Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Natalie Portman deserves better

I recently re-watched ANNIE HALL. It was the best free movie that ON DEMAND was offering that night. (Seriously guys, we need a better selection. If I didn’t know better I’d think you were just offering shitty free movies so we’d be forced to pay for a better one.) But ANNIE HALL is one of my favorite flicks. I even recommended it once.

What struck me about it this time was this: It was a romantic comedy that assumed the audience had some intelligence. While still being funny it explored relationships in a meaningful, heartfelt way. Some of the subject matter was dated – there were more Jew jokes than in every movie over the last ten years combined – but the emotions and a lot of the comedy still rings true.

I bet I know what you’re thinking: Oh no, here’s another old guy ranting about how much better things were back in the day. There was no pollution and we had real movie stars like Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford! No. That’s not where I’m going with this (although Mary Pickford was pretty hot).

When it was released, the target audience for ANNIE HALL was young people. Twentysomethings. I look at the movies geared for younger audiences today (like THE DILEMMA and LITTLE FOCKERS) and they’re just idiotic.

So here’s my point: I don’t think Hollywood gives young moviegoers enough credit for intelligence.

The big studio decision makers (most of whom are in the 50’s or 60’s and live in gated communities) seriously believe that the only way to attract young people is to dumb down their romantic comedies to where not only are there “you have shit on your face” jokes, but they appear in the trailer. That’s what gets you into the theaters they believe, along with pratfalls, buffoonish characters, and ridiculous high-concept premises.

I mean, Paul Rudd deserves more than just being Seth Rogen’s pal and Natalie Portman certainly deserves better than being in a dopey Fuck Buddies comedy with Ashton Kutcher.

I’m not saying all of today’s comedies are bad or have to be ANNIE HALL. I loved THE HANGOVER. I loved ROLE MODELS. But is Apatowesque the only genre we can see?

And when one of those movies doesn’t work – is there a worse piece of shit ever than GROWN UPS? It makes you yearn for the days when bad romantic comedies were just not funny.

I’m not saying you have to go back to the ‘70s when dinosaurs still roamed the earth. Why can’t Hollywood also make comedies like SWINGERS? Or THE BREAKFAST CLUB? TOOTSIE? CHASING AMY? WHEN HARRY MET SALLY? GROUNDHOG DAY? RAISING ARIZONA? RUSHMORE? FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL? BIG? A FISH CALLED WANDA? JERRY MAGUIRE?

I think studios might be surprised that younger audiences are smarter and way more sophisticated than they think. So I suggest this. Just as a test. Make one. Make one comedy where the laughs come out of character and the situation is real and relatable.  Will it happen?  Here’s what I imagine:


The president and his VP in charge of production.

VP: So did you read Levine’s blog.

PRES: Yeah. Who the hell is he anyway?

VP: Some old writer. Who cares? But he makes some good points.

PRES: (begrudgingly) I guess. Yeah.  I like his Friday questions.  I've been thinking of asking what a three-act structure is for a movie.  I've always wondered.

VP: (staying on subject) What if we did do one sophisticated comedy?

PRES: I dunno. I could see if a FRASIER writer wants to do a rewrite on the Opie & Anthony project I just greenlit.

VP: I think we need more than that.

PRES: It’s too risky.  Can't we just take a sophisticated comedy from the past and do a sequel?

VP:  I think the whole point is to do something fresh and original.

PRES:  Now you're really starting to scare me.

VP: Think of it this way:  It could be a huge win-win.  If we do this and it works, we’ll corner the market. No other studio has an intelligent comedy in the works. 

PRES: That’s true.

VP: We might even win awards.

PRES: Real awards? Not Golden Globes?

VP: Real awards.

PRES: Well, it’s tempting, but still…

VP: One movie. That’s all.

The president considers for a long agonizing moment, then:

PRES: Oh alright. We’ll try it. One movie.  Damn that Kevin Levin or whoever the hell he is!

VP: Great! I think that’s a brilliant move.  And you're a visionary for thinking of it. 

PRES:  Okay.  But I’m hedging my bet. It has to be in 3-D.

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