It's a little bit lighter this time around, but here are the movies I saw this week. All of them were funny, but only two of them were supposed to be.
Cry-Baby (1990) John Waters
One of my favorite kinds of stories are stories about shitty teenagers, and this one’s got shitty teens to spare. Tessa describes it as "everything that Grease was afraid to be." Cry-Baby is John Waters going all out with his love of 50’s Camp and his enthusiasm in this movie is infectious. He’s great at finding silly little details in the Teenage Tragedy Song model and blowing them up, exposing how funny and ridiculous a teenage romance can be. Every actor gives a hilarious performance, finding the perfect level of funny and sincere, and never taking any of it too seriously. It’s a quintessential campy movie and the rock n roll / doo wop songs fit the mood perfectly. Anyway I loved this movie, and I don’t think I have much in the way of analysis for this one, so here’s a bullet point list of some things I liked:
- Hatchet-face’s awful, awful makeup
- Every teenager referring to themselves as teenagers
- IGGY POP
- All the parents hanging out, embarrassing their teenagers
- That scene in the charm school where that one Square is imagining being married, and that one girl is imagining Johnny Depp’s face on everyone
- Cry-Baby’s tragic story about his father being executed
- Cry-Baby’s electric chair tattoo
- That scene where literally EVERYONE is making out on a blanket in the park
- IGGY POP
- The scenes in Turkey Point all look like the most chill place to have a summer party
- That song Cry-Baby sings in jail
- How all the Squares travel by bunny hop dance
- The daring prison breakout mix-up
- IGGY POP
- Everyone’s gross open mouth kissing on the dance floor
- That last song they sing while The Squares and The Drapes play a game of Chicken
- Remembering that Johnny Depp once had a talent for bringing an unsettling strangeness to a role
Battlefield Earth (2000) Roger Christian
I’d been avoiding this movie for so long because I’d heard it was just terrible, but after reading Lawrence Wright’s incredible Scientology exposé Going Clear last year I figured I had to just see for myself. As it turns out, Battlefield Earth is not a very good movie, but I was surprised to find out how watchable it was, at least for maybe the first hour-ish? I guess I was just expecting something very self-serious and not fun, but this movie is bad the way a dumb, substanceless kids’ movie cash-grab is. It’s such a goofy movie and a lot of what I liked about it was how surprising that was to me, so I doubt even the parts I did enjoy would hold up in a rewatch. I don’t really remember much of what this movie was about, something about aliens called Psychlos (from the planet “Psychlo,” speaking their native language “Psychlo”) strip-mining the earth and enslaving humanity, and Barry Pepper leads a human revolution or something.
All the human portions are boring, predictable garbage, but all the Psychlo stuff with John Travolta and Forest Whitaker is fun, schlocky garbage. Travolta’s character is a smart, top-of-his-class kind of guy who is trapped on earth working a job he thinks he’s too good for, surrounded by people/Psychlos he thinks are beneath him. He’s more arrogant than intelligent, and he plays this role like a sort of alien version of Kelsey Grammer’s titular character on Frasier (which I guess casts Forest Whitaker as Roz? I’m not sure, I haven’t seen that much Frasier). Travolta’s hammin’ it up like one of those cartoonish villains in a kids’ movie from the mid to late nineties. He’s over the top and obviously evil, but he’s also just so silly. Every other scene is a big monologue about his master plan and how much he hates earth and his own superiors, but when you remove the human enslavement half of the equation, Battlefield Earth just becomes a movie about a guy who hates his shitty job. There doesn’t seem to be much difference between Psychlo culture and human culture, at least with what we’re given in the movie. Psychlos work for a living, they get drunk, they let off steam, they’re just a bunch of regular joes showing up to their boring jobs every day. It’s funny stuff, but man, I really doubt it was on purpose. I didn’t really mind most of it, but when a movie is pushing two hours this sort of stuff wears thin, especially considering that the last almost half hour of the movie is an incomprehensible action scene. Anyway, it’s good for a couple laughs, I guess, but it’s hard to enjoy a movie that gives you so little to care about.
The Jerk (1979) Carl Reiner
This is one of my favorite comedies. It’s a rise and fall-type story about a total idiot lucking into fame and fortune, but it’s never mean-spirited and it doesn’t revel in any character’s suffering. It never aspires to be anything more than a goofy comedy, and by understanding what it is and what it wants to do, The Jerk gives off a purposeful sort of joy that works to keep the movie fresh. Whenever I watch this movie, I’m just in awe of the timing that Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters have. They’re mostly dumb, throwaway lines, but the sheer volume of them is impressive. 30 Rock does something similar where it’s just joke after joke after joke after joke, so quick that by the time you’ve processed and reacted to that first joke they’re already wrapping up their third, but I think The Jerk’s jokes are a little bit more evenly paced, much less frantic than 30 Rock, and I think that’s due to a difference in format. 30 Rock doesn’t have the luxury of time like The Jerk so the frantic pacing and the assault of jokes happens because of the half-hour time constraint.
The Jerk takes advantage of the longer movie format, particularly in how they have space to just let jokes develop. There’s this one scene where Navin is in bed with Marie, and while she sleeps, Navin tenderly whispers to her how even though they’ve only known each other for “four weeks and three days” it feels like “nine weeks and five days.” Navin continues to sweetly ramble, going day by day and figuring out the math behind this sentiment, and it becomes one of those jokes where the comedy comes not only in the lines that he says, but also that you’ve been watching him parse it out for a full two minutes. It’s hilarious, but there’s a sweetness and earnestness to The Jerk that you don’t typically get out of these sorts of screwball comedies. It’s a very self aware movie, but it is never embarrassed to be itself. It’s happy to be a comedy and that obsessive desire to generate laughter seeps into the other aspects of the movie. For example, the romance between Navin and Marie sometimes verges toward the saccharin, but just as it is about to cross over that line, Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters swoop in with perfect comedic timing (and a trumpet solo) to simultaneously undercut and supplement the romance. I think that the variety to the delivery of the jokes, that the humor can come verbally, visually, conceptually, time-ly, etc.-ly, is one of the major strengths of The Jerk, as well as something that allows it to change emotional trajectory and still be fun after so many rewatches.