[This post contains spoilers for A Bad Moms Christmas and Bridesmaids]
A friend of mine, after I posted about not liking cringe humor a few weeks back, asked me what kind of humor I do like in movies.
She loves lots of cringe humor and considers that we have very similar senses of humor (we definitely find a lot of the same stuff funny) and wondered, I think, where the disconnect is.
I generally don’t consider myself a fan of comedy movies qua comedy movies. So many of them seem to feature humor that is cruel and punches down (humor that hinges on mocking people who are already disadvantaged in our culture), or takes someone else’s embarrassment and expects me to laugh at it.
A prime example of this kind of humor is Bridesmaids, which I went to see because all the media around it kept harping on the notion that it was a make or break for women in comedy — as though if that movie failed, there would be a decade before there were any more comedies featuring women.
As it was, it did pretty well and paved the way for The Heat, Girls Trip and Pitch Perfect and a lot of the other great women-led comedies of the past several years. (Not that it was the only thing paving the way for these films, but without it, some of them may not have been green lit.)
I found a lot of the movie terribly funny, but some scenes made me squirm and at least one made me want to wither and die right there in the theater. The scene where one of the characters, bitter that everyone else can afford to fly first class and she can’t, gets super drunk and makes a scene on the plane.
Watching someone continuously and egregiously push social boundaries like that tweaks my anxiety in the worst way. I’m sure there’s plenty of psychological issues inherent in my reaction, but it goes well beyond finding it not funny. It hurts.
I enjoy absurdist humor. I enjoy fourth-wall breaking and self-aware self-mockery. The Heat‘s humor all came out of the main characters being unapologetically what they were and then doing the best they could. They weren’t incompetent or bumbling, but they did behave outside of expectations for their jobs and gender sometimes. They felt real and honest and well-drawn. Most of the humor came out of their methods conflicting with each other and how they each learned to roll with the other’s style.
So I don’t actually hate comedies. I like them. But I’m wary of embracing them all sight unseen as a group the way I do scifi films or horror films. Yes there are films I can’t stand in the latter two genres, but there are a lot fewer and it feels like the reasons I don’t like those films are individual and specific rather than a systemic issue that builds to a whole sub-genre of things that make me squirm in discomfort.
Of course, this disinclination to engage with an entire genre can lead me to miss stuff that I should see.
This weekend, I saw A Bad Moms Christmas with a friend. In spite of my adoration of Mila Kunis and Kristen Bell, I hadn’t seen the first film in the franchise. I saw this one because I’ve been having a nagging feeling that missing the first one was an error.
BMC may be my new favorite Christmas movie. It was hilarious. It was also moving in places, but wasn’t too heavy. Perhaps the funniest scene in it involved one of the main characters waxing the genitalia of a male stripper and having a romantic meet-cute conversation with him at the same time. It was genuinely a sweet conversation but the juxtaposition of the sweet words with over-exaggerated waxing sound-effects and matter of fact descriptions of what was going on out of the camera’s sight lines made it so fucking funny to me.
Everyone in that scene was happy. No one was (emotionally) uncomfortable. Yet I laughed my ass off.
Humor and laughter are a way of processing disrupted expectations and assumptions. So is anxiety. I almost feel like they’re two areas of a spectrum the way that anger and sadness are two areas of the spectrum of dealing with hurt and disappointment. It’s not really a surprise to me that something that provokes laughter in one person might well provoke anxiety in another.
Opening myself up to a broader range of art always feels like a good thing to me. And the knee-jerk snobbery and fear that leads me to avoid entire franchises or entire genres, sometimes always winds up leading me astray in the end.
So I don’t know exactly where to draw the lines. Maybe they should just go entirely. After all, being anxious for a little while in a movie isn’t the worst thing in the world. But, of course, lines always get drawn because I can’t see everything. We’ll see.
In the meantime, here’s a short (and incomplete) list of comedies I really, really enjoyed:
The To-Do List
Love and Friendship
Dear White People
What We Do In The Shadows
What do all these films have in common? Not freaking much, as far as I can tell.