Thursday, March 14, 2013

We Should Stop Reviewing Comedies

Does this look funny to you?  No?  Great!  Yes?  Great!
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone comes out this Friday, and I doubt that I make it out to see it.  As a regular dude looking for a funny movie, I'll probably watch it eventually because of the talent involved.  I'll wait for the video release, however, because nothing in the previews looks funny to me.  Which brings me to why I won't be watching it as a psuedo-critic, either.  It's a comedy, and it doesn't look funny "to me."  Will others like it?  Definitely.  Will most critics hate it?  Probably.  (It's at 40% on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing.)  I've accepted my own uselessness as a "critic" lately due to my lack of readers, but even if I was read by thousands of people a day, I still wouldn't review Burt Wonderstone.  (Hell, I didn't even review my favorite comedy, Wanderlust, from last year.) 

I can see the argument against film criticism in general these days because the box office and the critical response are rarely equal.  I'm not going to throw my hat in that ring (just check around the movie sites for the debate on the point of movie reviews).  I just want to posit that when it comes to comedy, criticism is essentially worthless.  The genre is far too subjective to be judged.  Sure, you can critique performance and the elements of filmmaking, but you can't truly critique what is funny. 

Taste in film in general varies from person to person, but it is possible to separate a prestige, high quality drama from a loud, cash grab action sequel through criticism.  It's even possible to judge these films objectively based on what they attempt to achieve.  Did the drama make you care about the characters?  Were the action sequences a jumbled, over-edited mess in the other film?  But if the goal of the film is to make you laugh, how can you truly praise or condemn it when senses of humor are so different?  I'll look at what a critic has to say about the action in, say, a Transformers movie, and how hard it is to decipher which robot is winning a fight.  Or if Haneke captures the essence of a lifelong relationship in Amour effectively.  Should I return to the same critics to find out if fart jokes and funnier than political humor?  And yes, the Transformers series is a fart joke in that analogy.  
I don't want to read anything by someone telling me my sense of humor is juvenile...or sophisticated, for that matter.  Comedies reside, or should reside, in a review-free zone.  That's not to say that people shouldn't recommend comedies; it's just that it should be done on a small scale.  I don't think I need to tell anyone to actually do this, but people should just listen to their friends when it comes to comedy.  To be fair, people are always more swayed by the opinions of those in their immediate lives than they are by critics, but while critics know movies, your friends know your sense of humor.  For instance, I know which of my friends I would suggest In Bruges to and which ones I would suggest 21 Jump Street.  
Comedies are naturally better as group movies.  I wouldn't try to get some pals together to watch The Master, but a few of us watching Ted together?  Absolutely.  Because of this group mentality, it becomes necessary to watch certain movies.  When critics universally praise a prestigious film like The Artist, most casual movie fans will tell themselves that they should watch it because it's supposed to be so good, but they probably don't have any friends commanding them to see it.  Think about it; what's more likely?  Someone saying, "Dude, you haven't seen Knocked Up?  You have to watch"  Or, "Oh my God, have you seen Amour yet?  No?  Come with me right now; I have the blu ray at home."  

People feel the need to watch the comedies that their friends have seen for multiple reasons.  First, you want to get all the references they are making so you don't feel left out.  Second, maybe you're skeptical of just how funny this movie is so you want to see what all the fuss is about.  Third, this might be that rare movie that defines your friendship for the next few weeks, or years, even.  I'll elaborate on that last part.

I started watching Joe Dirt last night for probably the hundredth time.  I'm not obsessed with it or anything, and it's actually been a few years since I've seen it.  But as I watched it, I realized I still remembered every single second of the film...and I still found it funny.  Is Joe Dirt considered a universal comedy classic?  Of course not.  But that movie came out while I was in high school, and my group of friends loved it.  Once a member of the group bought the DVD, we slowly integrated everyone into the Joe Dirt cult.  It got so bad that our official class motto was, "Life's a garden. Dig it."  (This was also the motto of a neighboring school's senior class as well, so this may have been a regional phenomenon.)  Every group of friends has a movie or show that they latch onto for a week or two, but this movie is still quoted by my friends to this day.  It has become part of our daily language.  No critic could have told me that.  In fact, if I listen to the critics of this film, I'm supposed to hate it.  A movie that has bound my group of friends together, probably to our dying days, is at 11% on Rotten Tomatoes, with most critics claiming that it contains no humor at all.  You could've fooled my group of friends.  
"How much is in there?!?" is still a quote among my friends.  Don't judge us...

This made me wonder how other "classic" comedies from my youth fared on RT.
  • Billy Madison - 11%
  • Happy Gilmore - 45%
  • Freddy Got Fingered - 11%
  • A Night at the Roxbury - 11%
  • Ace Ventura: Pet Detective - 45%
  • Tommy Boy - 45%
  • Dracula: Dead and Loving It - 9%
  • The Jerky Boys - 9%
  • Kingpin - 50%
  • Dumb and Dumber - 63% (Fresh!)
  • Orgazmo - 47 %
  • Dirty Work - 17%
  • Austin Powers in Goldmember - 54%

I love each of the above comedies, some more than others, but the critics consistently hated almost all of them.  How can you reconcile something like that?  A critic says that a beloved comedy is simply not funny.  But you laughed, consistently.  Does that mean you are wrong?  Is your sense of humor worse than theirs?  Or better?  It's different, that's all.  And it can't be judged.  You simply cannot judge a comedy by the amount of laughs it provides.  All you can say is, "I thought it was funny."  I slip up now and then and simply tell people a movie is funny, but what I always mean is that I personally found it funny.  You might not, but I did.  Watch at your own risk.  This is why reviewing comedies is so hard, and pointless, for me.  I don't know what any of my random readers find to be funny, and it hurts my brain to try and imagine all of these hypothetical senses of humor.  I'm reduced to lame comparisons, like "Did you like Blazing Saddles?  Then you'll love Spaceballs!"  It's this weak attempt at criticism that leads to idiotic labelling like calling Bridesmaids the "female Hangover."   

Listen, jerky, I don't need you to approve of my taste in comedy.

Back to that list above.  At this point, you may have decided that I simply have a crappy sense of humor.  Possibly, but those are the films of my youth and they still hold a place in my heart.  I am not embarrassed about liking any of those films.  But is this just a time difference thing?  As I considered the older comedies, I also had to consider some recent movies that I found funny.  (I don't consider these all-time favorites or anything just yet, just a few recent movies I enjoyed.)
  • 21 Jump Street - 85%
  • Bridesmaids - 90%
  • Wanderlust - 59 % (Rotten!)
  • Ted - 69%
  • In Bruges - 82%
  • The Five-Year Engagement - 64%
  • Paul - 72%
  • Horrible Bosses - 70%
  • The Green Hornet - 44% (Rotten!)
  • Cedar Rapids - 85%
  • The Other Guys - 78%
  • Piranha 3-D - 73%
  • MacGruber - 47 % (Rotten!)
  • Get Him to the Greek - 72%
  • Hot Tub Time Machine - 63%
Okay, this isn't exactly a scientific survey, but still, what does this mean?  Has my sense of humor become more sophisticated?  If so, then why do I still laugh at Joe Dirt?  Do I hate comedies like Vampires Suck and Epic Movie because I'm just too old?  Is it all just based on what age you were when you first saw the film?  If that's the case, then reviewing comedies makes even less sense.

I guess this article is just my long-winded way of saying that I'm done reviewing comedies.  It's too difficult for me, and it's borderline pointless.  I'll still review the hybrid action-comedies and stuff like that, but as for flat out funny movies, I'll save my recommendations for my close friends.  And even then, when they ask if the movie is funny, I'll say, "Well, I thought it was funny..."


  1. I totally agree that opinions on comedies are pointless to an extent. The only time they are useful is if you know that your tastes align with the reviewer's. Then you can sort of trust that you'll probably enjoy comedies that they like. This makes Rotten Tomatoes a virtually unusable measure because it takes everyone's opinion,with many assorted tastes, into account. For some reason this works much better with other genres but not comedies.

    Another genre that RT often seems off on is horror which is also a more subjective genre. It's obvious that some reviewers don't like the genre at all but still review which skews the overall score quite a bit.

    Good post! We do have quite a bit of overlap on our comedic tastes it seems.

  2. Its interesting that classic comedies get such low scores. Comedy is subjective.
    -Maurice Mitchell
    The Geek Twins