crazy, but overall it was everything one could expect in a good film. I think that the point about how people who haven’t seen movies from the silent era or old movies in general don’t quite know what a good film is; when mentioned that the reactions for the students prove the intelligence of basic silent humor. it’s great exploring the different roams of film genres; kind of shows what modern films are missing these past years.

  • Brendan Q.

    I agree with your stance that many comedies today are inferior to the comedies of the past. There may be a few solid comedies today like Silver Linings Playbook, but overall recent comedy has been brought down by the numerous inartistic comedy films. As you have stated, they often lack interesting characters, just rapidly throw jokes at the audience to see what works, and often lose track of the plot. One example I can think of is the overdone Anchorman 2, which tosses out too many sophomoric jokes, half of which aren’t even that funny, and contains a very loose narrative structure. A lot of these movies develop the story and characters for one main purpose: to deliver jokes. With that being the case, not as much effort is put into the stories and characters and so they tend to end up being poorly constructed and full of cliches. Most older comedies, along with a few new ones, focus on providing characters and a story as well as humor. I think that not only makes movies like Bringing Up Baby or Silver Linings Playbook more funny, but also more engaging and a more satisfying cinematic experience.

  • Russell Kinscherff

    This interview about screwball comedies was nice and thorough and brought up some good points about how the comedy screenwriting was better during cinemas golden age. I would have to agree, because the vast majority of comedy films today stick to what will make the most money out of it’s demographic instead of making a genuinely good film. That being said, sometimes it works well, but more often than not, it doesn’t. Screwball seems to be a sort of dying breed of comedy that’s more seen on television and vine than on the big screen. Movies now tend to mix genres more than ever, which I actually enjoy, but sometimes the tonal shifts can be obnoxious, as you stated. Even the film we watched in class, Silver Linings Playbook (which is a very good film) was very much a drama as it was a comedy, especially with such a sensitive premise. But Playbook does extremely well. It’s script and chemistry of lead character, as well as creative direction really make the film seem to pay homage to the classic movies of the 50s. It is still FAR less ridiculous and much more realistic than classic screwball films, so it’s not really an ideal screwball example, but it’s one of the best this generation has got. When comparing Playbook to Bringing up Baby, they don’t seem to similar at first glance. Baby has a much more cheery tone and is more ridiculous as far as plot points, and Playbook is much more ideal and relatable, with a less giddy feel. But as Baby is the perfect, complete screwball example, Playbook actually follows the rules of screwball as well.m, which is what makes it similar. A central love story, quite literally mentally unstable characters (where Baby’s reality and depiction of people was they are all insane). There some physical humor and lots of quick dialogue in playbook, which is also another convention of screwball. I personally really like Playbook as a film. It’s just so well made, unlike most comedy films today as you mentioned earlier.

  • Kirill Shumov

    Silver Lining’s Playbook is a fantastic example of a modern comedy without the formulaic films we see in the same genre today, tackling real-world scenarios in a charismatic, unique, and hilarious way. The film includes interesting characters that all have their own unique aspects, and become the films main focus as opposed to plot as it typically stands, while also throwing in something a little subtle to boost the characters further and make them more relatable to one another–each on having their own unique mental illness. The film took a rather serious issue facing society, that is, the treatment of mental illness and the way we treat those around us with such a diagnosis, and turns it into a comedy by playing on these sensitive issues while also creating out of them a plot with a serious backdrop. The film does a fantastic job with every character, turning each dialogue into a unique hint into the character’s background, and also speaks for the societal issue of mental illnesses, how they affect a person, and its print on the individual and society as a whole.

  • Zain Hurst

    I agree with you when you say it’s inarguable that the best comedies from Hollywood’s golden age are superior to today’s films. I actually tend to stay away from comedies because they are just an endless string of jokes that are total hit or miss and end up not being funny majority of the time (I’m looking at you Anchorman 2). Not to say that all comedy movies are bad now days. One of my all time favorites is Team America: World Police. The crude humor from Trey Parker and Matt Stone can’t be topped in my opinion and their over the top songs like Everybody Has Aids is an absolute riot and with their horribly poor puppet fighting scenes

    I found what you said about comedies being a lot more widely available from stand up to YouTube videos very interesting and its something that never really crossed my mind and something that’s probably very true. But i also think its a lot easier to have a bunch of “successful” comedy skits rather than a long thought out movie. Hollywood is lazy and afraid to take risks.

  • Emily Desgranges

    Silver Linings Playbook is most likely the best example of a modern screwball comedy. It contains every single convention of a screwball that was previously mentioned in the other article. I know too many people that did not like Silver Linings Playbook for its quirky and weird characteristics. However, many of those weird and quirky characteristics are what make it a screwball comedy, so whether or not I should, I’m going to assume they haven’t seen The Awful Truth or Bringing Up Baby. I agree with you about the chemistry between Grant and Hepburn. So many modern screwball comedies do not have the same type of characters with that kind of chemistry, and it’s not entirely the actors fault.
    The screenplay of Silver Linings Playbook allows for the characters to become close. The movie isn’t centered around making dumb jokes or unnecessary physical comedy. It’s definitely character driven, and the subject of mental illness that’s present throughout the entire film makes it truthful and interesting. Tiffany and Pat are both struggling with loss and they both find something new and exciting in their new relationship. Modern screwball comedies are mostly all about the sexual innuendos and dirty jokes. Silver Linings Playbook can appeal to more than one audience and I think that’s partly what makes it so successful.
    I love that in both Bringing Up Baby and Silver Linings Playbook, the male and female leads all seem to “find themselves” while chasing after one another. However in Silver Linings Playbook, I think there’s more meaning to it than just falling in love.
    It’s unfortunate that modern classics like American Pie and many others seem to override people’s interest into looking more into the older classics like Brining Up Baby and The Awful Truth. However, now that I know both, I’m pretty motivated to find more modern screwball comedies that can do as well of a job as Silver Linings Playbook did in being successful as a modern-day screwball comedy.

  • parish

    I have to say that before taking your class I was never so involved in watching a movie. Going to see a movie was just that and nothing more. Now, as I gain a larger appreciation and palate for films, I enjoy thinking about what is on that huge screen in front of me more than ever before. I bring this up to say thank you and also to address some of the things said above. I do not think that there was a single moment that passed as I read this that I disagreed with what was said. It is so true that today’s comedies bring joke after joke after joke and attempt only to make the audience laugh with simplicity in the films characters and they’re dialogues. While this material makes it comedic by nature it is not quite the type of comedy I am coming to look for in a film. However, don’t get me wrong, I can still enjoy it though.
    Again, they don’t make them like they used to, but there are definitely some out there that stand out, like Silver Linings playbook. I absolutely loved this movie. The characters were more than simple. Everyone was “crazy” but came together like a family. Now, I’m not sure about most other people but when I look at my own family I can relate as far as the arguments and shenanigans go. Not the literal craziness though.
    You mentioned that there are two subgenres most prevalent today in comedy films. I did not quite understand your description of contemporary romantic comedy. I could be showing my film watching inexperience here but that may be a good thing. I see this as a chance to learn something new. Do you think you could touch on this next class?

  • Moises

    I would like to agree with everything that was shared in this interview. The comparison between the two ages for screwball comedy are spot on. You mention in your article that in today’s society, film only focuses on two different types of comedies; “gross-out comedy and romantic comedy” which in essence aim to target two different types of audiences. A film like Silver LIning Playbook is a screwball comedy, but essentially it is more romantic than not. The film does share a lot of similarities between Coming Up Baby as the women are the ones to take charge and control of the male protagonist and mold them their way. When they are dancing at the competition, every dance move flows so easily, but in a very comedic way. In Bring Up Baby, when they are trying to capture the leopard, the actions are so concise, but very ironic and absurd. Silver Lining Playbook could be considered to be the best screwball comedy as it appear as though, it is the only movie that actually has motivation to include a romantic film and make it into a comedy in a very intelligent manner. As you mention, the Hollywood films had something very special about them, they had flow. IN my opinion, I think that Silver Lining Playbook definitely shows flow and cohesion to the film.

  • Jules Gartsman

    Silver Linings Playbook is the best example of a modern screwball comedy.In your previous article about screwball comedies, this film contained every aspect if not more. The characters in this film made the movie into what it is truly known for, a screwball comedy. With their quirky and silly personas, they really brought out the comedic side. What I like and agree with you on is the overall relationship and the chemistry that Hepburn and Grant had in Bringing Up Baby. I feel like in order to have a great and successful film, the characters need to be able to connect on many levels such as this couple.

    Silver Linings Playbook isn’t just centered around stupid jokes or physical comedy, it is mainly character driven and that is what makes a film interesting and honest. Unlike this movie, most other screwball comedies are centered around sexual jokes and innuendos. In my opinion this movie can appeal to several audiences because of how this movie was written and acted out. Therefore, it becomes more and more successful.

    In both Bringing Up Baby and Silver Linings Playbook, both the female and male characters run laps around each other as they chase their love around. I do however think that that there was more than just the meaning of love in Silver Linings Playbook.

    You mention in your article that in today’s society, film only focuses on two different types of comedies; “gross-out comedy and romantic comedy.” It’s a shame that these two are our only source to comedic films nowadays. I feel that these certain comedic genres can only relate to a certain audience, when on the other hand, Silver Linings Playbook can be reached out to several types of people rather than just one particular group of people.

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