Choosing comedies on celluloid
College students don’t need many excuses to discover new comedy films, but this month provides plenty of reasons to do so.
April marks Humor Month, a holiday humorist Larry Wilde started in 1976 that kicks off with April Fools’ Day.
In addition to the month’s traditional festivities, the alien road-trip film “Paul” and the crude medieval movie “Your Highness” provide plenty of incentive for students to catch a current comedy, but expensive movie theater ticket prices may put them off.
In the spirit of Humor Month, The Oracle chooses some current and future comedy classics worth watching.
1. “The Big Lebowski”
One of the most recent titles on American Film Institute’s 100 Years … 100 Laughs list is Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1996 Midwestern mystery-comedy “Fargo,” but their 1998 film “The Big Lebowski” is a much better choice.
The film follows a bowling, White Russian-loving slacker known as the Dude (Jeff Bridges) as he gets embroiled in a mystery involving local millionaire Jeffrey Lebowski. The cast also includes John Goodman and Julianne Moore.
Stolen rugs, German nihilists and a pedophile named Jesus Quintana (John Turturro) factor into a comically convoluted and reference-packed saga that spans the California landscape.
The movie even inspired Lebowski Fest, a traveling festival where fans dress up as the film’s characters. The fest made its first Tampa appearance in February with The Dude’s real-life inspiration, Jeffrey Dowd.
2. “Ghost World”
Based on the graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, 2001’s “Ghost World” covers plenty of comedic ground in its tale of two cynical college-aged girls.
Best friends Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) drift around town after graduating high school and play a prank on “traditional jazz, blues and ragtime” enthusiast Seymour (Steve Buscemi).
Through Enid’s eyes, the film hilariously takes to task everything from art school pretensions to awful local bands with names like Alien Autopsy. The mulleted man Doug (Dave Sheridan) is also a highlight.
Yet “Ghost World” also packs a surprising amount of emotional power in depicting Enid’s vulnerability underneath her sarcasm, and the unlikely relationship that develops between her and Seymour.
3. “Shaun of the Dead”
This self-described 2004 romantic zombie comedy – “rom-zom-com” – brought together actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright in a film five years before the release of “Zombieland.”
The story centers around Shaun (Pegg), an English man who loses his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) and is forced to weather a zombie apocalypse with his roommate Ed (Frost) within the same week.
“Shaun of the Dead” may be the only film to contain both Stone Roses jokes and gruesome on-screen disembowelments, and the witty comedy’s fans include George A. Romero and Peter Jackson.
The British import went on to kickstart the trio’s comedic careers. Pegg and Frost are currently starring in “Paul,” while Wright created another cult comedy hit with last year’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.”
4. “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story”
Director and producer Judd Apatow’s body of work mostly contains commercial successes such as “Knocked Up” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” but also houses the still-underrated “Walk Hard.”
Parodying clichd music biopics, the film follows fictional superstar Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly) as he goes through periods of his life that resemble the stories of Johnny Cash, Ray Charles and Brian Wilson.
Some of the best jokes include band member Sam (Tim Meadows) and his rapidly escalating drug offers to Dewey, as well as the surprisingly strong parody songs.
The song “Royal Jelly” in particular is a hilariously accurate skewering of Bob Dylan’s style, with nonsensical lyrics like “mailboxes drip like lampposts in the twisted birth canal of the coliseum.”
Greg Mottola has directed “Paul” and “Superbad,” but his best work remains 2009’s coming-of-age story “Adventureland.”
The film takes place in 1987 as college graduate James (Jesse Eisenberg) is forced to take a summer job at the real-life Adventureland amusement park and falls for his co-worker Em (Kristen Stewart).
Students should enjoy the film’s collegiate cracks about semiotics and scenes of partying, or even broader jokes like the unceasing crotch punches from James’ friend Frigo.
Though the movie was a critical success – Metacritic lists it as one of 2009’s best-rated wide releases – and stars current celebrities Eisenberg and Stewart, its low-key tone has kept it from the adulation “Superbad” has already gotten.